DWF credits alternative services for HY21 revenue growth – we speak to managed services CEO Mark Qualter

UK-listed law firm DWF has seen its HY21 revenue increase by 15.4% to £167.6m and its profit rise by 17.1% to £24.7m, crediting in large part the growth of its managed services division and tech-led ‘connected services’ for the results.

DWF acquired long-established managed legal services firm Mindcrest in March 2020 and Spanish law firm Rousaud Costas Duran in December 2019, with both contributing significantly to non-organic and organic growth. Mindcrest was founded in 2001 in Chicago and has around 500 staff in Pune, India. DWF said in its results statement on 10 December it will double that figure to 1,000. Connected services, which are client-facing, tech-led services, grew by 19% over the last half year.

Speaking to Legal IT Insider about the growth, DWF managed services CEO Mark Qualter, who joined in June 2019 from RBS, said: “Managed services is becoming more a part of what the partners in the business talk to their clients about. We have fully functioning capability.”

Work comes from partner referrals as well as work won directly from going to market, and Qualter said: “What we’ve done is segregate the legal workflow into advice and process. We don’t do advice; we pick up what effectively is process and our job is to optimise that.”

He adds: “The underlying essence of what we do is people, process, and technology. General counsel face a new suite of challenges: how do they measure performance? How do they restructure their business? How do they keep up with legal technology? What’s all this about data analytics? All those things are part of the value we bring on top of the high-quality advice provided by DWF’s lawyers.”

Client wins
While corporates are still proving reluctant to shine a light on their managed services deals, one of DWF’s biggest and best-known wins is BT, a strategic partnership that Qualter fairly describes as “progressive.” Announced in July last year, the five-year deal has seen around 40 lawyers from BT’s in-house legal team transfer to DWF, which is providing BT’s insurance and real estate legal services through its managed services arm. Qualter says: “That project is live and has been running over 12 months now, and we’re moving to year two, out of ‘integration and change’ and into ‘BAU’.

The managed services team has otherwise won chunky document reviews and eDiscovery work, with many of its new wins are coming from the Middle East.

Qualter says that the managed services team is entirely agnostic about the technology that it uses and has a team in India whose role is to continuously review new technology. While the team often uses iManage RAVN; Relativity; Brainspace; Thomson Reuters Contract Express and HighQ, Qualter says: “We work with all the names you’d think of – where we come at it from a different angle is that we can spin up on any platform and are constantly scanning and testing technology, so we know what the best tools are.”

In the results statement yesterday, the DWF board referenced its recent selection of Peppermint Technology’s case and matter management platform and Qualter said: “We’re looking at it and seeing where we go with it – so far things are looking good. Our vision is to get to a system that will work for all the different types of business – if we can get onto one system that does everything great, although we have very different businesses, such as commercial and insurance, so we may not. We chose Peppermint because it has the capability to flex.”

IT and Ventures falls within managed services
Part of DWF’s strategy is to create a holistic, joined up business services culture and it is no coincidence that DWF’s legal technology function now sits within managed services, as does its innovation arm DWF Ventures.

Qualter says: “We decided that because managed services is client facing and we can listen to and pull in what the clients need, let’s put the other functions within it.”

He adds: “We’ve spent a lot of time making Mindcrest one holistic division –our view is that technology is a capability. We can use any legal platform or tool that out there, so we’re technology agnostic, but doesn’t mean we’re not proactive.”

The future growth of managed services
Familiar to other firms with alternative legal services captives, the managed service team disaggregates a project or deal into component parts and builds a playbook around it, using historical data to work out optimal processes.

While DWF has long been run in a more corporate way than most laws firms and floated on the London Stock Exchange in March 2019, use of managed services is nonetheless optional as in other firms. Qualter said: “I have a great appreciation not just about saying ‘thou shalt do this’ – you have to win hearts and mind and we’re investing a lot of time speaking to partners.”

Heavyweight hires such as Craig Chaplin, now director of managed services and formerly DWF’s UK head of commercial and competition, are helping to make sure that the team speaks the same language as its lawyers to drive change.

However, what is also in play is a transformation programme signed off by the executive that agrees over time what sort of work will come to the managed services division.

The growth in Pune is definitely one to watch: DWF has a newbuild site and will be ready – subject to COVID – to move in in early 2021. Qualter says: “We decided to push the button and we have up to 1000 seats. The point is that this is a growth story and we will have new products, new geographies and clients. My mission when I joined in June was to build a global managed services capability and we are already doing cross border work.”