Catherine Spitzer joined LOD Group as its first COO at the start of June 2022. She spoke with Legal IT Insider about her remit to unite the LOD and SYKE services + tech business, and about her unsupported expeditions to both the North and South Pole.
LOD is an alternative legal service provider and majority investor in SYKE, which is a legal technology consultancy with a particular focus on document automation.
Spitzer spent over seven years as managing director of property consultancy Bidwells, and 10 years at technology business IPC Information Systems, including as head of legal for EMEA, and ultimately COO.
Catherine it’s lovely to meet you, what is your remit as COO of LOD?
The main thing I’ve been brought in to do is look at how to supercharge the two businesses together as one. They are two very strong businesses but there’s not yet a strong focus on what the whole thing means together, which is very exciting. The whole technology/legal space is not in its infancy, but it’s certainly not mature and there’s a lot to be done. There’s been a lot of investment by suppliers in technology and a huge amount of ways that AI can change the way that lawyers transact their jobs, especially around the mid-level data piece. I did a course last year at MIT in AI, and while physical jobs won’t be affected and intellectual jobs won’t, it will be the mid-level jobs where is there a lot of data analytics and data crunching. It won’t eradicate those jobs, but it will take a lot of the grunt work out of it. There is only so much that the AI can do at the moment, but it’s an interesting time to come into the tech world.
How will you help to bring together the tech and services piece?
It’s quite early days for me but we have the SYKE side for technology and the LOD for people and it’s looking at that balance.
It will be bespoke and customers will want to automate their processes to different levels but ultimately, it will be about piecing the technology and people together. We will have to look at the whole organisation and how we best do that for our clients, rather than thinking about how we’re set up for ourselves.
Will you also be looking at creating a less bespoke tech + services automated workflow?
Yes, there is a best practice process flow and it’s about plugging in people and technology in the right places. That shouldn’t radically change between clients. You don’t want to completely bespoke technology, I’m not a fan of that. If you have your own system and the core isn’t constantly worked on you end up with a dead system pretty quickly. But it’s about utilising tools in an agile way to provide the best outcome for the business.
Is your legal experience going to be relevant in helping to achieve that?
Yes, because I understand what it’s like to run a legal team in-house and also from a private practice perspective. I understand the pressures and the view people have of legal. You’re always trying to get your seat at the table as a general counsel, but there is always stuff the needs to get done and if it doesn’t, it pulls you back and stops you being strategic and doing all the things that legal can do to drive the business. Legal is often called the business prevention department and you need to get away from the days when it can take two days for people to respond, and for the process to be so slick that the business really trusts the legal team. Then you can build the foundations and build a platform to start influencing the business.
What have you learned or applied in the property sector that you will leverage here?
I’m not sure there’s anything specific. It was a private practice partnership, so good experience in terms of how to get the best out of teams. Property technology is way behind legal technology. There are some really interesting things like Matterport, which is 3D technology to enable people to review things in 3D but the whole process flow wasn’t really there.
Last but not least, tell us about your polar exploits!
In 2016 I did an unsupported expedition to the North Pole and it was an amazing experience. You’re on an iceberg so it’s hilarious looking for insurance; it had never occurred to me before that the North Pole is not a land mass. The tent was permanently at –15 and I was lugging 45-50 kilos over massive boulders. It was completely mad and I said never against until my North Pole guide contacted me in 2019 saying ‘do you fancy doing the South Pole?’ I resisted for all of five minutes and did it in January 2020.
The South Pole is a land mass and one at altitude. I got really bad altitude sickness, because they fly you up onto the plateau. It has the same oxygen level as at 4000 metres. I then got really bad blisters, so it was a lot about pain management and how you cope with that. It’s interesting, because you don’t normally get to put yourself in a situation like that and fundamentally I did it by acknowledging the pain and saying, ‘I know you’re there for a reason, but I’m going to do this and I’m going to focus on being happy and the amazing environment I’m in.’ So I’ve accomplished both Poles. It’s very humbling to be out there on the ice and such a privilege to put yourself in those situations.”
Spitzer will be running a half Marathon des Sables in September 2022, so watch this space!