In a highly significant announcement last week that was largely overshadowed by its 2017/18 results, Clifford Chance has approved a change of structure that will see it house and grow its subscription-based digital services out of a separate venture called Clifford Chance Applied Solutions.
So far Clifford Chance has developed and sold the likes of white-labelled document drafting solution CCDr@ft and it’s Neota Logic-backed MiFID II tool from within the body of the firm but speaking to Legal IT Insider, global head of innovation and business change, Bas Boris Visser (pictured), said: “That is not an ideal set up because it’s a business model that is completely different to what we do in the core Clifford Chance business. You come across many stumbling blocks if you want to successfully scale this business within Clifford Chance. The great thing is that over the last few years we’ve learned about risk and liability around selling software and before we can scale up we need to act on the lessons learned by setting up a new infrastructure and getting the right set of skills and expertise.”
He adds: “We have fantastic skills in Clifford Chance but we’re not necessarily familiar with SaaS or how to sell software lines: it’s not fair to ask a partner to sell a software product. But the tools we’ve developed are really good and deal with serious issues in client organisations, so we’re hiring people to help us set up and run Clifford Chance Applied Solutions so that we can combine the best of legal that Clifford Chance supplies and work with the best technology companies to develop the right solutions for our clients.
“The most exciting thing is that we’ve now dared to take it out of Clifford Chance and set up a new business to develop new products in a completely different way.”
The move is exciting not only because it is likely to see Clifford Chance significantly scale up its digital products and the income they generate but also because it underpins a more fundamental rethink of the way lawyers provide their services.
Visser says: “Now, in a traditional model you have a client who calls and says ‘I have a question around regulation’ and asks what you think. Going forward, the model needs to be upside down. Our experts know what’s going to hit the market and we can collect that data from all jurisdictions to build a database that has 80% of the answers that clients need. We can offer the solution for a completely different price. It needs to be technology based but the whole thinking process is entirely different from what we traditionally do.”
Clifford Chance is already beginning to link expert systems with the likes of Contract Express to provide clients with an entirely automated service where possible.
Visser said: “By continuously going back to the client to work out what the issue is, we are discovering that technology can resolve part of the problem but it needs something to link to if it is to go from just ‘a solution’ to ‘a really great solution.'”
Other firms that have created a separate venture for digital solutions include magic circle firm Allen & Overy, which in 2015 launched online derivatives subscription service aosphere.
At the same time as unveiling Clifford Chance Applied Solutions, the 2,905-lawyer firm last week announced the launch of Clifford Chance Create, which is designed to house new ideas and initiatives, including Clifford Chance Labs: a cloud-based idea generation platform built and led by director of legal technology solutions, Anthony Vigneron.
Visser says: “Create has two main functions: it’s a funnel which helps us to select the best ideas and build those into great client solutions. The other function is monitoring ideas to create excitement around what is happening. It also keeps track of all the relevant information: to make innovation more global you need the platform to do it.”
He adds: “This is all being driven by a clear demand from our clients to deliver more value and the need for us to engage with our people in a different way. A big part of Clifford Chance’s success is our entrepreneurship and the fact that we’re a front-runner. A very important part of that is our ability to innovate.”
These two new units are the next evolution in Clifford Chance’s ‘best delivery’ infrastructure, which includes its new on-shore centre in Newcastle and hubs in London, New York, Singapore and Dubai devoted to helping lawyers understand the right resource, process and technology to use on a matter.
Visser said: “We want to make sure that we optimise the value we create for clients and find better ways of working for our people, and the way that we do it is through looking at the whole process of every transaction or matter and then for every part of that transaction try to establish the right resource for the right work. That could be technology or working with centres in Newcastle or India. It could be working with alternative legal suppliers like Axiom or Thomson Reuters. Or it could be new ways of working with project managers or transaction managers and identifying new roles and moving from the traditional set up of every law firm matter, where you traditionally look at 10 square metres around your team, which is not the best way if you want to find the best value.”
In ‘Part 2’ of this interview, Visser goes into more detail on the three products – down from 25 – that the firm now has in its tech toolkit as part of its best delivery strategy.