E-Disclosure People: Jonathan Maas on why he is launching his consultancy now
The Rationale behind The Maas Consulting Group
In 1982 the first Next store opened, unemployment was at 3 million, Argentina invaded the Falklands, Canada received its independence*, the Smiths were formed, Prince William was born, Channel 4 started broadcasting, Lord Denning stopped judging and I started in the City.
It’s interesting to look back from the lofty peaks of the touch screen century. In the early 80s you would be hard-pushed to find any vocations so contrary to each other as lawyers and information technologists. Lawyers: traditionally upper class, privately educated, socially confident extroverts. Information technologists: traditionally middle class, state educated, socially inept introverts. Yet, without any of us realising it, both professions were about to share the most incredible journey of transformation.
Thirty-four years later and that journey is still far from over, but the speed of travel is accelerating. We are at the point where many lawyers understand that some elements of technology are important to their existence and information technologists are becoming more commercial and market-facing; each is more familiar with the other’s jargon and relevance. At times it’s been like watching two enormous tectonic plates of oceanic and continental crust grating away at each other in the ebb and flow of the currents surrounding them.
Some years ago I was hosting a meeting between a group of lawyers and a software provider, discussing time-recording systems for fee-earners. As we left the meeting the provider whispered to me “Who is this ‘Fiona’ everyone’s talking about?”. Just five years ago I was in the offices of a Home Counties law firm. On the desk of the partner I was visiting was a plaque proudly declaring, “We never correspond by email”.
That said, there are some very bright leading lights on both sides, organisations that simply “get it”. Unfortunately they are still in the minority, but others will need to wake up or atrophy as the gulf between them and their competition becomes wider and wider. Sticking your head in the sand is no longer an option; there a few like me able to help at a pace that suits.
If I had to pick a time when this transformation became most noticeable I’d suggest the run-up to Y2K, when doomsayers (and doubtless one or two financially-driven computer programmers) opined that the world would end with the millennium as computer systems would be unable to rumble on past 00:01 on 01/01/00. Coincidentally, 1999 was also the year when today’s Civil Procedure Rules replaced the Rules of the Supreme Court which, according to the then head of the Civil Justice Division of the Lord Chancellor’s Department, was the greatest change the civil courts had seen in over a century. At that point, in 1999, information technologists for the first time became “important’ to the man on the Clapham omnibus. They were under the same spotlight that records managers are blinking under now with issues like the General Data Protection Regulation keeping business leaders awake these nights.
This is the melting pot in which I, like many, found a career. Or, more accurately, it is in this melting pot that my career found me. I was never drawn to Atari or Commodore computers when I was growing up (although I do admit to a spot of Pong) but, in the Wild West of 1987, I suddenly discovered that I had a scary affinity for these logic monsters.
I was devising and managing the nascent disclosure exercise for a large tobacco company and we were digging out tens of thousands of paper documents and moving them around the south of England for copying and review. It soon became clear that we would have to use one of these “things” to record and report on the movement of each of these documents through the process we had created. We used the client’s mainframe computer to create an inventory of all these documents using basic bibliographic information and charted their progress through our manual system. I soon found that I could not only understand what the eggheads were saying but I could also translate that into something the suits could comprehend. Enabling the two to communicate meaningfully was a tremendous boon both then and now. It is also one of the most rewarding experiences when I suddenly see the light of understanding flicker on and then shine brightly.
That ability led to the firm inviting me to move to their IT Department to help their legal and IT communities better understand each other and to work in harmony. Over the years I have provided the same service at three international law firms on both the fee-earning and support sides. I have also worked in management consultancies and service providers, giving me a level of commercial awareness that I had not obtained during my law firm years.
I am starting to see a change in the way organisations staff and manage their projects. It is becoming less common to have people permanently available for the occasional large project. Increasingly, small project-specific teams are being pulled together from external or internal resources and then disbanded when the project is complete. There is also no longer a stigma associated with being a lone expert working from home or on site. These both perfectly suit my way of working. The interest shown in The Maas Consulting Group indicates that the market agrees: in the first week of trading I have been approached with opportunities to get involved in significant projects that would never have come my way had I been in other employment.
The result is that over considerable time I have developed a unique set of skills and gained a wide variety of experiences that are all centred on the point where lawyers and information technologists meet, both at home and abroad. That is why I have established my own consultancy: I want to be able to offer my clients whichever part of me is appropriate for their particular needs at any given moment. A recent observation was that there are not many organisations that are able to provide me with a job where I can be as multi-faceted as I want to be (but my door is always open!).
I relish the variety of my career so far and I want to continue in the same vein: I list on my web site (www.maasconsultinggroup.com) some suggestions of where I think I can offer value to an enterprise. It is perhaps not surprising that I am receiving expressions of interest from a variety of sources: law firms, software developers, management consultancies, corporates and service providers. Each sees something with which they would like to engage. In turn, this gives me the opportunity to do what I love: simplify, train, inform, earn trust, explain, share, guide, steer, enlighten and learn at that exciting place where law and technology converge.
I thrive in the places where law and technology traditionally enjoy a somewhat uneasy relationship: I am very much looking forward to and am greatly excited by what the future holds.
*Canada – No really. 17 April 1982 – By Proclamation of the Queen of Canada on Parliament Hill, Canada repatriates its constitution, granting full political independence from the United Kingdom; included is the country’s first entrenched bill of rights.