As 2019 approaches, 12 technology and innovation leaders tell us about their biggest achievements, challenges and priorities for the year ahead.

Haig Tyler, Chief Information Officer, Herbert Smith Freehills

Andrew McManus, IT Director, Eversheds Sutherland

David Wood, IT Director, Watson Farley & Williams

Ian Lauwerys, IT and Facilities Director, TLT

Stewart Crane, International IT Director, Withers

Karim Derrick, Head of Research and Development, Kennedys Law

Rachel Roberts, Head of Business Solutions, Burges Salmon

Kevin Harris, IT Director, Taylor Wessing

Shilpa Bhandarkar, Head of Innovation and Efficiency, Linklaters

Stuart Whittle, Business Services and Innovation Director, Weightmans

Kerry Westland, Head of Innovation and Legal Technology, Addleshaw Goddard

Clive Knott, IT Director, Howard Kennedy

What would you say has been your most significant tech development of 2018?

Kevin Harris, Taylor Wessing

Harris: It is hard to pick a single initiative as really it is progress made on many fronts that is shaping the firm. For example, we have released our first client service mobile app TW: glass, we have created our first commercial technology platform which is receiving great feedback, but if I have to choose one it would be TW: Detect. With TW: Detect we have brought together a ground-breaking tool which scans activity on the dark web to keep our clients safe. It combines technology and legal acumen, and really positions the firm positively with clients.

McManus: I’m not sure this can be classed as a tech development, but 2018 has seen a mass of new legal experts who ‘get’ tech and who have therefore really moved us on in terms of delivering new agile client-facing capabilities. This internal network has sped up the adoption of new technology across our client base – and not by spending ever-increasing sums and employing more technologists – but by creating a far better network of existing team members to unlock the value of tech.

Knott: Our most significant development has been the first real use of AI technology in the business, which has significantly reduced the time taken to analyse source documents and produce specific reports.

Wood: Our most significant tech development has been the additional layers of security we have provided for our business including containerisation of our mobile devices to meet client security requirements. This has the added benefit of enabling our staff to be more productive and efficient on their devices.

Crane: The most significant technology delivery for us this year has been the refresh of our end user technology to support agile working across our London office. This has been achieved by the design and delivery of a user experience which is based around mobile devices, as opposed to a physical desk set up. This has included the implementation and adoption of softphones, collaboration tools and eFiling, which has significantly reduced our reliance on paper. As a result of this, our fee earners, and many of our business services staff, are able to work seamlessly from any location with a WiFi signal and are fully agile both within and outside of the office.

Lauwerys: Our biggest achievement was the launch of our combined intelligence solution for contract negotiation. It essentially sifts contracts for legal issues using powerful AI technology from LegalSifter, combined with written in-context advice from TLT lawyers. It merges the speed and efficiency of machine learning with the expertise and quality assurance of experienced lawyers. We believe we are the first law firm to offer thistype of ‘off-the-shelf’ combined intelligence solution for contract negotiation.

Derrick: We have redeveloped our core, virtual lawyer product, KLAiM, from the bottom up. We’ve abstracted the core competences from their narrow application in previous iterations of the product and generalised those so that they can be applied to a much broader set of legal processes and jurisdictions.

Roberts: For us, the biggest achievement has been seeing the continued development of a multi-disciplinary team capable of bridging the gap between technology and hardcore legal service delivery. There is a fascination with legaltech software and this does not mean very much without producing something that clients actually value. This means people who can talk to clients and lawyers and come up with practical solutions. A great example is a new digital solution we have produced for the employment team of a client organisation which has been used over 500 times by their HR and legal teams in the past 30 days. Use, day in, day out, is a real measure of success and significance.

Tyler: Our biggest achievement has been the great start we have had exploiting the benefits of the new finance system and the associated Global Data Warehouse, especially in terms of some of the global reporting now available as well as the ability to enable systems-access to the data. The Australia National Blockchain project has also been an incredibly exciting development, as have the myriad of other AI and machine-learning pilots and trials that we’ve undertaken. Moving a number of these to ‘BAU’ has been a milestone, particularly our use of ContractExpress and Clarilis in document assembly and automation.

Westland: 2018 didn’t really have a technology big bang that we’ve seen in other years. Having said that, for us this year it’s been about consolidation of solutions and also applying what we have developed to bigger and better matters and internal efficiency programmes.

Whittle: For us, the most significant development has been our investment in and adoption of our Master Data Management strategy. This is underpinning the investment we have made this year in our data scientists who are now applying their skills to drive insight out of the data which we hold, enabling us to make data-driven decisions for the business and our clients.

What is your biggest priority as we move into 2019?

Wood: I would have to say our biggest priority is the move to Windows 10 and Office 2016.

Knott: For us, the priority is continued work towards a paper-lite office and the improvement of agile and mobile working.

Tyler: We have a fair degree of activity planned in the innovation and technology space, particularly activities focused on working with our clients to better understand their needs. This is likely to lead to further developments of our client-facing dashboards and portals. We also have an exciting portfolio of technology delivery planned with our ALT business, building on the solid platforms of eDiscovery and contract analysis.

In addition, we plan for our digital workplace initiative to start delivery beyond a pilot group over the next year, with a more committed move to use cloud services such as Microsoft365. And as a business we will continue our shift to agile delivery with further expansion beyond IT and our project delivery teams.

Derrick: We currently have a large number of customer-centric innovation projects underway and I am genuinely excited about all of them. We will be scaling up our data science effort substantially in 2019 and looking to partner with our insurer clients much earlier in the development process. Innovation has taken us so much closer to our clients and their businesses and we’re looking to build on those successes.

Kerry Westland, Addleshaw Goddard

Westland: The buzzword for 2019 will be integration. At Addleshaw Goddard we want to better integrate the platforms and solutions we use ourselves and provide to our clients. We will focus more on integrated, legal-focused platforms that take and process data from other systems to allow us to offer even more astute and commercially-focused advice to our clients.

Whittle: Our biggest priority for 2019 is to extend the various proofs of concept our innovation teams worked on over the year in to more of our business to demonstrate the return on our investment in that team and the technology and ideas with which we have been experimenting.

Lauwerys: We launched our FutureLaw initiative over the summer with a £500,000 investment fund focused on developing new solutions to client challenges through a combination of legaltech, alternative resourcing models and near-legal consulting capabilities. This is all about using expertise across the business to collaborate with our clients. Ramping up this programme during 2019 will be a priority, so that we can continue to have a strong and competitive proposition for clients.

Roberts: We have planned a number of collaborative client projects where we will aim to provide digital solutions to solve identified pain points. During 2018, we made significant investments in a number of tech tools which we can use almost like a toolkit. These tools enable online collaboration, analytics and automation. So, 2019 will be primarily about making the most of those investments.

Andrew McManus, Eversheds Sutherland

McManus: Our emerging range of legaltech systems are going to become much more connected and coordinated next year. All of this is in the interests of getting more value from the mass of data we’re only now starting to collect. We are excited about the ability to use this data on our most complex relationships to really add value and help us understand the future outcomes and provide far better client service.

Crane: The most exciting development that we are planning for 2019 is that there is a strategic objective within Withers to more formally leverage technology innovation to better serve our clients and to drive operational excellence and efficiency throughout the firm. To this end, we are establishing a centralised innovation capability, working across IT, the fee earners, and business services team, to identify, prioritise and test opportunities to leverage technology developments.

This shares priority with a number of other initiatives, including the upgrade of our practice management system and improving the way in which we are capturing, managing, and using data to better serve our clients, to identify and capitalise on growth opportunities, and to support compliance initiatives.

What do you expect to be the biggest challenge that you will face next year?

McManus: Keeping up. The challenge of keeping our systems running and keeping them safe has to be balanced with moving ahead with tech that’s going to transform our industry and provide an ever-improving platform for our clients. We’ll especially need to protect the growing amount of sensitive data that we have in our care and keep up with the growing number of threats that are all aimed at accessing it.

Tyler: For us, I would also say balancing the necessity to move more core operations into utility Cloud against the enterprise and sovereignty risks will be the biggest challenge. One example of this would be our digital workplace programme which is, to a large extent, cloud-enabled.

Derrick: Resourcing. We’re hungry for talent and competing with the big technology firms for the very best is a challenge. In the end though, legaltech is one of the hottest spaces out there right now and, if we have a chance to tell our story, we can attract the best the talent pool has to offer.

Knott: The biggest challenge for us is the sheer volume of projects that are underway in the business right now.

Harris: AI! AI has matured and is beginning to be embedded in everyday transactions. To get the most from AI we know we have two challenges: structuring our data sets to make them as AI friendly as possible and training the machine. This second point is the biggest challenge as it requires lawyer time and it is the quality of training that will differentiate an organisation’s AI capability in the market.

Westland: For me I think it’s got to be information security. How do you focus on offering and providing integrated platforms, but do this in a way that’s secure and carries no risk to the firm or the client? This will mean greater collaboration between IT teams and technology teams in the business to ensure that what is delivered adheres to our necessarily high data protection and security standards.

Lauwerys: Following the rapid growth of our firm over the past few years, internally we are focused on how we build a sustainable and responsive platform for the firm and our clients – a platform that will not only facilitate the next phase of the firm’s growth plans but also ensure that we quickly grasp legaltech opportunities. Co-creation with clients and our people is also paramount. We don’t want to just deliver commodity tech solutions off the shelf, although that is still an important part of our role. Our job is to identify the problems and then work closely with other specialists in the business to attempt to solve those using technology, people and improved process.

What do you consider to be the most exciting legal tech trend right now?

Lauwerys: It really is that focus on co-creation – bringing tech specialists together with others to deliver workable solutions. That applies equally to client problems as well as how we create tools to ensure our people can operate effectively wherever they are based. We have run a number of workshops recently with clients in areas like retail and financial services, where the client brings a problem to the table and we use a wide range of specialists to help them solve it – this is definitely something we expect to see more of in 2019.

Harris: I would say, the analysis of legal decision history to forecast outcomes. There seems to be a small group of new AI tools which are attempting to work with the smaller datasets available in areas of litigation and case summary. For example, we are working with a start-up called LitiGate, which promises to recommend winning arguments for case filings. These really are in the sphere of augmented reality at present, providing lawyers with suggestions and insight rather than the system claiming to give a single answer.

Tyler: I think it is a combination of a number of things: adoption of predictive analytics based around richer and more consistent data, blockchain and the opportunities afforded by smart contracts, and then the enormous opportunity offered by an increasing degree of comfort with using the cloud.

McManus: For me, it is data. We have so much of it: if only we could harness it and then use it more effectively. As an industry we’ve always been good at using data but the problem is it’s in unstructured form and in people’s heads. If we can measure ourselves on how effectively we’re collecting and then using data to make far more informed decisions, then we’ll really make a difference to our clients.

Shilpa Bhandarkar, Linklaters

Bhandarkar: The most significant legaltech trend is the growing recognition of data as currency, vis-a-vis our clients as well as how we manage our business internally.

Wood: I would say automation. It is being adopted in many areas and at all levels, even if it is really only using old technology to make something faster and more consistent.

Crane: Artificial Intelligence is now becoming increasingly effective, and at a stage where it can be deployed sufficiently cost efficiently to add value to the firm’s practice. Whilst this is still a very nebulous concept for many people – the term being used to loosely group a wide range of capabilities, and undoubtedly much over-hyped by many vendors – there are now many use-cases where this can be deployed as an effective, efficient alternative to people, and so improve both our responsiveness and cost-efficiency for our clients.

Derrick: The most exciting legal trend is most likely the dawning realisation for most that purely looking inside your business at how technology can increase or maintain margins misses the biggest opportunity legaltech presents: to add value for your clients. It is all about your customers!

What would you say has been the most important legal technology story of 2018?

Wood: It has to be the amount of investment in legal tech by the Big 4 as they look to cut out a bigger piece of the legal pie. EY buying Riverview is a prime example.

Bhandarkar: Yes, the acquisition of Riverview Law, because it brings together many of the current trends in the legal sector, namely the emergence of “alternative” legal service providers coming into the mainstream and consolidation within the market. It also establishes the ambitions of the Big 4 in this space beyond a doubt. Having said that, EY has bought the people (the lawyers, the data scientists, etc), but not the technology, which seems to play to their strengths around legal managed services and process. It also means we’re likely to hear more from Karl Chapman and Kim Technologies. More generally, EY going into legal will see an acceleration of the predicted move towards multi-disciplinary transaction teams.

Whittle: There have been lots of big tech news stories this year, but the $50m investment in Kira Systems is symbolic of how, in a relatively short space of time, legal tech is coming of age. As a Kira customer, we look forward to seeing the enhancements that this funding will no doubt accelerate.

Knott: The acquisition itself happened in 2017, but I think one of the most significant recent events was iManage’s purchase of RAVN and the subsequent integration of AI technology into iManage.

Tyler: For me, 2018 was the year that the legal industry really understood the opportunity of cloud, versus the historic view of it being a risk. Undoubtedly, the trigger was in a large part cyber, most notably 2017’s NotPetya incidents. But overwhelmingly legaltech and innovation is cloud-driven, and our increasing comfort should mean further acceleration in this area. The key question is can we keep up?

Westland: For me I think it’s been the law-tech providers attracting investment and funding from outside the sector. As well as this, I’d say firms working better with providers to develop products that they can look to invest in and then use themselves.

Lauwerys: There isn’t one legal tech story that stands out – but the huge flurry of news launching new AI or innovation projects over the last year really highlights the arrival of technology and its critical role in delivering legal services. The cycle of leading-edge technology becoming a must-have commodity is accelerating, and it is incumbent on us to keep up with the pace in order to remain relevant to our clients.

Harris: I don’t think any single firm or software provider delivered the big story of 2018. For me the big story was the maturity and size of the legal tech market. A number of start-ups and innovators came of age and these were followed by a wave of VC-backed start-ups all trying to solve our issues and provide value. Law firms are in the enviable position of being catered to by hundreds of technology providers, a situation we couldn’t have dreamed of just two or three years ago.