Legal project management (LPM) is still regarded with something resembling suspicion in many legal circles, so when Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF) hired Berwin Leighton Paisner’s head of process improvement Cathy Mattis (pictured on the home page) and a team of three last year, the market sat up.

At Legal Leaders IT Forum in Gleneagles, Mattis shared her experiences of delivering LPM and driving change, speaking alongside Lisa McLaughlin, director of HSF’s Belfast office.

McLaughlin helped to launch the game changing near-shore legal support office in 2011, which initially catered for document review in litigation but was swiftly extended to cover real estate support and has become a full service global offering driven from Belfast, London and Australia, headed by Libby Jackson. Incidentally, Belfast was using predictive coding in partnership with Recommind as long ago as 2012 and worked on the first UK Commercial Court matter to use the emerging technology.

Mattis works hand-in-hand with the global alternative legal services team, alongside HSF’s Australia and Asia LPM head Libby Jarvis. While no-one is suggesting that leading a LPM team for Europe, the Middle East and US is easy, some of the hard work in breaking down the circa 2,300-lawyer firm’s processes has already been done.

For some LPM providers it is a struggle to get to the table but HSF has notably put LPM and alternative legal services at the heart of its strategy and Mattis and her team are constantly brought into conversations among lawyers and clients. “It is a case of ‘come and join this meeting, because we want to see what ideas we can have together,’” she said.

“It is key that people feel that they are on a journey and that is an exciting journey and that we are there to help and support them and not threaten them and not say, ‘Oh gosh, well if you are improving something, that must have meant you were terrible in the past.’ We support conversations with lawyers around imagining a different future, so it is about not saying ‘What you do is a process’, but encouraging them to see that there are patterns in the way that they have been delivering something and actually, maybe, we could introduce new patterns and learn from other teams throughout the business who are doing similar things and possibly not in the same way.”

The fact that the LPM is so client focussed means they often get invited to pitches. Mattis said: “The current team are lawyers and so we are able to have those conversations without having to translate what it is that the GC may be saying. We can describe how we monitor, how would we report, how could we tailor our reporting to suit the client’s internal needs.”

The LPM team is often involved at the very early stages in answering RFPs. “The questions are becoming much more precise and those conversations are becoming trickier and that is why we get into the pitch presentation because the partner says, ‘Cathy, over to you for that one,’” Mattis says.

Technology inevitably plays a big part and Mattis, who heads up technology within the LPM function, works closely with HSF’s chief information officer Haig Tyler. She said: “For me this is a new challenge and I am very much working with Haig. He is always open to joint meetings to thrash out solutions with the legal team so that what we are producing really supports the way that they are working and the ideas they have to work differently.

“I am very much ‘let’s roll our sleeves up and have a go at technology’ but always with a lot of guidance from friends in IT and particularly Haig and his team.”

Mattis’ arrival shortly followed the globalisation of HSF’s alternative services offering, which only took place in June 2015. McLaughlin said: “Today, we effectively provide a full service offering in support of our offices across the global network.  To date, the offering has been concentrated in Belfast but we are entering an ambitious new phase which will see us relaunch as part of a global entity, bringing together teams in Australia, London and Belfast.

The team uses Trello for project management and has increasingly turned to HighQ for collaboration across the global team. It has also recently used HighQ to monitor media reports on behalf of a client and ‘red flag, amber flag and green flag’ the commentary.

“One of the key ways in which we use technology is through predictive coding or technology-assisted review. In this age of big data, where again we tend as a firm to act on the biggest disputes, the data is only increasing. Clients are often surprised when they see the cost of hosting, processing and then reviewing data, when they do find themselves in a very large dispute.  In a recent matter for a large international arbitration based in the Middle East, we used a global team to complete the project and if we hadn’t used predictive coding technology to reduce the number of documents for review, we would have been looking at a data set of 4.5 million documents.  In the end we used the technology to bring it down to half a million.

“As we move forward, we will be investigating and piloting new technology both in terms of the way we do our legal work but also in other areas.”

But she adds: “I recently stayed in a hotel which shall be nameless in London’s new tech city and it was really technology for technology’s sake; technology everywhere, iPads everywhere but you couldn’t switch on and off a light. It was an inhibitor and as we move forward, I am keen that we don’t make that mistake and adopt the right technology solutions for our business.”

This article first appeared in the latest Legal IT Insider. You can register on our website to receive the free monthly issue by email.