Osborne Clarke has just begun to automate high-use legal documents for the first time as it also raises cross-firm awareness of its new “material” R&D budget that will facilitate the adoption of new technology by the firm and its clients.
The 725-lawyer firm completed its proof of concept over Thomson Reuters ContractExpress in September – its first-ever use of external automation software – and will now begin automating documents within the UK corporate, banking and real estate teams, with plans to expand internationally as the automation project gets underway.
According to IT director Nathan Hayes (pictured), the proof of concept measured a return on investment that was “incredibly compelling.” The firm’s knowledge management team will now work with project managers from the IT team to automate documents in an organic way and drive adoption and use.
Hayes said: “Simplicity is the key – it’s very simple technology to get to grips with which allows our fee-earners to engage well.”
The firm’s new R&D budget, meanwhile, was introduced in April, at the start of the 2016-17 financial year, and represents, according to Hayes, a “material investment” by the top 30 firm that will go towards developing technology-based solutions for Osborne Clarke and its clients.
It is being led by the IT operations group, which is chaired by Hayes and includes Osborne Clarke’s finance director, legal and compliance director, head of innovations group, and partners from across the business.
Hayes told Legal IT Insider: “Effectively anybody in the firm can come up with an idea based on new technology in use in legal or outside and come to the IT function with an idea or opportunity.
“What we do is assess that opportunity and whether there’s merit in it, in which case we’ll enter a proof of concept. The aim of any proof of concept is to measure the value and capability of these technologies in a working environment within our business.”
Hayes added: “All these technologies are great but the question is whether they are appropriate for our business at this time. Different areas of the business are at different stages of development, and while the technology may be wonderful, we may not be in a position to take advantage of it, whereas other technology may be simple but a perfect fit.”
Currently there is no specific incentive for individual members of staff to engage in R&D.
While the business will expect to see a return on its overall R&D investment, the carved out funds will give Osborne Clarke more leeway to explore new tech. Hayes said: “The expectation in law firms is that you can validate benefits without incurring costs and in some cases its simply not possible to do that. This is a more flexible approach which opens the firm up to gaining benefits it wouldn’t otherwise have.”