This week Shruti Ajitsaria (pictured right), head of Allen & Overy’s innovation hub Fuse, was promoted to partner. She is believed to be the first lawyer focused exclusively on innovation to be made up. In the same week, former transaction services paralegal Kerry Westland (pictured below left), now head of innovation and legal technology at Addleshaw Goddard, was also made partner. Ajitsaria and Westland are amongst a growing number of legaltechleads to be invited to the top table, which has traditionally been reserved for practising lawyers.
“I think what is driving these promotions is the fact that technology and innovation are becoming part of the DNA of law firms and as much a part of what they do as actual law,” Ajitsaria told Legal IT Insider.
As an industry, there is still some resistance to having non lawyers at the top table, she added. “If you look at A&O, however, you have people like Fuse chairman Jonathan Brayne, who has been active in the innovation space for a very long time; Andrew Trahair, head of advanced delivery and Angela Clist, head of legal services. I think that is why we have been able to make innovation and technology such a core part of our business, because we have these partners leading it.”
Of course, not only have legal partners historically been practising lawyers, they have also been overwhelmingly male. This is something the industry is proactively addressing and women have been prevalent amongst the earliest legaltech and innovation experts to make partner or director positions.
In addition to Ajitsaria and Westland, Jane Challoner, head of tech innovation at CMS has been made director of innovation and knowledge this month. Libby Jackson, former disputes lawyer and now global head of alternative legal services at Herbert Smith Freehills was made partner back in 2017, the first time a partnership promotion had been made in the division.
Caryn Sandler, chief of knowledge and innovation at Australian firm Gilbert and Tobin, was one of nine lawyers to make partner last year and the only one not actively practising law. Pinsent Masons’ Lucy Shurwood, meanwhile, was one of the first women in legaltech to make partner. Shurwood was previously a banking lawyer but now specialises in technology and innovation across the financial services sector. She was promoted in 2016.
But Ajitsaria believes the significance is less about gender diversity and more about cognitive diversity. “It is about bringing people together from different practice areas, different age groups, people who look at life through a slightly different lense,” she said. “That brings a great deal to any organisation – not just law firms. It allows you to challenge the status quo and ask questions that might otherwise go unspoken.”
By Amy Carroll