Continuing our efforts to profile the IT capability of the UK’s largest law firms, here Minster Law’s director of strategy and change, Mazella Heaton, tells us about the IT team’s remit, strategy, challenges and where significant investment – estimated at 9% of income in the current year – is taking place.
Minster Law: At a glance
Team size: 25 (plus offshore development team with NashTech)
Mazella Heaton (pictured right), Director of Strategy & Change (Reports to CEO Shirley Woolham)
Investment in IT: Varies year-to-year. Current year investment circa 9% of income due to systems consolidation and infrastructure refresh
Key priorities: Consolidating case management and financial systems onto single platform; second phase of online digital portal; AI claims management pilot; rolling out Microsoft 365 capabilities; moving data storage off-prem with Microsoft Azure
Key systems: Running off bespoke case management system and Legal Enterprise and consolidating onto Proclaim; QlikView for MI
Mazella Heaton, Director of Strategy and Change, Minster Law
What is your remit at Minster?
I report to our CEO Shirley Woolham, my formal title is Director of Strategy and Change. I look after our IT and change functions. I also look after marketing and comms. As a road accident personal injury claims firm, most of our programme is focused on technology and it is important that both our internal and external comms and brand are aligned with what we are doing.
How big is the IT team and how is it structured?
The total headcount is 25. That team is split into two verticles. There is the application development division, which looks after changes and enhancements to our IT systems. Then we have a systems and infrastructure team which contains our service desk and infrastructure support. We also have a small offshore development team with NashTech in Vietnam. That supplements our UK developers because historically we have found it quite difficult to attract the .net development resources we require domestically. NashTech gives us flexible access to .net when we are running larger changes.
Where does innovation fit in?
We always start with a business problem or a customer problem and then find the best way to fix it. As a business, we start from the premise that the innovative solutions aren’t always technological. It could be processes or be about people. It is just about finding a different way of doing something. Innovation is central to our growth and stability as a business, it’s something we are really passionate about.
We have a pilot running at the moment with over 400 customers involved in this process. Part of the process includes an AI claims assistant which helps customers through their claim. It is our first foray into AI and the idea is to see if we can interact and process a simple claim purely using technology.
Do you tend to build or to buy?
Historically, we have tended to go for internal development but going forward we will increasingly be working in partnerships. With regards to this pilot, we are working in partnership with an agency called Eden, which is a customer experience agency. Partnering, or using toolsets that already exist, is something we are going to do more of.
Do you have any plans to change the size or shape of the team?
Not materially. We have got our offshore capabilities if we need to flex. We also use contract resources where required and we can outsource some build for some of our systems to the providers of those systems.
There are two things which we have changed recently – one is boosting our test capability and the other is bringing in some UX skills as well.
How would you describe your top line IT strategy?
Our business strategy breaks down into consolidating existing business, growth and sustainability. The IT strategy mirrors that. So, this year, it is really about consolidating and simplifying what we have got. My key objectives are around ensuring the stability and performance of IT through our infrastructure; delivering digital solutions that increase customer satisfaction; reducing the overall cost of our IT; giving colleagues the tools that they need to do their job and delivering against an MI strategy that improves our ability to do data analytics.
How does that translate into specific projects?
The main projects that drive out of that are the consolidation of our business process applications into a single platform. Currently, we have two case management applications and a separate finance system. This year we are working towards consolidating everything onto one platform.
We are building the second phase of an online digital portal for customers and we have got an AI system in pilot. Those are our digital solutions for improving customer satisfaction. In terms of providing the business with the tools that it needs, we have recently upgraded to Microsoft 365. We will be rolling out aspects of that, such as Microsoft Teams, throughout the year. We are also currently building out our data store into Microsoft Azure from an on-premises data warehouse which will support our analytics. Those are our key projects at the moment.
You are going through a consolidation, but what systems are you currently using and what will be changing?
In claims management we use Proclaim. We also have a bespoke case management system called Kaizen which is in run off as we consolidate onto Proclaim. We use Legal Enterprise for our finance system. That is also going into run off in September as we consolidate finance onto Proclaim. Then we use QlikView for our MI. Those are our main applications.
How much investment does IT receive within the firm?
It really differs each year depending on our plans. Investment this year is high because we are consolidating our platform and refreshing our infrastructure – it will represent around nine per cent of income. But investment decisions depend on what we want to do each year. There is not a set IT budget.
What is your approach to shadow IT?
Most people will tell you they don’t think they have a problem with shadow IT. We don’t think we have a problem with shadow IT. But you never know what you don’t know. That said, I think we are a small company. Our headcount is just under 500. We are single site. We also have a really flat structure so it is easy to see everything that is going on at Minster Law. All IT purchasing decisions come through IT even if they are then locally implemented. We don’t think we have an issue with shadow IT at all.
What is your biggest challenge or frustration in your current role?
One of the biggest challenges is that we find it hard to attract talent into our technology teams because the legal industry has an old fashioned reputation. I think we have a lot of work to do as a sector to try and create some excitement around our tech. That is particularly important for us as a road traffic accident personal injury law firm, because we are facing a very significant piece of legislation which will fundamentally change our business model. Technology has got to be part of that. That means it is even more important that we can make legal services an interesting industry for technologists to work in.
What are the implications of the legislation and what role do you expect technology to play in helping the firm overcome them?
In April 2020, the Civil Liability Bill comes into effect. That means that the traditional law firm business model will change fundamentally in terms of how we get paid. The revenue we can earn will reduce significantly so the focus needs to be on efficiency. That efficiency will be achieved through the use of technology, putting the ability to process claims within the hands of the customer without them having to actually take the work on.
Given the challenges your area of law faces, if we were toasting your success in five years’ time, what would that success look like?
I am hugely committed to building a successful legal services business that can continue to help customers claim having had a road traffic accident. The challenges of negotiating our way through the next few years, with the Civil Liability Act, means the way we do business will fundamentally change and there will be a number of new business models that emerge. I, personally, would like to see Minster Law being leaders in this rapidly evolving sector in five years’ time.