UK Top 50 Law firm IT profile: Weightmans' IT strategy, investment and core systems
At Legal IT Insider we are profiling the UK top 200 legal IT teams – from key people, to size, to core systems and strategic priorities – bringing to life much of the information contained in our UK Top 200 chart and extending it. In our second profile we are excited to bring you everything you need to know about Weightmans, where investment in IT was an impressive 6% of revenue in 2017. Our thanks to the Weightmans team for helping us.
Weightmans: At a glance
Team size: 50 approx
Stuart Whittle, head of business service and innovation
Kevin Brown, head of information management and technology (responsible for IT and reporting to Stuart Whittle)
Catriona Wolfenden, innovation manager (responsible for innovation and reporting to Stuart Whittle)
Investment in IT: £1.3m in 2017. 5 – 6% of revenue approx.
Practice management – Elite 3E
Case management – Elite Mattersphere
CRM – LexisNexis InterAction (About to go live)
Intapp – Time Builder and Integrated Builder
HR – Cascade HR
Shift to cloud, led by move to Office 365; Cyber security; maximising value of new case management system; developing AI capabilities with Kira platform
Kevin Brown, head of information management and technology, Weightmans
What is your official remit?
Sometimes it feels like anything that has got a three-pin plug on the end of it! But for the main part, it is driving the strategic direction of technology at Weightmans. Obviously, there is a day-to-day role, driving the performance of the IT team. But as one of two non-lawyer partners at the firm, I really act as a conduit between the technical teams under my remit and the fee earning population. I sit on several client steering groups and work closely with the business to identify tech improvements and opportunities.
What is the size and make-up of your team?
I have around 50 people under my control. I have six direct reports and then there are their teams under that. As you would expect, we have a service desk. The real focus there is trying to upskill them to get that superior first-time resolution. We have an operations team that has largely moved away from keeping the lights on to focus on application performance and the tweaking of infrastructure. They are our two support activities. Then we have two development teams and a data team.
We deal with a lot of high-volume work so our development teams are very workflow driven. We have a team of seven or eight people, at any one time, working on those workflows on the case management system, making sure we get the most value out of it. We then have a smallish team of six or seven people in our traditional development team. A lot of their time is spent on client focused technology.
Probably the biggest growth area within our department over recent years has been around the data services side of things. We have a team working on data warehousing and a team working on data governance, so working with fee earning teams to make sure we are capturing the right information and relaying it in the right way. Our latest recruitment into that team involved a couple of data scientists, who are working with our clients and AI partners to make sure that everything we capture as an organisation can be analysed. Our clients aren’t happy to just have their data played back to them. They are looking for us to give them real insight into their data, to highlight problem areas, based on our experience and on the data that we hold.
The final piece is cyber security. We have a dedicated resource that sits outside of the technical teams, whose sole remit is to drive improvement plans for our security and to liaise with suppliers and client teams to make sure that we are taking the appropriate action.
Where does innovation sit in relation to the IT team?
Innovation sits outside of the IT team. Catriona Wolfenden is our innovation manager and she is ultimately responsible for the development and delivery of the firm’s technology and innovation projects. Both she and I report to Stuart Whittle, who is head of business service and innovation. He is our equity partner on the main board.
We have a whole team of people looking at innovation. There are some of my IT people within that team, but there are also business people and some legal engineers that sit outside of my department. But I see my team as the engine room of innovation. I use the phrase “innovation is the practical application of invention.” My team is that practical application. We have to make solutions work within our existing systems, so spend a lot of time integrating data with our case management system.
Do you have any plans to grow or reconfigure you team?
Weightmans, as an organisation, restructured 18 months ago, which is when the data services team was created. So that probably covered our reconfiguration, for now, at least. That data team is the team that is growing. They work a lot alongside the AI people. When I think about some of the AI work we are doing, a lot of it is around inspecting documents, picking out key pieces of data, and ensuring that the lawyers have the data presented to them in the right way and at the right time.
AI allows us to take a lot more data on board, but more data in itself isn’t any use. It is about how we analyse that data to provide insights for clients that is the big growth area we are seeing in IT.
What is your IT strategy?
It is difficult to look at IT strategy in isolation from the overall business strategy. Our business strategy over the next few years is all about growth. My strategy, therefore, is about how to support that growth. In terms of key objectives that means exploiting the scalability and flexibility of the cloud. We are working with partners at the moment to create a road map of those moves. In particular, our focus for the next 12 to 18 months will be a move to the Office 365 offering and looking at the collaborative tools that that can give us in order to get fast, internal value from the cloud.
Cyber security is also paramount. We have an ongoing programme to look at how our defences can be strengthened. We have also invested heavily in core systems. In particular, we are just coming to the end of the roll out of Thompson Reuters Elite Mattersphere case management system. Over the next couple of years we will be spending a lot of time looking at how to get the best out of that. When you buy these case management systems they are very much a blank canvas so the onus is on us, in IT, to drive the maximum value out of that system.
Elsewhere, AI is obviously going to be huge. We want to make sure that when we put AI systems in, that they complement our existing platforms. We are working with Kira quite extensively at the moment and we see that as a platform that could be used across the board within in the business.
How much does Weightmans invest in technology, as a percentage of revenue, and is that investment growing?
It is certainly growing. Over the time I have been at the firm, which is eight years, we have seen massive amounts of money put in. Last year Weightmans spent £1.3m on new tech. Over the past few years you are looking at £6m. There is a healthy level of investment.
At the same time, we are quite successful at containing some of cost by working with our suppliers and making sure we get value for money. But I can honestly say that there is not much that I have asked for, with a reasonable business case, that hasn’t been approved by board.
In terms of percentage of revenue, you are probably looking at five to six per cent, which is in line with the 30 or so firms that we benchmark ourselves against every other year. But you can’t read too much into those figures because you are never quite sure what is contained in the detail. The boring stuff like photocopiers and paper fall under my budget but they may not sit within someone else’s. The data services team for the business sits under my budget. That’s probably quite unusual. It is difficult to make comparisons, but the story we have to tell is that there is healthy investment and I don’t see that changing.
In addition to your new case management system, what core systems are you using?
Our practice management system is Elite 3E. That has probably been in for two to three years now, replacing LexusNexis Axxia. We have Thompson Reuters Elite Mattersphere as our case management system, as I mentioned. Again, that is replacing a LexisNexis product. Our CRM system which is just about to go live is LexisNexis InterAction. We use a couple of Intapp products, Time Builder and Integration Builder. The rest is bog standard legal industry stuff such as Mimecast and Equitrac. Our HR system is Cascade HR.
What is your approach to shadow IT?
By definition, we only know about shadow IT when it goes wrong. But generally, I think we are close enough to the business and that we have the right processes in place, that we don’t see a massive amount of shadow IT.
I sit on several steering committees for clients, so what tends to happen is that when someone has got an idea, those ideas come through myself and the business change team, for analysis. Quite often, we already have a solution somewhere, it’s just not that obvious. I guess I am not overly troubled by shadow IT.
What is the firm’s overall approach to innovation?
We have taken a relatively academic approach. We have partnered with the University of Liverpool, and we are going to be partnering with the University of Manchester, to look at the thinking behind all these innovations, rather than jumping straight in. Generally, if I was trying to describe our approach to innovation, I would say it is one of team work, knowledge sharing and experimentation. One thing that we have been quite clear about when it comes to innovation is that not everything succeeds. That is a bit of a mindset change in the organisation. It is about being prepared to fail, and if you have to fail, then fail fast. It has taken a while to get used to.
What is your biggest challenge, or frustration, as an IT Director?
I think it is that there are always more ideas and projects that you would like to do than you will ever have the resources to deliver. There are lots of really good ideas out there and lots of really good products. But we only have finite capacity to implement and the business only has finite capacity to change. You have to be careful that change fatigue doesn’t set it. If we are overwhelmed by technology, just imagine how the legal teams feel.
So, the challenge is keeping pace with change and the frustration is not having the capacity to deliver everything that the business wants. On the flipside, however, we still have to look after the basics of security and the basics of customer service. It is important not to get carried away with every new thing that comes along. We can’t lose sight of the fact that 80 per cent of calls we receive aren’t going to be about the latest new innovation. They are about getting the best out of our existing capabilities. It is a real balancing act.
If we were toasting your success in five years time, what would we be toasting?
I wish I could answer that question. I don’t think the job is ever done. As long as there are business challenges, IT has got to be there to meet those challenges. If, in five years’ time if, we can meet the pace of change that the business wants then I will be a happy man.
By Amy Carroll