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JD Horizons London ’17: Beware shiny things

Added on the 23rd May 2017 at 4:42 pm
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The Janders Dean London Horizons 2017 conference on 10 May brought together a veritable smorgasbord of speakers which while eclectic, if last year is anything to go by will go on to create a number of eureka moments when delegates least expect it.

If there was one theme running through the conference – where speakers included members of the academia to the magic circle –  it was creativity, and the need, amid the current frenzied focus on technology and buying shiny toys, to prioritise culture, people and process, giving people the space and freedom to innovate.

John Flood, professor of law & society at Griffith University (pictured, is it us or does he look a bit like someone from iManage?) said: “We’re becoming enslaved and enthralled by technology as if it is the big answer.” Professor Flood, an engaging speaker who warned the delegates not to forget the importance of human values and culture, said: “Technology does not understand human values,” adding: “We have to reclaim our humanity and create trust in the organisations in which we operate.”

Tech-delivered legal services did underpin many of the talks including some practical advice on new business delivery from Claire Farley, executive director of Allen & Overy’s online derivatives business aosphere.

Farley pointed out that 10 years ago clients had the comparatively simple option of keeping their legal matters in-house or sending them to a traditional law firm commenting: “Now there is much more competition, which means law firms have to come up with numerous fee structures. How will they cope with the decline or even demise of the billable hour?”

Identifying and capitalising on areas of repeat advice that are ripe for productisation and can bring in subscription-based revenues is one way, as A&O has become a leader in with the likes of aosphere and Margin Matrix.

Farley said: “Productisation means information is accessed by many, usually on a subscription basis. It gives the client very clear answers to their questions: ‘How long will it take?’ It’s already done and available to find online. ‘How much will it cost?’ A fixed fee. ‘Is it good value?’ That depends on the client but the proposition is clear from the outset and the fact that it has been resold multiple times means that the price is much lower than you could hope to do for one client.”

At a time when IT directors are crying out for ‘how to’ guidance, Farley’s takeway tips were worth taking note of: find the recurring problem; do it by talking to clients; have the courage to bin bad ideas – not every client problem is a successful product; and be prepared to invest up front.

Other takeaways from the conference:

Injecting a note of realism or denial depending on where you’re standing, Chris Watson, global head of technology, media & communications group, CMS, said: “Has any law firm been transformed by technology? I’ve seen a number of new forces in law but I’m not aware of any law firm that has been so transformed by technology that it comes to a completely different place in the market.”

Watson reminded us to challenge common assumptions, commenting: “I find conservatism is often in the younger folk,” adding, “We have to be open minded.”

Victoria Pickard, senior management consultant at Eversheds Sutherland Consulting said there were three factors that enabled the consultancy arm to become established: the support of senior management from the beginning; the fact Eversheds Sutherland Consulting is set up as a standalone practice; and that it had access to the firm’s resources and brand, which gave it immediate credibility.

Nonetheless, it has taken time and effort to build trust internally and that journey isn’t over yet. Pickard says: “We test and where something doesn’t work we pivot and try something different. It feels like we’ve been given a golden ticket.”

Continuing the ‘culture’ theme, Grace Cordell, global head of knowledge and collaboration management, global sales and markets, KPMG said: “Technology is not king. We are about technology, people and process but the tech is about the ‘how’. The harder issue is culture, people and process. We have a very self-conscious focus away from technology.”

She adds: “You need to think about what is the nature of the cultural change you’re trying to effect. It’s about getting people to think about their function globally. It’s about strategic growth initiatives and that ‘client for life’ mentality.”

And Gorkan Ahmetoglu (pictured), Lecturer of Business Psychology at University College London (UCL) said: “People can only innovate if they are allowed to do it. You need an ecosystem to succeed. But you can’t spend millions decorating the office to be like Google if you have people who are incapable of generating a creative idea.”

He added: “Don’t compete on culture. Tesla give their employees 20% of their time to work on pet projects but it has to be relevant to you and your business. You just have to be more innovative relative to your competitors.

“It’s about asking yourself the critical question – in terms of the talent we have, my organisation is in the top what? It is a critical question to ask yourself.”

Maria Passemard, who is currently head of legal projects (legal operations) at John Lewis Partnership didn’t hold back in telling the conference: “If you haven’t spotted the rise of legal operations in the world you need to get with the programme.”

This is certainly true, although – and you’ll forgive the Dad-ism here – to date law firms have forgotten more about tech than the majority of in-house teams know, apart from when it comes to the very largest. I digress.

Passemard joined JLP three years ago to work in employment in an in-house team that was old fashioned – one lawyer to one secretary (remember those days?) – and in need of an overhaul.

With legal teams now being scrutinised more by the business, they need better MI to show how the team is delivering value and why it sends work out to “expensive law firms.” Passemard says: “The other reason that we’re seeing the rise of legal operations is that GCs are spending more time with the C-Suite. They don’t have time to look at MI and law firm data. I protect him from that.”

“If you don’t get the significance of legal operations, you need to take another look,” Passemard concluded, and she is absolutely right.

Sticking to the ‘be afraid of in-house’ theme, Leah Cooper, founder and director of Leah Cooper Consulting and Cate Campany, director of Cate Campany Consulting talked about the rapidly maturing in-house sector but acknowledged that many corporate teams are playing a game of catch-up.

A comedic duo, Cooper, who between 2007-08 was vice president and general counsel of Rio Tinto Minerals said: “The role of the GC is evolving. We were the trusted adviser in charge of checks and balances. Then we had a seat at the table and a strategic role. Then someone handed us a budget and we said what the fricking hell is this? GCs have had to focus on efficiency and running the function, which is a huge challenge and where you guys need to help. Don’t say ‘what do you want?’ Say what you can offer.”

There were the straightforward tech presentations and giving us an insight into how AI will shape the way we communicate and fulfil tasks was Allison Schneider, ‘human’ from x.ai, who joined the New York company from IBM Watson. x.ai builds bots to schedule meetings – if you have been in touch with Janders Dean and had an email from ‘Amy’, you may or may not have worked out that Amy is not human.

Schneider said: “Companies like us are building products and services in the AI space and thinking about how we can utilise the technology.”

Horizontal AI – the likes of Siri and Cortana, which has a wide but not deep capability – will soon, Schneider says, merge with vertical AI, which is focussed on completing a task from start to finish.

“Alexa will call on Amy to complete a task,” she says.

There were plenty of other speakers I’ve not mentioned, including Anna Donovan, co-director, centre for ethics and law UCL (which explores the interplay between business, law, technology and ethics) who set out some of the challenges in educating the next generation of lawyers in a fast changing market – spoiler alert, there are lots.

That’s to say nothing of the legal data jam, which brought together over 30 participants from 15 firms to explore opportunities for the utilisation of data across a number of commercial and operational service areas. Confession alert: at the time the jammers presented their results I was mid-demo with deal management platform and exhibitor thedocyard, which is worth taking a look at if you haven’t already.

Janders Dean never knowingly under delivers on content: with quick fire sessions and over 20 speakers it was, as Janders Dean founder Justin North refers to it , a ‘mix up to fix up’.

At times, I was left grasping for a theme – but perhaps it’s just me who needs to put things in a neat box. Certainly within the legal sector there is no one-size-fits-all solution. What did come in a box on the table was the signature JD Horizons Bloody Mary and it was a personal highlight watching people decide if they should drink it at 11am. It goes without saying, I did.

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