The Interaction between Data, Services and Technology – a Q&A with Tara Waters

Has 2020 been a reckoning?  How are the clients’ needs shifting and what is the implication for the legal sector?

“Reckoning” may be a bit strong, but certainly the events of 2020 have, amongst other things, laid bare the vulnerabilities within the full range of industries as regards to their maturity in adoption and implementation of technology-based solutions to support their businesses. The common theme we are hearing from clients is that they need to accelerate their digital strategies, to enable them to leverage technology and data to compete and win and that they need advice and guidance about how to approach solving this far-reaching problem. From a legal services perspective, this has meant accelerating their review of technology solutions that can improve their legal operations and which work holistically within their businesses. And, ultimately, this has resulted in a blending of the practice of law with the business of law, and the need for participants in the legal sector to understand how to service both, whether on their own or in collaboration with others.

How are data and tech enabling the rethinking around the role of legal (either in-house or law firms/ companies)?

The role of legal is definitely shifting towards being recognised and understood as one of greater strategic importance, rather than being more focused on compliance and risk management. Naturally, compliance and risk management is a core part of a legal function. However, today both in-house and external lawyers are expected to also help solve problems and present solutions, rather than simply advise on dos and don’ts. Increased access to technology and the ability to deliver legal services using technology enables lawyers to provide up-to-the-minute strategic advice. It allows them to be “in the room” for strategic discussions and provides a channel through which they can offer creative and out-of-the-box thinking and solutions. It also allows lawyers to take small risks, test ideas and hypothesis, and demonstrate incremental and strategic value much more easily.

How would you define R&D in a legal context?

I don’t think R&D is very different in a legal industry context than as in other industries beyond the subject matter. The aim of R&D is to investigate opportunities, explore multiple new ideas and filter down the process until you have identified ones that can deliver value against a stated strategy, based on testing and assessment protocols. This is the same for legal businesses and firms who are seeking to develop new solutions or offerings. Where the solutions or offerings are more “traditional” in nature, e.g. adding a new practice discipline, there is probably more reliance on what others have done in the market in terms of predicting likely outcomes and success as compared to industries where R&D is focused on greenfield areas. However, we are seeing an increase in non-traditional and greenfield offering models being looked at within the legal industry, particularly around the use of technology and data to deliver services and products. And in those cases, a more usual R&D approach is certainly being followed.

What would you say is the importance of R&D for the delivery of legal services and driving innovative client solutions?

R&D is essential, because the outcomes being promised to clients, whether that be cost savings, improved user experience or replacement of existing processes, need to be tried and tested. The R&D process, if implemented in an agile but rigorous manner, allows legal industry participants to set success criteria and demonstrate their achievement through hard and soft metrics. That, in turn, enables them to give clients assurance as to the quality of the solution, its ability to meet the client’s requirements and deliver both expected and unexpected outcomes. And clients can participate in the R&D process, which helps shape a better solution.

How are we rethinking our role in the future?

The future lawyer and the future law firm will by necessity be very different from how it was or is today. Both will be powered by technology and data natively—to the extent that clients and practitioners won’t think of it as separate from the services being provided. It will be woven into the fabric of the industry and how it operates. This will, in turn, free up the industry to continue to evolve into a cross-industry enabler and become part of business infrastructure, rather than a point solution service provider. This means that there will need to be a proliferation of new roles and skillsets required, new career paths and on-ramps, and all persons within the industry will be value creators.