Bringing digital disruption to the letter of the law
Digital transformation and disruption are not usually associated with legal services provision but that is changing quite rapidly, according to international law firm Pinsent Masons.
The firm, which set up its Dublin office in early 2017, has been investing in innovation to assist clients to deal with these new pressures for a number of years. “Many industries are going through disruptive change and a growing number of our clients are going through digital transformation programmes”, says Pinsent Masons partner and a founder of the Dublin office, Andreas Carney. “Often clients are challenged in how to apply those programmes to legal services and we apply our experience and invest in innovation to support them through this.”
This investment in innovation is nothing new. “When I joined six years ago, our innovation strategy had already been started by our partners,” says director of innovation David Halliwell. “They had taken responsibility for changing the way we delivered our services.
“The firm already had an online news service called outlaw.com. We are now expanding that out from UK head office into other regions.”
The firm’s innovation strategy is very closely aligned with its overall business strategy, Halliwell continues. “A key part of our vision is how we support our clients to create commercial value. Our strategy is to build long-term relationships with clients. It’s not a purely transactional relationship. We don’t view our clients as oranges to squeeze as much out of as possible. We collaborate with clients as partners to help them achieve their business objectives.
“We are not just a provider of basic legal services,” he adds. “Typically, we engage with clients who have their own internal legal services function. Our strategy is built around how we work with those in-house teams to deliver better commercial outcomes for our clients.”
At the heart of that strategy is the Pinsent Masons SmartDelivery solution. “It’s about offering clients more for less,” says Halliwell. “We deliver innovative solutions to client needs, powered by technology. We have been looking at artificial intelligence and automation for a long time and we took the decision to build our own technology capability very early in the process. We have 30 people in the innovation team now. They are experts in various areas including computing, data analytics and so on. The team delivers services to clients and can build bespoke solutions for them.”
Halliwell gives the example of a major retailer client which has benefited from this service. “When we first started working with the company, 70 per cent of its spend with suppliers was not contracted for,” he says. “Worse still, only a third of the supplier contracts they did have were based on their preferred terms. The retailer was choosing to take on risk rather than disrupt its supply chain with legal delays.
“What was our solution? Using our matter-tracker software, we captured the key data about each transaction. Then we worked with the business to build them a document automation system. We also built a playbook of the client’s preferred contract positions, automatically generating a risk note to indicate how, if at all, each contract deviated from the preferred terms. Senior managers also wanted to be able to examine and approve each supplier contract before signature.
“We worked with them to integrate our processes with their IT systems so that the approval process became significantly smoother while retaining the all-important oversight. By introducing SmartDelivery in this way, we helped our client move from contracting for 30 per cent of its spend to contracting for 95 per cent. And 85 per cent of these contracts were done on their preferred standard terms. Time to contract was reduced from more than 10 weeks to less than four.”
Carney concludes by pointing to pressures faced by clients and how innovation can help deal with them. “Our clients, whether we’re dealing with in-house legal teams or commercial teams, are under various pressures when they utilise legal services,” he says. “They increasingly need to source services at lower cost and have them delivered in shorter time frames, while at the same making sure that they appropriately manage risk and have confidence in the service outputs.
“Embedding technology solutions in our service delivery model or providing them to our clients enables them to respond to those pressures and helps to alleviate them. That can be a ‘quick win’.
“But being innovative in the legal space is only partly about the technology itself.
“We take a far more holistic view – for us it’s about listening to what our clients’ changing needs are, looking at how we can develop or adapt technology and our services to best meet those needs and being willing to invest in long-term relationships.”
‘‘ A growing number of our clients are going through digital transformation programmes – Pinsent Masons partner, Andreas Carney