The following is the first of a series of interviews with legal professionals and their experiences and interaction with innovation and technology in the legal sector. We hope you’ll get value from what others have learnt along the way and their recommendations.
An interview with Caroline Ferguson, Business Transformation Manager, Simpson Grierson
What has been your experience or interaction with legal innovation and technology?
Ever since I started working in law firms over a decade ago, I have been passionate about how we can make the delivery of legal services better for clients and the lawyers doing the work. During seven years at Allen & Overy in London I was lucky to be a part of, and work alongside, a number of leading developments in the global legal innovation and technology space. A&O has led the way with a number of their offerings including aosphere (online services), Peerpoint (contract lawyers) and Fuse, their technology incubator. It’s been great to bring this experience to Simpson Grierson, while also continuing to learn and keep up with new opportunities and developments. In particular, it’s been great to help Simpson Grierson with new initiatives, such as our online health and safety management service.
What changes have you seen in your firm, team or organisation recently?
I am really excited about the new skills and expertise that we are seeing develop in law firms. Earlier this year we had a graduate join our business transformation team who, in addition to being a whiz with Excel and developing more engaging ways to present data, has experience with various technologies including augmented reality. He brings a new way of approaching things which is very refreshing and ultimately contributes to creating better solutions. It is also great to see more and more of Simpson Grierson’s legal teams using Design Thinking to solve problems. I certainly know from my own experience that taking the time to understand the end-users needs and then prototyping and testing ideas leads to better products, systems and processes.
What challenges or barriers do you face when innovating or looking to use new tech?
Although it is important to be moving fast and experimenting, there are always steps you need to take and things you need to be thinking about before doing something differently and/or introducing new tech. For example, it is important that requirements around security and data protection are met and that there is adequate support in place. You also cannot just introduce tech for tech’s sake, it must be solving real problems for your clients and you need to think about the people element of any change. The best results come from having people with the rights skills working with the technology to ensure you are getting the full benefit from it and supporting others to use it. Sometimes things will take longer the first, second and third time you do it in a different way so you need to have the perseverance to push through and be open to adapting as you go.
What opportunities do you see with legal innovation?
We are already seeing many benefits from taking more innovative approaches to the delivery of legal services, these include:
- A more efficient, effective and enjoyable experience for clients (eg through visualising legal processes to increase transparency and understanding)
- Less drudge work for lawyers so they can focus on the higher-value work for clients (eg using machine learning solutions to extract important data from large pools of documents so lawyers can focus on analysing the information and not finding it!)
- Increased access to justice for those who may not always seek legal services due to cost, complexity and/or not feeling comfortable to ask for help (eg the resources on the Steps for Justice website led by CLEO (Community Legal Education Ontario)).
With greater adoption of tech and more innovation, how do you see your role evolving in the future?
I believe it is going to become more and more important to remain curious, open to experimenting with new ways of doing things and technology, and continually learning what offers the most value to clients. It will also become increasingly important to be able to collaborate, partner and work with people with all sorts of expertise including data analytics, artificial intelligence, design and behaviour science.
LawFest is focused on innovation and tech in the legal profession, why do you think it’s important for legal professionals to attend an event like LawFest?
When things are constantly changing and technology is rapidly developing, LawFest is helpful to be able to meet others who are working on similar things and who may be a step or two ahead of you so that you can get some support and guidance. It is also great to have a day out of the office where you are exposed to new ideas and made to think in a different way – as they say, the best ideas never happen sitting at your desk!