The role of lawyer continues to change and shift with technology having played a huge part in this change. With clients rightly demanding more efficiency and process from their law firms, it's forced a change in the profession to look at what's possible and how technology can automate processes, speed up delivery and ultimately add value.
This month I am again handing the reins of my blog over, this time to Tom Hinton, a technology associate in the team – who has recently become the first Innovation and Legal Technology trainee to qualify. He talks about his role, the changes he's seen and how answering the question what is a lawyer, becomes more difficult as client and firm-wide expectation change.
What is a lawyer?
"So it's not like Suits? How often do you wear a wig?"
My non legal friends and family have never really understood my career in law.
When I first joined the industry as a paralegal I would often be asked when I would officially became a lawyer. I had to say well, it's not quite that simple as you don't just 'evolve' into a lawyer, there's some jumps you need to make.
It didn't get simpler when I got my training contract.
"Yes but you see I can't start for 2 years because first I need to do this course, that's a different thing to that other 3 letter conversion course, and then I can *start* training, for another 2 years".
And that was when I was on the 'traditional' lawyer route. Now I've moved into the world of AI, data, and legal productisation- there's no chance! But one thing they do seem to understand is that. "Technology seems to be where everything is going" – says my Dad.
I initially joined AG as a corporate paralegal in our Transaction Services Team. Whilst there I got a chance to cut my teeth at a wide range of legal work including doc review, DD, basic drafting and transactional completions (I even had a glamorous trip to Guernsey).
Friends at other firms had told me that paralegals could be shut in a windowless room to find one document in a room full of boxes, but what stood out at AG was the quality of the work and how I was trusted and listened to from an early stage. The TST was the first paralegal hub of its kind, and it was also ahead of the curve by recognising that bringing in a huge influx of young, technologically savvy people would also bring new ideas and perspectives. The concept was simple: you do the work, how would you change or improve it?
Whilst in TST we pitched for and won a major piece of work that simply couldn't be delivered to deadline or budget without technology. It was a real inception point where we built processes, knowhow and resources that formed the foundation of what the Innovation and Legal Technology team (ILT) is today. I learned basic coding, document automation, information capture, and perhaps most importantly, the key skills of managing, checking, and verifying the huge amounts of data generated by the process. This was a time when 'legal technologists' were still concepts in futurist books, rather than actual day-to-day roles in law firms, but the building blocks of our legal tech offering were being put in place.
I got my training contract internally in 2015, and in the gap before starting, I worked in what was firstly the TST Tech team, which then grew into the ILT team. Our tech knowledge grew exponentially: we tested things, succeeded/failed, improved and tried again. We brought in new tools such as AI which delivered up to 70% time savings on our previous processes. I got really good at excel (I love excel!). We started to create our first legal tech products and I learned that being functional is not enough, and something pretty and well-designed is worth its weight in gold both internally and for our clients. The team had proved a great success in both winning work and delivering new efficient solutions for some of our largest client matters, and the opportunity to remain in legal tech full time was beginning to cohere.
My training contract began in late 2017, and I left the ILT team to start it in the traditional way. I really enjoyed the experience and also found that even in a traditional seat, my biggest asset was increasingly my ability to knit together the legal work I was doing with the technology skills I had developed. This really gave me confidence that there was a gap in the market for roles that could talk to both worlds as a complement to our exceptional sector specialist lawyers. When the opportunity formalised to be part of our first legal technology specialist trainees, I made the leap, and moved to a full time training contract in the intersection of law and technology.
It has proved the right decision, with an interesting and challenging mix of strategy, legal process design, automation and AI implementation. We have such a range of expertise in the team, from full time software developers to 10 years PQE lawyers, that there's opportunities to learn from all angles. A personal highlight was the chance to pitch for and follow through a major property deal, attending process workshops and calls with the client and building a system that encodes aspects of the transactional process and our legal knowhow to run the deals and produce automated documents. I completed my final seat in the firm's Commercial department, and have brought back understanding and ideas that I'm building into our next generation of legal products.
Our team see our technology tools like Lego bricks that can be rearranged and applied differently to the various legal delivery challenges brought to us internally or by our clients. As our team and the legal tech market has grown and flourished, we've been given whizzier and more effective Lego bricks to play with, but it's still driven by that basic curiosity of (1) Why are we doing this? (2) Can it be done better?
We are led by what is a valuable outcome for our clients, and it's up to us to fill in the steps in between. Some of those steps will be different to the way things have been traditionally done, as will the roles to deliver them.
Last week I could tell my friends and family that yes, I am officially now a lawyer. But, if anything, I'm even less able to straightforwardly explain what that means and will mean in the years to come. And in a way, that’s exciting.