Sam Moore, Legal Technologist at Burnell Paul LLP
Our friend Sam Moore recently sat down with Grame to discuss the collaboration culture and the issues faced by the legal industry. Here’s what he had to say.
I’ve had many job titles in my career to date – Solicitor, Commercial Manager, Project Manager, Solicitor again, and most recently Legal Technologist. In all the sectors I’ve enjoyed exposure to there has always been some degree of collaboration involved with my peers to address common issues and to tackle sector-wide challenges in a cohesive way. One sector however stands out for me as doing things a little differently – legal services. We as lawyers are trained from the get-go to be tight-lipped, even secretive in nature, and to hold our cards very close to the chest. This is entirely appropriate in the context of client confidentiality of course, and is also vital to the cut and thrust of dispute resolution and robust contract negotiation. However, in my experience, this ‘defensive’ stance into which we naturally slip can also potentially hold us back when it comes to innovation and knowledge sharing.
This tendency towards reticence can also be surprisingly common within legal teams as well, not just between competitors. The issue isn’t that, for example, the property lawyers don’t want to share their experiences with the dispute resolution lawyers, it’s more that neither necessarily thinks to ask (or perhaps they don’t realise that each has something the other might benefit from knowing). The fact is however that all teams within a firm most likely have something valuable to share with their colleagues, if only they had a convenient platform to do so (and ideally were encouraged or even incentivised to take part). This issue is not novel of course, and a cursory Google search for ‘legal collaboration tools’ yields plenty of results ranging from full blown project management packages to more specific legal tech products. I posed this question to one such product developer – Graeme Bodys, Founder and CEO of the award winning collaboration platform nooQ: can technology reboot our collaboration culture?
Graeme Bodys (nooQ) – “Given the amount of information being produced, and given that a vast proportion of our day is spent using technology, I think we need help processing that information and I think that technology has to help make our jobs easier. A McKinsey study found that 28% of our working day is spent using email. A further 33% is spent looking for answers, expertise and decisions. This leaves a mere 39% doing your actual job, and to me that is crazy! Some working days the only achievable outputs are that you have read your emails and attended some meetings. You are merely processing information. This needs to change. This problem is present in every modern office globally to some degree, but the legal profession is more acutely aware than other industries just how valuable time is, especially billable time, and that it cannot be wasted, reclaimed or spent doing trivial matters.
To address these challenges we built nooQ – to visualise what is important to you, and to use artificial intelligence to do the sorting, filtering and recommending so that you can find answers, expertise and decisions much faster. This allows projects to have a secure central repository which combines group conversations, ideas and documents into a shared knowledge space. We want to move away from locking people in meeting rooms for an hour trying to share ideas or documents, and instead move towards truly collaborating across offices at times which suit everyone and getting answers to complex issues in a significantly more efficient way. Firms like Burness Paull who are ahead of the curve can use new technology products like nooQ for idea generation and simple surveys, to gather employee feedback on the best ways to improve processes and optimal technology delivery.”
Of course nooQ represents just one possible approach to tackling this issue, and it’s almost certainly not a ‘one size fits all’ challenge. That being said, it’s becoming clear that the burgeoning legal tech industry has identified collaboration platforms as an area ripe for innovation.
One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned so far about legal technology is that the cleverest solution in the world is useless if the end users don’t have the right mind-set to adopt it. You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it participate in your weekly sprint review meeting. Before any firm embarks on a technology project to tap the knowledge of their teams it must be well established that these teams understand the benefits to be had, and that everyone is ready and willing to participate. With the right tools and the right approach however, legal teams can reap the huge benefits of collaboration – and not a moment too soon. The legal sector is being challenged on every convention, every well worn path, and every long held view by clients who increasingly demand innovation from their trusted advisors. Unlocking the knowledge within your own teams is to me the most logical place to begin answering that challenge.
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