Tech-savvy legal professionals transform working habits
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Law firms often deal with a range of matters for their business clients beyond legal-specific issues. That has inspired several of the legal professionals featured here to develop new, complementary services in addition to their firms’ core activities.
Others are highlighted for their efforts in encouraging their firms to embrace technology — saving time that would normally be spent on day-to-day tasks.
Caryn Sandler stood out for her success in both of these areas. The many new products and services she has developed at Australian law firm Gilbert + Tobin have enhanced its client offering and helped its lawyers embrace design thinking and technology.
WINNER: Caryn Sandler
Partner and chief knowledge and innovation officer, Gilbert + Tobin
After starting as a professional support lawyer at Gilbert + Tobin in 2010, Caryn Sandler became a pioneer of legal innovation, helping to broaden the firm’s service offering. She has led the development of new technologies, such as the firm’s verification software, which was bought by legal tech company Litera in 2020.
She has also created several revenue-generating teams. These include the consulting team G+T Innovate, which works with lawyers and their clients to improve technology and processes, and GTDocs, a team specialising in document review, which has helped the firm cope with the increased volume of work over the pandemic.
Partner and co-head of Ashurst Advance, Ashurst
With experience in senior legal and operations roles in technology and consulting companies, Hilary Goodier joined the firm’s alternative legal services business Ashurst Advance as chief operating officer in 2020, before becoming its co-head last year. She has helped to define and implement Ashurst Advance’s strategy to offer a more holistic service. This combines offshore document review, digital products and services for the firm, legal operations consulting, managed legal services, and flexible resourcing for clients — all in one place.
Ashurst Advance is a practice group at the firm; it reports profits and revenues in the same way as the firm’s traditional practices. In 2021, the group’s profits doubled and headcount grew by 45 per cent.
Managing director, Aldersgate Holding Company
Formerly the Australia managing partner at DLA Piper, Jim Holding is managing director of Aldersgate Holding Company, the firm’s innovation incubator vehicle, a start-up business wholly owned by the firm. Holding has overseen the development of several new, revenue-generating products for the firm, including an artificial intelligence-powered tool for managing cartel risk and an asset tokenisation platform called Toko.
Under his leadership, the business is transforming how innovative ideas from lawyers are commercialised, as well as enabling DLA Piper to offer solutions to clients that it could not develop previously. The firm says Aldersgate Holding Company is contributing millions to DLA Piper’s revenue.
Managing partner, RHT Law Asia
Azman Jaafar has created a niche for his firm in Singapore through a commitment to environmental, social and governance (ESG) disclosures, as well as developing expertise in areas such as digital assets. The firm has committed to reaching net zero emissions by 2030 and discloses Scope 3 emissions — the greenhouse gases emitted all along its supply chains and in the use of its products. Jaafar says this move came from a recognition that the firm should follow its own advice on ESG issues, both to build further expertise and to lead by example for clients.
To advise on issues surrounding digital finance, such as the tokenisation of assets, Jaafar also helped establish a separate, complementary business called the AlDigi Group.
Executive director of innovation, King & Wood Mallesons
Michelle Mahoney leads the firm’s transformation strategy. One of her main successes has been to persuade several lawyers at the firm to use new technology in their day-to-day work, which has traditionally been a challenge. To encourage adoption, she introduced a “multiplier model”, in which lawyers that use tech for their work can internally record six hours for every four hours billed to a client. The firm records monthly increases in logged multiplier time.
Mahoney is responsible for the “legal tech belts” system, based on the Lean Six Sigma management grading technique, which certifies lawyers’ competency in legal tech. More than 75 per cent of the firm’s lawyers in Australia and Singapore have at least one belt.
Partner, Mori Hamada & Matsumoto
In 2017, after five years at Mori Hamada & Matsumoto, Reiya Nakano went to Columbia Law School to study for a Master of Law degree. After graduation, he worked for a time at US law firm Weil Gotshal, where he noticed how much more technology it used in its work compared with most law firms in Japan.
Returning to Mori Hamada & Matsumoto in Japan in 2019, Nakano set up a group within the firm to investigate how to use technology more effectively, and worked with legal tech companies to develop solutions. One example is Legalscape, a legal research service similar to Reuters-owned Westlaw, but for Japan. The firm provided access to some of its data and helped test the tool.
Associate, Nishimura & Asahi
Hiroshi Watanabe is keen to make the process of drafting legal documents less tedious. He is studying for his MBA at Stanford University in the US, while an associate at Japanese law firm Nishimura & Asahi, and is also the co-founder of BoostDraft — a tech start-up specialising in document-editing software.
BoostDraft has developed an artificial intelligence-powered legal drafting tool for Japanese-language documents.
Adopted across Nishimura & Asahi, this automates tasks such as proofreading. It is now also being used by other law firms in Japan.
Head of business and human rights, Corrs Chambers Westgarth
Phoebe Wynn-Pope joined the firm in 2019 after 25 years as a humanitarian aid worker. With a PhD in human rights law, but no practising licence, Wynn-Pope brought a different mindset to the firm.
She has built a business and human rights practice that draws on experts from across the firm’s core practice groups. She uses training programmes and thought leadership to expand understanding of human rights at the firm. She has advised clients on how they can use human rights law principles as a framework for ethical decision-making.
Wynn-Pope is also chair of the firm’s responsible business working group and has expanded its pro bono efforts.
Profiles compiled by RSGI researchers and FT editors; ‘Winner’ indicates the individual won an FT Innovative Lawyers 2022 award.