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August 28 2020

Innovation and Legal Tech: Part 1

Industry Insights

Guest User

Innovation and Legal Tech: Part 1

This is the first of a three part series examining legal technology and how junior lawyers are driving innovation. Harry spoke to three of The Legal Technologists’s top 10 most innovative junior lawyers to ask them about their journey, experiences and advice they would give.

In this part, we introduce you to Tom Grogan. Tom is a corporate lawyer at Mishcon de Reya who leads several tech initiatives at the firm as well as co-leading the dedicated Blockchain Group.

What got you into legal tech? 

I have always been interested in technology from gaming as a kid through to being aware of things like cryptocurrencies pretty early on, which was really through friends. To use an American high school analogy, I was a bit of a nerd, but I was very sporty so you could say that my friendship group probably would be the ‘American Jocks’ which made for a very happy marriage. They were always keen on the new big thing, which cryptocurrency was at the time and whilst they were interested in the commercial side for me it was the tech side, trying to get my head under the bonnet of it all. It made for a very good marriage as they were the funnel and I was the filter which worked quite well. I played around with a Raspberry Pi which was my gateway to programming at university because I was bored and found it interesting. 

That was sort of it really because no one really cared too much when I was a trainee until I joined Mischon and clients started coming in asking us to do an ICO and partners were saying do you mean an IPO and they meant an ICO. Partners would ask what that was and they would say cryptocurrency and the partners would turn to me and ask if it was what I had been talking about. So I guess my Trojan Horse into the technology space at Mishcon and in my professional career was Blockchain and cryptocurrencies. I have a broad interest in all emerging technologies and I would say a third of what I do is Blockchain DLT (Distributed Ledger Technology, a third AI and a third other tech, such as drones and bio-tech. I tend not to focus too much on the traditional technology pieces, like the SAAS and PAAS contracts that are very well established and have been the bread and butter for tech lawyers for a while now. 

When I joined Mishcon, I was quite punchy and when I saw things that were really interesting to me and chimed with the direction that I thought the industry and my career would go, I was not backwards in coming forward in saying I’d like to be involved and what direction I think we should go with it. I was quite vocal, I suppose, for a Junior Lawyer. 

We often hear of tech lawyers, but its quite an analogous term. What do you do on a day to day basis?  

It's a good question and we are actually going to be releasing some exciting news in the next couple of months. But broadly speaking the practice is split in half. 

Legal advice, which is on all matters relating to DLT and DLT businesses. Broadly speaking “DLT businesses”, can be split into three camps. Firstly, people who are providing platforms such as R3. There are businesses that are building blockchain applications or distributing applications that sit on top of platforms. And then there are people whose core business isn’t blockchain, who are a retail giant for example implementing blockchain a DApp within their organisation. Not a fee earning model just something they are trying to implement. 

We advise all three of these camps. With the first two we focus on a systems structuring basis, how do you build a platform and develop apps on top of that platform that are compliant by design, which invariably has a data protection angle and in the case of the former have a cybersecurity angle and we have MDR Cybers which is our standalone cybersecurity consultancy business. Then there will always be legal touchpoints for other matters, ie employment law, real estate etc. Then there is pure corporate work, ie, seeking investment or working for an investor seeking to invest. 

Financial Regulatory is the other core in legal advice. It was the core focus when everyone was doing ICOs to raise money. But now as we move away from the ICO hype it's more about people acquire, market tokens and building a token economics model that works and incentivises people to buy while also not falling foul of various financial regulatory matters. 

The second half and what will be making an announcement soon and is my legal baby, is the legal engineering side of the business. This is bringing together programmers, software engineers, full stack developers, computer data scientists, cyber security experts with lawyers to design and actually, develop, build and implement solutions. So Blockchain is a big part of that practice and probably makes up a third of the things we do. AI machine learning is another big part of that practice and then drones and a few others that  make up the rump. That is increasingly a big part of our business that I am leading and  we will have an exciting announcement on that in the next four to eight weeks, I should imagine. 

We want to realise opportunities for our clients whilst giving them the comfort that in pursuing these opportunities we are not exposing them to risk, we are derisking opportunities which are very attractive to clients. 

Its super exciting because we are one of the only games in town. The majority of projects we actually pitch against the big consultancy outfits and technology solution implementers which is an exciting place to be. We win work in that space because at our heart we are a law firm not in spite of it.

What advice would you give to law students interested in legal tech?

Be punchy and I think cultivating a personal brand is quite important. The biggest client you are ever going to have in your entire career are the other lawyers in your own firm. You can spend your whole career trying to get work externally, but why not equip the firm, and a firm such as Mishcon has almost 1000 people working there, why not equip the 999 other lawyers, so that they can sell you, which is a huge multiplier. So cultivating a personal brand and participating/leading internal training on topics you know about, writing content/articles or keeping up to date with your LinkedIn is I think super important. 

Remember that the partners at your firm are incredibly intelligent people, but that doesn’t mean that they know everything about everything. There will be things that you know far more about than the partner or indeed anyone else in the office and I think it's about Identifying what these things are and shouting about them as that's your value-add to the organisation from day one. 

What would be the one piece of tech that you could not live without? 

Apple Pay. I lose my wallet so often that thinking about it now I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen it. The number of times I am out and realise I don’t have it on me is scary, so thank god for the proliferation of Apple Pay!