September 29 2020
Innovation and Legal Tech: part 2 with Adam Hunter
This is the second 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 Adam Hunter. Adam is a trainee solicitor with Clifford Chance on the firm’s new legal tech Ignite programme.
How did you get into legal tech?
At university I founded my own legal tech called App Buddy. It was effectively a chat bot was built into Facebook Messenger, where students could message in for free and get application advice. I was noticing that a lot of people were coming to me with very similar questions and I thought that there was a way we could use technology to automate some of these questions. I also thought that it may help students who potentially didn’t have the confidence to approach recruiters at law fairs, so I thought to help improve diversity and social mobility I would build this app that students could log into and ask questions without the pressure of saying something wrong to a recruiter. I pitched it to a number of firms in the city and 8 signed up to it, including Clifford-Chance. It was used by just over 2000 students from a number of universities and that's when I really started to become interested in the intersection between law and technology, looking at how we can make the archaic advice that we provide relevant for the 21st Century tech clients. The milk round is an old concept, that's very elitist and restrictive to a few universities when you can actually use technology to open up the legal market to alot more students.
Why is it important that law firms innovate?
There’s probably two angles to that.
The first angle is the client angle and the increasing pressures that they are facing. Something that I always say to students is to look to the client’s industry and profession and see how they have adopted technology, digitisation and the move to the cloud etc, its only natural that we as lawyers/advisers follow that. Some of the pressures that come from that are the client’s expecting us to have knowledge of these technologies but also the pressures the clients are facing themselves. They are looking for reduced costs and greater efficiencies and it really provides us with the opportunity to be more client centric. Its about focusing on the client, should we really be sending really long advice notes over email or providing it in more useful formats such as online portals/tools.
Then for a law firm it is also about being competitive and being able to provide a wide range or products to attract clients. Again this could be with online tools or a particular legal tech product.It gives opportunities for firms such as Clifford Chance who traditionally would have provided long advice notes to provide their advice through tool kits or online resources and provide it in a way that is a lower cost structure thereby being more competitive with their fee arrangements.
How does the Ignite programme differ from a standard training contract at Clifford Chance?
That’s a really good question actually. Ignite is slightly different. I still do the four six month rotations in four different departments. But Ignite provides a mandate to do training in legal tech and get involved with legal tech projects throughout their training contract. We get to meet legal tech start-ups and experience what it is like to experience Applied Solutions, which is a division of Clifford Chance that focuses on building legal tech products and collaborating with legal tech start-ups. So it really depends on what you are interested in as a trainee, so my training contract will look very different.
What mine has looked like so far is I have spent three months with Amazon. Whilst there I was able to help the legal team, introduce legal tech and suggest some ideas around data and cyber-security. I have been able to meet with clients who have a particular legal tech question, contribute to pitches as well as run training sessions on new legal tech. I have also been able to work on a data project that is being released internally. I was involved in the introduction of e-signatures and DocuSign.
There are a lot of opportunities and the Ignite trainees are the ones who get to test the technology and are relied upon to change the perception of legal tech in the firm and encourage the partners to take it onboard, brief the clients and demo the tech.
Would you say that you still see yourself as first and foremost a lawyer and then at the same time an ambassador for legal tech?
Yes, absolutely, I think thats true. Its essentially a trainin contract with a sprinkling of legal tech. I actually think that the best way to categorise it is that the role of the trainee is changing. If you compare what trainees are doing today compared to twenty years ago, what I am doing is very different and involves far more tech. I use machine learning contract review. I look at the system and provide advice to associates in the aim of improving efficiency. I like to think that what Ignite is doing is pre-empting what the tech skills the trainees ten years down the line will need.
What are the biggest challenges you face around technology? Is it changing perceptions?
I think every organisation has some resistance to this type of disruption. So it takes quite a lot of persistence. This is something that I have really learnt during my training contract and as the first Ignite trainee. You really have to think about how you present an idea to a business. My advice to incoming Ignite trainees is always to think about the business case and almost be an entrepreneur. You know, how can I create an idea that is scalable, low cost and one that can pivot and change as you get feedback. It’s about using the resources around you.
At Clifford Chance, thats a great thing to be able to take on board as the partners and senior associates have a lot of experience and you have to have an appreciation as a trainee that although you have all these ideas, their experience is equally valuable as you are building a product for the client. You need to have the partners onboard to get those insights to ensure that what you are building is perfect.
There is resistance and it takes persistence but its about thinking about how you display and present information to make a business case. You are an advocate for legal tech and you want to show what you can bring onboard.
What would your advice be for law students interested in legal tech?
Don’t be too narrow minded early on. What Ignite has really shown me is that you can enter the legal profession and you can become set in one way of doing something. What I say to students is to look at other industries for inspiration. How are they using technology to grow? Theres a lot of podcasts and news articles that you use to get those insights. Is there anything that can be adopted in a law firm? Try to remain open-minded. It’s the most exciting aspect of Ignite, people suggesting things and thinking oh yes I wonder why noone has ever thought of that.
I would always say don’t research too much into it. The legal tech market is everchanging and dynamic. Just everyone now and then find a blog that interests you. Things like the Legal Technologist, The Artifical Lawyer, Legal Geek have an event in October, they give a great oversight into the market.
What is the one piece of tech you could not do without?
The electronic stylus for my tablet. We mark up a lot of documents on our tablets at work and without it life would be much harder.