April 27 2021
What is a legal technologist?
What is a legal technologist? We ask the Manchester Legal Hackers!
Law is evolving. As the industry looks forward to the future, and as more and more law firms modernise and embrace the powers of technology, new roles emerge.
The Legal Technologist (sometimes referred to as a Legal Engineer or Legal Analyst) is a new type of legal role. Despite only really emerging within the last few years, Legal Technologists can now be found in most City Law Firms. These roles are rapidly growing in importance, and are increasingly being turned to by law graduates looking for fresh and exciting ways to enter the industry.
But what is a legal technologist? What do they do? How can you become one?
We sit down four promising Legal Technologists, and Manchester Legal Hackers committee members, Jodie, Xuening, Will, Lavanya and Robert, to ask some burning questions:
What does a legal technologist do?JT: In summary, Legal Technologists assist law firms with implementing technology into their work to help make processes more efficient. For example, taking precedent documents and assisting with automating these so that they can be produced much faster, or building a platform that assists clients with managing their legal or commercial matters. It can also be training AI to read contracts and pull out specific clauses, to assist teams with large scale contract reviews.
XQ: The role is all about the design, building and implementation of solutions with the right legal tech tools to free lawyers from tedious work and make sure good work processes are being followed across the business.
WL: This answer definitely differs depending on who you ask and which law firm / legal business that person works for, but Jodie and Xuening’s summaries are an ideal starting point!
What skills do you need?WL: Regardless of the size of the business you work for, an understanding of project management skills and knowing how to engage with stakeholders are definitely going to stand you in good stead. Some Legal Technologist roles may involve doing a lot of listening to the lawyers and staff (your stakeholders) that your team is tasked with helping - so being able to appreciate the lifecycle of a project and at which stages different parties might be interested is a huge plus!
JT: Another key skill is problem solving, a lot of time will be spent looking at existing problems that lawyers are facing and working out how best they can be solved with either different processes or technology. Communication is also really important, you will likely be liaising with individuals from all different areas of the business with different levels of skills, so an ability to communicate effectively and understand your audience is important.
XQ: I agree, problem-solving skill is key. Having a law background and coding knowledge are both bonuses.
RM: I think a very useful skill is adaptability and having an aptitude for challenging what is being done and how work is done. As the role itself involves so many different things, including testing products, communicating with clients, reaching out to universities or different stakeholders within business, an ideal legal technologist will be able to move from their comfort zone on a regular basis. It is the best way to make changes happen.
What does a ‘normal’ day look like to you?JT: Lots of meetings... a normal day can vary significantly from one day to the next. Some days can be spent in meetings with relevant teams members working through a project. Other days can be spent building the solution on the applicable technology/platform.
XQ: A normal day might include speaking to Fee Earners to under-handed their needs, demoing legal tech solutions to stakeholders, discussing difficult technical points with other legal technicians, a few hours of focus time blocked out for designing and building solutions, and learning about new happenings in the industry.
WL: I don’t know if there is such a thing as a ‘normal’ day in a legal tech role - every day feels as different as the next to me!
RM: I agree with Will. 6 months ago on a daily basis I was learning how to edit video in Adobe Premiere Pro for training purposes. Today I was automating documents and planning for testing one of the internal products. Being in a role for over 18 months I can say that every week has different tasks and challenges.
Do you need any specific qualifications or work experience to become a legal technologist?JT: You don’t necessarily need any qualifications to be a legal technologist. It is common for them to have studied law in some form but it is not required! You also do not need to be a qualified lawyer. Any relevant experience that shows an interest in problem solving/people skills or working in a commercial environment may be helpful!
XQ: Normally no qualification is needed, but some employers might have different requirements.
WL: As Xuening says, employers may differ in what they look for - but if you can say that you are naturally curious and that you have a genuine passion for innovation within law, then you’re already on your way to being a budding legal tech practitioner!
How did/do you demonstrate interest and passion for legal technology?JT: I think demonstrating a passion for learning new things can be helpful. You will continually be faced with new technologies that you need to get to grasps with. Any evidence of getting to grips with new platforms or software quickly is good experience. I showed an interest by explaining my interest in learning about coding.
XQ: Attending legal tech events, workshops, Legal Hackathons would also be a good starting point!
WL: I think the main thing to remember is that everyone has a different way of showing an interest or passion, and that there’s no single right answer. For me it was a case of going to as many legal tech / tech fringe events that I could whilst studying, which gave me a real insight into the business of law that wasn’t being taught in the classroom. If going to events isn’t your bag - don’t worry! Blogging, research, reading – whatever you choose, as long as your interest is genuine you’ll be fine at interviews and beyond.
RM: I was always interested in technology and how it changes our society. For me it was reading books such as Richard Susskind’s Tomorrow’s Lawyers, participating in legal tech events, etc. I think the most important thing is to demonstrate that you want to challenge the way things are done, you want to participate in a complete shift in the legal profession.
What does career progression look like for a legal technologist?JT: This is an exciting question because as it stands there is no set career path. Legal technology is a HUGE area. It may be that you have an interest in process automation or building legal solutions on technology platforms. A career path may go from legal technologist to a more senior legal technologist to a senior in a specialised area. There are however no set career paths and it’s something that law firms appear to be looking at more and more.
XQ: As mentioned earlier, progression varies between different businesses. At present, the normal junior, mid-level, senior route is mostly what you would find. Some people might also consider moving into a managerial role in a legal tech team.
WL: From reading Xuening and Jodie’s answers it’s definitely easy to see why this is such a big talking point – the answer may differ hugely from business to business. All I would add is that it’s an exciting time to dive into a legal tech role, as who knows where you might end up as a result!
RM: Everything what is said is spot on, the only thing I would add is that we still do not know most of the roles that will emerge in the legal tech field. Legal tech has become a crucial part of law firms, which means that more opportunities will come rather sooner than later. It is clear at this point that qualification will not be compulsory to succeed in legal tech.
If someone is interested in legal technology, how can they learn more?JT: Following legal technology groups, such as MCR Legal Hackers or the Legal Technologist is definitely a good way to start! If you are at university, keep an ear out for any law tech events that may be going on or go onto eventbrite and see if you can find any interesting events. From reading and attending events you will start to build a picture of what it’s all about and where your particular interests may lie.
WL: Apart from the obvious (Follow us @LegalHackersMCR) don’t be afraid to ask questions to people who are making noise in the legal tech space. The legal tech community (particularly in Manchester) is full of brilliant people with so much insight to share – all you need do is start a conversation, ask away and soon enough you’ll be the one answering questions from peers!
XQ: Join us in our Legal Hackers events!
RM: I would start with Richard Susskind’s book and then read some blogs/articles. You would be surprised how many things he predicted that will happen within the legal market. And once you gain that interest to learn more, reach out to people, participate in events, and join Legal Hackers!
Big thank you to the Manchester Legal Hackers committee!
- Jodie Tilsley (JT) - Jodie studied law at the University of Manchester where she first became interested in Legal Technology. She has since taken up the role of a Legal Technologist and has continued to build her knowledge around technology that is available for the legal sector.
- Xuening Qu (XQ) - Xuening worked as a corporate lawyer for two years, specialising in Corporate Finance and M&A. When advising her corporate clients on legal matters in relation to blockchain, Xuening developed her interest in blockchain technology and personal data protection, which has led her to become a Legal Technologist at an international law firm. She is also a dual-qualified solicitor in both China and England & Wales.
- Will Lloyd (WL) - Will currently works as a Legal Technologist at an international law firm, and is a future Trainee Solicitor at a global legal business. Whilst studying towards his Graduate Diploma in Law, Will gained an appetite for legal technology, and soon founded his university’s first student Legal Hackers chapter, where he aimed to engage student communities and raise awareness of emerging legal technologies within higher education. He hopes to continue this with Manchester Legal Hackers, and has recently guested on BPP University’s ‘What the Heck is Legal Tech’ podcast series.
- Lavanya Shankar (LS) - Lavanya Shankar has a background in Law, Business and Management. She has extensive legal experience ranging from working in various private practice law firms (high street & international); Pro bono clinical work and In-house legal. She is a Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) member where she has been a content contributor in her written article on 'Question time with Parliament' and part of the Operations Management team at Teenage Helpline (Youth Charity). Her Legal technology enthusiasm and passion is evident in her current role as part of the Product Strategy, Productivity and Development team at Thomson Reuters; Cryptocurrency & Regulation writing project and her participation in Thought River's Legal blog competition 2020: 'My Legal Role in 2025 & How AI has helped to shape it' where she was selected within the top three submissions.
- Robert Maliszewski (RM) - Robert studied law at the University of Liverpool and then finished his LLM in Intellectual Property Law at the University of Manchester. With interest in technology and law, the legal technologist role was a clear choice. Working at an international law firm, Robert wants to promote legal tech outside of work. Having co-founded the Global Tech Loop group, Robert now participates in Manchester Legal Hackers chapter as a co-organiser.