Charlotte Cocker is joined by Olivia Ward, Technology Associate and SCL panelist, to discuss the use of collaborative technology at Burges Salmon.
In October 2019, Law Society President, Simon Davis celebrated the UK’s growing technology (“Legal Tech”) industry, declaring that “London is becoming a hub for legal technology”, and describing the City as an “engine for UK digital tech industries”. Yet, Legal Tech has also gained momentum outside of London. In particular, Bristol now stands as the “UK’s most productive local tech ecosystem”, and surrounding law firms have innovated accordingly.
Burges Salmon is an independent UK law firm headquartered in Bristol’s Temple Quarter Enterprise Zone – a district synonymous with commercial and high-tech innovation. Olivia Ward, Technology Associate at Burges Salmon (and SCL panelist), kindly shared her insights into the firm’s use of Legal Tech in action. Focussing in particular on collaborative technology, in line with Burges Salmon’s overarching value of collaboration, Olivia detailed how Legal Tech can be used to safeguard and streamline lawyers’ communications between clients and colleagues.
What is collaborative technology?
Collaborative technology includes tools and systems designed to augment group work. In a legal context, this encompasses platforms for synchronising transactional work, portals for sharing progress reports with clients, and conventional conferencing software – Zoom included.
Whereas many Legal Tech applications augment solitary tasks (indeed, the most widely used tools in the UK and US are e-discovery and document review platforms, which enhance independent research and proofreading, respectively), collaborative technologies encourage and streamline group communication.
In Tomorrow’s Lawyers, Richard Susskind stipulates that the increasing pressure on lawyers to reduce clients’ fees can be tackled in two ways: efficiency and collaboration. Straddling both of these strategies, collaborative technology can make for transparency, productivity, and profitability.
Delving into Burges Salmon’s intranet, Olivia explained a range of collaborative technologies used at the firm.
Progress reporting platform, Burges Salmon clientspace®
Powered by HighQ (a collaborative software company, recently acquired by Thomson Reuters), Burges Salmon clientspace® is a collaboration platform that comprehensively documents progress of matters and projects. The platform provides a visual representation of key performance indicators, with dashboards displaying project milestones, cost burn down, and key risks. Akin to a Google Drive, the platform is updated in real time, and can be accessed by both fee-earners and clients (as well as those from the ‘other side’) directly through the firm’s webpage. Therefore, projects remain at the client’s fingertips, and any revisions of documents are live, enabling transparency, accessibility, and efficiency for collaborative projects. Olivia explained that this centralised, “mutual platform” makes for a “high level of service” by encouraging more client-input, enabling “more transparency at every stage of the process”.
In line with the increasing pressure on lawyers to economise clients’ fees, Olivia noted that a particular benefit to this platform is its financial progress dashboard. By displaying a breakdown of costs, clientspace® can set out exactly what is provided at each stage of a matter. The dashboard can detail how work is resourced – for example, whether a task is billed by a paralegal, associate, or partner – and provide a breakdown of additional costs such as opening files. Such transparency tightens client communication, but, as Olivia added, can also demand more vigilance for fee-earners to meet project cost estimates. Overall, this collaborative platform can save hours of phone and email communication, in turn, streamlining projects and reducing total billable time.
Olivia affirmed that each of Burges Salmon’s practice areas utilise Legal Tech differently. For example, whereas corporate deals usually take a more uniform and predictable template by including due diligence in most transactions (for which Burges Salmon uses its Due Diligence Hub®, hosted within clientspace®), employment and dispute matters can be more varying.
For this reason, clientspace® can be tailored to the needs of practice areas and clients. Olivia explained that, for a specific client, the commercial technology department previously set up a virtual ‘help desk’ dashboard within clientspace®, whereby a log of answers to the client’s data protection queries could be accumulated onto the accessible platform. The client could then easily refer to clientspace® and “find an identical scenario” to future queries, rather than repeatedly contacting Burges Salmon’s fee-earners. This platform provided an efficient, collaborative reference point, saving billable time and enabling fee-earners to prioritise more strategic aspects of the project. Olivia added that this log of queries also created a valuable resource for trainees’ development by providing a system of reference.
Olivia noted that some clients choose to use their own collaborative platforms alongside clientspace®, if, for example, they are entering into an agreement with another company. Overall, however, clientspace® offers a comprehensive, collaborative package for clients, in particular due to Burges Salmon’s ISO 27001 accreditation, which ensures the security of clients’ data.
HighQ (example of a project management dashboard)
HighQ (example of a project management report)
Intuitive document review software:
Now three years qualified, Olivia noted that Burges Salmon invested in LexisDraft at the end of her training contract in 2017. LexisDraft is a document review software integrated into Microsoft Word’s toolbar, allowing lawyers to use LexisNexis services without leaving Word. Olivia affirmed that, whilst this “does not replace proofreading”, such reviewing tools can efficiently “tighten up a final edit” of drafts by recognising inconsistencies in definitions, references, and specific punctuation. By streamlining solitary tasks such as document reviews, AI such as LexisDraft can encourage a more collaborative workforce in the long term by enabling lawyers to prioritise more strategic and analytical tasks.
In recent years, Burges Salmon has invested in Luminance, as well as eBrevia, an intuitive document review platform that enables lawyers to imprint knowledge into the software, and collaborate directly with the technology. Alongside its pre-formulated infrastructure, Luminance and eBrevia can be tailored to extract industry-specific information from client documents, making for bespoke outcomes. This allows lawyers to personalise the platform and, in a sense, collaborate in tandem with the technology itself. With many firms now using the same Legal Tech platforms – for example, Luminance is used by over 250 law firms including Burges Salmon – intuitive technology such as these decommoditise Legal Tech, allowing for a more collaborative and personalised product.
The implementation of Legal Tech requires significant operational assistance, therefore, law firms are seeing increasing collaboration between lawyers and business services professionals. Olivia noted that team meetings usually involve a range of professionals alongside lawyers, and Burges Salmon’s Operations team now consists of more than 160 operational staff – over one third of the firm’s lawyer headcount. Whereas many law firms have dedicated separate offices to innovation (for example, Fieldfisher’s Belfast technology hub, and Latham & Watkins’ Manchester solutions office) Burges Salmon has integrated its Innovation & Client Solutions team within its Bristol headquarters. Olivia explained that a number of the team’s staff are former lawyers, suggesting significant crossover and collaboration between the firm’s legal and business services departments. Trainees also have the opportunity to collaborate with this team, through the firm’s Innovation & Client Solutions seat.
The Innovation & Client Solutions team and Technology team, who are part of Operations, help to drive innovation and the adoption of technology within the firm. Alongside management of the firm’s devices and conferencing software (Olivia noted that Burges Salmon has used Blue Jeans, Skype, and Teams for virtual meetings), the Operations department organises extensive hardware refresh projects. For example, Burges Salmon’s Technology department, part of the Operations team, recently transitioned the firm’s data store to iManage Cloud, a document platform used by over 2,500 law firms including CMS, DLA Piper, and Clifford Chance, enabling a more comprehensive and accessible platform of data, and improving long-term collaboration across the firm.
Behind the buzzword
‘Collaboration’ has become somewhat of an operational buzzword in the legal sphere recently – as has ‘Legal Tech’ itself. Yet, as demonstrated by Burges Salmon’s application of Legal Tech, projects can be significantly enhanced by collaborative technology such as clientspace®. With clients now looking for comprehensive business support alongside legal solutions, collaborative technology enables lawyers to integrate project management into their practice, making for a future-facing legal product.
Special thanks to Olivia Ward for her personal insights of Legal Tech at Burges Salmon for this article.