In this episode of LawTech Industry Insiders, Chris Ireland is joined by April Brousseau, Global Lead - Clifford Chance Create & Innovation. April is an experienced lawyer who has spent the last decade working on transforming global law firms through roles in innovation and business change, information technology, risk & compliance and knowledge. April's keen interest in technology, business change and client experience has been instrumental in delivering a range of practical solutions to improve legal processes, drive best practice and deliver client driven products.
Q. Please introduce yourself
My name is April Brousseau and I am the Global Lead for Clifford Chance Create and Innovation at Clifford Chance LLP. I’m based in the firm’s London office.
Q. What does your role involve?
I am responsible for the operations of our Create function.
At Clifford Chance, there are three pillars to the firm’s Innovation and Best Delivery strategy.
The first pillar is our Best Delivery programme, which focuses on optimizing the way we deliver legal services today. It works on improving efficiency in the way lawyers do their jobs and adding value to the client experience. There is a very large programme of work, led by Tom Slate, that includes Best Delivery hubs throughout the world and within practice groups that have legal project managers, continuous improvement specialists and legal technology advisors. They work one to one with lawyers to figure out how to do today's work better.
The second pillar is Clifford Chance Applied Solutions (CCAS), which is a separate entity from the LLP. They focus on building digital solutions to solve client problems at scale. They are continually looking out for ways in which we can diversify the provision of legal information through digital products.
Create is the third pillar. Create is essentially a research and development function that coordinates the activities between both Best Delivery and CCAS. It makes sure that opportunities that come in, ideas from clients or from the firm, are appropriately analysed and the opportunity for either improving what we do today, or digital products are captured. It includes things like coordination activities and educational activities within the firm to help people think differently, spot opportunities and change the way that they work.
It also includes all of our external ecosystem partnerships. For example, working with Barclays Eagle Labs. We also have our own lab that sits within Create called Create +65, which is based out of Singapore. It has a mandate to work with and help develop Asian start-ups.
However, I think the most interesting function of Create is to look ahead! To scan the horizon for potential disruptions to the legal sector, so that Clifford Chance can be shaping the way the legal industry or, at least, how Clifford Chance responds.
It requires quite a lot of research and consideration of how things might change.
Recently e worked as part of the Global Legal Hackathon on the implementation of digital signatures. We were able to respond so rapidly because we have already been thinking about it for a long time and preparing ourselves for change.
Q. What is your career journey to date?
I started with a law degree, which I combined with a Masters of Information Science. It was a custom programme that I designed with the university I was attending in Canada.
Following that, I practiced as a litigator for about five or six years and sort of hit the point in my life where you have to raise your hand if you're interested in partnership and I wasn't, or at least I wasn't sure.
I was looking for alternatives at that time. There was definitely fewer options for alternative legal careers than there are today, which I think is a really positive sign that we have come so far and there are more options. Given my background, the natural path for me was to go into Knowledge Management.
At the time, everything fell within the remit of Knowledge Management. So, legal tech, project management, continuous improvement, and sort of everything that nobody knew what to do with, went to the knowledge teams.
Following this role, Norton Rose Fulbright in London invited me to join them to work as their Global Head of Knowledge Systems. I worked with them for about four years. I started in knowledge systems, where I helped develop and roll out an enterprise search platform, which helped them correlate their knowledge information and experience.
I'm quite interested in how law uses information for efficiency as well as for client products. Whilst at Norton Rose Fulbright, I transitioned into an Information Architect role, which was trying to find ways in which we can architect, gather, store and manage information for the benefit of multiple people, including our clients.
That involved a lot of regulatory consideration. So, understanding what could be shared, what couldn't be shared and appropriate technology use.
I then transitioned to Simmons & Simmons, where I worked in quite a different role. I was Head of Innovation and New Business. My role there was principally to focus on the development of digital solutions that could solve client problems at scale.
In May this year, I joined Clifford Chance.
Q. Do you think having a background as a lawyer helps when trying to innovate inside a law firm?
I do think it helps. It's actually interesting that you raise that point because in my last role, I was the only lawyer on the team.
Within Clifford Chance, Innovation and Best Delivery is led by a partner, Bas Boris Visser, Managing Partner of the Amsterdam office. I think that having a background in law is actually very helpful because there are certain practical things that you learn when you're practicing law about how it all works and fits together. The context of that is almost difficult to explain to someone who hasn’t practiced, sort of lived the life, and taken that journey.
When you're looking at ways in which you're going to be delivering legal services, it's really helpful to have actually done that yourself.
It's also really helpful in a career like mine because you have an appreciation of the regulatory context. When we're working with legal tech, data is a critical component. Similarly, so are things like cloud services and being able to navigate the different potential challenges that you're going to have from a legal perspective. I think this is really, really helpful.
Q. What do you think is the biggest catalyst for change in the legal technology sector?
I would say, in my view, that technology for efficiency is critical, but it's already almost like an operational part of the business. So it's something that firms have to do because it's expected. If you're ever responding to a pitch, there is always a standard question about how are you using technology for efficiency. It's not, if you are using technology for efficiency.
I think technology for new business is also highly relevant because clients are starting to consume information in a different way. They want to consume what used to be an 80-page memo with five attached Excel spreadsheet schedules in a much simpler digital form. They want to be able to dig into the data and manipulate it and search across it in a way that we wouldn't have been able to do five or ten years ago.
Quite a lot of firms are developing new business functions to sort of scale what I would call innovative delivery. So that multiple people can get a legal service, rather than your custom 'here's your opinion for you and all of the things that are relevant to you, client'. Instead, 'here's an alternative way for you to access more generic information that we can provide analysis, custom analysis, on top'.
Q. Where do you see the global legal tech ecosystem going?
Historically, there's been a perception that London is kind of the heart of the legal tech start up scene. Certainly, when I was moving countries, I wanted to come to London because I did see it as sort of further ahead.
I wouldn't say that that's true anymore. I've certainly seen a lot happening in Germany and in APAC, in places such as Singapore, which has a lot of really interesting stuff happening. Finally, Toronto, which is where I'm from (so a little plug for that). There's a lot happening on the Toronto tech scene as well.
There is not currently an epicentre where legal technology is developing and being used. Certainly at Clifford Chance, there isn't a distinction. If I was to look at how legal technology is used, you can't say that it's being used more in London than it is in one of our other offices. It's definitely quite an even spread .
Q. What would be your advice to students who want to learn more about legal technology?
There are opportunities that some of the vendors have for short term internships. They offer summer contracts or even part-time work. I think that is probably the best way to learn more about legal tech!