In this episode of LawTech Industry Insiders, Panteleimon Athanasiou is joined by Jan Smit, Knowledge & Innovation Manager at Slaughter and May. Jan Smit is responsible for various legal tech initiatives. In particular, he looks after the firm’s AI contract review software (Luminance), and has been working with the Luminance team since the firm became involved in 2016.
Q. Please introduce yourself and your career journey to date.
My name is Jan Smit, I'm a Knowledge & Innovation Manager at Slaughter and May. I joined the firm about five years ago before we had an innovation team, so I joined in the Knowledge Management team. Prior to that, I did my legal training in South Africa, I practiced a bit and then I moved to a legal process outsourcing company where we did knowledge management work for clients. When I moved to the UK, I joined Slaughter and May and our Knowledge Management team has since evolved into the Knowledge & Innovation team.
Our team works closely with clients to ensure that we work in a modern and efficient way, we have the right technologies in place to do jobs efficiently and that we are seen as a forward looking firm. In terms of programmes we are running, we've got Collaborate, which is now running its second cohort and you might've heard about that in the legal press. Collaborate is like a legal tech incubator, but we call it a legal tech programme. And this is open to individuals and entrepreneurs at all stages with products relevant to the legal tech sector. We've got another programme called Fast Forward, and I'll explain a little bit about that, but Collaborate is focused on the technologies that can be used in a law firm or in the legal departments of our clients.
Collaborate offers legal tech startups, the opportunity to collaborate with us and our clients. And we help them to develop tests and expand their legal tech products. We've just released the second Collaborate cohort and you can find a bit more about that on our website. You can read a bit more about the companies that participate that I'm really excited to start with this year. The other program that the firm runs and that the innovation team is not that strongly involved in is Fast Forward which is an emerging tech incubator program which supports the work of UK-based technology, entrepreneurs and innovators.
Q. What tools does Slaughter and May use as part of its legal technology stack so that lawyers can provide better services?
We've got quite a wide range of tools and I think the oldest one that we use is our Knowledge Management system, which has been around for quite a long time. We've got things like contract automation software, electronic signature tools and a range of disclosure tools. We've got Luminance AI contract review software and also a few tools for client collaboration where we can work together with our clients instead of having to email everything back and forth.
Q. How do you think these tools can improve legal service delivery and which aspects of the lawyers work do you think have been most affected by legal tech?
Using the legal tech that we have means that we can deliver services to our clients in a modern and efficient way. Legal tech does not necessarily have to be something super intelligent, like AI to make a difference. For example, if you look at electronic signature software during the Covid-19 lockdown we could instantly send documents to our clients for signing without having the need to have a scanner or a printer ready, that meant that there was no service disruption. Even the basic ones like electronic signature software really make a difference.
I think we've already seen in terms of the way that lawyers do due diligence, that there is now a smarter and a more efficient way to do it; by using AI platforms such as Luminance that automatically identify relevant bits of information for us. It does not do the job for lawyers, you still need to read the clause and make a decision of that clause. You still compile your red flag report at the end of the review, but it takes you to the information in the documents much quicker than with the traditional way. You can see the progress of this from having a physical data room where people sit with boxes and boxes of paper to having a virtual data room. We review everything online to having the next step, which is AI helping you identify what it is you're looking from data sets. I think that has quite a big impact on how we do due diligence.
Q: What is the biggest catalyst driving change in the legal technology sector?
The amount of data that we work with means that we need intelligent tools to help us with this. In the past, we did not have that many documents, but these days everything is electronic. It's so easy to create an electronic copy or a new version of something and the data just gets more and more.
We simply don't have the resources, the physical resources to review everything manually and we need smart technology to assist us with that review. Many of our clients are tech entrepreneurs, and we need to make sure that we keep up with them and deliver services in a modern and innovative way.
Q: What do you think are the characteristics that make a new legal technology startup successful and attractive to law firms?
Yeah, interesting point. We see quite a lot of legal tech startups and there are thousands out there and everyone has a solution for something. But for me, the important point is relevance. A tech provider that has identified a clear problem for a law firm and offers a relevant solution to that problem. If they come to us, we look at the solution and we go: "Why have we not looked at this ages ago?", that is something that we can see the key benefits to us and they've identified a problem and they have a solution for it that works or in the process of developing the solution that works. And we can work with them.
For me personally, what does not work is when we see a tech provider come to us with a very broad product, that is not clear how it will help us or what problem it will solve. And then they ask us at the end of the demo: "so tell us which problems at Slaughter and May, can we solve for you?". For me that seems now we are doing the work for the tech company, they should come to us with: "Well, this is your problem, and this is how we're going to solve it".
Q: What do you think is currently the biggest barrier to the full adoption of legal tech in law firms?
Interesting. I think one of the main issues in law firms with technology is adoption. It can be difficult at times and there could be multiple reasons, but I think one of the reasons is that nobody likes to change the way that they are used to working. We are all comfortable in working the way that we currently work and it has obviously worked very well for us for a really long time. So you may ask, why should I change the way that I work? Just because something works does not necessarily mean it is the best way of doing something. So you have to take that leap of faith and think maybe there is a better way of working, maybe there is a more efficient way.
Sometimes it is really difficult to see benefits in the short-term and suddenly the longer term that you get to see the real benefits and efficiencies. For example, if you are, if you were a lawyer and you're quite pressed for time working on a deal, and now you have to learn how to use a new technology, and you've done this type of deal many times, but now you have to learn a new technology and it takes you a bit of time to go through the training. You have to learn how to use it. Then there is something that you don't know how it works. It's a bit of the software that doesn't work as you thought it would. I mean, those are all learning processes. So in the short term, you might not see the benefits of having a legal tech solution, but in the long term, the more that you use this piece of software or this legal tech tool, the more you will become used to it. And eventually it will speed things up for you and you'll see the efficiencies. But those for me are two big things. Getting people to change the way that they work and showing them those efficiencies.
Q: How do you see legal tech tools developing in the future?
I think we are surprised every day with what we see and the capabilities of technology. What I've learned from, from lockdown is that we all need to work more digitally. Everything needs to be accessible from everywhere and cloud technologies help greatly with that.
But what's next for legal tech? I don't know. Many people have many ideas what they think it should do. I'm too cautious to venture a guess as to where we should go but I do think the days of doing everything manually are over ifyou can have a machine help you. And at the end of the day, the lawyer still makes the decision and the lawyer still reads the contract or the clause that the tech has identified for them. There's no problem with that. People ask will we see a reduction in the number of lawyers that we need, I don't think so. It just means that it frees up the lawyers time to work on other tasks or to work on other deals rather than sitting through the night and paging through our contract.
I keep coming back to COVID and lockdown, but everyone is pressed for spending. Most companies, most organizations are under pressure to keep their spending low. It's quite obvious that the volume of deals has gone down significantly with the lockdown and everyone is unsure about what will happen next. It's also important to keep costs down for us. We need to provide the services to our clients in a reasonable way at a reasonable cost. That means that we need technology to help us with this.
Q: What is your advice to students who want to learn more about legal tech? What can they do to learn all the things that legal tech companies or law firms are expecting of students?
I could say that there's a lot to read about legal tech, but it does not necessarily give you a real idea of what's happening. I would say get involved, attend open days, apply for vacation schemes at law firms. There are some tech providers that are starting to look at offering work experience, and I think these are all great ways that you can become involved. When we do work experience at Slaughter and May legal tech and innovation form quite a large part of that. Otherwise keep an eye open on the market, attend demo days or seminars or whatever you can.
Q: What do you think are the skills that students and graduates need to innovate in the legal tech sector?
You need to have an open mind you need to be willing to learn. Since I've joined the firm, I've learned so much about legal technology and you can't do that with a closed mind. You need to be critical of the tools and be realistic. Lots of problems with legal tech tools is that people have unrealistic expectations of them. So you need to set your expectations about what you want the legal tech to do, keep an open mind and be willing to learn and try and fail and try again.
About Slaughter and May
Slaughter and May is a leading international law firm recognised throughout the business community for its commercial awareness and commitment to clients. We advise on high-profile, ground-breaking and complex transactions and deliver bespoke solutions to clients.
Innovation and continuous improvement are at the core of what we do. So we constantly challenge ourselves to drive greater efficiency and effectiveness in the delivery of our legal services and pass these benefits on to our clients. Part of this includes constantly reviewing the market to see how we can employ innovative technology and new working practices to add value and deliver more efficient legal services to our clients. The nature of our firm means that we share best practice quickly between our lawyers and support teams and can then roll that out to our clients.
Careers at Slaughter and May
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