How to innovate practically | Lawtech with a purpose

The Challenge 

“I wonder if we can do something during B-innovative week?” In August, I was on a Zoom call with the Innovation and Client Solutions team at independent UK law firm Burges Salmon. Who were speculating on next steps following a trial of Autto by one of its trainees, Alex. 

Alex Knowles-Smith (now qualified and in the Pensions team) was finishing his traineeship with a seat in the Innovation team. One of his assignments had been to trial Autto for an afternoon to see how easy it was to create useful tools. Autto is a no-code automation solution that makes it easy for professionals to deliver solutions to clients or colleagues using knowledge, business process and document automation. Alex had progressed from never having logged on to Autto before, to building an automated NDA process in only three hours. Alex, a history graduate, doesn’t have a technical background and his success with Autto in such a short time had galvanised our discussion with the firm. Alex had an idea, and a few hours later, it was working – a practical innovation. 

As Autto’s product owner, it was thrilling. It is very easy when building software to get caught up comparing your feature list with the next product along and forget about the user. The reality is it doesn’t matter how many features you have if your software is so complicated most of the functionality never gets used. Our product philosophy at Autto has always been about practical innovation. In business, ideas are worthless if they don’t make off the drawing board; they must be implemented to have real value. For the Autto team, this means rapid easy-to-use automation available to non-technical users at a price point that isn’t eye watering. Alex’s feedback was another confirmation that our hard work was paying off. 

The Next Generation 

This week we presented Autto and Alex’s NDA process to the broader Burges Salmon team. In the Q&A at the end of the session, one of his colleagues asked Alex how useful he had found his time working with Autto and the Innovation team. Alex’s response was fascinating:  

“It made me think in-depth for the first time during my training contract beyond the services we provide as lawyers, to how we provide those services. It set me thinking more creatively and more broadly about the ways the profession might change in future. The ways that the firm is positioning itself to navigate and harness those changes.  

The model by which legal services have been delivered has been unchanged for so long. We record by the hour, a lot of it is still done using classic legal resources. It set me thinking about how we take that legal expertise, engineer it in different ways, and deliver it to the client in different ways. It was the first time that I’d grappled with that and thought about it in some depth. Going forward, I’m going to be trying to build that technological angle into my career. As more and more things are automated and the profession changes, it’s going to be very valuable.” 

It seems the latest generation of lawyers is not only more open than previous generations to real changes in the way their legal services are delivered but expect and value that opportunity as part of their careers.  

How can law firms be practically innovative? 

What can we learn from this example.  I think there are three simple steps law firms can take. 

If law firms give lawyers, particularly digitally native lawyers, hands-on access to different technologies, then many ideas on using them to benefit both clients and the firm will come quickly. It is hard for lawyers to conceive these ideas in a vacuum – the technology experience helps them understand what is possible for their clients.  If the technologies are too difficult for your lawyers to use or understand, they are the wrong technologies.  

The technology is available to bring those ideas to reality quickly, but it requires time from legal professionals who understand the problems. Given a choice between a lawyer spending an hour developing an innovative new way to serve a client and billing an hour to the same client, almost all law firms will pick the latter. Law firms should value time spent developing new ways to serve clients in a similar way they value CPD, as the essential non-billable time required to deliver a better professional service. Until they do, progress will inevitably be limited. 

Finally bringing those ideas to reality will require a broader team of analysts, technologists and designers. These are the teams which provide specific expertise to bring lawyers ideas to practical delivery to clients. 

After four years of spending a lot of time talking to law firms, my view is that many firms are now investing in the third of these steps, but neglecting the first two. Law firms that want to deliver better value to clients through real-world, practical innovation will need to value the time and effort which goes into these improvements in an equally tangible way. 

How are Burges Salmon delivering real innovation? 

Each year Burges Salmon stages “B-innovative”, a week of events, training and thought leadership to encourage positive change. This year, Autto has teamed up with the firm’s innovation team to replicate Alex’s experience on a larger scale. Thirty-seven of the firm’s trainees have divided into teams, and we have given them full access to Autto. The firm has challenged each group to deliver a prototype automation or app that could be of value to a client in the next three weeks.  

The goal is to challenge trainees to think how best to meet client needs and help Burges Salmon better understand how lawyers can be involved with new technological developments.  Importantly the goal is not just the idea but the actual delivery of a working prototype.  It is an exercise in practical innovation.  

As senior innovation lead Emma Sorrell, who is running the challenge told me: “Burges Salmon knows the clients we serve are digitising, and technologies like Autto are giving us the tools to adapt and keep up. But we are still exploring the right mix of skills to bring these new client services to market. When and how to combine the skills and experience of our solicitors, our business professionals and our technologists. This year’s Autto challenge is an opportunity to explore that further.” 

We will report back here in a couple of weeks on how the trainees got on.   

By engaging their trainees with technology directly Burges Salmon are taking an important step to delivering better legal services to their clients with technology. 

What do clients want that legal tech can solve?

What do clients want?

It’s easy to assume that clients hire law firms for their expertise, but a  research study by Salesforce in 2018 shows that reputation is not enough. According to this study, when clients pay for a service they aren’t just buying the end result. What they are really looking for is a good client experience. It doesn’t matter how large or small the client’s company is, or how much business they generate for you. They want to feel that their unique needs are recognised and addressed by a firm that understands implicitly what is at stake and can act upon that to create the best outcome.

These needs are often at odds with another requirement that seems to contradict the desire for personalised service: value for money. The question remains: what do clients consider “value for money,” and how can law firms sell their specialised expertise in a way that serves clients best while delivering the value they expect?

How do clients measure value for money?

It goes without saying that legal clients want a positive outcome. They also want fast service from a firm that makes them feel that their business is important. When a firm meets these objectives, is this enough to satisfy the client lust for “value for money?”

If the bottom line is not improved, then the answer is no.

The legal marketplace is more competitive now than ever before. Professional services such as accounting firms, alternative legal service providers (ALSPs) and even clients’ in-house legal teams are now competing with law firms and driving down the cost of legal services.  At the same time, the cost of hiring a law firm continues to rise. According to the price of hiring a law firm increased by 130% between 1996 and 2018, well above inflation.

It’s clear that it is time to innovate or be left behind.  Take, for example, the repetitive, low-value tasks that clients don’t expect to pay for. They are often vital to client work and business administration but do valuable (and expensive) staff members need to do these tasks? Automation can do this work quickly and efficiently, allowing staff the time to give clients that individualised attention they expect, while lowering the cost of providing these services.

Clients want outstanding service

Quick service delivered at a lower cost is not worth much if it does not provide what clients need. This is where law firms have an advantage over other services providing legal services. The right technology, combined with the subject matter expertise of a skilled lawyer can provide the best possible scenario for clients because the more your technology does for you, the more time you have to add value to your services. In short, automation can give you more time to think about and approach issues that are important to your clients..

Lawyers can also gain from automation and the extra time it provides.. New recruits do not undertake years of study to spend their working days doing menial administrative tasks. Therefore, the increased opportunity to engage in meaningful, client-facing work results in better employee satisfaction. This opportunity to focus on high-value work increases employee retention, giving your firm a greater overall level of skill, experience, and institutional knowledge, which benefits both the firm and its clients. It’s genuinely a win-win situation.

The point, of course, isn’t to use technology for everything, nor is it to replace lawyers with technology. It’s to find the best ways that people and technology can share the workload to provide the best outcome for lawyers, staff and clients, alike.

Legal Innovators: Max Cole, Autto – ‘Listen Very Carefully To Clients’

From Artificial Lawyer

Max Cole, co-founder of legal tech company, Autto, has picked up some important lessons about innovation on his journey. An English barrister, Cole formed the process automation company with SaaS specialist Ian Gosling and full-stack developer Krisztián Kerék, who serve as the company’s CEO and CTO respectively. The company specialises in the automation of legal processes, and also wants to make this type of technology more accessible to small and medium size businesses.The product evolved out of another piece of software they had worked on called affio, an easy to use online Wills platform, where they spotted the potential for something new.‘The principles that [applied] to that other piece of software could be extrapolated and made generally available,’ Cole tells Artificial Lawyer. ‘The realisation that we could put automation tools into the hands of lawyers, rather than coders, was a very exciting moment that has spurred us forward.’ Defining Innovation For Cole, innovation means finding a new way to deliver better services to clients. ‘I think of innovation as not necessarily requiring technology, and that it’s about doing things in a different and better way. Technology can be a means to doing that, but it isn’t always the case.’ And does he go along with the traditional trinity of ‘People, Process and Technology’ when it comes to driving innovation and change?‘You don’t jump to the technological solution, you have to involve people. You have to understand the process and then you decide what technology you can use to help solve the problem,’ he replies.‘I would say that in order of importance it’s: people, then process, then technology. If you do it the other way round, you end up with white elephants.’Knocking on Lawyers’ DoorsSpeaking of problems that need to be solved, he says one of the main challenges is that ‘lawyers … don’t always naturally understand or accept that there is an automation opportunity within their work.’He believes that most lawyers are trained to think of themselves as artisans and believe they are always providing unique or bespoke solutions to unique circumstances, ‘and that is not compatible with the notion that parts of what they do can be looked at as a process and automated’, he explains.

In addition, the business model of law firms, which is still generally to charge on the basis of a fee per hour, for the number of hours, ‘has been fantastically successful and remunerative [and] is not always compatible with finding innovative ways of doing things,’ he adds.So, how do you get over, or through, this deeply embedded cultural barrier? How has Cole approached what is in effect a request to think and act differently? How do you win a client’s confidence so you can actually change something about the way they work?‘The thing that we learnt very quickly was that you have to listen very carefully to your customer, and you have to be solving, or able to solve, real world problems for them,’ he says.‘It’s not good enough to simply say ‘look at my great technology, now you need to think about how you might deploy it.’’’Cole states you have to be a partner in an ongoing conversation with clients, listening ‘really carefully’ to what they are trying to do.Ultimately it seems that running a legal tech company is all about winning ‘hearts and minds’.The Road AheadLooking to the future, could there be a major change in how lawyers work as more innovation, such as automation of legal processes, beds down into firms? Cole believes, that inevitably, yes, it will happen.‘I think that over time technology is going to become more and more embedded in the core legal work that they are doing, rather than something that is just on the outside supporting it.‘The trend is definitely in that direction, because there are tools available which can make legal work easier, that’s the bottom line.‘But, I don’t think it’s necessarily a straight road, I think that lawyers are going to have to really be careful about identifying the problem they are trying [to] solve and then finding the right technology to solve that problem,’ he concludes.And, no doubt Cole hopes that one of the solutions they settle on is Autto. Of course, as he says, much will depend on winning their trust by listening very carefully to their needs and understanding the problems that they want to solve.By Irene MadongoMax Cole, co-founder of Autto, will be speaking at the Legal Innovators conference on 11 October, along with many other great speakers from law firms, inhouse legal teams, and tech companies. For more info see the link below. 

View full article here


The pressure is on for UK law firms to use LawTech.

The legal sector faces an enormous challenge in the way it navigates the change needed for client satisfaction and success. Changing attitudes and expectations around customer service, advancements in technology and the shifting legal landscape place new pressures on the client/lawyer relationship. The pressure is on to integrate technology into the practice of law.

Consumers want easy access and immediate results with an expectation of the type of innovation they see in other areas of business while, at the same time, the UK government continues to expand its interpretation of UK legislation around digital assets, delivery and evidence.

There is no arguing that digital has changed the way we help clients interact with the law. This is further complicated by the rapid acceleration of technology used in both business and law settings. As technology and client demands change, the overarching challenge to law firms is to navigate how technology is used to provide services while, at the same time,  protecting sensitive client data.

The LawTech Delivery Panel (LTDP) is an industry-led, government-backed initiative, established to support the transformation of the UK legal sector through technology. The LTDP is focused on identifying and addressing the most pressing barriers as well as catalysts for growth of the legal sector.

In order to do this LawTech Delivery Panel created a UK Jurisdiction Taskforce (UKJT), which carried out a consultation to identify the key questions that needed to be answered around cryptoassets and smart contracts – two particularly challenging aspects of using tech in law.

The objective of the consultation was to provide a solid foundation for what the LTDP’s report calls : “market confidence and a degree of legal certainty.” The taskforce addressed this by considering a number of legal questions concerning areas of perceived uncertainty.

Following the consultation, November 2019, UKJT published a legal statement that concluded: “As a matter of English law, cryptoassets have all the legal characteristics of property and as such, should be treated in principle as property.” The Legal Statement describes five key characteristics of a cryptoasset: intangibility, cryptographic authentication, use of a distributed transaction ledger, decentralisation and rule by consensus.

The Legal Statement further notes that one of the fundamental aspects of property is “ownership”, and that cryptoassets are capable of being owned. Whether English law would treat a particular cryptoasset as property ultimately depends on the nature of the asset, the rules of the system in which it exists and the purpose for which the question is asked.

UKJT’s statement also looked at smart contracts, addressing the question: “‘In what circumstances is a smart contract capable of giving rise to binding legal obligations, enforceable in accordance with its terms?”

The report was described by Sir Geoffrey Vos, the Chancellor of the High Court, and member of UKJT, as a “watershed” and something that no other jurisdiction has attempted.

British technology firm Tech Nation was appointed to deliver on the objectives outlined in the report by deploying funding of £2 million allocated by the Ministry of Justice to help fuel the growth of LawTech. Jenifer Swallow, former General Counsel at several leading UK tech companies and director of the LawTech Delivery Panel, is leading the executive delivery.

Swallow comments: “The worldwide smart contract market is expected to reach $300m by 2023 and the World Economic Forum predicts 10% of global GDP will be stored on the blockchain by 2027. It is great to see the adaptability of our common law system to fast-changing technology, demonstrated in this landmark legal statement from the UKJT.”

This is a time of unprecedented challenge and opportunity for the field of law, an opportunity to expand beyond the traditional concepts of law and reap the benefits of incorporating technology into the practice of law be that improving productivity, offering more individualised attention to clients, streamlining practices, increasing profit, promoting access to justice or all of the above.

If you would like advice on how to incorporate digital business automation into your firm, feel free to contact us at AUTTO.


An Intro To AUTTO

How to Automate a Complex Process without Writing a Line of Code

  • Date: 31 March 2022
  • Time 14:00 BST
  • Host: Ian Gosling, Founder of AUTTO

Hi there,

AUTTO is a no-codebusiness and document automation platform. No-code means you can build tailor-made automated processes without having to be a developer.

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