Ahead of his panel session at the Business Leadership Summit in association with ProperoBaker McKenzie London COO Simon Thompson talks to The Lawyer about how technology presents both the biggest opportunity and challenge for law firms and whether he thinks AI will replace the technical experts.

Simon Thompson
Simon Thompson

What is the biggest challenge law firms will be facing in the next 10 years?

Technology undoubtedly presents the greatest opportunity for law firms, but also the biggest challenge. There’s a huge range of new technologies, AI, workplace collaboration, process automation etc. on offer now to law firms which can undoubtedly improve the way we operate, but the success of this technology depends on a) ensuring it’s fully operationalised and embedded across the business and b) ensuring it’s enhancing our client service delivery, which is ultimately what we’re all here to do.

At the moment, the legal profession seems totally preoccupied with finding the ‘holy grail’ of technology without first maximising the value of the tools already available.

Is AI truly going to replace the lawyers with great technical expertise?

No, not in our lifetime! There are huge advantages to be had from AI – it does an excellent job of delivering the more routine, commoditised processes more efficiently and holistically and, as the technology matures, we’ll undoubtedly see AI move up the food chain into more complex advisory work. But that’s a long way off.

What law firms should be focused on now is building the right organisational models to exploit the technology that’s already available and ensure these models are sufficiently flexible to adapt to the technology of the future.

What does law firm innovation really mean from the client perspective?

‘Innovation’ has become a bit of a legal profession buzz word but, for me, it’s not about revolutionising how we deliver legal services. It’s about perfecting the basics i.e. delivering high-quality, value for money work in a transparent and timely way to clients. We all know that in-house legal departments are under a huge amount of cost pressure and want more for less. Real innovation is therefore demonstrating to clients that their lawyers truly understand this and are operating efficiently across the board.

Who has been the most influential person in your career?

I had the privilege of working with Tony Angel when I was Global CIO at Linklaters. He was a fantastic leader at a time of very significant change. He was extremely well-rounded and absolutely understood what was required to make a global law firm work.  He was able to focus on all aspects of the business, whether that related to building a legal practice, the use of technology, people development or financial management etc. This holistic view meant he could operate at any level of the business and really got people to buy into the firm’s strategy intellectually and emotionally.

Simon Thompson is part of the 120+ managing partners, C-level executives and business services leaders gathering on the 25 September 2018 at the Business Leadership Summit in association with Propero to spend a day focusing on defining your law firm strategy in a tech-driven future. For more information on the conference, a copy of the agenda, or to inquire about attending, please contact Nathan Graham on +44(0) 20 7970 4672.