In this latest 60-second interview, Shoosmiths partner and head of tech and innovation service line Simon McArdle shares his advice for GCs looking to implement tech for the first time, his predictions around the next big thing in legal tech and how to ensure that the legal system and/or tech you invest in doesn’t get retired and replaced shortly after.

If you were a General Counsel looking to implement legal tech for the first time, what would be your first step and why?

Look for the easy wins. They’re out there.

If you’re coming to this market for the first time, my advice would be to avoid the big ‘end to end’ systems or anything that needs a lot of configuration or set up. Start with the ‘single issue’ products that operate on a SaaS basis (or even better are provided by a law firm) and can be implemented easily. For instance, we developed Cia® which is contract review AI that’s delivered by a managed service. There’s no implementation at all required. You just send the contract in and get it back reviewed the same day. It’s an easy win for any GC.

Simon McArdle

Legal tech is a densely populated market with lots of providers selling complex, multifaceted systems. The lead in time for some of the more comprehensive contract management platforms is 12 – 18 months to get them up and running and the cost is in the six figure range. If you know exactly what you want, you have a big budget and a background in IT this is not an issue but most GCs don’t.

As you learn what works over time you can build up your requirements and your sophistication piece by piece but I would advise starting small.

How do you then make sure that the legal system and/or tech you invest in doesn’t get retired and replaced shortly after? And that it continues to communicate with the rest of the business?

This is a perennial challenge that is particularly acute with the large-scale, end to end platforms. The bigger they come the harder they fall. Future proofing and management of product development and obsolescence is a major issue. For those GCs and businesses that have abundant IT expertise and resources this is something that can be managed as part of the procurement and IT road-mapping process. For those that don’t, however, I would advise following some key principles:

  • Ask about the product’s roadmap: any reputable provider should be able to give you assurances as to the longevity of the platform you’re looking at so you get a sense of its shelf-life.
  • Ask about data transfer on exit: most legal tech will include some form of data storage (particularly contract management systems) so make sure you are given a walk through of what happens as and when you choose to move on.
  • Keep it simple: the more integrated and configured a product is, the harder it is to replace. Having a few distinct and independent single function products can help spread the risk of obsolescence and allow you to evolve things on a modular basis over time.

We’ve had the Cloud, we’ve had AI solutions; in your opinion, what is the next big thing when it comes to legal tech?

I’m not sure I would say we have ‘had’ AI at this point. We’ve really only just scraped the surface of the potential of AI. What’s on the market currently is admittedly powerful but ultimately fairly blinkered in terms of what it can focus on. We’re little way off being able to have meaningful conversations with computers like the crew of the Enterprise asking vague, esoteric questions of the ship’s computer and getting comprehensive answers back or even Tony Stark’s witty banter with J.A.R.V.I.S. We will get there I suspect but not just yet. That’s why our AI platform comes with a managed service element so our lawyers can add that essential human touch to the review process.

In the meantime my view is that the next big thing is legal market ‘big data’ where you can easily access detailed analytics on market trends on legal issues in the same way as large corporates are able to tap into and monitor consumer market trends to calibrate their advertising. I think we will see law firms offering market trend analysis to their client to help them calibrate their contractual risk profiles.

How do you quantify the benefits of contract management systems? Are there any metrics that can be used to show the benefits/ business case?

Absolutely. But it first requires a leap of faith.

In my experience most businesses have an anecdotal sense of how busy they are, how they manage deals or what their general contractual positions are but nothing particularly concrete.

Implementing a new system will not improve things in and of itself (much like buying a new set of scales in January for a fitness drive won’t magically deal with any holiday weight) but it will give you the tools and data to create a detailed an accurate picture of where the business is on a range of issues, identify areas for improvement and track progress. It’s about facts not folklore.

We know this as we developed a matter management platform called “matters+” from the ground up and have worked with numerous in-house teams to achieve this transformational change. By tracking deal timescales, legal spend across matters and internal departments and identifying where matters are/are not outsourced you can calculate progress literally down to the pounds and pence. A good system should at the very least pay for itself over 12 months or so.

What is your favourite book and why?

My current favourite is “The Martian” by Andy Weir. I love science fiction books (which is probably why I am drawn to tech in my job) but I would recommend The Martian to anyone who spends their time in a challenging and sometimes stressful job.

The main character, Mark Watney, finds himself stranded alone on Mars after a storm separates him from his crew who are forced to take off without him. For each challenge he faces, two more seem to materialise (many of us will relate to that) but he never loses his desire to survive nor his sense of humour. There’s many a late night, difficult meeting or seemingly insurmountable series of jobs that have come and gone over the years and I’ve yet to encounter anything that’s not alleviated by some banter and a smile.

At the very least I can always remind myself that no matter what I encounter in my job I’m not alone on Mars trying to gaffer tape up a hole in my makeshift basecamp.