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Client-centred approach translates technology into solutions Process and people key to unlocking problem-solving potential

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Self-driving cars, IBM’s Watson and ‘robo’ financial advisers are sparking conversations about the potential of innovation to change everything. In the legal sector, the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence and digital connectivity has opened up vast new potential.

What does this mean for Canadian companies today? Two national legal innovation leaders, McCarthy Tétrault’s Judith McKay, Chief Client and Innovation Officer, and Matthew Peters, partner and National Innovation Leader, share their perspectives.

How do you see recent innovation changing the delivery of legal
services?

JM: In our view, true innovation comes from understanding our clients, their businesses and the industries in which they operate. In the business world, there is no distinction between legal challenges and business challenges. They’re all business challenges.

We start with the client’s problem and then think about people: teamwork and collaboration within the firm, with service providers and with our client. Then we look at how we can improve processes – and only then bring in technology. Technology needs to be considered in thoughtful connection with people and processes, or it often fails.

One example involved a client with a massive volume of low- to mid-complexity contracts. It was too expensive for them to outsource, but they didn’t have the in-house capacity. We developed a solution that included a legal process outsourcer. We used a lot of process mapping and applied contract management software with robust data analytics to track the life cycle of the contract. The result for the client was a high-quality, consistent solution at a very attractive price point.  

MP: When companies do merger and acquisition deals, for example, the due diligence process has historically been humans reviewing things. We asked, “What if we apply process, technology and people to deliver a better solution?”

Clients also have issues with low-value contracts such as confidentiality agreements or employee offer letters, which are usually created manually. We developed an end-to-end process using a document automation tool, an electronic signature tool and a database. Everything lives in the digital sphere; you answer the questions, and it generates the agreement to be signed and stored. Clients have been paying law firms $1,000 to $1,400 for these simple agreements, and now they can do them for as little as $100.

For us, the centre point of innovation is staying focused on solutions.


We start with the client’s problem and then think about people: teamwork and collaboration within the firm, with service providers and with our client. Then we look at how we can improve processes – and only then bring in technology.
— Judith McKay is Chief Client and Innovation Officer at McCarthy Tétrault

Has this approach changed your billing relationship with your clients?
MP: Instead of billing by the hour, which incents inefficiency, we are looking to things like fixed price. It’s a win-win for everybody when both service providers and clients share the same incentive to be efficient.
   
What are the foundations of an innovative culture?
JM: In the 1980s, law firms weren’t allowed to operate outside of a single province, and McCarthy Tétrault went all the way to the Supreme Court of Canada to become the first national firm. Our tradition of innovation has continued from there.

Another innovation for us was in the area of legal project management, which we introduced about eight years ago. As we started to think about the way that we deliver services as a process, everything else evolved naturally out of that. Processes derive solutions, they enable you to make them leaner and more efficient, and allow you to think about different resources.


Lawyers won’t all be replaced with computers – project out 10 years and lawyers will still be central to the problem-solving role.
— Matthew Peters is partner and National Innovation Leader at McCarthy Tétrault

What happens next? How are you preparing for the future?
MP: We don’t have a crystal ball, but we can predict some things with a high degree of confidence. One is that the composition of individuals providing services in a law firm will continue to diversify. Traditionally, it was lawyers and paralegals; it has already evolved to include other roles such as project managers and process improvement experts.

The role of technology will continue to grow. Lawyers won’t all be replaced with computers – project out 10 years and lawyers will still be central to the problem-solving role. But AI will play a role in making many of the services that we deliver more efficient.
Data is playing a bigger and bigger role in the services we and some other law firms provide, and will continue to do so. Predictive analytics on document review for litigation, and in transactional work, continues to change how we deliver services.

JM: An early indication of the future is McCarthy Tétrault’s acquisition of Wortzmans’ law firm earlier this year. Now, under one roof, we offer very sophisticated e-discovery processes, technology and information governance. This enables us to work with our clients to manage their tens of millions of documents and records, to better run document retention programs that pare down the number of duplicate documents and make it possible to find documents more readily. It’s fantastic technology that helps us solve a client’s problem, from end to end.

Our clients are feeling cost and budget pressures; having to do more with less. They’re looking to us for solutions, and we’re helping them understand that there are simple governance processes and inexpensive technologies they can leverage to be more organized, efficient and effective. We’re also leading that process, lawyer by lawyer, within our firm: how can we have better databases, find things more easily, repeat tasks using templates and checklists, et cetera.
It’s exciting for us to have an impact on transforming the legal industry and how it provides value – what motivates us is helping our clients achieve even greater success.

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