'You don’t have to be Steve Jobs' - industry leaders on what the law firm of the future will look like

All the highlights from the inaugural LegalWeek CONNECT conference at London’s Institution of Engineering and Technology, where general counsel, senior law firm partners and High Court judges discussed issues including innovation, cybersecurity, diversity and inclusion, law firm branding, legal technology and artificial intelligence


3:40pm In our final session, Nathan Furr, professor of strategy at INSEAD Business School, gave a talk centred around uncertainty.

With the rise of alternative competitors, the legal industry is being shaken up. How should law firms manage this? In times of high uncertainty, Furr suggests law firm managers should be more entrepreneurial, and embrace trial and error - a ‘fail fast’ approach.

He notes that law firms are focused on protecting their business against risks, but what is the risk of doing nothing? Furr adds that lawyers need to start testing and learning, rather than allocating a huge budget to AI. You and the teams you lead are more creative than you think, it is a function of behaviour.” He concludes: “You should also not have to be the sage that knows it all. You don’t have to be Steve Jobs.”


2.25pm The next session discussed the top five predictions for the future of legal services. Arthur Cox managing partner Brian O’Gorman began by talking about the need for firms to either become multidisciplinary by providing adjunct services; or boutique, in order to take on the big four accountancy firms as they expand into law.

On firms becoming more niche, Fieldfisher managing partner Michael Chissick said that while a business strategist would encourage the shift to boutique, it can be difficult to effectively implement that in what is already a full-service firm.

Mike Polson, co-head of innovation at Ashurst, highlighted the role of the non-lawyer in the firm of the future. Polson said that rather than looking to build a ‘super-lawyer’ – one who can code and project manage – the future for firms was expanding the number of professions involved in the delivery of legal services.

Simon Harper, co-founder of LOD, then discussed how the lack of a partnership structure within LOD was an “accidental experiment” that showed that legal services could be delivered in a non-traditional framework, thus encouraging the involvement of non-lawyers


1.35pm The next LegalEngage session, dubbed #dontletyourbranddie, centred on brand, relationship, promise, trust and experience.

Deborah Farone, strategic marketing advisor at Farone Advisors and former Cravath Swaine & Moore BD and communications chief, began by stressing the need for law firm managers to take the lead in establishing what their brand is and what it stands for.

Farone stressed that leaders need to stop looking at precedent and instead become less risk-averse when considering their brand. Clint Evans, director of brand and talent at RPC, agreed, saying brand dictates the perception of your business in the eyes of clients and the talent you want to attract.

The conversation then moved on to the relationship between your business and your clients and how your brand will only thrive if you can build strong relations.

This then led on to comments from Gerald Ratner, former CEO of Ratners Group, highlighting how law firms’ brand will survive based on the ability to fulfil the promise you make with your clients, and how his brand suffered when he suggested that his brand of jewellery did not.

Finally, the panelists discussed trust and experience, with Farone using the example of a perfect hotel service to push the point that clients want a great experience when they use their legal service provider - one that makes them feel the firm has their best interest at heart.


2:25pm What are the elephants in the room? Up now to discuss this are Adam Shutkever, non-executive director at Riverview Law, Nick Pryor, head of client service technology at Berwin Leighton Paisner and Nicholas Bruch, senior analyst at ALM Intelligence.

Shutkever shines a light on hourly billings: “Law firms need to stop imagining that billing by the hour is in any way a viable proposition.” However, he stresses that at the same time, firms need to know how productive lawyers are and therefore timesheets should stay.

For Pryor, his main gripe is the lack of career progression from lawyer to non-lawyer. In his view, firms have only brought in alternative roles in the last few years in an ad hoc way. “Firms need to step back and think, how do we build a team that works?”

Bruch comes up with two, firstly the decision making process. “Executive committees are where ideas go to die”. The second one he raises is the threat posed by the Big Four accounting firms. “They are here frankly already and their threat to law firms and alternative service providers is underrated.”

The group move on to discuss whether, with the rise of AI, will many lawyers lose their jobs? Shutkever suggests too many people assume they will get a job as a lawyer “without any reference to if there is a job at the end of it”. Pryor concludes that there is too much focus on getting a traditional legal role. “The smart people will thrive in law but they might be on a different career path than they thought”.


11:45am In the third LegalEngage session, ‘Amplifying the voice of clients in law firms’, the debate focused on how law firms can change and innovate to provide clients with a better service.

Dr Kishore Sengupta, associate professor and director of executive education at Cambridge University’s Judge Business School, began by talking about his research into the growing disconnect between clients and their law firms.

One of the main points highlighted in the research, and reinforced by the other in-house lawyers on the panel, was that clients not only want lawyers to provide legal advice but to think commercially and use the advice to also propose solutions.

Debbie Evans, global legal and commercial director of Clearswift, said: “Law firms don’t always hear what I want. They give excellent advice, but what I want is a deeper understanding of my business. There are so many alternatives out there – the question is why not use them?”

Although both in-house lawyers on the panel were of the belief that the billable hour is still alive and well within private practice, Macfarlanes senior partner Charles Martin says that in his experience most firms are open to alternative fee arrangements.

The debate concluded with a discussion on how law firms can improve. One suggestion involved third-party consultants being sent into in-house legal teams to get the true picture of what clients feel, and feeding this information back to the law firm, in response to a feeling held by many clients that they are unable to be as brutal face-to-face.

Ultimately, the general consensus was that law firms need to undertake structural changes with less reliance on billings to truly start to fulfil client needs and wants.


11.45am In our third LegalTech session, entitled ‘Bring in the robots’, Norton Rose Fulbright global head of innovation and technology Mike Rebeiro is on stage as moderator with Baker McKenzie partner Ben Allgrove and Winston & Strawn CIO David Cunningham to discuss the business case for artificial intelligence.

They begin with a big reality check – law firms will not be able to ‘bring in the robots’ until they clean up their data, which could take up to five years. Another key question is how to convince law firm partnerships to invest in technology? Allgrove says Bakers’ AI strategy takes a ‘fail fast’ approach, and the firm will only invest serious money in projects with client buy-in.

Another issue raised is whether AI vendors are over-promising. Cunningham says: “All the vendors that call themselves AI, definitely. But there are people who are being helpful in this space and this is producing interesting results rather than shockwaves.”

The session closes with the million dollar question - how will AI improve or change the legal industry in 10 years’ time? Cunningham suggests we won’t even call it AI by that point; it will be a natural way of working. Rebeiro says he expects to see new market entrants that will result in law firms squeezed out of a range of areas. “It will only be a matter of time before the big tech giants figure out there’s a huge market here called legal services,” he says.


10.30am Our next session sees CMS senior partner Penelope Warne, Eversheds Sutherland co-CEO Lee Ranson, Santa Fe general counsel Janet McCarthy and Fieldfisher life sciences and healthcare head Alison Dennis join Hogan Lovells London managing partner Susan Bright for a discussion on law firm diversity and inclusion efforts.

A question that fires up the panel is how much responsibility clients have to encourage their firms to improve diversity. Janet argues she wants the firms she uses to be proactive, saying: ”It is a wonderful thing to walk in and see diversity. I want a variety of brains across the table that reflect what I need answers to.’

Penelope adds that when clients are running panel appointments, they actively look at how diverse firms’ teams that are pitching for them are. “Clients are often saying diversity and values are absolutely essential – they assume all big law firms have the quality of their lawyers’ buttoned down so they then look at the cultures, behaviour, and trust in firms”, she says.

All the panel agree that improvement in diversity is happening too slowly, and hope that stamping out unacceptable behaviour in the workplace and encouraging minorities will lead to more diverse partnerships and senior management team.

Janet concludes: “There’s so much more we should be focusing on… we need to get over this need to get over this barrier. Let’s get there and then get onto talking about more interesting things.”


10:25am The next session looks at why collaboration in legal operations is critical to success – in years to come, what will the relationship between in-house teams, their external advisers and legal vendors look like? Sarah Barrett-Vane, director of legal operations at Royal Mail, says:  ”We used to have a pot of money that went to law firms, but now it goes anywhere and we’re quite supplier agnostic.”

Nick West, chief strategy officer at Mishcon de Reya, counters this by asking: if in-house teams are supplier-agnostic, what is the long-term incentive for the law firm to invest in that company?

Meanwhile, Sophie Schwass, head of legal operations at Lloyds, suggests law firms should be braver and invest in technology. She says she would rather work with trusted law firms than go out and find technology providers she does not know.


9:45am Ethical hacker Jamie Woodruff takes to the stage to talk about arguably one of the greatest threats law firms face – cyber-attacks.

Jamie’s job is to break into companies’ IT systems and demonstrate their weaknesses. He discusses one such weakness – routine. While working for a finance institution, he dressed up as a pizza delivery boy to get past security. He also delivered a CEO a package by buying a Royal Mail uniform to get into the building.


9.30am Welcome back to the second day of LegalWeek CONNECT. Today’s sessions are split into two streams – LegalTech and LegalEngage.

Legal Week and American Lawyer editors Georgina Stanley and Gina Passarella (pictured) are welcoming attendees to the keynote LegalEngage session by broadcaster Nik Gowing, which is looking at how leaders across all areas can best deal with unexpected events in an ever-changing and volatile world.

Nik opens his session by discussing how leaders can “think the unthinkable and prepare for it”, citing issues such as Brexit, Trump’s election, migration and the ever growing use of technology.

He warns that those in professional services need to realise the impact that these geopolitical events will have on their businesses. “We must understand the enormity of these changes… there is a price for not thinking about the unthinkable”, he argues.

Nik concludes by talking about the internal challenges at businesses that have to be confronted in this new environment, including risk aversion and the fear of making career limiting moves, which may prevent leaders from dealing with unthinkable events. “A lot of this unthinkable stuff is unpalatable to the conformist brain, but it must be recognised”, he says.

He closes with the warning that this new environment is “a serious existential challenge” – and if you do not embrace the change, it could have unthinkable effects.


4.15pm The final panel debate of the day is being led by Dentons global CEO Elliott Portnoy, who will be talking to Aviva group GC Kirsty Cooper, ICICI Bank head of legal Priti Shetty, notonthehighstreet.com GC Kate Burns and 10x Banking GC Richard Given.

Up for discussion is the role that GCs play in driving innovation in their own organisations, as well as stimulating innovation from their external law firms.

Burns says that working at a relatively young company means that when it comes to innovation, “it’s about taking a step back to ask how things work and think about things another way”.

“In relation to legal advisers, we haven’t found a legal adviser that really understands our business or can do it for the right price,” she says. “I really struggle to find someone who is fit for purpose.”

Cooper, who faces different challenges at the helm of a much more established company, says she looks to foster innovation at Aviva by bringing in people who have very different skillsets to her existing legal team, such as expertise in technology and data analytics.

Given argues that innovation is not about the mantra of ‘more for less’ – “it’s different for less, or more efficient for less,” he says. The hurdle that many law firms fail to get over is that “innovation involves risk – you have to embrace the fact there is going to be failure.”

The day finishes with a question on the appeal of the big four accountancy firms’ much-vaunted legal offerings, and the panel are unanimous in their praise. Cooper says: “Finance directors love them, because they’ll do your work for a set price. They’re run like a business – a really big threat to law firms.”


3.30pm Baroness Harding is recounting the 24 hours after TalkTalk’s 2015 cyber-attack, when she says “the Metropolitan Police were trying to convince us not to tell our customers.”

“It became an ‘entire company’ thing within 24 hours,” she recalls. “It wasn’t just the legal team and technology team that needed to be updated – all front-line agents needed to be briefed. Every element of the company was turned upside-down - the in-house legal team were hugely important.”

Palmer asks whether the company brought in any law firms to help with the company’s response to the attack: “We argued quite a lot about external legal advice,” Harding recalls. “My GC didn’t want any extra lawyers knocking around.

“The human advice is to say sorry – the legal advice is not to.”


3.25am Naga Munchetty is now introducing Baroness Harding of Winscombe, the former chief executive of TalkTalk, who is talking to Herbert Smith Freehills senior partner James Palmer about the cyber-attack which affected over 150,000 customers in 2015.

Elsewhere in the building, there are also a series of roundtable debates going on today…


2.00pm Legal Week writer and consultant Dominic Carman introduces the distinguished panel for our Question Time special, which focuses on the responsibilities facing the legal profession in a time of uncertainty.

The first question: in times of uncertainty and complexity, how do we underline and strengthen the rule of law?

Sir William Blair, the former judge in charge of the Commercial Court, highlights one key challenge – that the UK’s imminent exit from European Union means we are likely to face a legal framework that is considerably more complex than that which we have now.

High Court judge Mr Justice Knowles says lawyers can do more to “get behind” public legal education and improve understanding of the rule of law, while Mishcon de Reya’s James Libson argues that London’s biggest commercial law firms could offer more support to other parts of the profession, such as the legal aid practices defending the public on the front lines of society.

Liberty’s Corey Stoughton argues that top firms can boost their appeal to top talent by encouraging and allowing their lawyers to supplement their commercial work with more interesting pro bono cases with benefits for wider society.

The panel are united in scepticism about former justice secretary Michael Gove’s proposal last year of a tax on City law firms to offset legal aid cuts – a suggestion described by Libson as “a thoroughly bad idea… the law is for everyone, and it is not just for law firms to own and solve this problem.”

The session wraps up with a question on the one thing the panelists would change in the legal profession, with collective responsiblity for access to justice, more respect for court administration and improved gender, race, sexuality and class diversity all cited.


1.45pm The LegalTalent entrants are continuing to brave our senior judging panel to present their ideas to shake up the profession, with teams from Simmons & Simmons and Howard Kennedy among this morning’s hopefuls. We’ll be announcing the winner later on today – check back in to find out which pitch got the seal of approval from the judges.


12.40pm Our guests are now taking a break for lunch and networking – we’ll be back underway at 2.00pm for a special ‘Question Time’ session, with a panel including High Court judge Mr Justice Knowles, Sir William Blair, Liberty advocacy director Corey Stoughton and Mishcon de Reya partner James Libson.


11.45am Silicon Valley has become synonymous with innovation – but what can law firms learn from its origins and impact on the legal profession?

Next up we have a panel debate on innovation in the legal profession, featuring Wired editor-in-chief Greg Williams, Fulcrum GT managing director Ahmed Shaaban, former Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer global innovation architect Milos Kresojevic and Sentient co-founder and chairman Antoine Blondeau.

Williams opens the debate by discussing some of the world’s most innovative companies, and how despite the pace of change around the world, law firms continue to lag behind in terms of the levels of investment they are making in technology.

Blondeau distills innovation down to the concept of speed, while Shaaban focuses on the appeal for clients – how innovation can give you the edge on your rivals. As Williams points out, “not every bet that Amazon makes is right” – law firms should not be afraid to fail when embracing new ideas.

Shaaban discusses some of the key factors forcing the hand of law firms:

- the partnership model, which means firms are more reluctant to gamble and lose money;

- the unique challenges presented by the regulatory burden on law firms; and

- the demands of clients who “can bring law firms to their knees”.

Shaaban references one problem he has heard from a number of law firm clients – that “the only person they talk to is the lawyer”. Collaboration with clients is crucial, but law firms do need to have the right people in place to manage these relationships.

Kresojevic argues that new technology and AI presents a huge opportunity for smaller and mid-sized law firms, in that it could allow them to take on work that they just would not have been able to handle in the past. “We might be seeing a democratisation of legal services on a large scale,” he says.


11.30am The LegalTalent competition is going on throughout the day, with fifteen teams and individuals battling it out to emerge victorious in the Dragons’ Den-style contest.

Our judging panel features World Bank general counsel Sandie Okoro, KPMG UK GC Jeremy Barton, former Anheuser-Busch InBev chief legal officer Sabine Chalmers and Legal Week publisher John Malpas, with the winning entry receiving £5,000 in prize money and a write-up in the The American Lawyer, Legal Week, LegalTech News and Corporate Counsel.

You can check out the full list of shortlisted entries here – the winner will be announced at the after-party this evening. Good luck to all.


11.15am After a short break for coffee and networking, we’re back for the next presentation of the day, from entrepreneur, investor and philanthropist Azeem Ibrahim.

Azeem begins by discuss the theme of ‘social credibility’, as referenced in dystopian satires such as the TV show Black Mirror, and how this concept is now becoming more of a reality for law firms and corporates amid the continued rise of social media.

Azeem continues to talk about how lawyers need to ‘get out of their lane’ – new technology is revolutionising the way cases and contracts are managed, and law firms must ensure they are taking advantage of such systems to keep ahead their rivals.


9.30am Sir Clive Woodward takes to the stage to discuss how law firms and other organisations can get the best out of their top talent.

He recalls how Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger introduced him to Prozone, a sports data platform that allowed him to look at rugby from a whole new perspective – “it completely and utterly blew my mind”, he says.

Despite some initial scepticism from his players, the leaders among his squad – those he describes as “sponges, rather than rocks” – eventually embraced this new data-led approach, taking their performance to a whole new level.

Sir Clive asks: how do we coach pressure? He draws on the example of the Olympic synchronised diving competition in 2004, in which the Greek team managed to ignore the distraction of a spectator jumping into the pool to secure a surprise gold medal win, to highlight the value of thinking correctly under pressure, or TCUP.

He brings his speech to a close with the quote: “Tackling change is understanding the difference between working on and working in the business” – a reminder for those in the legal profession to remember to take a step back from their day-to-day work and look at the bigger picture from time to time.


9.00am The guests are arriving and getting seated, with the BBC’s Naga Munchetty introducing ALM CEO Bill Carter to discuss some of the key issues facing the legal community.

Subjects on the agenda for the next two days include the rise of alternative legal services providers, the ongoing war for the brightest young talent, and the impact of artificial intelligence and other new technologies.


8.30am Rugby World Cup winner Sir Clive Woodward is set to kick off the first-ever LegalWeek CONNECT conference this morning, on day one of a brand new event boasting a big-name line-up of speakers including GCs, law firm leaders and High Court judges, as well as a few less conventional contributors…

Sir Clive will be providing the first keynote speech of the day at around 9.30am this morning, in which he’ll tackle subjects including how to convince champion performers to embrace change - one of the key themes of the conference. Before that, the event will be opened by ALM CEO Bill Carter and the BBC’s Naga Munchetty.

We’ll be providing updates from the event throughout the day, with coverage of all the panel discussions, photos, social media reaction and much more, so please check back in regularly for the latest on what is set to be an unmissable event.