Legal Ops: City law firms launch new legal operations scheme

October 25, 2021

4 min read

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What's going on here?

Six top City law firms have partnered to create a new four-week tech-based programme for legal operations graduates which will launch in January 2022.

What does this mean?

The six firms involved are CMS, Dentons, Herbert Smith Freehills, Linklaters, Norton Rose Fulbright, and Slaughter and May. They have partnered with University of Law and Positive Pricing on a new tech-focused course for legal operations graduates. Positive Pricing is a consultancy that provides professional service companies with strategies for pricing and project management.  Over four weeks, participants will explore the topics of automation, technology, innovation, and project management. The scheme’s first intake will be in January 2022.

What's the big picture effect?

Law firms have to adapt as more of the economy completely digitises. The digitisation of retail alone creates tech-specific work for law firms in the form of contracts (web developers and shipping) and IP (websites, algorithms). In addition to retail digitisation, lawyers increasingly deal with tech products with the rise of social media and FinTech and the data privacy regulation that accompany this digital evolution. These developments and market pressure to increase efficiency have led firms to increase tech training and develop tech solutions to keep employees up to speed and develop their potential for innovation..

The new operations scheme fits into the growing trend across the City to offer training more focused on technology and innovation. Firms have expanded their graduate scheme selections including new schemes for non-lawyers, new varieties of training contracts (TCs), and tech or innovation seats in traditional TC programmes. To date, there are few tech-focused schemes for non-lawyers in operation (e.g. Macfarlanes’ scheme began in September 2021). Addleshaw Goddard’s first intake is November 2021, while Eversheds Sutherland’s programme begins in March 2022. Participants in these schemes will sit in firms’ technology teams and be trained in emerging areas of tech while working to develop new applications and possibly entirely new tech solutions.

Some Magic Circle firms also offer tech-specific training contracts. Allen and Overy has offered a ‘LawTech Graduate Programme’ that mirrors a TC with four six month seats since 2018 and in the same year Clifford Chance began its IGNITE scheme. IGNITE was the first to provide a full TC with solicitor qualification with a focus on tech. Trainees’ responsibilities include designing solutions for clients, collaborating with both traditional lawyers and the firm’s legal operations and delivery teams.

Most firms have instead opted to include tech and innovation seats into their rotation selections. In February 2021 DWF began offering trainees a seat within the legal tech team. A year earlier, Linklaters began offering trainee secondments to its in-house tech startup. The aim of these schemes is to provide new lawyers with a better understanding of tech products whilst facilitating the use of tech into their legal work. The schemes that don’t lead to solicitor qualification represent an opportunity for those interested in law to enter the industry without practicing, yet still being able to make a difference in legal delivery.

Finally, tech training is becoming increasingly important because of its value to law firm economics. Tech can reduce lawyers’ manual workload and speed up tasks. Consequently, firms need strong teams to develop, produce, and maintain these tech solutions. Artificial Intelligence (AI) is most commonly used in the due diligence stages where lawyers on each side investigate documents to develop their cases, and to construct Merger and Acquisition (M&A) deals. Implementing software to scan documents and flag areas of concern frees up hours of billable time that lawyers previously spent combing through physical documents. Tech is also used to develop smart contracts. These are pre-formatted documents allowing lawyers to generate contracts with standardised terms, again saving billable hours and streamlining the contract-writing process. Firms continue to develop their own legal solutions in-house to increase process efficiency and make their services more client-friendly. For example, BCLP developed a tool (‘Clear/Cut’) allowing them to provide clients with ‘a clear summary’ of their dispute resolution case’s legal standing in fourteen days. This gives clients speedier information access for cheaper fees and allows lawyers to perform more valuable work in less time.

This new tech-focused legal operations scheme is critical for the legal industry’s tech advancement. Lawyers are dealing with more digital products and need to better understand tech to advocate for their client’s products and needs. Firms are also using more tech to deliver their services, helping them to perform faster for reduced client costs and enabling lawyers to provide services to a higher standard. This all culminates in a requirement for a strong tech team within law firms to develop in-house solutions and help lawyers fully understand clients’ tech products.

Report written by Phoebe Turner

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