Innovative law: Interview with Shaun Temby from Maddocks

Shaun Temby, a Head of Innovation at Maddocks, discusses the need for law firms to be more innovative, and open to change. He highlights the need to create an environment where people feel safe to fail, and therefore, safe to take the risk.

Indre Kulakauskaite
by Indre Kulakauskaite
Shaun Temby Maddocs blue suit

Tell us about yourself, and your role at Maddocks.

I am a Practicing Partner in our Commercial Disputes Team. I’ve been practising for about 20 years and have recently been given the position of the Head of the Innovation Committee, and been given responsibility for delivering on our Innovation Strategy at Maddocks.

Congratulations! What does that mean for you? What additional responsibilities do you have now?

My primary responsibility continues to be a Lead Generating Partner. Which is not unusual for Law Firms, with the focus on delivering services to clients, and making money. But, on top of that, I’ve been given the responsibility for helping to develop an innovation culture at Maddocks, so that we are open to new ideas, and new ways of thinking, in our approach to the practice of law.

I will be working with a Strategy Group, who will oversee the work of an Action Group. And, the Action Group will be drawn from many different parts of the Firm, both the Theory Staff, and the Administration and Business Services Staff, and from entry level through to partnership level, so we get a real diversity of thought. And, I’ll be responsible for delivering on ideas, development of projects, so that we can explore the areas where we can improve our services, or our service delivery.

What are the main areas that you think currently need improvement?

We have a number of projects that we’re working on. We’re looking at piloting the use of different types of software connected with Legal Project Management. And, as part of that, the exploration of different types of billing methods. We’re doing smaller projects along the lines with the increasing use of video for content delivery for clients. Whether that’s either in training, or in the area of giving clients updates on legal developments, or recent cases.

Our Corporate Team is looking at machine learning software for large-scale document review for due diligence, and our Construction Team is looking at a combination of machine learning capable software, and also contract automation for the review of low-level contracts for clients, and delivery of automatic reports.

We’ll be looking at an ideation platform to try and encourage people to submit areas where there are friction points, or frustration points, which I think is an excellent place to look at, driving innovation, and introducing your ideas, and we’ll be asking people to identify areas where they’re experiencing that frustration, to try and identify areas that we could look at innovating.

Do you think that this kind of projects are needed for the internal motivation of your current employees, or, is it more for external benefits of the company?

I think it’s both. We, and in particular large commercial law firms, have seen significant competitive pressures. We have a lot of new entrants, what they call the new law, which is really technology firms looking at delivering technology solutions for the delivery of legal services. And, that’s increasing pressure on price as well as competition for work. And, we’re also being asked by clients to deliver more for less. So the confluence of forcing us to change the way that we do business. Law firms, particularly large commercial law firms, are very traditional and usually based on an apprenticeship-based model. We’re taught that this is the way you always do things, and therefore, you are discouraged from thinking differently, and outside of the box.

We basically train our people to be risk averse, and really, we kill that innovative spark from a very early age. So, what we’re looking to do is to change all of that, and to get our people thinking innovatively, and looking for solutions, and creating value through an introduction of new ideas to the firm. Hopefully, while doing that we’ll also be engaging all of our staff, and also the Millennials, as their approach to technology, and their use of technology is very different than some of the senior members of our firm. I think they feel very frustrated about our slow uptake of new ideas, and more so than our older partners.

So probably getting a ‘Yes’ from a senior level board is more difficult than from other staff members?

Yes. Well, I’ve been with Maddocks for just over 18 months, and have been talking about innovation, and the need for us to be more innovative, and open to change. And, I think, part of my appointment to the role of the Head of the Innovation Committee, and being Head of Innovation, Maddocks is the firm recognising that the way that we were going about it wasn’t working, and that we needed to move responsibility for innovation and the delivery of an innovation strategy from senior partners through to people who were actively interested in it, and had the time to do it. So, it’s a real change, and it’s one that I’ve been working on for about 18 months, and it’s good that the firm has recognised that, and that we’re moving in that direction.

Have you seen any projects that have been implemented and how do you measure if it was a success?

Well, one of the things that we did in 2016 and early 2017, is that, we ran three different information programs. We ran one at partner level, and we ran one at the senior social and special counsel levels, that middle band of legal practitioners, and we also ran an innovation competition at graduate, and first-year practitioner level. And, we ran them all concurrently. We gave them all different types of resources. At the junior level, they were taken off-site for two days, and given training in design thinking, and were given set ideas, and asked to come up with solutions, and then they were required to pitch them Dragon’s Den, or Shark Tank-style to the innovation committee for approval.

The senior associates and special counsel were given similar training, but they were given a half day to come up with ideas, so much more concentrated. And, then the partners were required to come up with an idea, and then, were given 45 days to come up with a plan, and deliver on that idea. We then measured the success of those three different programs.

And, unsurprisingly, the group that was given two days off-site, with two days of training by a specialised trainer in design thinking, and then supported through the development of a pitch for that Dragon’s Den, Shark Tank-style presentation – they gave us the best results. They identified a number of different projects which are worthy of support.

Whereas, that middle level, the senior associates, special counsel level didn’t come up with a single idea that was worth pursuing on its own. One or two of them were referred for further development. At partner level, we saw some great ideas, but the partners quickly got distracted with the responsibility of delivering legal services and supervising the delivery of legal services for clients, in other words, the core business.

We looked at each of those different programs, and we looked at what worked, and what didn’t, and we’re going to be re-introducing what became known as the Maddocks Innovation Challenge. We’ll be doing it again at the end of this year, but we’ll be doing it in a completely different way. We’ll take the learnings from each of those different programs, what worked, and what didn’t, and we’ll be reinvigorating, and reinventing the Innovation Challenge as well.

How do you motivate people to actually get involved in Innovation Challenge? Are they rewarded in any way after the project?

I think some people are interested in it simply because of their personalities. I think some people are interested in it, because, they realise there’s a business need for it.

I’ve heard the phrase used, “innovation bonfires,” in that sense that when people see something bright and welcoming from a distance they’re drawn to it. And, the idea of the Innovation Committee, really, is to light bonfires, and, you know, encourage other people to light bonfires.

There are lots of good ideas in our business, and we need to make sure that other people are hearing about them. And, in particular, the successes, but equally innovation involves not just what is successful, but also the values, and learning from the values, and continuing to improve. So, trying to inspire people will be about sharing ideas about what we’re doing, and where we’re experimenting to encourage and excite them.

You mentioned failure, and sometimes, of course, things don’t go as planned. Is it important to have a culture where failure is not seen as a bad thing?

Absolutely, and that’s not something that’s quite normal for most of the law firms. Lawyers are highly competitive, and they like to be successful, they like to win. In fact, that’s what we’re trained to do. So, to go against that grain, and to create an environment where people feel safe to fail, and therefore, safe to take the risk, and therefore safe to suggest a new idea, or a new way of doing things is very different from the way that we normally operate.

So, you need buy-in from senior leaders, and the executive leadership team to give your coverage so that you can try those new ideas, and think outside the box. Innovation isn’t simply an idea and a solution, it’s also the journey between those two points. And, that will necessarily involve failure, and if it doesn’t, you’re probably not trying hard enough, you’re not being innovative enough.

Do you already have a certain process in place to actually make those ideas happen? How does that currently work?

There’s a lot of research in this space, and particularly coming out of Stanford University in the Design School, or D-School as it’s known. But, there are a number of different ways of thinking about innovation. But, what is clear is that you need a methodology, it’s not simply those eureka moments. You can, actually, through a process encourage people to create ideas, and to develop them, and to prototype them, and to test them. And, I think the important point is, experimentation is part of that.
The important journey for us after the past 18 months has been learning about some of these different methods and then trialling them. Then learning about what works, and what doesn’t. One of the things we have learned having done that is that an innovation methodology involving all of those different concepts is fundamentally important. You do need to study what didn’t go as well as you thought it would. You need to work out why, and then you need to feed that back into the process. So, it becomes a loop of ideas, and trials, and failures, and learning, and so on.

Companies can definitely learn a lot from their own failures and successes. Corporates tend to learn from startups and their mindset lately as well.

This is something that comes naturally to lawyers, I think it’s important to look outside the firm for ideas. And, of course, another good place to look is clients. Talking to your clients about what it is that’s frustrating them, and what it is they’re looking for to make their lives easier, and their jobs easier?

How can law firms learn from their clients?

I think there are different possibilities. Some people run Hackathons with clients. We, I hope, will be involving our clients in our Innovation Challenge this year. It’s about having the courage to say to your clients: “Where are the frustration points? Where are the areas that we can be doing better?”. Then inviting them into that problem-solving process, rather than simply looking at what you think are their problems, and developing a solution for them, and delivering it to them, only to find out that, that wasn’t really a problem for them, or that’s not really a solution that fits in with their business either.

You briefly mentioned AI as one of the opportunities to use more of in order to reduce administration work. Can you expand a little bit more on that, and to what extent you believe it will be able to help law firms in the future?

I think it has a huge potential. I think as a technology, and its’ application to law, it’s still in its infancy. We’re seeing it probably in its most advance stage in Australia, at least, in the development of Technology Assisted Review. It’s taking extensive data relevant to, generally, a dispute, and reviewing and analyzing that data to identify the documents that are most relevant. The custodians of the documents that are the most relevant, looking the data ranges of activity, different types of activity, different levels of connectivity. And, using the technology to review what would otherwise take humans an inordinate amount of time to review, and doing that in a much quicker, and more efficient way, and therefore, cost-effective way.

But, also, doing it in a way that is automated, so it learns as it goes. So, you have, for instance, a review set of data, which is reviewed at very small review set, reviewed by experts and then that’s fed back into the software, and it then identifies documents that are the same. Documents that are similar, documents that are related, and it identifies families of documents where some of the text, or context is recognized. And, so it’s able to make connections between documents and information, and then display that in a way that is much more user-friendly. And, so it will make those connections much more efficiently than humans ever could.

As we face increasingly large amounts of data through the exchange of email, and internet, and the number of devices that we have, the amount of data that we’re dealing with in a dispute context is increasingly exponentially. And, so what that means that when you’re trying to find the needle in the haystack or several needles in a haystack, then doing that the old-fashioned way no longer makes any sense at all. So, the use of Artificial Intelligence, which is really at this stage very, very sophisticated algorithms, to carry out those tasks makes a lot of sense.

There are a couple of other applications. For example, a potential identify portions of documents that are different. The Artificial Intelligence software that they’re using is smart enough to understand the context of an example of clauses of the contract and identify the differences. Not simply by comparison of words, because, obviously, that’s a pretty simple exercise, but actually a comparison of context.

So, if you’re doing a very large merger and acquisition between an acquirer, and a target and the target has significant numbers of leases that need to be reviewed, and you need to identify, for example, choice of jurisdiction clauses, and you want to know how many clauses, if South Africa is the appropriate jurisdiction in leases that, that company is a party to. Now, if you’re dealing with a very large company, that could take people an inordinate amount of time, to find, and discover, and report on. Whereas, if you automate that process, and use artificial intelligence to conduct that review, it can happen much more quickly. So, that’s another application.

And then, right of the edge of what AI is doing at the moment, and I think there are a couple of companies that are experimenting with predicting the outcomes of the US Supreme Court Decisions, and it’s looking at extracted situations given the prior judgments of the current judges of the US Supreme Court, and it’s predicting the outcome with somewhere between 70 and 80 accuracy for US Supreme Court decisions. That’s a really fascinating development, because, if you can predict the outcome to that extent, and there’s no factual dispute between the parties, then, it may be that the parties would be willing to agree. Theoretically, to give away the cost and uncertainty of a trial, and to submit themselves instead to a much quicker process, manage with an Artificial Intelligence. So, in effect, the computer acting as the agreed arbitrator of that dispute.

If you were to give a single piece of advice to your fellow Innovation Officers in other law firms, with limited resources and time, what should they focus on?

I’d say that there would never be a perfect time to start, so just start. I would bring in some external consultants to assist you with breaking out of that traditional legal mindset. I would democratize the process, and I would make sure that you have coverage from your senior leadership team to try things and fail. If you can do all of those things, then just try lots of little small ideas, lots of little pilots, small, low cost, low risk, and just try lots of little ideas. Build on your successes, build up the ideas that work, or currently work, improve them and start developing and implementing those ideas.
Because, once you start proving that these things can be successful, you attract more people, you attract more resources, and you’ll attract more interest from the senior leadership team, and that can only be a good thing.

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