Former Managing Director for Innovation and Knowledge at Paul Hastings, Nikki Shaver, and Jeroen Plink, former CEO of Clifford Chance Applied Solutions discuss the inception of their platform, LegalTech Hub, and how their experiences shaped the solutions to particular problems they identified in searching and sourcing technology for law firms:
- Having a centralized place for law firms and corporate legal to perform searches on digital tools and knowledge management
- How to implement, advocate, and educate attorneys and legal professionals on legal tech – both new and existing
- The value of integration for efficiency and ROI on existing technology investments
Bill Bice: Hi, this is Bill Bice. I’m here with Nikki Shaver and Jeroen Plink today. And I’m excited about this discussion, because the two of you have just done a tremendous number of things in legal and legal technology. Welcome.
Nikki Shaver: Thanks, Bill. Thanks for having us.
Jeroen Plink: Yeah, thanks.
Bill Bice: So I’d love to get a little bit of history of how you ended up working together and why you’re doing what you’re doing now.
Jeroen Plink: You want to start, Nikki?
Nikki Shaver: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks, Jeroen. So actually, Jeroen and I have known each other through the industry for a number of years. We were on a couple of panels together. But we started working together last year or so, when we connected and realized that both of us had a very aligned vision for where we could take Legaltech Hub.
Nikki Shaver: And Legaltech Hub is a platform that was launched publicly initially in October 2020. It came out of a problem that I saw in the job I had at the time. I was looking after innovation and knowledge management at Paul Hastings and found that I frequently had to do searches for solutions in the market. An example is we had a need for a digital translation tool. We needed to know what was available, and no one really had an idea. Google is a really imperfect place to go and make those searches.
Nikki Shaver: So we thought, well, why not? And when I talk about we at that stage, I’m talking about myself and my partner, who is also in marketing for legal tech, actually. We decided that we would build a platform that made it easy to perform that kind of search, and really pulled all of the solutions in the market that were geared towards legal together in one place to make it easy for people to search across them.
Nikki Shaver: So we launched Legaltech Hub with that purpose in mind in October 2020, and then Jeroen and I started talking last year and decided together that we would develop it further into something that had a more commercial business model and was more content focused. And early this year, both of us went full time into Legaltech Hub, which is exciting, and which is where we find ourselves now.
Bill Bice: Well, congrats. That’s awesome.
Jeroen Plink: Yeah. And I come at it from a slightly different angle, but we’re solving a different problem. So I have been selling stuff to law firms and in-house legal departments for the better part of the last 20, 22 years. It’s been a while. Where Nikki in her experience finds it hard to find the relevance of her applications, I find it hard to be found. When we were selling, Practical Law was slightly different because it was very, it was quite unique that when you’re selling, even within Practical Law, we were selling document automation software and services.
Jeroen Plink: And that’s a very crowded market. So how do you stand out as a seller? Who do you approach, how do you stick to the right people within the law firm without alienating the CIO because you’re talking to a partner and you’re selling the partner, and all of a sudden, instead of making a sale to the entire firm, you annoy, as a vendor, you annoy the central purchasing powers that be. I think that’s the hard part to overcome.
Bill Bice: Yeah. Both sides are a challenge. And coming from your side of the equation, Jeroen, it kind of makes me jealous of what you have done, Nikki, because it seemed to me like it’d always be this ideal job, to be head of innovation for a major law firm and be able to tackle the problems that that includes. So what was that like?
Nikki Shaver: Working in innovation in a law firm is great. I mean, I’ve done it now for about 10 years and it is, it’s fascinating because you’re working with the lawyers, you’re working to really identify use cases and opportunities to leverage technology or to improve processes internally. Things of course move necessarily slowly because the work of doing innovation in a firm is not just about applying technology.
Nikki Shaver: It’s really about understanding what are the problems or pain points being experienced by the lawyers and then delving deeply into those to understand what would actually make a difference, what are the needs of the lawyers in relation to that problem, and scoping out requirements and only then looking at your existing technology to see whether you could cobble together existing solutions in a way that might provide a solution, whether it might be improved processes that would make a significant difference or whether indeed you have to go out to market. And then the procurement process once you reach that stage in the equation is quite significant and protracted.
Nikki Shaver: So by necessity things move reasonably slowly, but it is exciting when things come together and you get to see things make a difference, especially when there are low hanging fruit projects that really you can see make a tangible difference to the way that lawyers work. But I must say, it’s also really exciting being on the outside of that in the industry at large and doing in a way similar work, but for multiple people on the buyer’s side. So law firms and corporate legal and trying to make a difference in the way that procurement is run in those organizations is something that I’m really excited about as a new challenge.
Bill Bice: Was there anything from your time at Paul Hastings that you were particularly proud of, in terms of the impact you were able to make?
Nikki Shaver: Yeah. I mean, interestingly, one of the things was, and this is not about bringing in technology, it was about educating our lawyers. So I was really proud of the strategy that I was able to implement with the team, which was very much focused around adoption. From my perspective, you have to go in with an adoption first strategy, and in order to generate adoption, you need to educate lawyers on why it’s necessary to think about working in new ways, why it’s important to be open to doing things in new ways.
Nikki Shaver: So I developed the team an entire program for incoming summer associates on legal technology, but also the changing forces in the legal industry that were making it necessary for lawyers to work in new ways, what that looked like at different firms, what our clients were asking for, what the regulatory environment is like, and then going through and actually talking to them about when people say AI in law, it’s not magic. This is what it actually does. These are some realistic use cases. This is what the firm has. This is how we use it. This is how you could use it. Here’s how it’s applicable to you. That was really successful.
Nikki Shaver: And then we expanded that to fall associates and so on as well. And so I think those kinds of educational campaigns, and there were many other aspects to it, including newsletters across the firm and so on, really saw a difference in the culture of the firm and the openness of the firm to adopt new technologies, jump on board with pilots, get involved in what we were doing.
Nikki Shaver: So from the first year I was there to the last year I was there, the momentum really increased substantially and we really saw a lot of change in just the attitude of the lawyers towards what we were doing in our initiative. So that I think overall is probably my proudest achievement there.
Bill Bice: Yeah. None of it really matters if we don’t get the attorneys to use it.
Nikki Shaver: Right.
Jeroen Plink: Exactly.
Bill Bice: So Jeroen, you created something that really did drive a ton of usage and had a pretty significant change in the market, with Practical Law. So talk a little bit more about that. I was at Thomson at the time, when that decision was made, and there was a really strong strategy behind it. So how did that all come together?
Jeroen Plink: So Practical Law, so I sold a business to Practical Law in the early 2000s. I developed together with a partner, and we developed a tool for legal due diligence. And that was terrific timing, or terrific idea, terrible timing. So we ended up having to sell it to Practical Law, who saved us. And I was there in England for a while and I saw the profound impact Practical Law had on lawyers. And having practiced in the US for a while in the late 90s, I knew that the situation in the US was actually not as good as it was in England, where the habit of law firms was to employ PSLs, professional support lawyers, to actually develop useful resources. And that was the premise of Practical Law.
Jeroen Plink: So we went there, or came in the US in 07, with a fairly new and unique concept. And the plan was for us to stay here three to four years and then move back, and we’re here 15 years later, but that was a tremendous journey. We started in a small office on Madison and 42nd. And within three years after launch, we were in 80% of the AM Law 200s and in many hundreds of other firms and a few thousand in-house legal departments. And I think we sort of solved from a different perspective, but we solved the educational problem that we’re trying to solve with Legaltech Hub.
Jeroen Plink: So often you had an associate, without Practical Law, you had the deer in the headlight moment when you were confronted with a problem, and Practical Law can solve that. And back to Legaltech Hub, where what we’re finding out here is people are very much the deer in the headlights when it comes to technology. I just spent a couple of days in Vegas, at Clark, and people sort of know that they need to move onto the technology and digital transformation bandwagon, but there’s so many people that don’t know where to start.
Jeroen Plink: And it’s sort of, yeah, we have to do CLM, but what does it really mean, and how do the different providers differ? Why should I choose [inaudible 00:12:03] Labs over Agiloft, over [inaudible 00:12:07]. I think that’s a very difficult question, and people really don’t know where to start. There is no resource that helps them. And we aim to be that resource. I think that’s a fantastic opportunity. And in many ways, it reminds me of the fun years at Practical Law US.
Bill Bice: Yeah, that was an amazing bit of collaboration in the magic circle firms to combine the PSLs that then turned into Practical Law. It’s not something I think you see enough of in legal. That was an incredible example. So with what you’re doing today, how do you put more depth into that in order to help firms make those choices?
Jeroen Plink: So we’re launching Legaltech Hub in two phases. Phase one is the current directory, where with the combination of some smart filtering, people can actually narrow down to a short list of vendors that meet that criteria. I need a document automation system that supports English and French because I’m based in Canada, that is, it’s a cloud application. And it integrates with iManage. That will whittle down your options to a relatively manageable [inaudible 00:13:50]. So that’s step one.
Jeroen Plink: Step two is where we become much more like, or much more insight [inaudible 00:14:01]. We’re working with experts on each of the areas that we aim to tackle. Let’s take CLM as an example. We’re building out, with one expert, we’re building out a complete repository of resources that help the buyer get up to speed on CLM.
Jeroen Plink: What’s the landscape? What’s the technology? What is the life cycle for contract lifecycle management? What are the different steps? What are the components? Who are all the players that serve this particular area? What are evaluation criteria? What’s a standard RFP that you need to send out to your vendors that you’ve shortlisted? How do you go about adoption? So by making available resources like that, we aim to educate the market and help the vendors showcase their solutions.
Nikki Shaver: To add to what Jeroen said, I mean, it’s interesting, Bill. You talked about the beginnings, the early beginnings of Practical Law in the UK, and collective knowledge from the PSLs. And the way that we are building out this content for Legaltech Hub is very similar in the sense that we’re drawing upon experts in the market who have very deep knowledge of the various categories of legal technology.
Nikki Shaver: So for CLM, it’s the person who has probably the most of the best experience actually leveraging CLM and implementing it for legal departments. For document management, someone who’s very deeply knowledgeable about document management systems and the way that they can be deployed, both for law firms and for corporate legal. And the idea is, again, we have this collective knowledge in the industry and we don’t do a fantastic job of actually sharing those resources. And this is a platform that will allow us to draw upon those resources and that expertise broadly and make it available for people as they’re going through the procurement process.
Bill Bice: I really loved the point about integration because to me, that’s one of the biggest challenges for firms, to really leverage the technology investments that they have made, stitching all those pieces together. It’s really hard to get the adoption if you don’t have really good integration. And so just starting off the bat with let’s look at things that integrate with the major pieces we already have, because if it doesn’t work with the core technology we have, it just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Jeroen Plink: That’s right. Yeah.
Bill Bice: What do you see changing, given the pandemic, hybrid operations, in terms of legal tech procurement?
Nikki Shaver: Certainly during the pandemic, I mean, I was working within a firm when the pandemic hit and was very much aware of the situation for firms across the world, and of course corporate departments, too. Everyone suddenly had to find a new way of working remotely, completely remotely. And the impact of that was, as has been reported in many places, a very significant take up of technology, more so than naturally occurred before. Very specific types of technology, so tech that allowed for broader collaboration across teams while they were remote.
Nikki Shaver: But also interestingly, there was a huge need for knowledge management and the organization of documents and content, and then technology that supported the findability of that content. Because whereas before the pandemic, people could walk next door and say, do you have an example of this, or can you tell me about this, all of that sort of natural knowledge sharing ceased, and we needed to put in place mechanisms for that to happen remotely. And I think that also drove various technologies.
Nikki Shaver: And then of course from a trial perspective, we saw the need for technology that supported remote depositions, ultimately, when the courts reopened remote trials. So I think that it had an impact on the adoption of technology, but I think the key is, are we going to see that as something that’s sustained? And I’m curious, actually, Jeroen, as to your view on whether you see this as something that has increased the speed of procurement or adoption of technology for the long term, or whether that was very temporal to the pandemic.
Jeroen Plink: Thanks for putting me on the spot.
Nikki Shaver: You’re welcome.
Jeroen Plink: I need to think about that for a second. I think there’s some things that happened at breakneck speed. I think it was because many firms had years of technical debt to overcome, which is, it was kind of disappointing, but I think that technical debt, for a large part, has now been fixed. I’m not sure whether it’s going to be a long term increased pace of procurement of legal tech. I think we still have quite a few burdens to overcome as buyers. You need to make sure that any technology solution that you buy in meets your security standards and meets your other procurement standards. I think it was slightly different during the pandemic. There was no choice. And so maybe corners were cut. I think that will resurface.
Jeroen Plink: I think the other limiting factor on the pace at which firms buy so far is the mere fact that as a firm, you continue to be restrained by the number of projects that you can handle at any point in time. However great an external solution is, if you’re working on implementing your new cloud-based document management system, you simply don’t have the capacity to buy in, implement, and roll out a second big application.
Jeroen Plink: So I think there always will be constraints. I think there is a need for greater investing. And I’m hopeful that firms will now start to, having fixed some of the technical debt, will continue to invest heavily in technology, because I think that is the future. I think the new competitors in the legal space will be [inaudible 00:21:41] firms. And I think the battlefields where they will be [inaudible 00:21:45] is technology.
Bill Bice: I’m pretty optimistic on that front. And it’s really for two reasons. One is that you had a lot more exposure for more senior attorneys and firms to technology. And as a general statement, that was a positive experience. It enabled firms to go remote. It kept them operating. Firms have had the most profitable two years of operations in the entire history of the legal industry. Proves that the approach works.
Bill Bice: So I think you have more buy in from senior leadership and you also have the next generation of attorneys, who frankly, won’t do it any other way. They want direct access to the tools. They don’t want somebody else doing it for them. You put those two things together, you get an increased demand, and that creates a longer term trend.
Nikki Shaver: It’s interesting though, Bill. I am also optimistic. I think Jeroen is as well. But that last point about junior associates coming in, you would think that, but that’s actually not the way it plays out yet. Certainly we have not yet seen an incoming year of associates who want to do things through the technology from the get go, who want to be the ones in control of more complex technology and use it to do their work as a matter of course. And in fact, some of the incoming associates can be the more difficult people from a change perspective, than associates or junior partners or partners who’ve been at it for a long time.
Nikki Shaver: And I think part of the reason for that, for example, is these are people who have worked with technology in every part of their lives from the day they were born, but they’re used to technology like iPhones, where you pick it up and you don’t really have to learn how to use it. You swipe left, you click on a screen, and it does what you want it to do. I think in a lot of instances, the technology we’re using in law firms does not yet have that level of intuitiveness built into it. And it does require some time, and they’re not used to taking the time to learn a new way of doing things, especially at the point in their lives where they’re suddenly under tremendous pressure to bill hours and they’re required to meet budget requirements.
Nikki Shaver: So it’s just interesting, because you would expect that the younger lawyers would be the ones who are on board and the more senior lawyers are those that are resistant, but in practice it’s much of a muchness. You find some juniors who are keen and some seniors who are keen. I just, I always found that interesting.
Jeroen Plink: That’s fascinating, actually. So this is where I have a more positive [inaudible 00:24:32] because she has more recent experience, but I would think, so having come from outside of a law firm and spending two years in a law firm, the one thing I was most frustrated with was the technology that law firms expect juniors to, and not only juniors, but everyone in your organization, to work with is so much more limited than what you’re used to in normal businesses, between the quotation marks, or in college. I mean, having worked in Google Docs and in the Google suite for a while, I found it really frustrating to be forced into Microsoft Word without the ability to collaborate.
Jeroen Plink: So I think many people who come from law school are used to working in collaborative tools like Docs, and all of a sudden they can no longer work with it. And it’s the more frustrating because clients actually are working in a completely different environment than the environment that the law firm is working. So I think there’s reason to be optimistic and reason to be pessimistic. We should actually write something about that.
Nikki Shaver: We should, we should. And to be clear, I’m not pessimistic at all, but I just think there are different hurdles than people might expect. And I think what you say is completely valid as well. And I mean, I remember, for example, people coming in and being shocked that they couldn’t use something like an Asana or monday.com or Google and instead were being encouraged, for example, to use Jira on legal project management. I mean, sometimes the tools that firms make available for junior associates, they perhaps do themselves a disservice in getting people up and running and the technology by not thinking about things enough from the user perspective.
Bill Bice: Yeah it’s such a great point because I think legal tech has not fulfilled this mission, the gap between where it should be, what’s possible and where it’s at, is just huge. I don’t think it’s unreasonable at all for that associate to expect consumer level user experiences. That’s just not what you get. And the reason I talk about integration so much is because I think that’s a core issue behind that. You have to have a great user experience on the front end, but if the pieces aren’t tied together, you just can’t get there.
Nikki Shaver: And one additional aspect to that, Bill, is design. And I remember in a previous firm being super impressed when we leveraged a third party designer at the very beginning of a project to make sure that from a user perspective this technology was going to be usable. And we created a skin on top of the legal tech to make it more user friendly, and it worked phenomenally well. It was Enterprise Search.
Nikki Shaver: We achieved a 100% level of adoption, which is virtually unheard of with legal tech, but that was because we leveraged third party designers who really thought about the user perspective. And I don’t think law firms do that. They don’t see that as necessarily a valuable investment, but if they want adoption in technology, I think design is a key aspect of it.
Bill Bice: Yeah, I think it’s a competitive advantage in legal tech now. It used to be purely on the feature list, but actually delivering the experience, I mean, it’s why I have a dedicated design team for exactly this reason. It’s a really interesting comparison between smaller firms and large law, because this is an area where small firms really have a big advantage because they have SaaS driven products with more modern user interfaces that cover the whole firm. And so if you’re an associate that goes from a small firm to a large firm, you tend to have a bit of a shock.
Jeroen Plink: Interesting. Yeah, I completely see where you’re coming from. And I haven’t actually looked at it from that perspective. My perception always was big firms have bigger funds to invest in it, so they must be ahead of the game. But they’re also less flexible. So one very large firm that I’m fairly familiar with is still working all its [inaudible 00:29:14] management system that was built 22 years ago on a now unsupported version of Oracle. And it’s running the entire business of the firm on a very legacy system. Whereas if you’re in a smaller firm, it’s easier to change your 20 users to a more modern system, as opposed to that 2000 plus lawyer law firm that’s still working along on a very old system.
Nikki Shaver: And they’re more amenable to the cloud, I think, more often as well, to Bill’s point. Whereas I think a lot of law firms, large firms are still very reluctantly gradually moving towards cloud, but not yet acceptive of it in many circumstances.
Jeroen Plink: Do you think it’s the firms, or is it the clients who are holding back?
Nikki Shaver: I don’t think it’s the clients at all. I think if firms, and I know this from a few firms that have done this work, if you do the work of digging into clients and really understanding what clients have an active prohibition against the firm working in the cloud, it’s a handful or fewer. And I’ve also heard stories of those few clients having been brought into a room, for example. This is not my personal story so perhaps it is an industry story, but being brought into a room with IT professionals who were able to explain to them in depth why the cloud was safer and more secure than firm on-prem infrastructure.
Nikki Shaver: And all of the clients walked away not just happy for the firm to move to the cloud, but quite insistent that they did move to it. So I feel as though there may be a few clients that think they’re resistant, but once conversations happen, I think most firms these days could really get there, especially in light of the fact that so much technology is moving to the cloud in a way where firms that are on-prem will be behind innovations that happen in the tech, or will find themselves with technology that is gradually being sunset and having to make very difficult choices too late in the game and potentially falling behind.
Jeroen Plink: Yeah.
Bill Bice: It’s still very much in the transition, but I see a lot more openness to the cloud in large law now. And I think that was a silver lining of the pandemic. It definitely sped up the process.
Jeroen Plink: Yeah. I mean, I don’t think you have a choice anymore. And I think there’s only a handful of big firms that I think are really resistant. And just, how do you get through the process of getting your last partners on board, your last clients on board, and get the bandwidth to migrate everything to cloud? But I don’t think it’s a matter of if. It really is when.
Bill Bice: Yeah. It’s just, it’s a long transition for large firms, but there’s such a huge gain when you move to cloud-based systems that are API-based and you have the ability to start stitching these pieces together. You can create that user experience that spans multiple systems. The end result of where you can get to is such a better user experience.
Nikki Shaver: Absolutely.
Bill Bice: And in the end, as you’ve done a great job making the point, without adoption, none of this really matters.
Nikki Shaver: No, there is no transformation at all if you’ve brought in technology and it’s not being used.
Bill Bice: Yeah. I mean, everybody likes to talk about digital transformation a ton, but what we really need to do is transform the adoption so that that transformation really does actually occur.
Nikki Shaver: That’s exactly right.
Bill Bice: Well, this has been a really fun conversation. I appreciate you joining me. We went a little long today, but that’s because it was a great conversation. Thanks.
Jeroen Plink: Great. So thank you.