Jan Hards – making the move from lawyer to innovator
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Jan Hards is the Director of Legal Innovation at Johnson Winter & Slattery. After years of practicing as a Corporate M&A Lawyer at Freshfields in the UK, and then later at Johnson Winter & Slattery, he made a deliberate move to become the firm’s Director of Legal Innovation.
We discuss how Jan worked through that decision, what were some assumptions that he made, and some of the challenges.
We also explore how Jan and the business look at the innovation function – through five objective criteria:
- Create efficiency at scale
- Flexible working
- Create value from information the firm holds
- Generate revenue
- Address risk
We also explore when and how Jan gets involved with client-facing projects (including pitches). Just a note, this episode originally aired as part of the Fringe Legal Virtual Summit in 2020, and much of what we discuss are still relevant today, but it’s important to have the time context.
You can connect with Jan Hard via the JWS website or on LinkedIn.
Ab: [00:00:00] I am delighted to be joined today by Jan Hards, who is the Director of Legal Innovation at Johnson, Winter and Slattery based out of Australia. Jan thank you for joining me today.
[00:01:15] Jan Hards: [00:01:15] No, it’s a great pleasure. Thank you very much for inviting me.
[00:01:19]Ab: [00:01:19] This is going to be a great conversation. So today we’re talking about your journey from being a lawyer to an innovator. And of course, both of these things can exist in parallel, but you took a very deliberate step from one to the other and, we’ll hopefully cover quite a lot, but focus around what are some of the things that you learned, what some assumptions you had, which of those came true? Which of them maybe you had to challenge and what you learned from that.
[00:01:46] Before we dig into all of that, just to set the stage for our audience here, would you mind just describing what sort of started this journey for you? What did you do before you were the director of legal innovation?
[00:02:00] Jan Hards: [00:02:00] Sure. No, that’s fine. So I’m originally a solicitor a Corporate M&A lawyer , and I started my career in the UK, although I’m originally from Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. So people wondering about the strange accent hopefully that will explain it.
[00:02:18]I became a solicitor in the UK worked for many years at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer became a corporate M&A lawyer there working on transactions, moved to Australia about nine years ago now and joined Johnson, Winter and Slattery soon thereafter as a Corporate M&A lawyer . We’re working in the Australian market and are based in Sydney. I’ve always been one of the lawyers in the firms that I’ve been in who’s been interested in using or leveraging technology to assist me in my practice as a lawyer.
[00:02:50] So even back in my Freshfields days I was probably one of those lawyers who would be commonly contacting the IT team, suggesting new ways of doing things, new applications and, over the more recent years this has picked up a lot just simply as I’ve been seeing, witnessing the quite transformative changes in technology , particularly consumer technology to which we have access to.
[00:03:17] And I’ve really enjoyed thinking of ways that we could use this technology to better drive efficiency and quality of service as solicitors. Over many years, I’ve been bugging my IT and my management colleagues to make certain changes or suggesting certain applications or certain ways that we could change applications we currently use.
[00:03:39]About two years ago the management of JWS turned around and said why don’t you help us in this area more broadly, not just in your corporate practice and appointed me director of legal innovation at JWS.
[00:03:53] Ab: [00:03:53] That’s awesome. And now hopefully you have many other colleagues that come to you and bug you with ideas and projects and so on as well now. So you know what it feels like on the other side.
[00:04:04] Jan Hards: [00:04:04] I do, yes. It has been very interesting and I’m not only the transformation from being one of those people that was just constantly suggesting to being the person who is really responsible now for receiving those suggestions, and considering whether or not they should be implemented. That has been quite eyeopening for me.
[00:04:25] Yeah, it’s been interesting to understand, particularly now you’re in the hot seat, it’s not quite so simple. Particularly if you’re working in a law firm, we’ll come to that in the moment, but it’s not quite so simple to take a seemingly great idea and actually put it into practice – implement it in the firms. So yeah, it’s been very interesting journey over the last two years.
[00:04:47] Ab: [00:04:47] We’ll certainly dig into that. We were talking about how I’ve made certain assumptions about putting this summit together and things I thought were going to be simple just because you think they’re going to be simple, that never ends up being the case.
[00:04:59]Before we do talk about some of the points around your journey and really dig deep into some of the nitty-gritty of things. What are some of the aims of the legal innovation function at the firm at JWS? So give us the sort of broad line picture of, what are some of the, maybe the boundaries or that the objectives they’re assigned or you’ve assigned in working with the management team there on what you want to accomplish.
[00:05:23] Jan Hards: [00:05:23] Yeah. So we have a wide number of objectives but we really distill it down into five areas. That’s trying to use innovation and technology as part of that, but not just technology, but use it to create efficiency at scale. It isn’t just sufficient to introduce a new way of doing things atop a particular small practice area.
[00:05:43] Now, of course, we will do that If that’s something that is compelling for that for that practice area. But what we really want to do in this first objective is to try and create efficiency at scale. So look at ways in which it can be applied across the firm and indeed to for our clients.
[00:06:00] Flexible working is a second objective, which is particularly pertinent in our current environment, but certainly something that we were thinking about very carefully long before COVID-19 was something that anyone knew anything about. It’s increasingly important for many of my colleagues and their clients that my colleagues can work flexibly. That’s not only just being able to travel and and still work efficiently, but also a work-life balance and be able to work efficiently from home.
[00:06:32]The next area was really one of the areas that’s really interesting to me, is to create value from the information that we hold. Not only information we receive from our clients, but also information that we develop internally.
[00:06:47] So know-how, other forms of information. I guess that falls into three areas. Can we get better information from our from our financial information that we gather billing information and the likes so that we can price our matters more efficiently. Can we analyze information in relation to who we are in contact with, who we speaking to who our colleagues are speaking to, to perhaps be better at marketing. And then as I mentioned earlier Analyzing the vast amounts of information we have on the work we’re providing to our clients.
[00:07:20] And and providing, we’re trying to zero in on better know-how in relation to that. So that’s really the third area.
[00:07:27]The fourth area. Just no surprise at all generate revenue. Probably don’t need to say too much more about that. Increase the amount of revenue we generate.
[00:07:35]And lastly but certainly by no means least is to address risk. Can we better identify the risks that our clients are facing in their matters? Can we use new innovative ways of working or new technology to even better address the risk reduce it in that perhaps even minimize it. That’s an important area . And I suppose I’d be remiss in saying that, we should also we should also attempt to address our own risk. As solicitors we do as lawyers we do consider that risk quite carefully as well.
[00:08:11] Those are the sort of the five areas I look at. Yeah. So whenever, for example, I assess a new way of working with new technology. I’m trying to apply those five criteria and two to that and see how we can and test it really to see if we should proceed in a particular way.
[00:08:29] Ab: [00:08:29] Yeah. And that’s really interesting as I look through the list which I wrote down as you were speaking I guess the one that I’ll highlight more because we probably won’t talk about it too much is the generating revenue part. Yes, it goes without saying, but I think it is extremely important to underline because certainly I have in my conversations with individuals and businesses seen too frequently where they go down the innovation path, whatever that may mean as you rightly said with or without technology, because there’s both parts and they just forget about the end result of this, right?
[00:09:05] What is the business benefit? So I think it’s really important to see that as a point in the checklist that you have, because you need to ultimately be able to convince someone at some point about the business value of this. Otherwise it could be the best idea in the world, but unless you can create a tangible link, whether it’s today or, if it’s a mutual idea in the future then you know, often falls flat on its face .
[00:09:29] Jan Hards: [00:09:29] That’s a very important point because yes, you’re right we wouldn’t want to do something unless it is going to have a positive impact on the revenue we generate. But even if we can, in theory posit that there will be a positive impact. We still have to practically at least if not demonstrate it, but at least we’ll demonstrate that will be the effect because you and your take in many cases, you’re taking this new way of working this technology side. To practitioners, lawyers who have you for the most part have very successful practices working the way they currently are working in ways that they would be working in for the most part for their entire career.
[00:10:14] And yeah. You’re asking them to change the way, the way they work. And in some cases that can be uncomfortable. In some cases it will involve having conversations with their clients and, trying not only have to persuade them, but they have to persuade their clients. And yeah it’s very important to be able to say If you do it this way there’s a number of positive benefits. Many of which I went through, there’s a revenue benefit. There is a revenue generation benefit as well. And yeah, that, that does catch attention, perhaps some of the other areas. But yeah. Yeah,
[00:10:47]Ab: [00:10:47] and I think it’s very important if you lead the meeting with forget everything else if you don’t pay attention to that, there is a very clear revenue generating objective to this or end result that we can postulate. People will generally pay attention to the rest. So we’ll come back to this list of the other four in a second. Let’s take you back in your mind to two years from now, right where you got this role.
[00:11:13] Did you have an idea? Or whatever it may have been about these five key areas. That this is what your role may essentially revolve around. And I guess what I want to dig into is, as you took on the mantle of this, director of innovation, did you have certain assumptions?
[00:11:33] I’m sure you were like, look, I’m going to change the world. I’m going to make this the best firm in the world. Everyone will know the name, JWS. What were some of the leading indicators that sort of led you down that path?
[00:11:47]Jan Hards: [00:11:47] I was extremely excited when I took the role. I had so many ideas.
[00:11:52] There was so many things I thought we could do, ways in which we could transform the way we practice law, the way we deliver services to our clients. And yeah, I’ll have to admit there was a a learning process and, connection with reality in the way that we do practice law and the way that our industry, the services we provide are different to those more generally in society or in commerce and in commercial life. For example , in the years before I took the role on, I was always very keen and trying out consumer grade technologies to try and enhance the way I practice law and was extremely enthusiastic about a number of products and would constantly bug my colleagues in IT and management, Oh, we should be using this, we should be using that. I had so many ideas, so many things I love to do, but you do come up against the realities of being a practicing lawyer in a law firm. And and the duties that we own our clients and of course to the courts and there’s a special situation that an law firm finds itself in compared to other businesses.
[00:13:05]Of the great ideas that I had, that the products I wanted us to use on, perhaps in the cold light of day as a practicing lawyer I’ll probably not yet viable. Which in many ways is frustrating, but in many ways is still a very interesting and an exhilarating because the challenge of the job, the challenge of the role is to try and it’s to try and find a way to, to where we currently are. I can see on outside there’s all these possibilities with technology, but it’s defined a path to get us to be in a position where we can use that. I’ve been very high-level in that, but Two main challenges, probably three main challenges we face on: first is cost.
[00:13:44] And I’ll put that to one side. But many technologies are quite, do come with significant costs. But the other two issues are client confidentiality. And then information and then third information governance. And this would apply across jurisdictions is not unique to Australia.
[00:14:01]We have to be extremely careful with how we hold our client’s information and ensure that it’s held securely. And think very carefully about how we deal with that information. And in many respects that has meant that the types of technologies we use when you compare it to what’s available commercially, so consumers or just business, generally, I’m seeing, feel like they’re five to 10 years behind.
[00:14:29]So when you when you just start practicing lawyer and you see some of the consumer technology and you just bang on the door and say, we should just be using this, we should use this. But once, once you’re in my position and you working alongside our management colleagues, my IT colleagues, you see it from the other side, securing client, confidential information, absolutely critical for a law firm.
[00:14:51]And That, that has to be completely from the mind. But also information governance ensuring, but information is not only secure, but that it, that, that is all held . In a place that it can be retrieved easily in the future. You can’t just go off on a frolick and put some clients’ information here, some information there, it needs to be in one place. That was that was a very big reality check. We’re not when I took my role and I have to confess many of the ideas I had two years ago, starting off have proved not to be practical, given the constraints. We work in our solicitors as, lawyers, as attorneys.
[00:15:29]So it has been a learning process in that regard.
[00:15:32]Ab: [00:15:32] Yeah. And thank you for that. It’s good to know the realities of it. I don’t want to just focus on, the wonderful airy fairy view of the world where it’s yep. I had big ideas. I did everything. I set out to do those to happen, but that’s a rare story.
[00:15:48]I guess what captured my attention was around, this really fine line that you walk. Of cautious excitement, right? You see something and Oh, this would be perfect. And you just want to. Hold your certainly now, because I think I’m sure that, putting the individual solar lawyer hat, like this would be perfect.
[00:16:07] And then you have to always switch the other hat and look at it from a very more focused viewpoint or more detailed viewpoint to, to ensure that it fits into client confidentiality, then information governance, and security, all of those things. Guess as you as talking about that and one of the areas.
[00:16:23] No. The five areas that you mentioned was around achieving efficiency at scale. So talk to me a little bit about focus and I’m thinking from the perspective of, both, as you were saying, when you were a lawyer, you would bring, I’m going to say tens, if not hundreds of ideas but people with that, and I’m sure you’re hearing that across the practice from others when they’re bombarding you with ideas, I’m sure – all great. How do you focus in on those? And I’m sure some of the challenges that you’ve mentioned will certainly be a initial litmus test. Like it doesn’t pass the ball for information governance. So we can’t even look at this. How do you actually focus on that and how does that work with the at-scale bed?
[00:17:08] Because some of those things maybe perfect for a small practice, maybe a three people. What do you do with those instances?
[00:17:16] Jan Hards: [00:17:16] So that, that’s a very important point. Efficiency at scale in itself is a no brainer because if you’re able to, if you’re able to provide a new way of working and And implement it in a way that a large part of the practice and many of your colleagues are using that, using it and benefiting from it, then you know that, that’s a good thing.
[00:17:36] And so it makes sense in its own. But it is. I have to say that many of my colleagues are lawyers first and foremost. They practice law. They provide legal services to their clients. They have a certain set of tools by which they do this. And they’ve learned to use those tools over their years of practice.
[00:17:58]And. While they’re not resistant to it. It is disruptive to them to to change the way that they work. And and so you’ll have a minority of colleagues like me and my previous days who are always looking for new ways of doing things. And perhaps even having a disruptive effect in the sense that, we’re constantly suggesting ways in which we can work more efficiently for our clients from a technological perspective on an negative perspective, but the majority of colleagues are rightly focused on providing legal services to our clients.
[00:18:36]Using the tools that we currently have and doing so in, in, in the best manner that they can. And for them, it can be a disruption. If you say you should change the way that you use this tool. You should use this completely new tool as well. And while the minority of colleagues might look at it and say yeah, great.
[00:18:55] Let’s try that. The majority. Or best will in the world or reluctant to do that unless the benefits to them and to their clients are clearly demonstrated clearly laid out. It’s all very well pushing through an innovation or encouraging an innovation where a small number of your colleagues decide to use it and benefit from it.
[00:19:15] But I think. To get the most benefit from innovation. It’s better to try and bring many, if not, most of your colleagues along with you to get the true benefits, all of them it’s obvious from it. There’s a number of ways to do it. The first approach that are saying, having some colleagues use some use certain types of technology and benefit from it and demonstrate it and show that it can be done so that it brings benefits that’s definitely a one approach and an approach that I like to take but you can’t just then leave those particular colleagues.
[00:19:52]Just using it and successfully using it, you need to, as part of my role is is bring it out and show it to other colleagues and say, encourage them to consider using this because that is where the true benefits will lie. If we’re able to gradually change the way we work using some of the amazing technologies that are available.
[00:20:13]But it’s, yeah, it’s a process. And. And, there’s a lot of communication that has to occur internally to to bring this about. And it’s a slow gradual process. I think. We may come onto it in a moment, but of course the COVID-19 situation we’re currently still in the middle of has brought about some interesting changes in that regard.
[00:20:34] But before that, yes creating efficiency at scale a very important part of my role of the innovations that I’m bringing through because it’s just not enough to encourage a few like-minded attorneys, lawyers like me to try new things. Yeah.
[00:20:49] We want to bring the whole firm along with it. And in many cases, that means that we’re a lot slower a lot more cautious in the way we adopt new ways of doing things. But I think that’s the better approach.
[00:21:00] Ab: [00:21:00] Yeah. And I really liked the, essentially the point that you made around, not all lawyers are.
[00:21:10] They’re not resistant to change, but it is disruptive. So bringing them along onto this journey, you have to be able to show them some sort of a, a value or a benefit to either them or their clients. And I do want to dig into this because you’ve mentioned the fact that. All of this.
[00:21:27] And I’m glad to hear, you’ve mentioned many times all of this has to be around providing a better service to clients. So I do want to come on to that and the COVID-19 changes. But before that, how do you measure the success of these innovations, or actually put it more simply, and which means I will naturally be much harder question to answer. How do you measure the success of your role? How do you know if you’ve done a good job in a particular year or month or a week?
[00:21:56]Jan Hards: [00:21:56] Yeah, that’s actually not an easy question to answer, and for someone who was a practicing attorney Yeah quite, quite a change.
[00:22:04]As a practicing attorney, number of hours billed, revenue brought in, the numbers just speak for themselves. In my role it’s not so tangible in many cases. There are some tangible areas of things that I do assist with and some areas of our practice where let me just say my colleagues are more open or more willing to come to me for assistance and we can show some more tangible benefits.
[00:22:26] Just to briefly mention that’s my dispute resolution or litigation colleagues and who, for the most part, generally, this is my observation, but many might share it in the use of technology are further ahead than many other colleagues on, particularly in relation to rev document, review and discovery on the they.
[00:22:45]We’ve created a real time tangible benefits in that area because because JWS as a smaller firm we don’t have our own in-house e-discovery platform. We outsource it to external providers. There’s certainly a number in Australia. And, before I came along, that whole process was a little bit ad hoc.
[00:23:03] And big part of my role as being to rationalize that Let’s get the process running more smoothly work with particular providers that we rate who provide us with a particular types of technology, so that we’re all using the same technology. It’s not Relativity on this matter, Ringtail on another.
[00:23:22] So rationalizing that. And then also, ensuring that pricing for the provision of those services is more competitive and close and and the process of obtaining those services is more efficient. And then once you’ve got that basis, you’re working with a few trusted providers.
[00:23:40]You can then start to then leverage the technology in a way that probably wasn’t achievable when you were just using a large number of different service providers. And so that process is very much under way. And so that, that has been one area of my role that, that has provided tangible benefits, I believe.
[00:23:58]But there are you’re right. There are other areas where it is more difficult, at least the stage two to point to there’s a lot of. Trying to encourage colleagues and other practice areas to consider and use certain types of technology. And in my role, I’m approached by many I’m external vendors.
[00:24:17]Yeah. Trying to sell me technology. And it’s a big part of my role. But I in turn have to be an internal sales person and say we have this technology, you should use it. So yeah in many ways I, I’m pretty similar to the current external vendors. I’m trying to sell this internally.
[00:24:35]And only a small at the, it’s early days, not all of my colleagues are receptive to all the different types of technology innovative ways of working that I’m offering them. So yeah there’s a lot of internal marketing and not all of it results and internal sales, if you like.
[00:24:51]And then, and this is a really. A really interesting part of my role it’s looking at the back end and the way law firms operate and trying to bring innovation and technology to that. And this I’m referring to, and I mentioned it earlier when I was talking about creating value from data, this is this is looking at on the backend the data that is generated semi-structured data and trying to try and trying to create value from it from our billing information from marketing information From information not only about trying to, trying to Better market to new clients or to existing clients, but also to look at the referrals that that, that law firm has a very critical area of our law firm , but probably most of law firms no work is referred to us. or we’re referring work to other law firms, but other organizations and trying to manage that more efficiently. So those are areas where it is. It is difficult to actually. at least in the early stages to identify a tangible benefit from what you are doing.
[00:26:01]But it’s always something that I’m constantly thinking about, how do we, how do we demonstrate that we’ve actually have created value here? What metrics can we use? It’s not enough to say, Oh this is just all intangible. And just have a bit of narrative about this.
[00:26:15] There’s always ways, or in most cases, there’s ways to measure things. And then, and then having a go at measuring it. And then you go down the rabbit hole of what tools to use to measure it. And you’d probably have to stop yourself before you go too deep down that rabbit hole because it can, it
[00:26:32] can turn.
[00:26:33] Ab: [00:26:33] So a wise person once said something that, you know, and that’s something that you don’t measure, you can’t improve or something along those lines. Anyway, as a, it becomes very important. And actually that point that you’re talking about the backend information. It’s. It’s something that every business has not unique to law firms by any means.
[00:26:53] And in fact, most businesses spent considerable amount of resources time, money people resources and ensuring that they are measuring that. And especially if you look at, for example, the SAS business, it becomes so important to understand, okay, we are getting the two, we are getting referrals. What do we do from this?
[00:27:12] How, what is that conversion rate and same thing for a law firm? If we are referring work out to someone. What happens to that? If we are being referred work, what happens to that? Because, especially if you are being referred work, that’s a revenue generating function potentially, and assuming, you convert on that.
[00:27:30] So what are the small tweaks that you can make? What leavers can you pull to ensure that maybe increase the amount of referrals or if you, when you do get a referral? The, the matter that you open is a sizable value or whatever, it might be. Those things are so critical, but often, they end up becoming the unsung heroes in a law firm function.
[00:27:51]Th they’re the ones that actually over these, my hypothesis, they will become very important as law firms start changing how they get clients, it goes away from. I’m going to get them through my network. And in fact, that should also be a point of measurement. How are you getting your work?
[00:28:09] And if it is through a network, how do we enable our lawyers and anyone else who might be seeing to increase the network size? How do we take advantage of that?
[00:28:20] Jan Hards: [00:28:20] I know, and there’s some, this, there’s some great analytical tools. So since of course I worked very closely with so business with my business development colleagues or marketing colleagues in this area.
[00:28:31]And I have a lot of great data that can be analyzed, but yeah. There’s also ways of just analyzing the communications in and out of the firm with other organizations. And there’s this, there’s some interesting third party products or services out there that can assist with that.
[00:28:47] And we’re also looking at doing that more intelligently internally as well. Actually being able to put some metrics around relationships between. Individual colleagues and certain third parties and track that over time. And I think, in a service industry, I think it was probably not uncontroversial for me to say that.
[00:29:07]I think law firms are probably. Behind in the way that they do measure relationships compared to other sectors of the industries in the service area. And there’s definitely a lot that we can do in that regard to better the business and improve the services we provide.
[00:29:25] Ab: [00:29:25] Yeah. And I think that’s a good segue to, providing good service to your clients. I guess rather than just ask the really cliched question of how do you improve service delivery to your clients – from your perspective of wearing the innovation hat, are you pulled into conversations with clients essentially?
[00:29:44] Are you client facing? And if you are what are the conversations that you’re having with other businesses or clients, at what point do you get bought in? What’s your function in those conversations?
[00:29:55]Jan Hards: [00:29:55] That’s a good question. Happy to answer it. I am in certain areas client facing. It’s been a great interesting part of my role to be involved in certain marketing or pitch discussions. Certainly, getting a lot of colleagues calling me up in the last in year. At minimum, to develop a legal innovation section of a pitch document or a pitch presentation that they’re giving, but increasingly also I’m feeding them, not only information for them to take to a pitch meeting, but also I’m accompanying them to such a meeting and then speaking directly to our clients or potential clients as to the ways that JWS working inevitably can benefit them and increase the efficiency and the quality of the services we’re providing to them.
[00:30:41]So that’s that, that’s part of what I’m doing. The other thing I’m doing, which I find very interesting is trying to think about the ways that we can improve the product or the service we provide. So we work in a very competitive industry and, we have very able competitors who are providing excellent services.
[00:31:05] We see those competitors across the table from us acting for their clients or either doing a transaction with our client or in a dispute with our client.
[00:31:16] But it’s trying to go beyond that and think more carefully about the way that we deliver services to our clients. What are they going to do with the product of our work? If it’s transaction – it’s typical for a law firm to provide transaction volume or in some jurisdictions called a Bible or transaction set.
[00:31:37]Can we do more than that? Can we provide the information in a way that the client can better use it internally. And of course that gives us opportunities as well to have further engagement with that client. Rather than just giving them the information in a way they then need to take it away and digest it, and dissector to reorganize it. Work more closely with clients to say what are you ultimately doing with this information? Who is it going in your organization ? It’s probably going beyond the internal legal team to certain business teams in, in that client. And so providing information to them in a form that can just be pushed straight to the people who need it.
[00:32:18]So thinking a lot about that. But there, there are challenges in that approach as well because you want to give the client information in the format they can most effectively use. And then probably until recently, many law firms have thought about just creating portals for their clients, which the law firm posts all the pertinent information.
[00:32:36]Which is probably better than, just sending information to clients, attached to an email or a USB drive. But I’ve certainly spoken to clients where, they’re working with a large number of law firms and each law firms got a different portal and it’s, they can’t remember the password for all the different portals.
[00:32:53] So I think we have to go beyond that. Engage with our clients systems and deliver the information, so it flows seamlessly into the system. And most ambitiously think about, with our client’s systems that they should actually potentially use because I thought some of our clients are very sophisticated and indeed probably more sophisticated than we are from a technological perspective, but many are not.
[00:33:20]And there’s ways in which to build a partnership with them to actually bring about change within their own organizations and the way they store and use information. And because we, as law firms are such we create a lot of information that flows into those systems. We need to think a lot more carefully about how we deliver that information in a structured a way as possible.
[00:33:44] So I think that’s a real, the interesting area of my role. And it’s blatantly a way to try and differentiate what we’re doing from our competitors. But of course, there’ll be thinking along the way as lines as well. So that’d be an interesting contest I can put it that way to see how we can provide our services more efficiently in a way that’s more, more useful and valuable to our clients.
[00:34:07] Ab: [00:34:07] But I think that’s a good. Roadmap on how to think about it. You start with the very basic off, like where can I add value today in 10 of the, and that’s you basically providing input on the innovation? Section of whatever you might be off the pitch deck. Yeah. Because that’s a little barrier to entry.
[00:34:26] You already know people, what you want to do and what you need to put forward. And the next step is, okay, let’s think about, we are delivering a product or a service. What did they do with that? And I think it’s such an important question to ask all the time, what are you doing with this information?
[00:34:41] Help us understand this so we can provide. Better format more information or additional something to benefit you. And then the third piece, and it is the ambitious piece and it’s rightly and it’s the challenging piece is almost predicting and thinking through. So you’re providing now guidance on, Hey, this is also something else you should look at.
[00:35:03] Which sets the expectation that you understand your clients and their business so well that you can tell them how to improve their business more than they can. They might be able to help themselves. That’s really important and certainly helps with engagement and stickiness. And that I would say even the next layer beyond that is can you add some sort of a predictive value?
[00:35:24] So your segment, Mr. Client or Mrs. Client is going through these changes. We think you should be aware of X, Y, and Z technologies, or, essentially you’re doing horizon scanning for them. And as a, I think at a large area or large segment, you can do that, right? This is what’s happening in oil and gas in five years time, but how do you do that?
[00:35:48] Flip their business, their niche. And I think that adds a extra layer of value. And yes, hopefully everyone is thinking about this. I genuinely sincerely hope so. But they will bring about different. I think this is where you can stand out because your perspective and those of your colleagues should be very different to those that I have or someone else, because you will have a different perspective into this client’s world than I do, or somebody else will. So yeah, I think it’s set in the assets, differentiating points. And then I’m wary of time. So I do want to talk about really you talked about engagement there. Certainly one of the things, as you talked about your five values was flexible working right with that. One of the challenges pre COVID 19 I’m sure existed was how do you engage both internal colleagues?
[00:36:37] And external clients. So expand a little bit, if you don’t mind on that whole situation of flexible working and then we can pivot from there to how did the five pillars, so to speak, get affected by COVID-19 how has your world turned upside down a little bit? Sure.
[00:36:54] Jan Hards: [00:36:54] Yeah. Flexible working. It’s been something that law firms generally are, I believe in the market have been have been focused on for many years now. Particularly given many practice areas. And as as a corporate lawyer, I know the swell with very tight deadlines and And large volumes of work.
[00:37:11]You find yourself working extremely long hours and try and trying to set up the technology stack in a way that allows you to work more effectively and hopefully reduce that somewhat and has been as been an important thing for law firms for well many years, I would say allowing you to work out of the office, if you’re traveling allowing you to work from home or from from other places.
[00:37:34]But also increasingly I’m trying to provide you with technology so that you can. You can avoid having to work such long hours, or perhaps you can that you can juggle your work more effectively with with all the other personal commitments you have.
[00:37:50] So that’s certainly been something that That has, for a long time, beep been a focus for us. And of course I think many other law firms. And I think because of that I can only speak for us, but from what I’ve observed.
[00:38:03] I think when we, the COVID-19 crisis came along many firms were in a good position to, to move quickly. It’s to adjust to it. Of course goes outside. I’ll say it, but we’re a service industry and the way we work makes it a lot less challenging to continue to operate in this remote working environment.
[00:38:24] We certainly had that going for us, but because we most of our clients. All of our competitors already had in place systems, at least for attorneys, lawyers to work remotely, the transition has been relatively smooth. And. There have been challenges and issues on, particularly with some of our colleagues, members of staff support colleagues enabling them to work remotely.
[00:38:47]So there’ve been some challenges on that. for the front end of the business for practitioners fee earners there’s there’s been relatively smooth. On the transaction side of our business. And so now I’m moving to COVID to COVID-19 for the transaction side of our business which include, which includes our my my previous practice area, corporate M&A working remotely has proven to be not a significant challenge as as you might’ve expected.
[00:39:17]For the most part over the last decade. The majority of negotiation calls because of clients certainly, but also with the other side, negotiating documents has been the telephone meetings did occur, I should say. Particularly if there was a particularly tricky area but for the most part, for the most part it was done remotely.
[00:39:37]Yeah. Except the lawyers and their clients will sitting in their offices. And so they’ve moved now to sitting at home and doing this. Shouldn’t be disappointed by this, but my colleagues on that area have not really needed. Too much more assistance from me in, in, in that whole air of communications.
[00:39:55] Yeah. And setting up calls and the, like that they’re pretty comfortable with where they’re sitting using the conference call the audio conference call on, however, on our dispute side, it has had, has been more challenging. And so for me a lot more interesting in that we’ve had to move to an environment where face-to-face well Mediation meetings here and there and court courtroom hearings have been significantly disrupted and so trying to think of ways in which we can nonetheless still attend those mediation meetings.
[00:40:27]Still attend those hearings, still attend those trials. And for, for certainly for the courts that, that is being led by the courts, they’re saying, we should use this technology, that technology. And so we have to be a bit reactive to that. But also.
[00:40:43]Some courts have come to us and say, what are you guys just what are you, what do you use? I’m a mediations more so as well. And so trying to move from a situation where people would go and know, sit in a room to use technology in those forums it has been quite challenging and.
[00:41:00] And, you and I are doing this on zoom and some courts are using zoom. But it does have its limitations for those types of for those types of forums. And so it’s been very interesting to, to look at ways in which we can use technology and take it to the next level.
[00:41:15]Court hearings can occur. And the judge or the presiding official can have some control over over proceedings. And that might be using external providers, you have a sort of a technical control of things, but it’s also been really interesting to look at some of the new services and products that are being developed, which Which deal with this as well.
[00:41:35]So that’s probably been aside from assisting my colleagues and working remotely, that, that area’s been one of the, one of the more interesting areas over the last few weeks, trying to assist colleagues and adjusts in the dispute side to adjust to this new remote working environment.
[00:41:53] Ab: [00:41:53] Yeah. And
[00:41:53] I think it’s really interesting seeing.
[00:41:56] I think individual businesses. Yes. As you’ve said a lot of law firms had thought about it. They, most businesses hadn’t thought about it, obviously in this way rightly or wrongly. And certainly they hadn’t thought about it at this scale in such a short span of time. So I started this with this has been a accelerant for many and certainly the whole profession and the world for the courts it’s been.
[00:42:23] Just, quite a dramatic change. And of course, state by state, whether you’re in new South Wales, Victoria, or at a jurisdiction level, Australia, UK, US, and so on. It is really interesting to see how the courts are dealing with this. Because again, some courts are more or less forward-thinking or adaptive to this stuff.
[00:42:45]But every single one of them have had to figure out what do we do with this? Using zoom may not be the right answer for everything. It has certainly its own challenges. And certainly doing things in person doesn’t always work. And somethings still now require. A physical presence. So what do you do with that?
[00:43:05] I spoke a couple of weeks ago with someone talking about custody’s and childcare matters, right? That whole world has turned upside down. What do you do with that? If someone has custody of a child, you can’t leave your house to go give it to your spouse or your partner or someone else what happens.
[00:43:23]So there’s all sorts of interesting with attitudes are going through. So it’s really interesting to hear and I guess maybe. Not as surprising about the transactional side of things, I think the nature of work has to change. And I think as much as you guys I’m sure are providing your input to courts on how some, what, some of the ways that you can do this.
[00:43:45] It’ll be the same with clients as well. Because you’ll have a number of clients coming to you saying, look, we, this is how we’re going to work for now. And like the, for the foreseeable future and others may be coming to you and asking how are you doing this with other clients? How can we make this a little bit easier?
[00:44:01] Jan Hards: [00:44:01] Yeah, indeed. And, I don’t want to on the transactions, on the transaction side, we are talking about the S the meetings and the comms. There’s nonetheless, still very interesting areas to innovate as and the transaction side with the flow of information, and then how you it’s an area of very close to my heart as well since I know M&A lawyer and how we can better manage the flow of information.
[00:44:25]Yeah. Critically now that we’re in in in, we’re all working in a remote environment and managing, the finalization of documents and the exchange of documents, execution of documents still it has become even more an area of focus
[00:44:39] Ab: [00:44:39] for sure. Yeah.
[00:44:40]And then I guess just in wrapping up as we conclude this Thinking through others that may be on a similar journey, right? Whether they are doing both the lawyer and the innovator part together or separately. What’s one bit of information that you can share and to give you I guess if we’ll focus on this.
[00:44:59] What is something that was in hindsight, quite a blind spot for you as you navigate through this world what was something that you were like, wow, I thought that was going to be just so simple. And in hindsight, It’s been, become a big part of your world. And for simplicity, let’s take out the COVID-19 situation from this, because that would have its own far reaching implications as well.
[00:45:24] What’s something that, you know, someone early in this journey or maybe they’re so well along. What should they think about.
[00:45:31] Jan Hards: [00:45:31] This th there’s a large number of things, but maybe I’ll just alight on to the first is really coming from the tech enthusiast that I was, I still am when I came to this role.
[00:45:42]And that is, seeing all this great technology and software that, that might be leveraged. And then. Now coming up against the cold reality of maintaining client confidentiality over information. You use using certain SaaS platforms to to collaborate and manage the transaction, even if just internally at an law firm with your colleagues runs up very quickly up against client , confidentiality concerns or even suggesting a great little app on an iPhone to check the grammar of your email.
[00:46:16] again, what’s it doing? It’s taking the text of your email and putting it into a cloud and analyzing it. So it’s all of these great tools, which at first glance seem, now they could add real value. Run into the reality, at least for law firms of all know, that’s client confidential information, that’s going into an environment which we we don’t control.
[00:46:35]Now of course you can take steps to get comfortable with that. And. That’s probably, we don’t have time for a whole discussion about, law firms moving to putting information to the cloud. But that was one area where, you know enthusiasm hit reality. Pretty soon on when I took the role
[00:46:53] The other area is which is which is a real challenge.
[00:46:58] But and I’ve mentioned it before, but you mentioned the word engagement and that’s getting engagement with colleagues. So as I said earlier COVID-19 may change this early days colleagues have work for the most part, very successful, have great practices, have great client relationships and, Not always receptive to changing the way they do things or they may be receptive in theory in, in, in principle and think that’s a great way, but when it comes to the cold lighter let’s try and do it differently on this matter as well.
[00:47:30] That that’s a bit, that’s a bit difficult or or, I see the value in that, but then have to explain it to the client and the client just wants the job done and we’ve got the jobs, so let’s just do it. So I’m trying to try to deal with that and get and get engagement.
[00:47:47]It is, it’s a huge challenge of the role or the role that I currently have really, it goes back to the salesmen point, really demonstrating internally to colleagues. Not only demonstrating and persuading them, but actually giving them the tools or the lines or the arguments to use to, to to share the, will demonstrate the benefits to their clients.
[00:48:08]That’s a big part of my role and think, trying to think very carefully about that and get engagements and practice and hasn’t always been easy and, they’re great products or solutions, or even internal ways of changing things, but take up it hasn’t always been as quick as I would have liked in some areas.
[00:48:25]So that, that’s something that you do need to really think about carefully focus on and concentrate on in, in a role like mine.
[00:48:34] Ab: [00:48:34] Yeah. Nope. Perfect. And thank you again for joining me today and thank you for making the time. That’s Jan Hards of Johnson, Winter, Slattery, and yeah. Have a wonderful day.
[00:48:44]Thank you very much Ab.
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