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Career Featured Interview

From lawyer to legal technologist

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Some day soon, it may be common to encounter legal technologists, or legal engineers, or other legal innovators who have worked in such a role since day one of their professional careers. Today however, all of us are converts in one way or another. I’m no different in that respect, albeit my career path did start with legal technology, before taking a lengthy detour!

I initially studied Computer Science at Strathclyde University, starting out in 2001. At that time (but sadly no longer) the University offered a BSc Honours course in ‘Computer Science with Law’, which mixed some LLB classes with the core curriculum of a Computer Science degree. At that time the hot topics in technology law were issues like whether software is really a ‘contract for goods’ or a ‘contract for service’ (there was not yet any such thing as SaaS!), and whether something as crazy as mobile-only banking could ever get off the ground. ‘Innovation’ at that time meant giving your lawyers Blackberries, and maybe some basic implementation of Hot Docs.

After graduating, I studied the LLB as a graduate entrant (also at Strathclyde), then the Scottish Diploma in Legal Practice (equivalent to the LPC). I had decided that a career in law was for me, and whilst I hoped my computer science background might come in handy someday, there wasn’t yet a clear place for that skillset. I completed my traineeship with Pinsent Masons, qualifying in 2009. As anyone who was in practice in 2009 can attest to, that was a bad year to be looking for your first qualified position! Opportunities were so thin on the ground that I decided to leave the profession, at least temporarily. I had greatly enjoyed a trainee seat in construction law, so I decided to look to the construction sector for my new career.

In spring of 2010 I went to work as a bid writer for GAP Group, the UK’s largest independent construction equipment rental company. From there, I moved up to become the leader of their bids team, and then retrained as a project manager. In 2013/14 I was seconded to the Commonwealth Games, to manage the various supply contracts that GAP had won, including such enviable tasks as delivering and installing around 30km of crowd control barriers! On secondment I met a former classmate from Strathclyde. He had managed to stay in private practice, and had himself been seconded to the Games as part of their legal team. After the Games were over, I decided that now was the time to come back to a career in legal services. It had been a slightly longer absence than expected, but there were certainly more opportunities in 2014 than there had been in 2009!

I applied for an NQ position at Scottish law firm Burness Paull, as part of their construction team. This was a good fit for me, having spent those preceding years in the construction industry. It was challenging to re-learn some of the legal skills which had become rusty since my traineeship, but with a supportive team and a well structured training plan I found it was manageable. I also found that having had professional training in project management was a real bonus, and today this is something I recommend to any trainee who will listen!

My eventual return to technology came in 2015, when Burness Paull created their first Legal Technologist position. I jumped at the chance to finally make use of my technical background, and so I switched from my conventional fee-earning role to the newly created position towards the end of that year.

Over time, my role has become just as interested in people and ways of working as it is about legal tech, and so in 2018 my role was re-worked and I became the firm’s first Innovation Manager. In this current role, I have overall responsibility for implementing the firm’s innovation agenda, and for scoping, running and assessing all legal technology projects.

In my day-to-day work I’m fortunate enough to use almost all of the skills and experiences I’ve picked up along the way; technical knowledge and skills as a computer scientist, project management skills to keep all my various projects moving along, fee earning experience to understand how my colleagues work, and commercial skills from my time in industry. The one career skill I haven’t yet found a use for is my forklift truck licence – one day though, you never know!

My career path is certainly not what you’d call ‘typical’, but then again I don’t think there is such a thing as a ‘typical’ legal technologist. Almost all of us come from some other earlier profession, and I think this melting pot of skills and experiences is part of what makes the legal technology scene so exciting today.

by Sam Moore – Innovation Manager at Burness Paull LLP

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