Yep, that’s me. You’re probably wondering how I got into this situation…
That was me last year sat on the stage of a panel discussion entitled “Shape and Structure of Law Firms in the Digital Age”.
Me, an employment lawyer for the 17 years sat with legal tech experts discussing what the future of firms will be (spoiler: this was before AI gained consciousness and we were all still dreaming of a life in the metaverse).
How then did I end up on that stage?
The Employment Lawyer and Me
Well I wasn’t there as an employment lawyer, rather I was there as a Product and Innovation Partner here at Weightmans, one of 5 we’ve introduced since May last year as part of our revised product and innovation strategy. The role I blend into being a partner in the employment team working with some of our largest corporate clients.
Being an employment lawyer is real life issues with real people. It’s all those interesting cases you remember from your law degree if you did one. If you didn’t then everyone knows someone who has had an employment issue they’ve needed help with. It’s also an area of law that evolves and changes every single day. For years we can be going left then a new decision comes along overnight and turns us all to the right.
Of course, being an employment lawyer means also being an advocate. The kryptonite to your Superman for a natural introvert. But it’s a necessary part of the job; the part which is out of the comfort zone, the part which pushes you to do the things you realise you can do even though you don’t want to.
And, most importantly, it’s the part which teaches you that this job is essentially 70% confidence and sounding like you know what you’re doing and 30% knowing the actual law. (I’m not a complete charlatan I do know some law, as one of my team said the other week “wow, you’re actually right about that” after I helped with a case. I don’t know who was more shocked, her with my answer or me with her response.)
But that still doesn’t explain what you were doing on a stage at a legal tech conference Jon.
Well build in the fact I’ve never just been into service delivery of legal work. I’ve always thought there was more that could and should be done – the law is the easy bit; anyone can do that. It is how you do the work which is the interesting part and why clients want to work with you. Being frank, its also part of the fundamental challenge of how you deliver work profitably.
And so I’ve always made sure my team is at the forefront of whatever Weightmans is doing on those fronts.
It should also be fun too – that probably comes from the fact that I’m still something of a man-child at heart and my office at home is full of 80s themed Lego. Someone messaged me mid-Teams meeting the other day and asked ‘is that a Lego Transformer and a Nintendo on the shelf behind you?’ It clearly showed how interesting I was making the meeting… out of camera was the Stranger Things and Ghostbusters but let’s not digress. We’d be boring if we were all just plain stereotypical lawyers.
But having that interest and ability to see things differently has paid off. About 5 years ago a key client had a piece of litigation that involved several thousand claims nationally. It was threatening to overwhelm them. In dealing with the claims we were capturing their metadata but doing nothing with it. Then we took the decision to visualise it to see where they were coming from geographically.
In doing so there a lightbulb moment as it was apparent that there was a huge splodge of claims coming out of the Midlands. When we lifted up that stone, we realised there was a particular trade union rep pushing the claims. So we approached him and effectively said “look we will resolve this issue with you, but the more claims you put in, the slower this will take so just stop and work with us”. He did and we stopped the flow of claims.
A flat list of claims wouldn’t have allowed that. It was only when we brought them to life that we were able to see the pattern, act on it and ultimately mitigate the risk for the client.
Bricks of Change – Building the Best of Both Worlds
I was therefore quite happy in my lane, being an employment lawyer and blending in the tech and innovation where the opportunities arose.
But then, like all things which come along when you’re not looking for them, Weightmans saw the possibility of doing things differently when it came to innovation in Spring 2022.
As part of that was the opportunity to blend the best of both worlds, the ongoing day to day involvement with our key employment clients but to also work develop products and be innovative within our wider Corporate/Owner Managed Business sectors.
So what then is a Product and Innovation Partner and what do I do in that role?
Well, its something of a blank page in terms of what I want to create for myself but I best describe myself as being here to join the dots.
The dots between our clients, the partners and case handlers who work with them, our Innovation Team, Product Manager, Marketing and anywhere and anything else within legal ops and the Firm that we might need to help bring ideas and solutions to client problems to life.
In the first year we’ve developed a holiday pay service which we’ve been able to set up to scale and become repeatable thanks to our use of tech and innovative ways of working.
Drawing further on my employment law background we have delivered a tool which augments and aids managers decision making when it comes to their obligations under the Equality Act. That came runner up for Best People Initiative at the Managing Partner Forum Awards and will become part of a wider suite of HR-based tools.
But it’s not just employment-based initiatives. We’re currently piloting a tool relating to statutory obligations for transport managers and have audit tools for ESG due diligence and contract checking for banking and commercial T&Cs in development.
For some of these products I may understand the subject matter but for others I’m coming in at the ground floor. But that’s okay, I don’t need be an expert on vehicle license checks, I’m in the room to drive (excuse the pun) the project and make sure the right people are involved and to offer ideas and solutions where I can. And if I need to be in the room with a client, that’s where the 70/30 comes in.
Seeing the Possibility
So this year has been a huge learning curve, but its added some new key skills even at this stage of my career. I’ve had the benefit of some exceptional sales training and I’ve found a platform and audience on LinkedIn to share what I do and blend the two worlds – who knew people actually want to hear about what I do?
So that’s me, and that’s why I’m sat on this panel about to offer an opinion on how my role has changed, why my skills as a lawyer make me ideally suited to help with being innovative and bringing together clients and our own people as part of the future of service delivery and how Weightmans are already doing that as part of approach in being able to see things differently.
And at the end of the day, I’m comfortable that I don’t know, or even need to know, all the technical details of the tech and ways of work. I just need to know where to go to find the person who does. I also don’t really get the metaverse. And fast forward to today, let’s be honest I’ll probably just find my feet on that 30% in time to be replaced by an AI version of myself. Oh well at least I’ll have time to build my Lego.
Product and Innovation Partner