Law firms: the tech trailblazers in legal practice

Many of this year’s top 10 are pioneers exploiting technology to change their firms and the legal world
Charlotte Stalin, Simmons & Simmons © David Parry

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This year’s 10-strong shortlist for most innovative individual was dominated by those who are using technology to change the practice of law. The judges were impressed by Karl Chapman, chief executive of Riverview Law, which has produced Kim, a “virtual assistant” that helps in-house lawyers manage new instructions and process their work. Another strong contender was David Wakeling of Allen & Overy, a pioneer of automated legal drafting, part of the trend towards freeing lawyers from repetitive tasks.

But the most impressive legal technologist, and the winner of this year’s award, was Charlotte Stalin of Simmons & Simmons — not, the judges felt, one of the most innovative firms in the past, but seventh this year in the FT 50 ranking. Ms Stalin is best-known for the Navigator legal technology tool, which has been widely adopted. Her next project, inevitably, is a Brexit transition tool.

Also impressive was Keith Schilling, the defamation specialist who says one of his proudest achievements was representing model Naomi Campbell when she won her privacy claim against the Daily Mirror — the first successful such claim in England. He has transformed Schillings into a multidisciplinary partnership, incorporating cyber security specialists and a former general, to protect reputations and privacy in a social media age.

Michael Skapinker, chair of the judging panel

Winner: Charlotte Stalin, Simmons & Simmons

Charlotte Stalin joined Simmons & Simmons in 2006 as a partner in the financial services regulation practice, after working at Clifford Chance in Sweden and London. She set about thinking of new ways to work with clients, most notably an online service providing regulatory guidance to fund managers. It was launched as Navigator: Funds, providing information to clients on a subscription basis.

Ms Stalin is the force behind many of the firm’s market-leading regulatory tools. This year she launched MiFID2 Manager, which will help the firm’s lawyers and clients manage the complex compliance process relating to the second iteration of the EU’s Markets in Financial Instruments Directive, which comes into force in 2018.

Clients say it stands out from similar initiatives because it not only provides information but can also help guide non-legal users through the process.

Bernard O’Connor, Nctm Studio Legale

Describing himself as a trade lawyer with a penchant for agriculture, Bernard O’Connor has created interesting specialisms for himself. One is expertise in geographical indicators, which identify products as from a specific region, such as Champagne.

His background in more than 100 trade cases for the European Commission made him a valuable asset for Turkish Cypriot farmers in the Halloumi cheese case. The application of Greek Cypriot cheese producers to the commission for “protected designation of origin” status did not initially include northern Cyprus producers of the same cheese, which they call Hellim. Northern Cyprus is not recognised as part of the EU, but Mr O’Connor’s arguments helped the Turkish producers’ claims for inclusion to be agreed by the commission in July 2015.

He says being a slow reader helps when dealing with complex legal and political challenges because he comes up with arguments and ideas others might miss.

© Charlie Bibby

David Wakeling, Allen & Overy

Derivatives and structured finance lawyer David Wakeling used time away from his usual work last year to address a problem clients were only starting to anticipate. Contemplating new regulations for the global over-the-counter derivatives market, he realised the impact they would have on big banks. New margin rules mean banks will have to renegotiate contracts that could include up to 10,000 counterparties and require legal advice in numerous jurisdictions.

Using off-the-shelf software, he designed a solution that allowed junior lawyers to do the coding themselves, inputting rules and regulations from around the globe to create the firm’s MarginMatrix system.

Now that the majority of the legal work could be done using technology, the firm partnered with Deloitte to apply the consultancy’s people and processes to the remaining drafting and negotiations work.

© Anna Gordon

Akber Datoo, D2 Legal Technology

After starting his career developing new trading platforms at UBS, Akber Datoo retrained as a lawyer to bring his data and technology skills to the law.

Mr Datoo was an associate with Allen & Overy between 2005 and 2010, before leaving in 2011 to set up D2 Legal Technology. Most of the business’s 65 employees are senior lawyers with capital markets experience, who also understand computer systems.

D2 Legal works for investment banks and asset managers, providing strategic consulting and technology to manage capital markets legal documentation. Mr Datoo now works with their in-house legal teams to develop what he calls “a legal data domain” and give legal departments a similar level of control over their contracts and opinions as client and product teams have traditionally had over their own data. His services are helping in-house lawyers understand the value they can bring through not just the law but also data and systems.

© Anna Gordon

Karl Chapman, Riverview Law

After studying law and starting out in investment management, Karl Chapman embarked on an entrepreneurial career based on recruitment, training and human resources businesses.

Only after 25 years did Mr Chapman join the law, setting up Riverview Law in 2011. He has steered its managed services business from focusing on clients among small and medium-sized businesses to serving the FTSE 100.

More recently Mr Chapman has led the firm’s transformation into a technology-based business. He formed a partnership with the University of Liverpool to develop a proprietary cognitive computing program and launched it through a US-based business, Kim Technologies. The program powers Riverview’s latest products — virtual assistants that help in-house lawyers to manage new instructions, workflows and the automation of some tasks.

© Jean-Pierre Jans

Jeroen Zweers, Kennedy Van der Laan

Jeroen Zweers is innovation director at Amsterdam-based Kennedy Van der Laan, which is behind the Nike Alliance, a network of law firms that collaborate to handle the sportswear brand’s legal work. Mr Zweers has moved the alliance from a grouping of 33 firms in 22 jurisdictions to a virtual European law firm working on a shared online platform. At any one time, Nike can see workflows, billing and whether teams are available for work. This “digital building” facilitates better service with a single repository of knowledge.

Dutch Legal Tech, which Mr Zweers co-founded in 2015, is a platform to connect lawyers, academics, publishers, entrepreneurs, developers and policymakers. It organises events, from meet-ups to awards, to encourage Dutch legal professionals to innovate.

This year, Mr Zweers co-founded Legal Pioneer, a network that links legal innovators in the UK, Hong Kong, Germany and India.

Magda Cocco, VdA

A pioneer in aerospace and telecommunications law in Portugal, Magda Cocco is one of the partners in charge of VdA’s technology, media and telecoms (TMT) practice and the head of privacy, data protection and cyber security practice at the firm.

Ms Cocco has expanded the TMT group to African jurisdictions such as Cameroon, Comoros, Gabon, Madagascar, Namibia and Mali. She has also led multidisciplinary teams, advising on the inception and implementation of numerous projects to develop the TMT industries in these countries.

Her industry-focused approach to international growth is one colleagues at VdA have followed to expand their own practices into new markets.

Ms Cocco has also helped develop VdA’s aerospace law practice group, the first in Portugal, where her work has included drafting space policies and satellite contracts, and clarifying legal issues regarding drones.

© Anna Gordon

Mark Nicolaides, Latham & Watkins

Deep knowledge of capital markets, an ability to grasp the dynamics behind the rules governing them and the skill to articulate a vision that all parties to a transaction can support have helped Mark Nicolaides to achieve numerous firsts in the structured finance industry.

Over eight years, Mr Nicolaides’ work has featured in the FT’s Innovative Lawyers reports for innovations in pensions, helping banks to comply with Basel II capital requirements and achieving a breakthrough in an impasse over the restructuring of Punch Taverns.

This year’s report recognises his work for Mortgage Leasing Solutions to acquire and lease back 2.6m iPhones from mobile operator Sprint. The deal allows mobile phone carriers to monetise the value locked up in mobile phones currently being used by customers and in the value of their short-term leases for the first time.

© Charlie Bibby

Keith Schilling, Schillings

After 35 years in media and defamation law, Keith Schilling has spent the past three years moving his firm from one that solely practised law to a multidisciplinary partnership that includes technologists, cyber experts, risk managers and intelligence personnel. He had concluded that in the digital age his clients would increasingly need an integrated service to defend their reputation and privacy from the incursions of social media.

In doing so, he envisaged a service clients did not yet realise they needed. “Where in the past the power to dethrone the successful lay in the hands of a well-resourced few, today anyone with an iPhone and a Twitter account can start the ripple that turns an incident into an indictment,” Mr Schilling says.

The new Schillings is transforming itself into an international reputation and privacy consultancy.

© Tom Pilston

Pamela Thompson, Eversheds

With extensive experience in the investment funds management sector, Pamela Thompson has been involved in numerous firsts that have influenced its infrastructure.

From the first offshore investment trust in the 1990s, to this year’s authorised contractual schemes (the UK’s first tax-transparent fund structure), Ms Thompson has helped to create many products and services that allow clients to seize opportunities presented by regulatory change.

As joint head of the investment funds and asset management team at Eversheds, Ms Thompson advises the Financial Conduct Authority and HM Revenue & Customs. Her team was also the only law firm practice consulted by HM Treasury to discuss the competitiveness of UK-listed companies for asset managers, culminating in the Treasury’s investment management strategy.

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