What does innovation mean to you? An interview with David Hepburn

Below Andrew King, founder of Legal Innovate interviews David Hepburn, President of Actionstep, about legal innovation, the role of technology in the legal profession and the rise of data-driven lawyers.

Tell us about yourself

It has been an amazing 25 years since getting my chemical engineering degree in the UK. I’ve found myself on operations as a young officer in the British Army, figuring out how technology can deliver better patient care in places like Vietnam, Turkey and the US, building high performing teams and businesses along the way. Leading our team at Actionstep is the culmination of so many parts of my journey.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

Legal innovation should always be about how to deliver better value, outcomes or services to clients. But many lawyers aren’t sure where to start. When firms are willing to challenge the status quo to bring quality and service issues into the light – and then commit to solving them – we see real legal innovation.

The area where we are seeing most innovation is where firms realise that the future of their firm means less reliance on the ‘human glue’ in their service delivery and processes. Whether that’s to work out the fat in their business processes or to free up lawyers to do higher value work, the outcome is often the same – a better experience for their clients.

These firms are moving the goalposts for everyone else.

What role does technology play in innovation?

Technology is often the enabler for firms to fulfil their innovation goals. We have a saying at Actionstep that “changing software is easy, changing process is not”. When firms want to change the way they do things, they need systems to support behavioural change.

David Hepburn

The right technology systematises innovation into better processes so everyone gets on board. Suddenly they have a consistent “new way” – baking their process, their innovation and their IP into their systems.

What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?
Law firms are facing pressures from every angle – competitive pressure from more innovative firms or from alternative legal service providers. The pressure to deliver more within fixed fees – heightening the need for efficiency and automation. The commoditisation of some areas of law puts pressure on firms to refocus on higher value activities that might not be everyone’s comfort zone. The demand from clients to be kept informed in a world of immediacy. The need to find and keep good talent – again, something technology can help with as younger talent typically demand technology that reflects the collaboration, automation and tracking tools they are used to in their personal lives.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?

We are seeing the rise of ‘data driven lawyers’. This has been accelerated through Covid-19 as people have had to rely more on electronic records rather than face-to-face updates. Legal teams now realise that inconsistencies and gaps in data lead to mistakes on documents, incomplete files and skewed reporting – all things easily solved by discipline around data capture.

When legal teams focus on really good data, they spend less time getting lost in documents and drafting and more time delivering great legal services to their clients.

We also see that immediacy and access are more important than ever for clients. Clients expect access to their lawyers directly. Corporate structures are falling away and clients see gatekeepers and support staff as barriers.

What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?

Innovation can seem quite daunting. To develop an innovation mindset, you start with just one thing, because incremental step-changes lead to transformation. How do you pick? Listen to your clients – what are they telling you to improve? What process or activity is fundamental to that? Pick that. Try another way. Replicate and iterate. Trying to change everything at once leads to frustration and failure.

Get the best out of the tools you already have. Explore ways to use them more fully or in different ways.

Listen to what younger lawyers are doing. They should be your eyes and ears for how technology will change your practice in future.

Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?

Because if they don’t continue to innovate they will get left behind. Our core belief at Actionstep is that lawyers are awesome. The reason we believe that is not because of how good they are at document turnaround or their legal knowledge – it’s the impact they have at key milestones in our business and personal lives. Lawyers need to be able to get their heads out of the admin and repetitive tasks that so much legal work has turned into. Technology facilitates that – it takes care of the data accuracy, the document production, the matter management and client processing – so that lawyers can focus on advisory, interpretation, breaking new ground on legal matters and doing great work for their clients.

Andrew King is the founder of Legal Innovate. Legal Innovate includes LawFest, LegalTechHub and E-Discovery Consulting.

Written by David Hepburn