The best law firms have innovation specialists, making legal operations more efficient for their clients. We caught up with one: Linklaters' Maziar Jamnejad.
Hi!👋 Who are you?
I’m Maziar Jamnejad, head of innovation for Linklaters in Italy.
Can you tell me about yourself and your career so far?
I worked as a lawyer for ten years on investigations, then I took a couple of years out from private practice and went to the Treasury, where I ran the process that creates the Budget. In many ways it’s an innovation job – pushing people to come up with new ideas, prioritising the hundreds of ideas generated and forming a sensible package. So when I came back to law I had a very different skillset to the lawyers I was now working with. I went on secondment to the innovation team at Freshfields to bring a practitioner’s view to their work, and I stayed!
I ended up as head of innovation, from which I did a six-month secondment at HSBC setting up an innovation team; and now I’m at Linklaters in southern Italy, in Lecce. The firm in Italy is centred on Milan and has a smaller Rome office. In Lecce we have an office of associates that just do due diligence. It’s not near-sourcing or offshoring, but rather a centre of excellence for due diligence: we’re working towards the idea that the more time people spend doing that, the better they are. The office has been about a year and it’s a good laboratory to experiment with in terms of innovation with processes - they’re dealing with high volumes, their processes are easy to map, and the product is quite price sensitive.
How’s it going so far?
This is my fourth week! So far it’s been partly about learning where the photocopier is and where to get good coffee, but I’ve spent a lot of time with all levels of lawyers in the firm to try and understand where change should be focused, and I’ve just put a plan together for the partners on what I’ll focus on in my first three months.
"None of the current solutions can do AI contract analysis with Italian out of the box, so it’s a great opportunity for us to help drive the Italian market to catch up with the rest of Europe and the US"
As a general statement, where I find that innovation and technology go wrong is when they start with the tool first and not process. So first, it’s important to work out what you’re actually doing as a lawyer; why; how; and legally what the risk is you’re managing for your clients in the first place. Then you take all of that, and work out if you’re doing it as best you can at every step of the process.
Issues I’m looking to explore in this way are workflow automation, which is really important for giving clients live information on how much you’ve done on the matter and how much is left to do; and contract analysis with AI, to look at Italian contracts. None of the current solutions can do AI contract analysis with Italian out of the box, so it’s a great opportunity for us to help drive the Italian market to catch up with the rest of Europe and the US.
Then finally we’re working on a system of extraction. When you think about contract elements like party names, dates, addresses and so on, we still have people manually typing all that out. It’s a waste of our smart people’s time to have them doing that.
Generally speaking, although I have sense of what technology I want to use, I want to start out by sticking to those principles and finding out the real root problems.
How is the innovation agenda taking hold with lawyers?
Lawyers aren’t used to the idea that they are working with data. They often don’t understand that they could be leagues ahead of where they are, in terms of transparency and client service, if they captured that data better and learned how to use it. At the same time, Innovation solutions in law firms often aren’t mundane enough to address the actual problems. There’s plenty of talk of horizon scanning, and preparing for the ‘lawyer of the future’, but I’m not sure how much value it creates - especially when you compare it to something simple, like using Excel instead of Word so you can give better analysis to clients without hundreds of paralegals turning pages.
"If you take contract elements like party names, dates, addresses and so on, we still have people manually typing all that out. It’s a waste of our smart people’s time"
How do in-house lawyers compare to law firms when it comes to innovation?
I think the in-house world is further back than the law firms - they’re less technologically enabled, and often more resistant to implementing those ideas. If you took a hyper-innovative company, which was a client of a leading law firm, would its legal department be innovative? Often the answer is no. A lot of the lawyers who end up in those legal teams are private practice lawyers who carry the same behaviours with them wherever they go. There’s often an exception with tech companies - as a general rule the more innovative end of tech companies have tech-savvy legal departments, which is why you see modern champions like Amazon, Deliveroo and Airbnb coming up again and again.
Most of the huge law departments I talk to have never engaged with the question of innovation. They don’t use much more than word processing, email and a shared drive. The only change I’ve started seeing is in-house legal departments starting to go to more events like CLOC and Legal Geek. Maybe by osmosis they’ll feel a pressure to modernize. But the industry as a whole has the same problem - no law firm or legal department has caught up with where the Treasury was when I worked there in 2012.
What are the main challenges you see?
Most lawyers like their jobs. They’re very proud of doing a good job for their clients and they’re reluctant to mess with the way they work. Often the attitude is “I don’t know how we got here, but this recipe seems to work, so I don’t want to shake it up.” A consequence of this is that the biggest blocker we see when it comes to implementing tech is often at the very last stage; they buy in, agree with the rationale, and like the tool, but when it comes to pulling the trigger and using it, they’re really reluctant. That means that tools get rolled out and have no adoption.
By way of example, the office is trying to go paperless, and indeed it’s hard to understand why lawyers even need paper. But helping lawyers to understand how you can have the same functionality with something digital as you do with paper is quite a hard conversation to have, when they’re comfortable with their current way of working. So before you can use AI or visualisation, you need to move them towards working on their computers rather than hard copy.
How are law firms handling it generally?
I’ve yet to see a law firm that’s nailed a model of multidisciplinary legal and business services - any innovation project is a combination of knowledge management, procurement, technology, information security, and so on - and the whole group needs to come together to make it happen. Logistically that’s really hard to achieve. I advocate for moving away from work coming into particular business teams, and instead having a cross-functional team with people from across the business coming together to solve a given challenge. But that’s hard – I spend a lot of time phoning around the firm trying to convince people to get on board and get something done.
"I want to be sold a better way to do things, part of which is the technology, rather than just the new tech widget in isolation"
There’s a responsibility on tech companies which I often have to pedal against - you’re often sold the tool, but not what to do with it. That can be the most difficult part of the job - getting lawyers using solutions on real-life matters in a real-life way. I want to be sold a better way to do things, part of which is the technology, rather than just the new tech widget in isolation.
‘80/20’ is a concept I use a lot at work. Spending the extra time to solve that final 20% of your problem might just not be worth it, but lawyers are the kind of people who zero in on detail and fixate on minor issues. I recently asked a lawyer if they wanted a tool that was ready today that did almost all of what they wanted or if they wanted to wait a year or two for a 100% solution and they said they’d rather wait. At least they’re open about it!
What’s the client angle to the innovation focus: what’s in it for them?
The upside for clients is that they’ll actually see some change. Ultimately I’m down on the selling of innovation - I’m all about the doing. Where this matters to clients is where they get higher quality legal services. It’s not always about price, especially with the size of clients that we have here - with innovation, price might come down, but getting their legal services delivered better, with technology, is more important in many cases.
It’s important to remember that in-house lawyers aren’t abstract entities, they’re human beings - the experience of actually dealing with the lawyer is really important. Technology gives transparency and reduces friction, which makes it easier to be external counsel - that’s really important when it comes to being a good law firm. And if you have an in-house team at the firm doing innovation, you can get there quicker, and you’re more likely to do work that’s high value for the client. One part of the maturation journey for law firm innovators is trying cool stuff, failing, and finding the answer in boring stuff. Getting someone who’ll do that dirty work for them in spreadsheets, identifying needs and zeroing in on the problem to be solved, is really valuable to clients.
What are you most excited about in legal tech and innovation in the future?
APIs and interoperability. There are currently spectacular point solutions that do one thing. I need them all to work together on one single matter in a harmonious way. Every bit of integration news I see increases the number of things I can use simultaneously. If legal could get to that app store model where we buy a platform in the middle and plug tools in, that would be great. Or having more integrated tools that provide functionality together would be good. Relatedly, organisations like Linklaters are used to products with really high levels of customer support - the availability of 24-hour support is really important for tech solutions.
On the wackier side, I’m crazy about VR. it has so much potential for law firms, because VR is about browsability and information compression - so with things like KM pitching, training and so on - VR could have a massive impact. And it’s miles ahead of where people think it is in legal, unlike everything else where hype can be overstated. And it’s a hard sell turning up at a law firm with some VR headsets! But i’ve convinced the team here to do a full day demo of VR tools - I hope that works well.