#LegalDesign. The real impact of technology for in-house legal teams - an interview with Richard Mabey, CEO, Juro

#LegalDesign. The real impact of technology for in-house legal teams - an interview with Richard Mabey, CEO, Juro

Richard Mabey is the CEO at Juro, a company focused on end-to-end contract management systems. Combining a legal pedigree from Freshfields, in-house secondment experience, commercial acumen from an MBA and a legal product role, Richard founded Juro in 2016.

Both he and his company are dedicated to ending some of the frustrations and tedious process-driven work of in-house lawyers. 

Sophie Gould, Head of In-house at LexisNexis, talks to Richard about his career journey, how he is a self-described “legal design obsessive” and what the real impact of technology can be on in-house legal teams.

Tell us a little bit about your background …

I trained at Freshfields in 2010 following a law conversion course at BPP, ending up in the corporate team with an M&A focus. While I was predominately in the London office, I did spend some time in the New York office. During my time at Freshfields, I was on secondment to clients’ in-house teams. This was my first exposure to day-to-day in-house work and when I first became interested in how tech can be applied to in-house counsel. I saw that the teams were void of good tech solutions to assist them in day-to-day working and I saw frustration as most of their working lives were being driven by process work. And I thought: how can we make this more efficient?

I decided to change tack slightly and do an MBA at INSEAD. I used this opportunity and time to learn about the business side of things and also to begin experimenting with concepts and ideas – with a view to getting something out in the market. I did some entrepreneurship units and happily I won a prize which allowed me to build a MVP, which I could start testing with legal teams.

Before I could singularly pursue my own outfit, I got sidetracked by gainful employment.  I had been approaching LegalZoom (as I broadly considered it an established “legal start-up”) for work and agreed to take on the role of product manager. This was an invaluable experience for me to gain experience from the coalface on how you build a legal tech product.

In early 2016 I founded Juro with an engineering friend I met on the MBA, Pavel Kovalevich – who brought all the technical (and much more!) talent to the organisation. And we’ve been on an exciting journey ever since.

So what do we mean by legal design thinking?

A useful starting point is recognising that technology is not a solution in itself. You can’t simply bolt a piece of new technology on top of a bad process and expect returns. I think in-house teams need to go back to basics and this is where legal design thinking can help. From my own experience with contract management, we quickly realised that there was an awful lot of pain but not any proper solutions.

We decided to drill down into the detail, working with some large clients to see what’s actually happening. We saw that although there are lots of tech options, most of them looked like Windows 95 and weren’t helping the business. This is where we got interested in design. User experience doesn’t just mean a pretty interface, it means that you solve a problem better. Take contracts as an example – there is an obvious efficiency play but there is also something more fundamental – the documentation itself needs to change from an impenetrable document to a functional one.

Legal design has yet to be authoritatively defined. Someone like Margaret Hagan from Stanford has lead some of the thinking in this space. Broadly, it borrows a lot from the well-established concept of design thinking in the tech space. It’s a method of getting to ask the right questions – once you ask the right questions, getting to the real problem isn’t too hard. It hasn’t yet really penetrated in the legal world.

How can novices begin to use legal design thinking?

An easy start for people is to run what we call a design sprint. This is a process-driven event for a team to go through the various steps in thinking through a problem. It is a user-centric way of going about “ideation” – coming up with ideas in a risk-free environment. A simple example: ask another team for feedback in a structured way. We did this for our privacy policy GDPR update and it’s not too expensive – just human time and post-it notes! We also found it was great for engagement and a way for lawyers to get out of the cycle of reacting just to their inbox. A critical element of a design sprint – and design thinking more broadly – is to ensure you get input from all the relevant key stakeholders. This might mean you have tech, operations, legal, management and others feed into it.

How can it help in-house in their day to day work?

One of the things we realised early on was the fact that lawyers and in-house teams get into cycles – responding to their inbox and being told to do more with less. It creates a powerful cycle of “busy-ness” which is difficult to stop. So one thing we help in-house teams do is to actually step back and radically review. Getting the space to reflect and think more strategically is vital and often very challenging.

But it isn’t just about giving in-house teams more time. Importantly, it gives teams greater access to data. By making the user experience easier, you are more likely to collect more data and this creates a virtuous circle – in fact it can have a snowball effect. Once you have more and better data, you can report value more effectively to the business and stop being viewed purely as a reactive cost centre.

What impact do you think technology will play in the life of an inhouse lawyer in the next five years?

I have three key take-aways on this point:

  1. Technology will enable in-house lawyers to spend more time on the higher value work – this should provide a more stimulating and fulfilling line of work.
  2. In-house lawyers need to get comfortable with data and data analytics. A basic understanding of statistics and Excel will start to become a minimum requirement.
  3. Technology can help in-house teams shift from sometimes being perceived as a blocker, to a powerful business enabler. By combining the team’s commercial and legal awareness with tools used by the business, using APIs, the in-house teams will be better connected into the commercial side of the business.

Overall you can’t solve everything at once with tech. You need to prioritise what you want to solve first and start with the low hanging-fruit.

Further recommended reading

Legal Technology – Looking Past the Hype - Download a free copy of our latest LexisNexis In-house Insights report to get clarity on and learn how your peers are using and benefiting from technology. We surveyed 130 in-house counsel on how legal departments are using and benefiting from legal tech today. It also uncovered four distinct stages of legal departments driven by defining behaviours displayed and key opportunities in each for in-house teams to increase the value they can demonstrate.

Legal operations: how to do it and why it matters - Download a free copy of Juro's eBook for insight from more than a dozen in-house thought leaders from some of the world’s best companies on how to make your legal department more efficient.

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About the author:

Sophie is Head of Learning & Development at F-LEX Legal - an award winning legal tech startup helping law firms and organisations manage a flexible work force and supporting lawyers to make smarter life/work choices. 

As part of her portfolio career Sophie runs various learning and development and networking forums for in-house lawyers and mentors junior lawyers.  These include Flying Solo for small and solo legal teams and Aspire for junior in-house lawyers which she runs for LexisNexis UK.  She also works with schools and organisations to promote social mobility within the legal profession, working with The Social Mobility Business Partnership and Aspiring Solicitors. 

She trained as a lawyer in the City and worked as an in-house lawyer for 10 years including as Head of Legal for Virgin Radio and Ginger Media Group.  

Outside of work she is happily married with three sons and enjoys morning walks along the beach with her two dogs.