Justice Talk with Nick West: The Now and Next in the Legal Industry

The future is indeed uncertain, but with the proper preparation and learning from the best practices of the present, one can ensure its success. This applies to many things, including the adoption and implementation of legal tech. But exactly how can that be done?

We spoke with Nick West, Chief Strategy Officer of Mischon de Reya on his experience in implementing innovation in the legal industry, and how he sees it evolving in the coming years.

Nick West: On the science of law, technology and business

“I was doing legal tech 15 years ago, back when no one was calling it legal tech yet,” says Nick West, the Chief Strategy Officer of Mishcon de Reya LLP.

Nick took up chemistry in university and studied law with the intention to work on intellectual property, copyright, and trademarks. He then moved to McKinsey & Company in early 2000 wherein he did a lot of strategy work on emerging technologies, right at the beginning of web 2.0.

Armed with his rigorous scientific background and expertise in business and tech, Nick led a career in legal tech.

Aside from being a Partner and Chief Strategy Officer of Mischon de Reya and Founder of MDR LAB, an accelerator program for tech start-ups in the legal space. He is also an advisor of many illustrious organizations such as the Oxford Deep Tech Dispute Resolution Lab, King’s College London, and AIFC LawTech Advisory Council, to name a few.

In his prolific career that afforded him his domain knowledge as a lawyer with the functional capability of strategy and technology, we asked Nick about his experience with legal tech now and how he thinks it will progress in the future.

Foresight in Action 

To look into the now and the next, we must first prepare in the past. We asked Nick about this and he shared with us a story of how Mishcon de Reya’s foresight helped them be more ready for today and the years to come.

“Mischon did a piece of work, envisioning the next 10 years. We’re a London-based firm and we’ve always benefited from our location since it’s such an important place to litigate. However, the world is changing and becoming more globalized. Now, how do we adapt to a global infrastructure?” Nick says.

In this effort, the team sought to achieve three goals to ensure that they are future-ready. “First, we need to make sure that our core technology stack is modern and fit for purpose for the 2020s. Next, running our business should be fit for the 2020s, meaning we need to know how to market in ways that are modern and digital. And finally, we need our people to be technologically equipped” Nick explains.

“In this process, we realized the importance of data and data science, so we invested in our data team,” he says “We took decisions to be very forward-leaning with technology and work with new technologies as quickly as possible, whether they are new technologies like blockchain, or whether they are just new technology players in an existing technology space.”

Through this, Nick was able to lead his team and firm to be a top player and industry leader in the legal technology space. One evidence of this is MDR Lab, Mischon de Reya’s accelerator program for legal tech start-ups, wherein Jur has had the opportunity to be a part of.

The Now: Breaking barriers and norms

“The biggest challenge is adoption, it always is,” Nick opens when we asked him about the most difficult part of legal tech implementation, “It’s because behavior change is always the hardest thing to do. So it doesn’t matter how brilliant the piece of technology is, there will always be people who don’t want to pay attention and adapt to it.”

However, the current pandemic has accelerated the rate of legal tech adoption. “COVID, in all of its awfulness, has honestly been a really good catalyst for change. Suddenly, everybody had to do things in a different way.” Nick says.

An example of this experience is how digital signatures have become much more accepted.

“We’ve been talking about digital or electronic signatures for years, and we’ve been using it for years, but not in a way that you could get everybody to use it all the time for all signatures because all people saw was risk,” he says, remembering how there were only specific documents back then wherein electronic signatures would be acceptable.

However, e-signatures are now much more accepted in many documents, and Nick says that this is a welcome development.

“It’s always difficult at first, but once you break through that barrier, there’s no going back. Once it’s done, it’s done and everyone’s now comfortable with it,” he says.

This practice of finding the right path to ensure tech adoption is something that Nick enjoys, “Every so often the path isn’t quite clear yet and you spend a lot of time working on it. That is something that I love doing. A good example of that is how we’re working with Jur.”

The Next: Catering to a dynamic global market

For Nick, the next chapter of legal tech innovation and adoption is not simply about the technology — it will be about the problems that the technologies will solve. “I tend not to look for the next big thing, but rather think about the dynamics,” he declares.

“We at Mishcon are clearly well-made for large, complicated disputes, where we use a lot of brainpower to figure out the answer to a dispute. Our process works well for those larger disputes, but it’s not very good for small routine disputes,” he says, “This is why I immediately got very interested in the concept of online dispute resolution.”

However, just like the present, the future is still riddled with the same problem — adoption. And aside from people’s appetite towards innovation, Nick says that changes at the governmental level is a key factor.

“We can agree to do whatever we like to resolve a dispute, but if that’s not enforceable, then it’s not worth doing. Which is why system change at a governmental level is important to innovate,” he explains, “However, I don’t think that’s  necessarily a problem, because we don’t want our core court systems to be playing around with new technologies that are yet to be proven.”

Nick painted an example of this in the real estate industry. “There’s a lot of talk on why the land registry, which is really the ledger of who owns what real estate assets, should be blockchain-enabled,” he says.

“And the answer to that is because it works really well now. And you can’t change it unless the existing incumbent government-backed provider changes, because you can’t have an alternative land registry. You’ve got to have one land registry,” Nick explains.

“We can argue about it but you can’t have multiple different land registries, because then you will have a really complicated effort to make sure they all say the same thing. And so you know, changing stuff like that can only happen at governmental level, and that takes time,” he says, noting that although possible, innovation can really take time to happen.

Ultimately, Nick says that legal tech and the industry should focus on client problems, rather than the technologies.

“What is legal tech, exactly? It’s just enabling a business thing to happen. Which is why, the next big thing is what clients need from us,” he declares.

With a future that is focused on problem-solving, Jur is proud to be a frontrunner in ensuring that technology is ready to answer the call.

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