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Matt Peers, CIO of global law firm Linklaters, recognises that the legal sector is often viewed as being behind the times – and it is an opinion he is keen to change.
“Law firms are seen as following businesses in other industries,” he says at the firm’s London headquarters near the Barbican Centre. “I want to help change that perception. I think there’s a big opportunity to use technology to make a genuine difference to how people work.”
After 18 months at the firm, Peers has already made big changes in key areas, such as security, mobility and connectivity. But his work is far from complete and digital transformation remains his focus.
“Our lawyers still spend too much time on processes that take their focus away from their clients,” he says. “One of my key jobs is to fix that – I want to provide the technology that will help make lawyers more efficient and effective.”
Peers says pushing the transformation process in a legal firm with a global presence, as well as having to seek consensus from a wide range of stakeholders, is a significant challenge. Yet it is a task he relishes.
“This firm produces a great number of ideas all over the world,” he says. “In my role, I have to work out how we deliver the staple of IT products, such as email and document management, while also ensuring that the business is able to make the most of technological innovation.”
Peers says Linklaters needs to focus, first and foremost, on great project delivery. “We can create a competitive advantage through technology by being better, faster and quicker to market than other organisations,” he says.
One significant factor is that Peers has the support of colleagues across the business. “It’s a really friendly firm,” he says. “Everybody works well together – it's a single partnership. At a global level, each individual who works for the firm has an incentive to make things better. And I find that liberating.”
Peers joined Linklaters in May 2015 after almost four years as CIO of consultant firm Deloitte across the UK and Switzerland. He says there are definite similarities between Linklaters and Deloitte – both are huge professional services firms with a global presence.
“It’s nice to work with lots of smart people as part of a bright organisation,” he says. “I like working with demanding stakeholders. I want people to hold me to account, and you get that when you have to work with partners in a firm.”
“Clients want to know where their data resides and who has access to it. And that’s an environment you have to take seriously”
Matt Peers, Linklaters
However, these are differences between the organisations, particularly regarding Peers’ role. He says Deloitte is a fabulous firm, but the scale of business operation means change management can be tricky, and doing things quickly requires a large amount of co-operation.
Now as global CIO of a rapidly changing practice, Peers has the opportunity to drive transformation. “The key difference is that I have my own agenda and that I get to sell my ideas to the board,” he says. “So far, that’s exactly how it’s panning out here – and that’s why I’m really enjoying the role.”
Peers talks about three key achievements during his first 18 months at Linklaters. First is information security, in which he says legal clients are now more demanding than ever. ISO 27001 accreditation has helped the firm to prove its security strengths.
“Clients want to know where their data resides and who has access to it,” he says. “And that’s an environment you have to take seriously. We’ve got policies and procedures in place now that help give our clients confidence, as well as making sure our house is very much in order.”
Peers says his second key achievement concerns mobility. Before he arrived, the firm was a heavy user of BlackBerry devices, but is now more wedded to Apple devices and iOS. Everyone who works for the firm – from the back-office to the chief executive – receives a corporate-supplied smartphone.
“We’re making more and more things available to people through apps on their devices in a secure manner,” he says. “When you have something like a time and expenses app, it’s important the information is presented to everyone in the same consistent manner.”
Keeping staff connected
Peers says his final big achievement relates to connectivity and collaboration. The firm used to be reliant on its virtual desktop setup, with employees able to work at any Linklaters terminal in any office in the world and access their own files. But there was a problem – staff could not log in on the road.
“People spend a lot of time travelling,” he says. “What’s more, different countries have specific ways of working – you can be made to wait to see a client for many hours, for example, and that is dead time if our associates can’t connect. We can’t rely on patchy cellular networks to keep our people connected.”
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Peers has embarked on a programme to give all fee-earning employees the choice of a Windows 10-based laptop or tablet. The firm’s IT department has a strong grounding in Microsoft skills and Peers is using that capability to ensure staff connect securely to the enterprise network.
“The factor that always comes first in our decisions is the security of client data – and we will not do anything that could potentially compromise that primacy,” he says. “The provision of Windows 10 laptops and tablets has really changed how our people are able to work. The feedback to the programme is really positive and we know people can now work securely from any location.”
Making the most of tech
When it comes to immediate priorities, Peers is keen to help Linklaters make the most of innovation. “I want to get to a point where, as a firm, we are willing to take some more risks,” he says. “Those need to be calculated risks – it’s not about running projects with client data for the sake of it.”
Peers refers back to his time in the retail sector, where he spent more than a decade in senior IT roles at Carphone Warehouse before joining Deloitte. He says retailers accept that only one in 10 projects is likely to succeed. In comparison, executives in the legal sector demand a 100% success rate.
“We like to predict the outcome of everything we do,” he says. “But that can sometimes act as a barrier to innovation. If we are going to embrace innovation, we’ve got to get better at running rapid proof of concepts. We’ve got to focus on projects that help us serve our clients differently.”
Peers accepts that his role will be crucial if Linklaters makes the most of IT-led innovation. “I will need to influence my team and ensure they are aligned with wider business aims, but I’ll also need to focus on practice,” he says. “I’ll need to help them understand what technology can do for our clients and how the IT team can help bring some of these ideas into a production-ready state.”
The power of search
The biggest benefit of embracing innovation, says Peers, is that his firm will gain a competitive advantage, and he believes Linklaters is well placed to move forwards. For example, the firm already uses the cloud across time recording, email filing, and internet and firm-wide security.
Peers says the IT team has excelled in providing the core systems and services used by lawyers, which provides a strong foundation on which to build further change. “We are in a position now where we can start to think about technology that might add more value to the business and its customers,” he says.
Matt Peers, Linklaters
One area of development is around big data and artificial intelligence, and Peers is keen to give lawyers a “Google-like” search experience. The firm currently provides basic search facilities that help lawyers find information through trial and error, but he wants to provide a much better user experience.
“I want to get to the point where one of our lawyers in Spain, for example, can use a search tool and get an answer to their question quickly,” he says. “The markets that we’re in mean clients are asking more and more of us. The power of bring able to turn things around quickly should not be underestimated.”
Finally, Peers talks about long-term success metrics. He says one clear indicator would be the elimination of paper within the firm. Linklaters, like other law firms, is still heavily reliant on paper – and often with good reason.
Research suggests lawyers are statistically more accurate when they proof-read legal contracts on paper rather than on screen. “But there are times when people don’t need to print,” says Peers. “Great search technology can help us to reduce the firm’s dependency on paper.”
Peers also believes the rest of the organisation will start to draw on in-house IT knowledge during the next few years. Business engagement teams normally include people from a range of areas, including project management, legal expertise and other operational areas.
Technology is not currently part of the process, but Peers anticipates a shift in emphasis. “We’ll get to a point where that changes – and that means people in my team will need to become more client-facing, or we’ll need to give lawyers in the firm more access to IT skills,” he says.
“Technology will just become a fundamental part of what we do. I want everyone across the business to have a much greater understanding of the potential benefits of technology.”