The answer came in the form of a groundbreaking legal automation training program, the Automation Academy. Piloted in Singapore, a global centre of legal tech innovation, the Automation Academy brought together teams of young Clifford Chance professionals to learn to identify opportunities for automation within the firm, and to build Josef bots. The goal was to empower lawyers and give them the skills to solve their own problems.
The pilot program was a rousing success and Clifford Chance had plans to go global …
But then 2020 happened.
Undeterred, we worked together to redesign the program and, about a month later, we launched the Virtual Automation Academy to a larger audience than we had originally planned. We’ve now had hundreds of Clifford Chance trainees, lawyers and other professionals from offices in Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Sydney, Perth, Hong Kong, Singapore, New York, and Washington DC embrace the fully virtual, hands-on experience of building legal technology from their own living rooms.
In-person or online, the Automation Academy is a revolutionary and unique proposition. What happens when you trust the lawyer with the tech? Hear from these leaders at Clifford Chance to find out!
April dropped into Demo Day from London!
Tell us about the Virtual Automation Academy. What did you think?
The Academy is one of the very best examples I’ve seen of lawyers leveraging new ways of thinking and working to develop genuine solutions to actual problems – clients’ or otherwise. Typically, I’ve seen workshops and whiteboards and process maps in other firms. This is unique and I’ve not seen it before. This way of training has proven to be really effective in educating legal practitioners to look at a problem differently. It is one thing to explain to someone how to think in a different way but it seems to resonate much better when they are able to apply those explanations practically. As a result, you end up with solutions that are both unique and practical at the same time.
Is this kind of program important? If so, why?
It’s not just important; it’s critical. The traditional approach to legal problem-solving does not translate as effectively to problem-solving for the practice of law.
What I mean by that is that we’re trained in school to identify issues, create conclusory statements and justify those statements with research. This doesn’t work so well when trying to solve a problem regarding how we do law. We often ask ourselves: How do we draft contracts? But maybe we should ask: Why do we draft contracts? The key is to take a problem and look at it in a different way.
This is very difficult to teach to lawyers. By doing a course like this, lawyers were able to learn practically by doing. And then they own it – they’re responsible for it. They become much more invested in this kind of solution than in a whiteboard covered in sticky notes and translated to yet another type of document.
The winners – Mehj and Eugenio!
What did you think of the Virtual Automation Academy?
MA: Initially, we weren’t really sure how it was going to go. But it was really fun by the end of it to see how creative the bots can be, and the number of features that the bot can come out with. I had no idea that it would generate a document like that! It’s really interesting and exciting to see what such a simple task can result in.
We also got to interact with members all over the Middle East and Asia-Pacific, which we wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do had it not been virtual.
How did you find using Josef?
ED: Neither of us have a tech background at all. The platform is super easy to use.
What does your bot do? What do you plan to do with it?
MA: Our bot sanitises offering documents. It creates a set of detailed, structured instructions, which go to the LSC, a document production team streamlining the processes we have.
Immediately after the Demo Day, the incoming Regional Head of Clifford Chance in the Asia-Pacific reached out to us and said we need to get this rolled out as soon as possible. We’ve had follow up from the Best Delivery team at Clifford Chance who are going to help us roll it out.
Has this experience changed how you view your work?
ED: Especially as trainees, we don’t always think about workflows or how work is allocated between different functions. Josef forces you to think about your day-to-day work differently, and makes you think about how to streamline the most menial, simple tasks that nobody really wants to do.
Laura, one of the creators of the Academy
What did you think of the Virtual Automation Academy?
It was an amazing experience for our lawyers at a time when everyone was quite literally isolated. With the global shift to remote working, it’s been more important than ever to find ways to come together and find connection. We were determined to find a way to continue with the Automation Academy despite the challenges.
Our goal was to show lawyers not only how to build bots quickly, but also to get a handle on how tech might help them. Despite being virtual, we achieved this goal – with this added bonus of connecting people at a time when it was needed most!
Why is it important to Clifford Chance?
It’s an exciting thing to happen at the firm, to build this energy around tech and change. Experienced lawyers can be fearful of tech, in their own way. We start to reframe the conversation when we show them that more junior lawyers, who have a similar aptitude and background as them, can do this.
And for us, it will always come back to our clients. Initiatives like this help us to empower our lawyers and crowdsource idea so that we can deliver creative, effective solutions for our clients.
How did you find the experience of collaborating with Josef?
It’s a great example of what a startup and a law firm can achieve together. We managed to do this so quickly because it was developed within Create+65, our innovation lab, which removed the typical barriers that often make it hard to move fast within the law firm environment.
Our first conversation with Josef was in August last year and now, less than a year later, we’ve launched this program globally and moved a lot of people through it. We’ve also launched live bots on our website that are externally facing.
Why did this collaboration work? A big part of it is that we didn’t spend any time on things that didn’t matter!
Janne Havsgard, bringing the Academy to NYC and Washington DC
The Automation Academy ran a little differently in the US. Tell us about that.
For us, the Automation Academy was part of the Summer Law Clerk Program, which is an important part of how we recruit new associates. Normally it’s quite a social schedule – they would do dinners, trainings, 2 weeks abroad at another Clifford Chance office. It’s meant to be fun and interactive.
COVID was obviously a challenging situation – many law firms didn’t even run their programs this year – but the Automation Academy was a perfect opportunity to include something that would get the summers to work together and create a sense of community, in particular when running the program virtually this year.
The other part is that we’re a firm that really takes innovation and technology quite seriously. It’s very easy to put that on a website – “we are a tech-focused law firm ” – but by actually giving them the tech, we showed just how serious we are. And, through the Automation Academy, the Summer Law Clerks started thinking about how to do things differently and more efficiently from the moment they start at the firm.
What were your main takeaways from the program?
If you get the right amount of excitement and engagement, you can get real outcomes even in a remote environment. It just worked. And that Josef is a very user friendly platform but also very powerful.
Also, the trainees produced some amazing products. There were two bots I really loved. One helped people to seal criminal records. For people who don’t know how to get this done, they can face a lot of societal problems. It would do a lot of good. The other one provided advice on your legal rights when attending protests, which is particularly important right now.
And what do you hope the Summer Law Clerks took from it?
I hope that they understand that being a successful lawyer today looks very different to what being a successful lawyer looked like 10-15 years ago. I hope they come in open-minded and ready for that.
Naomi Herman, taking it virtual!
You were one of the architects of the Virtual Automation Academy. Which parts stand out to you?
The level of engagement we had for the program stands out to me. The participants, across our offices, brought their energy and enthusiasm to each workshop. The Automation Academy was a time commitment but they embraced the opportunity to learn about legal technology and build bots. I also found it interesting that creating a successful tech solution is not just about the programming. It’s about UX design. Tone. Aesthetics. I don’t think people always appreciate that.
You’re a learning and development professional. Why is this course important from a professional development perspective?
People learn by actively doing not by watching. Building a bot to address a problem from their day-to-day life was a real legal tech experience. I think the participants gained a deep appreciation of how technology can be used and what makes a good tech solution.
We don’t expect everyone who’s gone through the program to take up coding in their spare time. But rather, we want them to be able to recognise opportunities for automation and technology and empower them to do something about it.