Former ‘Which?’ Lawyer & Legal Technologist Mark Collins on 30 years of legaltech evolution

  • Experience

    Herbert Smith Freehills, Evershed Sutherlands, Penningtons Manches LLP

  • Recent role

    Legal Operations Consultant at Which?

  • Location

    London, United Kingdom

Meet Mark Collins, Lawyer & Legal Technologist with a front row seat to the evolution of legal tech.

Not many legal technologists can say they’ve watched the industry evolve from using snail mail to implementing AI – but Mark Collins can.

Mark has an acute understanding of different legal technology platforms. He has worked at magic circle, medium and small law firms and in-house legal departments, and got his hands dirty dealing with several leading legal technology solutions.

After traveling the world with his wife in the 90s, Mark’s background as a lawyer made him uniquely qualified to become (what was then known as) a Professional Support Lawyer and eventually step into the role of Head of Knowledge Management. This gear shift was a welcome one when his children were born.

Mark Collins, Lawyer & Legal Technologist.

Mark Collins, Lawyer & Legal Technologist.

These days careers like Mark’s are no longer hens’ teeth. Legal tech is the means by which many firms and in-house teams either survive or thrive. But Mark saw the potential for the industry to evolve back when an excel spreadsheet seemed like witchcraft.

Mark has just finished a contract at Which? as their lead Legal Technologist where he adopted Josef to build an intuitive regulatory bot, so we had the good fortune to sit down with him to chat about the evolution of legaltech.

Talk to us about digital transformation in the legal industry…

Over time, I’ve seen legal tech evolve but the desired outcomes remain the same: cultural change, removing wastage and utilizing technology not just because it’s shiny but because it tangibly, measurably, makes a difference to the way things are delivered.

Technology has improved enormously. But the same three issues remain: people, process and technology – and you can’t ignore any single one of them.

When I first started as a Professional Support Lawyer, we used an excel spreadsheet (to capture task-based billing and cost estimates for the new Civil Procedure / Woolf reforms). The spreadsheet was alien to the lawyers – so we had to make it palatable for them to use and work with. It was all about delivering something that made their lives easier. Despite all the advances in tech, that part has not really changed.

So what bot did you build?

I built an advice and guidance bot to ensure all marketing material sent out by Which?’s marketing team complied with laws and regulations, such as the Advertising Standard Authority’s UK Code of Non-broadcast Advertising and Direct and Promotional Marketing (the CAP Code).

Every single time a member of the marketing team creates any collateral advertising their product (this could be anything from a paper advertisement to email or social media post), they are required to seek legal approval. Yet answers to these questions are not rocket science. It created a bottleneck that wasn’t necessary.

One of the objectives I was working to achieve was “self-sufficiency” for the marketing team. With Josef’s no-code tools, not only can the team manage their own queries, the bot itself can be adjusted on a needs-basis. Reflecting on the previous process I estimate the bot now saves the company two to three hours every single day.

“Technology has improved enormously. But the same three issues remain: people, process and technology - and you can't ignore any single one of them.”
– Mark Collins, Lawyer & Legal Technologist

What resistance to new technology does remain?

Many law firms are entrenched in legacy systems, which makes it difficult to implement significant transformation. There are usually significant costs attached.
What’s more – lawyers tend to be risk averse and conservative. So, trying to encourage the use of something unknown and untrusted such as AI is inherently

The way through that maze is to gain lawyers’ trust and make a clear case for WIIFM – show them what’s in it for them! Finding examples of where it has already worked well, telling stories of success, always backed up with data showing tangible return on investment.

What’s lovely about Josef is that it fits perfectly into the low tech / no tech world. I can create (with the help of a lawyer or two to work on the content) a tool for Which?’s marketing team, which doesn’t need the help of IT developers involved in the build.

What’s more, we are serving the needs of both the lawyers (saving their time) and also empowering the internal client to serve themselves.

What has kept you interested in legal tech over the course of your career?

The pace of change. I am always optimistic about what tech can do. AI or machine learning is really interesting because it is continually improving. For example, two years ago lawyers would have had to manually find data points from leases and real estate documentation – to report to a client on the obligations and risks contained in their property portfolio.

Now, a machine can find those things and pull them into an online report, allowing a lawyer to check them and change them. Eighty percent of the data extraction and reporting is managed by a machine. Hundreds of documents are digitized, and lawyers don’t spend thousands of hours on repetitive tasks.

The crucial ingredient in both the data extraction use case and in a chatbot made with Josef is the pace with which the project can move from initial idea to delivery. The amount of lawyer investment time is so much less than ever. This was unimaginable only a few years ago. The resource and people investment up front are now minimal, bringing considerable tangible returns for the client.

“Josef is powerful because it has what's required to make technology usable. It is designed with empathy.”
– Mark Collins, Lawyer & Legal Technologist

What are your philosophies on streamlining how lawyers or legal professionals work?

The human side is the most important. Empathy and time to consider user needs are key. It is so much easier to implement a solution if users have been engaged in the design from the start. Advances in technology have not really made this any different.

Josef is powerful in this same way – the software engineers have considered what is required to make the tech usable. It is clearly designed with empathy. Both for a creator or admin and an end-user – hardly any training is required. It just works.

When you’re not solving legal issues what are you doing?

Between life drawing every week, walking my two labradors around our neighborhood in London and spending time with my wife, there isn’t a dull moment!

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