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Although Clifford Chance’s history spans over 200 years, its long heritage hasn’t stopped it from leading the way in legal innovation, making it one of the most cutting-edge firms in the world.
Part of that practice is the Clifford Chance Automation Academy, a distinguished legaltech and innovation training program for legal professionals, from senior associates to summer law clerks just at the very start of their legal careers.
In May 2020, as the world grappled with how to maintain a sense of normalcy during the pandemic, the New York and Washington, D.C. offices of Clifford Chance introduced the Automation Academy to their summer law clerk class.
The Summers took part in the Academy to absorb legal design thinking and build legal automation tools for clients and internal use.
The program was first piloted in Singapore, 2019, with Clifford Chance’s innovation lab Create+65, and has since expanded globally, with sessions running across Asia Pacific, North America and Europe.
Clifford Chance was grappling with how it could meaningfully include legal professionals – including summer law clerks – in its legaltech and innovation program.
In particular, it was looking to find a way of embedding technology more deeply in the firm, and training attorneys in future skills like design-thinking and how to create customer-focused solutions.
At the same time, as with firms around the world, Clifford Chance was tasked with making a Summer Program that was meaningful and engaging, while all taking place from the Summers’ bedrooms.
Before kicking off, the key challenge was to ensure that the summer law clerks felt inspired and empowered to deliver legaltech solutions, while receiving a meaningful education in a virtual and remote environment.
enjoyed Demo Day
enjoyed the workshops
The Automation Academy involved a series of interactive, virtual workshops and discussions over Zoom. The Summers learned the core skills involved in legaltech and innovation, including legal design thinking and bot-building, culminating in an exciting Demo Day.
“Once I learned about the pilot program in Singapore, we wanted to do everything we could to partner with Josef in the US,” said Sarah Posner, Head of Legal Recruiting in the US for Clifford Chance.
“Of course, the pandemic – and the switch to a virtual program – forced us to switch gears, but given how interactive the program was, I don’t think our clerks were in any way disadvantaged, which speaks volumes about the level of the summer’s engagement.”
The Summers were split into teams and given different use cases, guided with support and training on user-friendly design from the ideation phase, through to prototyping and testing.
Using Josef’s no-code automation software, the Summers created bots to automate workflow and processes, document automation, intake and triage, and advice and guidance for the firm, and for pro bono partners including the DC Volunteers Lawyer Project, My Sisters’ Place NY, Children’s Law Centre and Volunteers of Legal Service.
The winning team created a referral bot for My Sisters’ Place in New York, which allowed help-seekers to determine their eligibility for benefits, such as food or housing, based on their immigration status.
Clifford Chance Senior Legal Technology Advisor, Conan Hines, said the program also ensured the Summers were engaging with practising lawyers in the firm.
“Having mentors involved is important for the Summer Law Clerks, and for the Associates themselves, to get them comfortable and build up trust,” he said.
“It’s a collaborative project with the potential to deliver some impact at the end, and Josef does a great job at making the experience a rich one.”
An important part of the program was also that it would help the firm address the access to justice problem by tasking summer law clerks to build legal automation solutions for the firm’s non-profit pro bono partners.
“I hope that our investment in the Automation Academy demonstrates to pro bono clients how important they are to us. We invest in them,” said Diana Mitchell, a Senior Business Advisor who looks after pro bono and responsible business in the Americas.
This program is a great example of how legaltech can be deployed to boost employee happiness. The Summers loved the program, seeing it as an invaluable learning opportunity.
“It was such a great experience. My favourite part about working on the bot was the collaborative effort put forth by the entire team,” said summer law clerk Abdulai Turay.
“The program highlights the benefits of taking a collaborative and client-centred approach in your work. These are lessons I’m sure the whole team will look back on as we embark on the beginning of our legal careers.”
Summer law clerk Robert Bentlyewski said: “Knowing that we were working with an organisation that was doing absolutely essential legal work, and always cognisant that our bot could connect people with services that make their very challenging lives a little easier, made it always easy to find motivation to make the best product possible.”
Conan said the Automation Academy gives participants an advantage and an edge.
“It hopefully boosts the esteem of the clerks, who can say ‘I can make a material contribution on day one – I can have a role that no one else can play on the matter here’. I think that’s a really powerful way to build confidence.”
He added that Josef demystifies tech and the Automation Academy programs run effortlessly.
“The learning and development piece by Josef is the core of the program. There was massive coordination and thought put into it, and it comes off as a seamless process.”
The program is not just about the people, though. It’s also about the end results!
At the end of the Automation Academy, the firm had a number of internal launch-ready bots that they could deploy to change the way they work and drive efficiencies.
Clifford Chance’s NGO clients also had bots that they could launch to change the way they provided pro bono services and to improve internal workflows.
“Having our summer law clerks work on something that has an immediate and real impact on how we are able to work more effectively is incredibly special,” said Sarah, Head of Legal Recruiting US.
“The fact that we’re able to also partner with our pro bono clients and have the summer clerks work together on this only makes the opportunity that more important and worthwhile.”
Bilingual Paralegal Advocate at My Sisters’ Place, Ingrid Morales, said the centre firmly believed legal providers have a responsibility to make legal and non-legal resources as accessible as possible to the people they serve.
“We’re always looking for ways to expand on this belief, so it was a natural fit to partner with Clifford Chance and Josef,” she said.
“The bot will not only help our existing clients, but anybody that stumbles upon it on our website – it’s a resource for all.”