Dermot Knight: Director, Navigate.Legal
#BakersDozen is a series of interviews with leading professionals in the fields of law, consulting, finance, tech, and more.
Tell us a bit about yourself and how you came to be in (or a customer of) the legal business?
I started out as a lawyer – but became disappointed with what the industry expected lawyers to do. I got really involved in data analytics while at Accenture and was inspired by how much this could advance legal services. Working extensively with in-house counsel for the legal transformation consultancy I helped establish at PwC, I found their potential was being undermined by a lack of useful data. Without it they couldn’t decide which law firm was best for them, which work to do internally vs. sending to market, which opportunities would drive the most value etc. We (myself and some equally enthusiastic colleagues) built Navigate.legal to provide a simple but effective way for the department to get useful data and then translate it into actions that deliver time and cost savings, while increasing the value/impact of their work.
What do you do for a living right now?
We have developed a diagnostic tool specifically for in-house counsel – it helps them identify (1) Work they shouldn’t be doing (low value/non-legal) (2) Areas where minor tweaks will increase efficiency and (3) Actions they can take to get optimal value from their department (areas for AI potential etc.) Firefighting increasing workloads and dealing with unprecedented cost pressure are daily challenges for most GCs – and the old solutions no longer work in today’s market. Using analytics is the most effective way to both meet rising demand and deliver genuine savings – we have seen up to 30-40% time/cost savings without having to work lawyers to the death or compromise risk profile.
What has been your greatest triumph and your greatest success in the legal services field and what did you learn from each?
Cost pressure in legal normally means pain – headcount reductions, law firm rate arbitrage etc. We built Navigate.legal as a results based alternative to typical consulting solutions, helping in-house deliver targets – but in a way that actually advances their work. Too much of today’s legal and consulting work is smoke and mirrors – we are very proud to be delivering something that is both achieving an “on the ground” impact and advancing legal services in a way that wasn’t there before.
Who – or what – inspires you – and why?
Navigate.legal started less as a business and more of a “there has to be a better way to do this.” Any lawyer sitting at their desk right now can probably relate to this – it must be how a celebrity chef feels when they are asked to reheat frozen pizza. Our inspiration is to imagine the work lawyers could be doing – and how this can bring real benefit to businesses.
How ready for change do you think the legal industry is?
The desire is there and the imperative is there (most companies are under cost pressure) but I think “real change” has so far been pretty rare. Despite the rhetoric and good intentions, law firms still have business models and incentive structures that inhibit meaningful change. Legal consultants offer conclusions from 20,000 feet well beyond the nitty-gritty day-to-day lawyering. While many lofty predictions from futurologists are contributing to over-crowding at the graveyard of legal innovation. Law is both complex and variable – and knowing what to change is not apparent. That is why legal analytics are so powerful – they allow complex decisions to be made with greater science. They show we shouldn’t be fearing change – a more advanced legal market will be better for everyone – lawyers, GCs, and Law Firms.
Is more – or different – leadership required? In what ways?
I’m a big believer in including people from other industries in leadership positions – they don’t need to opine on legal issues or dissect legal process, but they can progress change in law by bringing fresh thinking. The rise of the Legal COO in Investment Banks is a good case in point – many are deliberately not lawyers and have brought greater scrutiny to the operation of the department.
How deep do you think will be the inroads of technology in the industry?
I think there is some really amazing tech out there – but there has been in the past too and yet most of the lawyers we come across still have only made marginal changes and are going about their work more or less the same. Why hasn’t it taken off? We find there is too much talk about technology itself and not enough about its adoption – which is the most important part. Is it fixing a top 3 issue? Is it right for your department and what you are doing? These questions are often overshadowed by the tech requirements during implementation and so as perfect as the tech is –it doesn’t deliver the promised benefits. There needs to be a greater focus on factors that affect adoption – otherwise smart tech will just be an expensive ornament.
In ten years, do you see an industry much as it is – or do you see new players, new technology and an altered state?
When the airline industry faced disruption, the bigger carriers scoffed at the threat from low cost carriers. Flying a plane requires highly skilled training, regulations are complex and the challenges are variable – much like a lawyer providing legal advice. And yet in today’s market even the big airlines have had to adopt some form of the low cost model – bag fees/seat fees etc. How did this happen? Things changed because the complex act – flight – was left alone. Low cost carriers didn’t allow non-pilots to fly the plane, they didn’t try to change the way a plane takes off or is maintained. What changed were the components that underpin flying – services were unbundled and inefficiency was rooted out. The same will happen in legal – the non-legal elements can be much more efficiently managed. 3 forces converging at once will drive this: (1) Cost pressure on clients (2) Increase in demand for legal work and (3) Arrival of alternatives.
Are consultants and lawyers looking increasingly similar? Should the distinction continue?
When presenting at legal conferences I often ask whether the audience would be comfortable creating a threshold for legal involvement to keep less important issues out of legal. The response is always “but you never really know when a little issue can become a big one so you have to treat all the same.” This to me explains the difference between a lawyer and consultant – it isn’t functional, it is a mindset issue. The lawyer is trained to eradicate risk, eliminate uncertainty and make everything water tight. The consultant is a risk taker, comfortable with uncertainty and perfectly happy to make a judgment call that may turn out wrong. Both skillsets are needed in a business – the critical point is to ensure they are in the right roles.
What’s the one most significant factor that will drive change in your view?
Cost. When the CFO in a business says “that’s it” it won’t matter how good the bells and whistles are – the service will need to become cheaper and that will drive how it is delivered.
What do you consider is the greatest challenge facing the industry?
Inertia. Innovation must go beyond buzzwords at conferences – there needs to be a transition from having an innovation strategy to living one. Those who act first have the most to gain – those that linger the most to lose.
What do you see as the greatest opportunity for the sector looking forward?
Data. It can ease today’s cost and capacity pressures, while giving us the tools to get more from tomorrow’s legal market. It can also revolutionize work product.
Who do you think are the greatest influencers on the industry these days?
There is a lot of comment from futurologists – but I have yet to see it make the transition from paper to practice. I prefer to measure it in terms of impact on their environments – the best I have seen are Josh Marks at Boehringer Ingelheim, Craig McKeown at PwC Forensics and Bill Cogan at Ignition Law – they are each turning a component of legal services on its head and are delivering exciting results.
If a law firm was a startup pitching for investors, would you be an investor?
I would prefer to invest in an in-house environment – they are holding the controls to the makeup of the legal future.
If you weren’t doing this, what would you be doing?
My childhood music teacher decided I was wasting her time – so sadly sold out concert halls weren’t an option!
What would you like to be known for?
Bringing real change to how we view and value legal work
What would surprise everyone if they knew?
I grew up across 4 continents
What’s your favorite hobby or activity outside of law?
What’s your favorite sports team?
Would have to be the Irish rugby team after their heroic win against New Zealand in Chicago!
What’s your favorite city?
Santiago de Chile
What’s your favorite food?
Moules Frites in a Brussels side street bistro