By Lisa Culbert and Jason Moyse
Part 1 – The Legal Architect & Designer
Pens, papers, books and laptops. Those are the only “tools” a lawyer needs… right? Not if you’re Amani Smathers or one of her Legal Solutions Architect colleagues at Davis Wright Termaine’s De Novo.
A Legal Solutions Architect or Legal Solutions Designer packs a “toolbox” with a more diverse set of equipment and related skills than the traditional lawyer’s briefcase.
Our friends at Wavelength Law provide an excellent definition by explaining a “Legal engineer” as “a person that sits at the interface of technology, law and data, and who is trained and skilled in the construction of designed legal solutions.”
A driver behind the need for Legal Solutions Architects was the implementation of the UK Legal Services Act which Amani learned about in her law school studies (along with pursuing complimentary courses in legal technology, 21st century legal services and changes in the legal marketplace during her London-based study-abroad program during law school). The Legal Services Act was given royal assent in 2007 and came into force in late 2011. Its effect was to liberalise the market for legal services ranging from ABS’ (Alternative Business Structures) and MDPs (Multi-Disciplinary Practices), to give consumers of legal services wider choices and to facilitate integrated offerings of law together with other services (like insurance companies and banks).
The Legal Services Act has provided an ethos for Solutions Architect type work while contributing to the dissipation of more bespoke law firm work in the UK, especially compared to other regions.
In her studies abroad, Amani’s became interested in legal career alternatives. She pursued an internship with well-known thought leaders in legal tech and design, Dan Katz and Renee Newman Knake and went on to assist them with the highly-acclaimed Reinvent Law conferences where Amani’s “T-Shaped Lawyer” Presentation made its inaugural debut.
Building upon her work with Reinvent Law, Amani continued to lead and pioneer within the new world of legal services by accepting a position as Legal Solutions Architect at Seyfarth Shaw LLP. Remarkably at the time, there were already a few in her same position. Less remarkably, the job description was broad. She recalls the firm was looking for people who could “wear a lot of hats” while emphasizing technology skills together with JD credentials and comprehensive legal context and understanding.
So then, the lingering question for the Black Letter law crew is… what do Legal Solutions Architects do?
In contrast to most legal answers and advice, we strongly believe in keeping things simple. Let’s start with 2 words: Legal + Solutions. On any given day, a Legal Solutions Architect is tasked with finding a solution to a legal challenge for a client of the firm or internally within the firm.
Amani gives the example of such a challenge, one that is commonly experienced by firms and corporates: high volume contract review involving a multitude of matters and stakeholders.
In response to this challenge, De Novo would be tasked to design a solution to:
- Handle high volume and ensure no documents, review points or other items are missed
- Identify key people, process and data elements
- Map a process to clarify roles and workflow up front
- Identify and remove uncertainties and inefficiencies
- Develop a tracking system for iterative and dynamic improvement as the process and system is deployed.
How does one upgrade their Briefcase to a Toolbox equipped for Legal Solutions?
As Amani emphasized, technology skills are critical and extend to:
- proficiency in and comfort with (actual) technology tools like document automation, document review software, matter tracking, customized IT and collaborative solutions
- understanding and ability to design and map processes
- design skills
- project management
- data analysis
- data visualization.
As you will see in the upcoming months, these “tools” overlap with those required for many of the other (not-so) “alt” legal careers we will profile in this Series.
Next up – The Legal Operations Officer & Project Manager.