Legal tech made simple

Interview with Alistair Maiden, CEO & Founder SYKE legal tech consultancy

March 29, 2020 Dom Burch Season 1 Episode 1
Legal tech made simple
Interview with Alistair Maiden, CEO & Founder SYKE legal tech consultancy
Chapters
Legal tech made simple
Interview with Alistair Maiden, CEO & Founder SYKE legal tech consultancy
Mar 29, 2020 Season 1 Episode 1
Dom Burch

This is episode 1 of Legal Tech Made Simple with me, Dom Burch, marketing director at SYKE.

In this episode I interview Alistair Maiden, CEO & Founder of SYKE. 

He tells us how he got involved in legal tech, charting the history of his personal story of implementing contract management and automation at Asda, before setting up his consultancy.

As chief architect and legal engineer, Alistair has helped large law firms and corporates choose, buy and implement legal tech.

At Asda he brought together three inter-connected departments - legal, finance and procurement - to ensure they were working together and not competing with one another, or following different processes.

Since its start in 2016 as a one man band, SYKE has grown to become the largest independent legal tech consultancy in the world, with 60 legal engineers operating across the globe.

The recent Covid-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus the need to work remotely, and use technology to stay connected and to simplify and speed up analogue processes.

SYKE is 100% remote based, with no office. Which means it is perfectly placed to assist companies in this time. Be that analysing contracts looking at force majeure or rights of termination.

Alistair believes law will never be the same again. 

Show Notes Transcript

This is episode 1 of Legal Tech Made Simple with me, Dom Burch, marketing director at SYKE.

In this episode I interview Alistair Maiden, CEO & Founder of SYKE. 

He tells us how he got involved in legal tech, charting the history of his personal story of implementing contract management and automation at Asda, before setting up his consultancy.

As chief architect and legal engineer, Alistair has helped large law firms and corporates choose, buy and implement legal tech.

At Asda he brought together three inter-connected departments - legal, finance and procurement - to ensure they were working together and not competing with one another, or following different processes.

Since its start in 2016 as a one man band, SYKE has grown to become the largest independent legal tech consultancy in the world, with 60 legal engineers operating across the globe.

The recent Covid-19 crisis has brought into sharp focus the need to work remotely, and use technology to stay connected and to simplify and speed up analogue processes.

SYKE is 100% remote based, with no office. Which means it is perfectly placed to assist companies in this time. Be that analysing contracts looking at force majeure or rights of termination.

Alistair believes law will never be the same again. 

Dom Burch:   0:17
Welcome to legal tech made simple podcast by me Dom Burch. I'm not a lawyer and I'm not a techie, which makes me perfectly qualified to make legal tech simple. Join me in this podcast is I interview expert legal engineers, software developers, law firms and large corporations who are at the cutting edge of legal technology or just starting their journey.  

Dom Burch:   0:45
Episode one wouldn't be Episode one if I didn't have an amazing guest. And, of course, this morning I've chosen to interview the CEO and founder of the SYKE, a independent legal tech consultancy that helps companies buy and implement legal technology. So let's get cracking with upside one. Alistair. Welcome to legal tech made simple. So tell us a little bit about, well, let's start at the start. Shall we let let our listeners know a little bit about you? And then how you set up SYKE?

Alistair Maiden:   1:24
Well, yes, I guess for many years I had a more traditional life with a lawyer, started in private practise, then went in house. I found my way to Morrisons supermarket, then got poached by Asda and ended up heading up their contracts team. Like many inhouse lawyers I was struggling for the time necessary to deal with the many thousands of contracts that we have to deal with.  

Alistair Maiden:   2:01
Not just me and my team as well. On the way, we're covering everything from beans to bread, to IT contracts, logistics, people, consultancy. And it was a real struggle. The volume, the demand for pace. We just couldn't deal with it in an analogue way. We digitised. We created a service contracting platform by piecing together technology that hitherto hadn't been connected. It was really successful. We just called it Delfy. Anyone can go on and create a self service contract. They negotiated digitally using digital playbooks. They could get contracts apporved , get them signed store them digitally. Initially, we had a little guidance and help to take people through that process. And as you said, it was really successful. One of the best pieces of feedback I received was from one of my procurement colleagues how they found using the system infinitely preferable to dealing with you Alistair. You know what? That made me think I was along the right lines. But the numbers bore it out actually because we managed to reduce the contract cycle, which is the amount of time that it takes to put a contract in place from when it was instructed to when it was signed. We reduced that cycle from 17 to 5 days.

Dom Burch:   3:44
At the time legal engineering wasn't really a term that that was banded around too much.

Alistair Maiden:   3:53
I think Richard Tuscan talked about legal knowledge engineers. But it wasn't something that was on my radar

Dom Burch:   4:01
So fast forward four years, then and, you know, having left ASDA and set SYKE up on your own three or four years ago, just give our listeners a little sense of the scale of the organisation now and the shape that this market is taking on.

Alistair Maiden:   4:19
When I when I started the business, legal tech wasn't really a thing. But to give you an idea of the first Christmas party, there were four of us, the second Christmas Party there were 10 of us. Now we have around 60 colleagues. It's gone from just digital contracting, which in itself is a big white space. But today we're working on law bots. We using AI.

Dom Burch:   5:32
What's different would you say about SYKE to a traditional consultancy or any firm that has some legal tech expertise. What things that say set SYKE apart?

Alistair Maiden:   5:48
Well, I think they're probably a couple of things to say. First of all we're only really interested in legal tech. You know, we are specialists and tempting as it is to become a law firm or get into broader management consultancy, we haven't done that, and I think being narrow works really well. We are agnostic, which is quite unusual. So we're not taking money for recommending a product.  We work across products and that means that we've got a lot of experience in implementing competing products. I think that's quite unusual. In context of recent events we're completely digital, we don't have an office, we are built essentially on Office 365. It's enabled us to scale really quickly. Today there are some pockets of colleagues in and around London, West Yorkshire, we've actually got colleagues all over the globe, and it's one of the real reasons I think we've been able to expand quickly because geography is no barrier to talent within the organisation. If someone's good, it doesn't matter where they're located. 

Dom Burch:   7:29
And you work with large law firms and large corporates. What's a typical deployment look like, and maybe that's an unfair question because I guess every deployment has its own set of Hallmarks, doesn't it?

Alistair Maiden:   7:46
If we take the law firms, they're about 10% of our turnover. And typically with the law firms they'll have a piece of tech that they want our help to help them use it better. Or it will be something more discreet, like they'll ask us to automate real estate precedent or a corporate NDA. With corporate legal team's, big corporates it's a rather longer and more involved process. They typically come to us and say, look, we want to digitise but we don't know how, then we will help him get started. We'll build a set of requirements will help pick the technology stack that they need. By the way, we're not talking about tough negotiations with the vendors. It's more making sure that they're buying the right number of licences to achieve their objectives or buying the right type of licences.

Alistair Maiden:   9:02
Really, the engine room of the business is helping with these big implementations. It involves a design element first, where we will try and design a technical solution to meet the customer's problem and then the automation elements. Change management sits alongside that. You can build a beautiful solution. But if you haven't got the internal customers on board it will fail.

Dom Burch:   9:44
You blogged recently, didn't you about the pitfalls that people can fall into when they're buying legal tech? And one of them is actually just buying the wrong software for the job. Companies that buy something off the shelf thing is going to fix all of their woes. And actually, it's a bit like buying a kitchen from B&Q, you get it delivered flat pack. But you still have to put the thing in.

Alistair Maiden:   10:08
First is quite simply buying the wrong piece of kit for the job. That is surprisingly common actually. It's a more recent trend where we're asked to go in and evaluate what a customer is already doing. The snake oil salesman that's sold a panacea for all their ills. The reality is it is not fit for purpose, that that's quite disappointing, andn I would say to everyone listening that if you are thinking about buying legal tech, take advice. You know that the on the surface all the products do the same things. But there's subtle differences.

Dom Burch:   11:05
And often often now it is the case isn't it of  let's have a look at what you've got already. So if you have Office 365 or you might already have a piece of tech in the business that is sat there dormant or perhaps has been configured a few years ago, maybe even the expert that put it in has been poached by somebody like SYKE, and no longer resides in the organisation. You know that sort of discovery exercise, that moment in time where you put your foot on the ball and get somebody to come in and just go what is it we've got, what do we need, and what problems are we actually trying to solve. Before just sort of jumping head first into buying licences.

Alistair Maiden:   11:44
Yeah, it's an inexpensive initial check that you're heading in the right direction. I think it's a really straightforward way to just sit down on flesh out your objectives, but I would say I think the really important point, is not everything we work on is successful.  I would suggest that we've learned more from our failures than we have from our successes in the way. Obviously, if something does fail we will iterate again and we'll make it work. 

Dom Burch:   12:49
So tell us a little bit about the importance of design because I think that kind of architecture role in any legal tech deployment, any project is absolutely key. Putting the design in place that's culturally appropriate for the organisation, cognisant, if you like, of how information flows around the organisation, how decisions are made. I remember you telling me a story of our Asda days and bringing together three or four departments that were all intrinsically connected but had never actually sat down and planned their processes together. So, not surprisingly, things didn't work seamlessly, to say the least.

Alistair Maiden:   13:30
Yeah, that's quite a lot in that question, actually. I mean, just getting back to the example you gave. That was legal, fiance, and procurement, who cover the critical part of the contracting process. But when we sat down together to try and draw out the process, we found a lot of things that didn't really make sense when we considered it. That's a good starting point. You get everyone together, understand how it works presently. Redesign how it should work to make it more efficient. At Asda I guess, we applied the legal technology to fit the design. But the challenges and the reason a lot of these projects actually fail, probably the number one reason with these projects is the astonishing level of politics within large organisations. I was lucky to have some great people around me at Asda who wanted to work together.

Dom Burch:   15:22
So let's let's bring it right up to the present day then. So we're right in the middle of Coronavirus. You know, we're one week into global lock down, obviously here in the UK, but also around the globe, I think, 1.5 billion citizens across the world are currently restricted to stay in their homes. What impact is that having on organisations and what are the phone calls and the Team requests and the emails and texts and so forth that you're getting from colleagues and peers across the industry who are suddenly faced with a challenge that, you know, no crisis management team would have would have really played out. So what are those? What are those challenges and how can we, as an organisation, help people overcome this this immediate sort of transition that people are going through?

Alistair Maiden:   16:15
Yeah, well, I think the immediate impact is really that there has been a slow down in the number of instructions of big projects that require investment. We should expect that, it's understandable. That gap is being filled by requests to help look at contracts to understand the potential impact Corona could have on those contracts. Force majeure, rights of termination, suspension, etc. The next couple of months are going to be interesting to see how often people have bought AI without a use case. And yet what we have presents the perfect use case.  

Alistair Maiden:   17:04
It is interesting with all the customers we're working for is they've got dormant AI technology, which they haven't really found anything unusual to use it on yet. And yet, you know, it's proving really helpful to do some of the heavy lifting in the process.  I think the other thing that we're hearing just legal teams I mean corporate legal teams are always busy. But they're super super busy at the moment, because in times of crisis, the legal team is the shield that protects the business. And so, you know, the calls on their time have never been greater,  and I think we're trying to help these teams the nature of our business, the fact that we're remote and digital, we can stand up people and teams very quickly to help with specific tasks that those legal teams will be asked to perform, and whether it's producing documents on mass the AI example I gave you earlier,. We're also potentially doing some work for government to implement e-signature technology. So that systems can prove that they're allowed to be outside of their household. Lots of stuff to get into and I think it's obviously, as I said earlier in the podcast, we're a digital organisation. We've never had an office. And so we are really well equipped for this crisis. I think law, or the practise of law is never gonna be the same because I don't see how having within a couple of months will have proved the concept across the industry that you can work digitally. And I can't see people ever re congregating in large offices at the same volume as they did before. I think it will. Um, I think it will be, you know, it's obviously situation's desperately sad, but I think it will be a great benefit to the practise law in the long term.

Dom Burch:   19:24
Well, first of all, thank you for taking the time this morning. Appreciate it. I'm conscious that there's a brisket in the oven 20 minutes it needs to be turned down on. We're at 19.5 minutes. So on that note, I'm going to say thank you for joining us on a legal tech made simple. This was Episode one. You've be listening to Dom Burch and Alistair Maiden, who's the CEO and founder of SYKE. Stay tuned to this podcast will be doing regular updates and talking to legal engineers, software companies, law firms and large corporates about legal technology,