Canadian Lawyer

June 2021

The most widely read magazine for Canadian lawyers

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16 www.canadianlawyermag.com FEATURE CROSS EXAMINED While his firm was in many ways ahead of the game in 2016, Saunders drew inspiration from American law firm trends. He attended a Legal Marketing Association practice innova- tion conference in Chicago that got him "ener- gized about the prospect of actually taking on a full-time role to focus on process improvement, project management and . . . technology." But getting at the root of the issue, Saunders and Bugden soon realized, meant going beyond implementing technology. "I'm still working with process improve- ment [and] project management technology, [but] we're also looking at the creation of a financial dashboard system [and] trying to gain insights into patterns and trends in our data to inform decision-making. We're looking at improving our partner compen- sation system and aligning the rewards and incentives to act in the firm's best interest in the long term." In other words, Saunders' job wasn't just about introducing lawyers to shiny tech toys. It was about doing the difficult work of changing lawyer behaviour and compensation. "It's not just about implementing a new system, rolling out new technology, stream- lining a process; it's about how do you get people to buy in? . . . If you are billing on an hourly basis, and you're reducing your revenue at the same time as you're stream- lining your processes, you need to have align- ment in the incentives. And so, over time, While Saunders says communication with internal stakeholders and clients is a vital part of his job, he does get excited about the legal tech his firm has implemented or tested: Closing Folders legal transactions platform DocuSign electronic contracts approvals Microsoft Teams communication and video-conferencing platform TitanFile secure file sharing and client collaboration platform Alexsei legal research memos generated through artificial intelligence TECHNOLOGY TOYS FOR LAWYERS that just incrementally became a bigger part of my job." While Saunders spent the next few years preparing his firm for the future of law, no one would have predicted the future would come as fast as it did in early 2020. When COVID hit, it forced his firm to go even deeper and address its most important priority: its clients. When his firm first started to tackle changing its internal processes, Saunders says, "our thinking was let's look at different practice areas. Let's look at our mergers and acquisitions, residential real estate, insur- ance defence and labour employment, and try to create internal systems and processes to streamline the way that we do work. This shift started happening before COVID, but [it] was even more enhanced during COVID, of focusing on client needs instead." Saunders says COVID created a new sense of urgency for the change he knew needed to happen, and with the typical ways of reaching out to clients gone, such as cock- tail parties, lunches and dinners, it forced his firm to dig into and anticipate its clients' needs even more. "We're going into client organizations and working with them and their internal stake- holders, and our own lawyers and staff, and mapping out their internal processes and looking at opportunities to help streamline what they're doing internally." As the pandemic was unfolding, Saunders' title also changed to "chief innovation officer." He hired two associates to join his team of developers and document automation special- ists. And, although a lot of his job is about change management and understanding clients, he gets excited about the new tech toys his firm uses as well (see sidebar). Saunders describes the pandemic as "a jolt to the system" like the 2008 financial crisis. "We were ready. We're well positioned to be able to seize these opportunities." While he still doesn't assume anything in the legal profession is permanent, the good news is that, with the pandemic, neither does anyone else anymore. "We're going into client organizations and working with them and their internal stakeholders, and our own lawyers and staff, and mapping out their internal processes and looking at opportunities to help streamline what they're doing internally."

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