Alex Hamilton is the co-founder of Radiant Law as well as a leader in the legal technology and legal innovation spaces. Prior to co-founding Radiant Law, he worked for several years as a lawyer on technology deals and business process outsourcing deals. Radiant Law is not your typical law firm. The firm combines outsourcing and technology to transform the practice of law as applied to commercial contracts.
Could you tell me a bit about your background as a former IT lawyer and how that played a role in your founding of Radiant Law?
I’ve always been fascinated by technology and as soon as I had the chance during my training at Norton Rose, I moved into working on technology deals. The interest also extended to how technology could be applied to law – something that stuck, including an ongoing obsession with the parallels (and differences) between contracts and programs. After Norton Rose, I moved to Shaw Pittman (now Pilsbury) to learn about IT and business process outsourcing deals.
The combination of outsourcing, technology, and law was really helpful in planning Radiant Law. If you spoke to me before we launched in 2011 (when I was working at Latham), it’s highly likely that I would have drawn you a picture, showing a combination of the process skills of an outsourcer, the development skills of a software house and the judgement call of a law firm (in practice, the “picture” usually involved arranging glasses!):
That space – combining people, process, and technology – is much discussed, yet we remain one of a handful actually doing it.
Working in the broader outsourcing industry was also an informative background – there have been patterns in other outsourcing categories (IT, finance, HR) of moving from people-heavy deals to technology-led deals, from input pricing to output pricing. As ever, the same patterns are applying to law. Just slowly
With technology, we build a lot at Radiant and as the model has evolved, we’re increasingly seeing Radiant as much as a development environment for law tech, as a service provider. It helps to be able to develop in the context of real-world problems and to test immediately.
Law departments these days are faced with a) enormous pressure to reduce overall spend and b) to do more work for less spend. Technology is continuing to prove itself as one tool to help increase efficiency and produce better results for lower cost as is legal process outsourcing. What is your view of both as tools to achieve both gains in efficiency while reducing spend? What about those who fear job losses and/or replacement of humans by machines?
The trend of bringing lawyers in-house has been one of the key changes of the past few decades. It’s a labour arbitrage play, which has worked well. But the demands of more-for-less continue and GC’s need a new set of tools. Part of this is going to be met by technology, part by getting the simpler work off the in-house team’s desks so that they can focus on more complex transactions and more strategic advice. Organizations like Radiant can also help introduce new technology as part of the service, so the in-house teams don’t have to do everything themselves and get two for the price of one.
The great learning from the growth of in-house teams is that there is a real value to having lawyers work as an integral part of the business, which can never be delivered by outside providers. So the trick is going to be getting the best of both worlds, with the in-house team empowered to deliver value supported by an ecosystem of law firms, technology providers and managed legal services providers like Radiant.
We are seeing in-house teams increasingly adopting this approach:
In this context, I don’t see technology or outsourcing as necessarily a replacer of jobs. But jobs will change and those who best use technology and third parties effectively to deliver more value will thrive.
How has the regulatory framework in the UK helped or not helped legal services be re-imagined and delivered?
In the UK, the regulatory environment is pretty enlightened. Following Australia’s lead, the regulators have worked hard to get out of the way of innovation and focus on principles. This has tempered the natural instincts of the profession to act like a guild.
However, just because regulations aren’t preventing outside investment, non-lawyer owners and other anathemas in the US, doesn’t mean that innovation will instantly spring up. Investment has been limited in practice and much of the noise has been happening outside the traditional legal profession in law tech. Firms like Radiant Law or Riverview Law could have made it work without becoming alternative business structures (ABS) and Axiom and Lawyers on Demand have shown that you can do just fine without needing to be a law firm. And the 1,000 odd ABS’s that have emerged haven’t radically changed the landscape, as opposed to just making sense to the owners in their specific contexts.
My conclusion is that as soon as you have enlightened regulators, they are neither part of the problem… nor part of the solution. They play a valuable role, but when you get rid of the excuse of unenlightened regulation, you still face plenty of other challenges in changing the legal market.
Some argue lawyers should learn to code while others argue just the opposite. Where do you stand?
I would settle for lawyers being able to use the technology they have to hand.
For lawyers currently working within legal departments, what would be your advice to them regarding contending with the pressures they face alongside the rise and influence of legal tech?
Surveys of legal departments are pretty consistent: the number one challenge is the latest regulation followed by “more for less” and “demonstrating business value”.
Technology can help, but the reality is that legal teams have limited attention from IT departments, limited skills in implementing technology and, occasionally, a penchant for shiny things. They are also facing big issues such as headcount freezes.
So that suggests that change is needed:
- Start with some base systems that have real impact for the business (document automation, e-signatures, and contract management are all quick to implement and have proven results). Make these systems work for you, to get rid of the boring work.
- Build an ecosystem of suppliers that is wider than just traditional law firms. There are new providers who can help and can work alongside your normal firms. Use these suppliers to help you implement technology.
- Actually have the hard conversation around what the team should be doing – if the business isn’t willing to give the budget to do all things that are needed, then what activities should be cut? In Ron Friedman’s words, how can you “do less law”? Or as Jeff Carr has noted, how can you focus on prevention?
Innovation is quickly becoming a buzzword. How would you define the term within the context of legal service delivery?
I’d define innovation as being the first to put into practice a new solution to a problem, in a way that has real-world impact. This is not always entirely obvious from some of the winning submissions for innovation awards – it can feel like innovation in law is the first time that a firm has done something.
Law is generally behind many other industries, so I guess there is a case for the first to nick an idea from another industry and apply it in law. Everyone likes to win a prize, and it’s not as if car manufacturers or scientists are stealing many ideas from law.