Catherine Bamford is in her words a “Legal Engineer.” She is working at the intersection of legal practice and legal technology helping both law firms and law departments improve the delivery of legal service through the smart application of legal technology. She is the co-founder and CEO of the legal tech consultancy firm BamLegal. I had the pleasure of speaking with her about her career path, her views of legal technology, and about her current work.
Tell me a little about your background and what led you to your interest in legal technology.
I grew up in a small town in Northern Ireland and left school at 17 with no A-levels (similar to your college advanced placement exams in the states) as I wanted to get out into the big wide world and wasn’t willing to wait! I moved to England, worked 3 jobs as a barmaid and waitress to pay my rent and enrolled in a business course. They always say it takes just one good teacher and during that course, we did a 6-week module on Law for Business and the teacher inspired me so much I decided to apply for law school. It was a long shot without any A-levels so I asked for advice and everyone I spoke to said “work experience”! I wrote to every single law firm in a 30-mile radius (using the yellow pages and spending all my waitressing tips on stamps) begging to work for them for free and luckily Freeth Cartwright said yes. With this experience and a good grade in my business course, I managed to get into Brunel University to study law and again through work experience during a 6-month placement I found a training contract. I qualified as a lawyer in 2007 and joined Pinsent Masons LLP.
4 years later, Pinsents bought some legal document automation software and asked me to go on an internal secondment for 3 months to automate all of my team’s precedents. My inner geek came fully out of the closet and I realised that ‘coding’ was basically algebra which I had always loved at school.
Having been really quite bored with the day to day drudgery of being a junior lawyer I quickly saw the potential of the software and others like it. I asked the firm if I could help them roll it out firm-wide instead of going back to fee-earning. To my delight, they said yes.
We built up the team and I got to work with some amazing people as part of the SmartDelivery group. SmartDelivery at Pinsents involves people, process and technology and they constantly try and improve, change or redefine how their lawyers deliver legal services. This was a great intro to the world of legal tech and I haven’t looked back since. I started BamLegal 4 years ago and have been lucky to work and collaborate with some of the best in the business.
How would you define document automation? Why is it important for lawyers to know what it is and to use it?
Legal document automation is exactly what it says on the tin – the automated drafting of legal documents. Rather than the old way of a lawyer having to find a precedent or example document, mark it up by pen to fit their particular client’s needs, send it to typing, wait for it to come back and then proofread it; using document automation software the lawyers now just complete an online questionnaire that does all the heavy lifting for them. For example, in a Corporate Sale and Purchase Agreement, the questionnaire will ask if there is going to be a gap between exchange and completion or whether they will be simultaneous, depending on their answer all of the relevant drafting instantly goes in or out of their document saving the lawyers loads of time.
What do you think is the biggest misunderstanding that lawyers have when it comes to legal technology?
Often lawyers worry that the tech is going to replace them. This is not the case. A lot of the good legal technology out there, be it automation, extraction for due diligence, workflow, pattern recognition, (you’ll note I avoid using the term AI), simply better enables the lawyers to do their jobs, to do the work they went to law school to actually do and the work that the clients are paying for. It simply does a lot of the simple and repetitive drafting for them and takes away the boring bits that they do not want or need to be spending their time doing!
What is your view of lawyers learning to code?
If lawyers want to become legal engineers then it is worthwhile learning as much about the available techs as possible. It helps to have some understanding of logic and “If This, Then This, Else This” reasoning. However, they do not need to learn to code – to me that is like saying a computer or data scientist wanting to get into the legal sector needs to do a law degree. What is needed, and is rare to find, are people with an understanding of both law and tech who can translate requirements and act as a facilitator between lawyers and coders.
What has been the biggest lesson you have learned about creating and/or using legal technology?
Biggest lesson is never to think anything is impossible. Often I have both lawyers and software companies telling me things are not possible, they are, you just have to think creatively and be open and willing to change!