Adi Prakash is an experienced leader in the transformation space, having spent many years working with C-level organizational leaders defining and executing transformation initiatives spanning the gamut from Business Process Re-Engineering to Machine Learning and Analytics. His previous roles have included CTO and Head of Legal, eDiscovery & Corporate Responsibility technology at JP Morgan Chase, Head of Controls Functions technology at Och-Ziff Capital Management and Head of Anti-Money Laundering and Trade Surveillance Technology at UBS amongst others. He now is the Chief Innovation Officer for Yerra Solutions tasked with running their Global Client Services and Innovation division.
How would you define a Chief Innovation Officer?
To me, the role of a Chief Innovation Officer straddles several traditional, silo-ed roles and functions. From Strategy to Technology, and from Product Management to Execution, and all associated roles within. The primary focus of the role is to bring to bear the most optimal elements of technology, robust processes, and human aptitude, with an ultimate objective to achieve not just the most efficient solution for the present, but also for the near-to-mid-term future. Although that sounds like quite a mouthful, it is by design, as any one of the above alone is not sufficient to be truly innovative in my opinion – the latest and greatest technology does nothing if it isn’t surrounded by self-evolving processes, or if it isn’t leveraged by people with a certain skillset. And finding the right combination of these aspects, for a given context and use case, is the essence of the Chief Innovation Officer role in my opinion.
What was the impetus behind starting Yerra Solutions?
The firm’s founder, Rajitha Boer, was running European operations for a legal software company and began to recognize that there was a real lack of Europe-focused solutions for in-house legal and IP departments. Most solutions were coming from the US and were not meeting the specific needs of European companies. Although American companies have started to gain more foothold in Europe, the situation remains that many of the solutions fail to take root for various cultural, business and regulatory reasons. Filling that void in the market, along with a desire to build a company that mirrored her values, were the primary motivators for starting Yerra.
Both innovation and legal tech seem to have become buzzwords. How would define them?
As with any emerging trend, there is a tendency for it to be diluted and either misused or over-used after a certain critical mass is achieved. I see that to be the case in the use of both these terms, but more so with the use of the term “innovation”. For the term to be truly appropriate, the presence of 3 minimum aspects is critical – timing, scale, and disruptive impact. The first is usually present in most cases where “innovation” is used – the Legal space has suffered from aging processes and archaic systems for a while now so the timing could not be better. The second is present to a much-limited extent – I can think of much fewer examples of “innovative solutions” that have proven successful at scale in this space thus far. And the third is arguably the least present – I see the industry is swamped with several “platforms”, “systems”, or “solutions” that claim to be both innovative and disruptive but end up facilitating the same underlying broken processes, albeit via a shinier interface. As for the Legal Tech space, I define it as the vast space between traditional law firms and in-house Legal functions across industries – equally applicable to chocolate manufacturers and pharma giants, as it is to Global Banks and financial institutions. And in terms of functional focus, the range spans not just the core legal functions of interpreting legal obligations, providing advise / legal opinion, drawing up documents and managing litigation, but also the associated supporting functions – legal operations, financial management, case management, and analytics.
What skills do you see lawyers needing beyond the standard legal toolkit?
The trend across most industries, and especially in the case of knowledge-based ones such as Legal is pretty clear – that the onus will continue to shift towards the leveraging of that underlying knowledge, as opposed to accumulating it. Even at the present time, lawyers need to retain a lot less in memory, as information is readily available at fingertips, on-demand. The key will be to supplement the traditional “lawyering” skills, with those that allow the information to be turned into knowledge, and therefore actionable insights in the most efficient manner. In more practical terms, that will require the lawyers of tomorrow to be as well versed with data analysis tools and techniques, be it Python, or more user-friendly variations thereof, as they are with Lexis Nexis and the more familiar tools of the trade. In short, lawyers of tomorrow will need to be as comfortable and familiar with advanced technology in their professional lives, as they are in their personal lives – equally conversant with Machine Learning-driven platforms that require them to focus on training datasets and weightages affecting future outcomes, as they are with trending tweets and hashtags.
For a lawyer seeking to make a career move into the legal tech space, how would you advise them?
The legal tech space is a great place for lawyers to challenge themselves and add to their skillsets. My main piece of advice would be to do some serious soul searching first and make sure you set proper expectations for yourself. Developing, selling and implementing software is wildly different from practicing. There is an inherent time-driven component which requires discipline, familiarity with “agile” approaches and iterative, rapid decision-making, which can be at opposing ends from how Legal functions are traditionally trained to think at times.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced in your role?
I think this has been two-fold – one is inertia to change, and the second is to be able to find common ground from which to hold conversations that can often-times be deemed as “too technical”. The first is obvious at a time that is seeing a lot of genuine change, along with a lot of hype. A lot of the folks I speak to at global firms are pre-armed with a highly skeptical mindset – is this conversation going to turn out to be yet another “demo” of a system that only works via PowerPoint or is this something that I can see solving a real problem for my group. And I do not fault them for adopting this approach – it is up to the true innovators to differentiate themselves and win over trust in this environment. And the second – the common ground – is, in my opinion, a factor of time and gained trust. Small wins, working prototypes, well defined POCs all help in overcoming that barrier, and getting stakeholders to a point where they are as comfortable discussing the underlying tools and technology, as I am discussing the business of Legal.