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Thomas Barothy

Updated: Jan 17

Dr. Thomas Barothy is a 'Business of law' innovator, LegalTech angel investor, and the former UBS Group Legal COO.

With a diverse background that includes senior management roles at UBS, management consulting firms, and academia, Dr. Barothy's career reflects a commitment to transformative leadership and strategic thinking.

During his tenure at UBS, Dr. Barothy made significant contributions in key positions such as Head of Operational Risk Control/SOX404, CFO APAC, and Head of Swiss Resolution Planning. In 2017, he became the Chief Operating Officer of the UBS Group Legal department. In this role, he was responsible for transforming the department and successfully establishing a leading legal operations function that gained industry recognition.

Since his retirement in 2022, Dr. Barothy has embraced non-executive director (NED) and advisory roles in the legal services industry. He currently holds positions on the board of directors at Interim Legal AG, the strategic advisory board of PERSUIT, and serves as a senior advisor at Catylex.

Managing LegalTech angel investments through his company, PartnerLex AG, he focuses on technologies that streamline legal costs for Corporate Legal Departments (CLDs), enhance data analytics for CLDs, and reshape how CLDs collaborate with their businesses.

In the academic sphere, Dr. Barothy currently acts as a faculty advisor for the Digital Legal Exchange (DLEX) and contributes to the ACC Legal Operations EMEA advisory board. His commitment to advancing legal operations globally and imparting knowledge to the next generation of legal professionals was acknowledged in 2021 when he was named an ACC Value Champion.

Please tell me about your journey in the legal world and your interest in technology improving the delivery of legal services.

My journey in the legal world started officially at the end of 2016 when I became the Legal COO at UBS.

That's the Chief Operating Officer for the Global Legal Department of UBS, directly reporting to the Group General Counsel.

But my journey truly began earlier than that because I had been with UBS for about 15 years before I became the Legal COO and I already had many interactions with the legal team during the six years directly after the financial crisis as I was for several years responsible to implement the Swiss Too Big To Fail regulation for UBS. As you can imagine that program had a substantial legal sub-project, so I always had good exposure and interactions with our legal department.

My interest in technology and improving the delivery of legal services started officially also around the time, at the end of 2016. I studied computer science and business administration, so I always had an interest in technology overall, and particular in using technology to improve business processes, i.e. business process re-engineering. The real focus on legal technology and automating the delivery of legal services started then really at the end of 2016 with the launch of a fully-fledged transformation of the UBS legal department.

How would you define legal tech and why?

I have two definitions. The first is a practical one based on my background as a COO of a global corporate legal department. The practical one is any technology that can be leveraged to improve legal services; ‘improving’ meaning either improving the effectiveness or the efficiency of legal services or the interaction with clients who are consuming legal services, so that's more related to channels and delivery. That's the practical definition. Now of course, I know that definition is too wide as it also includes technologies like a mail system or the whole Microsoft end user stack (e.g., MS Teams, MS Word).

The more theoretically correct definition would be my practical definition, minus all the technology that's also being used in a non-legal context. Like mail systems or standard workflow systems. And that would lead to a definition where legal technology is technology designed for, used, and leveraged to provide specific legal services in a different, more effective way. That means, the narrower definition would be a definition which includes only technologies which are used for producing, providing and distributing legal services.

I use two definitions because there is the theory behind the technology and then its practical application. What one calls the tool matters less than how it is used.

Many lawyers fear data. How do you suggest lawyers get over their fear of data?

The first lesson is the degree of underinvestment into technology in the broader legal industry or the legal ecosystem. That's something I had to learn. I became the Legal COO with a different background. My background is more finance-, credit and operational risk control-related. I was used to really high levels of technology penetration in these areas. And at the beginning of my Legal COO career, I was really surprised how low the levels of technology investments are in the legal industry. It's important, because obviously it tells something about how capable people in the industry are to really embrace, adopt, and experiment with new technologies.

My second lesson was that the participants of the legal industry still do have a limited understanding of what's possible with technology. Just looking at the average lawyer, when he or she comes out of university, they usually don't learn a lot about technology - neither as a user nor from a broader business context. So usually, their capabilities to use technology is restricted. And it's even worse when you consider that many of them just don't have any education with regards to how technology could be used to improve the production and delivery of legal services. Again, that's important because it has directly implications when you're trying to implement technology in this space. The users are not used to use technology, and that means there's quite a lot of change management, education, and training required; and barriers and fears need to be overcome.

And probably, my third lesson relates to the capabilities of legal tech startups or legal tech solutions overall. I personally believe that what we are seeing right now as legal tech solutions are still early stage. If I compare this with other middle and back-office functions, like I mentioned already, credit risk control, market risk control, HR or Finance, these verticals have already much more sophisticated technologies in use. I believe that over the next five, 10 years, we will see substantial improvements in the legal space.

It's important because I still believe there are many vendors out there who are overpromising from the perspective of the functional capabilities they're offering, but also from operational aspects like scalability, the ability to cope with security requirements, performance aspects and so on. I still believe that we have way too many point solutions, which still have substantial potential to mature further.

I don't think it's per se a fear of data. I mean, lawyers are trained to work with data or to work with information, and the law is just in the end a stack of information and data. I think what lawyers really fear or have no concept of is data management. They don't have a concept of how to apply technology on unstructured data sets. That's probably more where the fear is coming from. It's less a fear of data per se, but it's a fear of engineering disciplines or technology disciplines where they're just not trained.

How do you suggest lawyers to get over the fear of data in principle?

I think the way to get over that fear is by education, by getting to a stage where lawyers are open to try out new technologies and where they're also willing to learn some basic engineering concepts, like data management, project management, technology management, AI, and so on. These are all disciplines where there's massive research available, where education programs are available; and I think the best way to get over a specific fear is always really to learn about it.

Having engaged in digital transformation projects, what has been the one you've been most proud of?

It's not a specific project. What I'm proud of is that from 2016 to 2022, when I retired at UBS, all these six years, we were capable to sustain and to manage a multi-year transformation roadmap for the legal department. We not only implemented a series of technology projects, but we also did change many other aspects of the department, encompassing e.g., strategy, culture, governance, organizational structure, education or cost management capabilities. It was a multidimensional, multi-year long transformation program consisting of many smaller and bigger change projects. And, what I'm proud of was that not only were we able to gain consistently additional benefits, but that the whole transformation roadmap was also embedded in a wider strategy and vision for the corporate legal department.

How did you enable its success?

There are obviously many factors, but I just want to mention three of them. The first one is having a clear vision and a long-term strategy, which I think kind of sets the overall direction and boundaries for a transformation.

The second one is enabling as many people as possible in the corporate legal department to participate in this transformation. But also, to help them understand the implications of the specific transformation roadmap on the way they are working. And just guiding them through that transformation, I think is vital.

And thirdly is ongoing communication. So, enablement plus communication are key elements of change management. I think that's pivotal. What we tried to do from a communication perspective was always to be very, very open and very clear so that the whole department really knew what we are trying to do right now, what should be the benefits of that, and what will come next. And that's important if you're considering the size of the UBS corporate legal department. At that time, this was a corporate legal department of about 800 people. So, to drive change within a global department, communication is super critical.



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