Inside the LOD & SYKE partnership: two faces in legal ops & tech

3 min read

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Last updated: Oct. 18, 2021

Two legal ops & tech specialists from LOD & SYKE talk about their experiences in the industry and their day-to-day work inside our partnership.

Those who work in legal ops & tech won’t deny that it takes a few sentences to explain what they do. But that’s the beauty of it – it’s not straightforward or boring. It’s a flourishing area of legal with no set entry points and endless growth opportunities. The best part is that however you end up getting into it, you’re bound to gain a great variety of experience and be at the forefront of developments in the industry.

To show you that the sky really is the limit when it comes to legal operations & technology, we spoke to two specialists at different stages in their careers and with very different experiences. One working with LOD and one at SYKE, they are equally dedicated to using legal ops & tech to make a positive difference to the way in-house legal teams work.

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Alfie Thackeray, Senior Legal Engineer at SYKE

Tell us about your work in legal ops & tech.

There is a lot of variety in my work, but my main focus is on document automation. That means creating digital templates that allow non-legal users to assemble standard contracts using a combination of simple questions and data gathering. We make the questions straightforward with no legal jargon so that users can easily understand them. This way Legal are freed up to only review contracts that are more complicated.

Working with SYKE has allowed me to see all the latest and most interesting tech tools that are being used across the industry and we collaborate with some amazing tech providers.

What attracted you to a career in legal ops & tech?

In 2018 I was at university studying law and applying for training contracts. During that process I realised I was more interested in the legal industry in general than in being a solicitor myself. Coincidentally, I attended a careers fair where Alistair (Alistair Maiden, CEO of SYKE) was speaking about SYKE and I found it fascinating. It struck me that legal tech wasn’t being incorporated on a large scale when it made so much sense. So, I introduced myself to Alistair and connected on LinkedIn. I was following SYKE’s work and when I saw that they were recruiting, I jumped on it straight away. I’ve always loved tech in general and seeing how it can be used to advance the legal industry made this the perfect opportunity for me – there weren’t many similar jobs at the time.

My interview had 3 stages and I was amazed when Alistair showed up for the first one in jeans and a t-shirt. It was quite relaxed and we talked about anything and everything. I joined in January 2019. At that point there were only around 10 people. Today there are over 100 so it’s remarkable to see how it’s growing. During that time, I’ve worked on such a large variety of projects but my main one has been with Springer Nature. It was a large document automation project that was later recognised by The Financial Times in their Annual Legal Innovation Report last year.

Now that legal ops & tech is an established career, what advice would you give others who are interested?

Be curious, expand your knowledge and pursue the subjects you’re interested in. Develop as many skills as you can because you never know what will be useful – you need to be a generalist. And while you can never be an expert in everything, try to always focus on finding solutions to problems and developing customer relationships. It might be a booming sector but you will always stand out if you show you’re there to really solve problems.

What does the future look like for you?

I’m focused on my work, developing myself as much as I can and helping SYKE grow. I’m really interested in AI and I’m busy expanding my knowledge in this area. The partnership with LOD is exciting and it will be interesting to see where it leads to.

Working for a company like SYKE is also allowing me to pursue some personal goals such as moving to the Alps, working remotely while enjoying skiing. I trialled it last winter and found that I was able to better focus on work and be more productive during working hours, knowing that I have my hobby to look forward to in my downtime.

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Neil Smith, Legal Ops Specialist working with LOD

Tell us about your work in legal ops & tech.

I’m a legal ops specialist with a background as a litigator and I’ve been working in legal ops for the last 7 years.

I work with clients to improve processes and efficiencies in their legal teams. No two projects are ever the same - put simply it is all about looking at what in-house legal teams want to achieve and designing, roadmapping and implementing measures to do that. My projects are often based on workstreams, such as regulatory, compliance, governance, service delivery, people and culture, continuous improvement, and tech.

The most important first step for me is to get a good understanding of what is driving the work of the legal team and what issues there are to “fix”. Another important aspect I focus on is understanding what senior stakeholders (the GC of course but wider stakeholders too) want to see by way of data and metrics, allowing legal teams to measure their own performance and making it easy for the rest of the business to see that too.

The end result is (hopefully!) a team with the right balance of expertise, the right tools to see where work is coming from and the ability to deliver on it more effectively.

Over the years, I’ve been involved in a variety of projects, including development of contract management systems and policies; template optimisation; document automation; workflow management; design & development of legal intranets; risk management/traffic lights; benchmarking; business self-serve solutions; external counsel review; instruction policies and performance optimisation (e.g. MI and metrics).

What attracted you to a career in legal ops & tech?

Prior to developing a career in legal ops, I practised litigation before teaching the LPC and focusing on knowledge management and Learning & Development. Whilst I love the law, I especially love the business of law, so I wanted to do something that spanned all the aspects of these areas that I enjoyed. I view legal ops as the interface between law and the rest of the business that helps legal teams run more effectively and efficiently.

What advice do you have for others considering a similar career?

I think the best route is to explore different areas within the law and experience different businesses. If you do as much as you can, you’ll be able to see where the issues and inefficiencies are and what your view is on fixing them. Legal ops & tech is not just one thing – there are so many areas you can go into and focus on the niche that you enjoy the most.

What does the future look like for you?

I’ve been qualified for ahem… a number of years now and, as I have said above, I love the blend of skills, disciplines and problem solving that Legal Ops involves and how impactful the outputs can be. Going forwards, whilst easy for me to say, I hope to continue helping clients improve their legal operations!

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