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Sooraj Shah

Contributing Editor

Sooraj Shah is Contributing Editor of New Statesman Tech with a focus on C-level IT leader interviews. He is also a freelance technology journalist.

Fletchers’ digital director on the emerging legal tech scene

James Alexander is director of digital and disruption at one of the UK’s largest serious injury firms, Fletchers Solicitors. He joined the organisation several months ago in what is a new role and new team.

“Ed Fletcher, the CEO was looking for non-legal people with different experience to their core business to come in and start doing things. Ed has a vision for 2025 to grow the business, not just the core legal business, but to expand in different verticals including technology, and effectively triple the size of the business over that period,” Alexander tells NS Tech.

Fletcher had been to a Singularity University event in which start-ups talk about the future of digital disruption, and his team came to the realisation that law in particular is going to be ripe for disrupting in the same way as other industries, particularly the financial services sector.

“They decided they wanted to do this from within rather than wanting it to come externally, and they hired me to head that up, and from my perspective, I’m going to be supporting the emerging group, to provide a good customer experience across all the digital channels across three key areas,” says Alexander.

Firstly, Alexander will be working on disrupting the existing business, as well as its processes and infrastructure, and asking how the organisation can make processes scalable, resilient and responsive to digital disruption. Part of this is looking at new ways of working as well as technology.

Secondly, there’s a focus on customer experience. Alexander says that the legal field in general is quite paper driven and telephone driven.

“Where there is digital communication it tends to be email, attachments and printing these out filling it out and posting them, so the real focus is driving a digital aspect for customer interaction so it makes it easier and more convenient for clients, providing more options for self-service and automation within that,” he explains.

Fletchers deals with claims across the whole spectrum, so there are lower-value items where people are happy with using a self-service journey, all the way up to multi-million pound serious injuries and medical negligence claims where having one-to-one personal relationships is really important, so Alexander stresses that it is important to not remove the human aspect.

“When the directors are looking at new areas of business, we’re making sure they’re digitally-enabled from day one, but we’re also looking at the emerging legal tech scene and innovation within that, and saying actually can we start to offer tech innovation and offerings in their own right? So can we stand as both a legal and tech business, providing professional services around tech transformation expertise or offering a platform-as-a-service?”

Alexander has started building a team around him that includes mobile application developers and a product designer that focuses on UX and UI. His team is also likely to grow a team around that, introducing agile ways of working, agile project management and delivery and DevOps throughout the whole organisation.

He will also be working closely with the law firm’s existing director of systems and security, who oversees the usual IT activity around case management systems, telephony systems and IT infrastructure.

“We’ll be working closely together and have a shared role in building a tech vision for Fletchers, which is different from IT transformation. Business as usual transformation is about modernising the underlying tech infrastructure, moving from on-premise tech, and moving towards things that can be scaled. That’s important but the core has to be driven by digital transformation which is about embracing technology, and ensuring we’re a disrupter not being disrupted,” he says.

The long-term aim is to switch the IT and systems team from a cost centre to a business partner.

“At the moment, legal directors will say ‘I need to do this within my team’ and then the systems team makes changes, whether it be to do with the case management system or another system.

“What I’d like to see in five years is us at the point where the tech is viewed as a business partner, where it’s not just a strategic asset in terms of having re-platformed the business to modern technologies that we can change and adapt, but that we are also driving business operations in our own right, in that we have customers be it other law firms, that are directly consuming tech services from us, and therefore generating revenue as a part of the business distinct from the legal operation,” he says.

But changing the mindset of the business is Alexander’s biggest challenge.

“I think the legal sector in particular suffers from people who work in their own way, and so bringing people around to a change of system or a new way of working that is more efficient requires a huge amount of effort. We can deploy all of the wonderful tech in the world but if we don’t bring the business along with us it will fail as most digital transformations do because people will reject it,” he says.