As law firm Shearman & Sterling executed its analytics modernization program, it learned some lessons about managing legal technology implementation that have proved valuable
In this quarter’s International Legal Technology Association (ILTA) Peer-to-Peer magazine, the Thomson Reuters Institute sat down with law firm Shearman & Sterling to explore the firm’s technology implementation and decision-making process. There, firm tech leaders mapped out a journey that Shearman has dubbed Shearman Analytics.
The end goal of Shearman Analytics, says Glenn LaForce, the firm’s Global Director of Knowledge and Research, “is really modernizing firm systems.” After he and his fellow tech leaders joined the firm in early-2019, they enacted a plan to remove and replace legacy tech systems within a three-to-five-year window, re-architect them with a data link at the center, then be able to filter that data in and out across the organization “to provide greater transparency, decreased cost, decreased risk, [and] increased profit.”
Even if the concept may sound simple, the execution is anything but. The Shearman team is still executing the Shearman Analytics modernization program, only recently undertaking some larger-scale implementations after focusing on the firm’s underlying tech infrastructure and data governance. Indeed, Chief Knowledge and Client Value Officer Meredith Williams-Range jokes that over the last several years, the firm was not “bringing the sexy back — now we’re getting to the sexy.”
On the way, Shearman learned some lessons about implementation that other firms can model. Here are the six steps of the Shearman Analytics model that the team undertakes at the beginning of every tech implementation project.
1. Governance — Law is a heavily-regulated industry, after all. Before actually implementing a piece of technology, Shearman says it’s crucial to determine what regulations will cover its use. “Do we need any new policies in place? How are we going to regulate this data? How are we understanding the governance aspects of that?” Williams-Range says. “Because if you put technology in place with zero governance, it is a crapshoot at that point.”
2. Change management — Before actually starting the technical work on implementing technology, Shearman begins its communication strategy around why it is making the change early. Williams-Range dubs this an “engagement plan,” which solicits more active feedback than a training or communications plan. “If it’s going to take them out of their norm day-to-day, we have to have an engagement plan to do that,” she says.
Lawrence Baxter, Shearman’s chief technology officer, agrees, adding that leadership backing is crucial to affect change. “We don’t do stuff without sponsorship,” Baxter explains. “You’re going fail, and you work harder than you thought.”
3. Rip & replace — With the baseline governance and change management underway, now comes the beginning of the technology portion, specifically how to remove a legacy technology system and replace it with something new. By necessity, this comes with a technology analysis of not only how the new system will work, but also how it will interoperate with the firm’s pre-existing technology stack. “It’s an octopus with 42 arms that are the other systems. So you have to look at it holistically, otherwise you’re going to lose a leg,” Baxter notes.
4. Process analysis — Simultaneously with the technology change, Shearman analyzes whether the new technology will change firm processes and how the firm’s employees actually extract value from the tool. Or as Baxter puts it, “If you throw technology at a bad process, you just end up with a really fast bad process, right?” The firm will map out what type of processes interact with the piece of technology; and if any can be re-architected to provide more efficiency and less risk, the firm will map out a plan to begin that change. “Wherever possible, it is easier to change your processes to fit the technology as opposed to changing the technology to fit your processes,” he adds.
5. Data analysis — This type of data analysis is less tracking the metrics of the tool’s use or its ROI, and more the actual data that the technology uses. Determining what data is actually being utilized can provide an opportunity to dispose of data that could provide another risk vector for the firm. Williams-Range notes that with Shearman’s recent financial system implementation, “we are literally going point-by-point of data. Why is it here? ‘Well, because it’s always been.’ That is not the answer. The answer is, should it be here? Is this the right placement for this? Is this the golden source for that data architecture, and should it go somewhere else?”
6. Architecture — Finally, the technology team determines the method of implementation and what is driving the technology on the back-end. Increasingly, the answer is the cloud. In recent years, the firm has implemented a new global background based on SD-WAN [Software-Defined Wide Area Network]; Office 365 across the organization; and an Azure-based active directory single sign-on.
Jeff Saper, Shearman’s Global Director of Enterprise Architecture and Delivery Services, says the firm’s tech leadership intends for the cloud to continue to be the architecture answer moving forward. “We had the very similar mindset of saying, it gives us greater agility,” Saper says. “We become less reliant on capital expenditures and more reliant on agile services.”