Q&A with Sue McLean of Baker McKenzie


Can you please let us have your career history? 

I studied law at the University of Leeds, went to law school in York and qualified as a lawyer in 2000 specialising in technology. I advise clients on a wide range of technology matters including outsourcing, digital transformation, technology procurement, cloud, AI, blockchain and data privacy. My clients include some of the world's best known companies. During my career I've worked at a range of law firms. I trained at what is now Pinsent Masons. On qualification I moved to London and joined Tite & Lewis which was EY's tied law firm in the first wave of the consultancy firms looking to take on the legal sector (we've now come back full circle). I joined Baker McKenzie as a partner in 2017.


Why is your company so interested in LawTech?

At Baker McKenzie, we are constantly exploring ways to do what we already do, better. This encompasses everything from new technology to new staffing models and process design. We are currently focused on buying best of breed tech, testing everything that is out there, and engaging in other business optimisation activities, like process reengineering, Legal Project Management, and alternative legal services delivered from our Global Services Centres.

Medium term, we are focused on redesigning our service lines so that our growth is rooted in client needs. Using design thinking systematically across our services, we are, in effect, co-creating our services with our clients. Longer term, we expect to have different service lines, enabled by the latest technology from the start and based on sustainable business models that we have designed with our clients.


What’s your personal interest – are you a lawyer by trade?

Yes. I'm one of Baker McKenzie's Innovation ambassadors and partner lead for the firm's partnership with the Eagle Lab LawTech Hub. As a tech lawyer, and having seen the profound impact that technology has had on my clients across a range of industries over the last 20 years, I have a particular interest in how technology and innovation can help drive operational efficiencies, new insights and add value in my own sector.

How would some of the new technology you are seeing today have helped you in the early part of your career?

When I started out as a trainee lawyer in 1998, I didn’t have a desktop computer for the first couple of weeks and I only got internet access after 18 months (before then you had to go to the library). There were no redlining tools and so we used blue and red pens and a ruler to mark-up documents. I also spent many hours as a trainee faxing long documents to the other side. Since my days as a junior lawyer, the growth of the internet and introduction of the smart phone have already had a significant impact on how we practice law. But we are now in a second wave of change.

Technologies in e-discovery, due diligence and contract review are said to be capable of replacing between 30-50% of junior lawyer tasks. This is on the whole a positive development because it frees our junior lawyers up to do more complex, interesting, work. However, as a profession which is based on learning through experience, I think we do have to consider carefully how we will train our junior lawyers in the future if so much of the more routine, junior level, work becomes automated.


What are the biggest trends in LawTech and how will they impact the industry?

At Baker McKenzie we see the LawTech landscape breaking down into a few segments, with machine learning platforms underpinning them all. Search and Find tech is currently the most developed, with Task Automation and Presentation/Delivery tools fast improving. Real disruption is only likely to occur, though, when machine learning is baked into Legal Knowledge tools and the Liquid Workforce becomes a reality – we see this as still being 3-5 years out. What's clear to us is that enhanced machine learning capabilities are going to have a significant impact on how we practice law and will enable new data driven legal services.


What kind of LawTech excites you the most?

Ultimately, I am most interested in focusing on problems and challenges and how innovation and tools might help provide solutions. It's important to recognise that it’s not all about the tech. Although there are lots of really interesting solutions out there, it can be too easy to attracted by new shiny LawTech tools. They need to be used where they add real value.

Saying that, because one of the biggest challenges facing LawTech is the human factor - how to get people to adapt to change, I really like the concept of democratizing innovation by enabling lawyers and business professionals to use automation toolkits like Bryter to identify a problem and explore a proposed solution themselves.

How have you been working with any of the LawTech businesses in the Eagle Lab?

We decided early on not to have a LawTech incubator at the firm. We wanted a light touch approach that gives early stage technology companies access to potential buyers who can help demonstrate the problems that need to be solved. We have a range of Innovation Ambassadors at the firm who can introduce LawTechs to our programme. As part of our programme we have been working with a number of the Eagle Lab members including Avvoka, Bryter, Legatics and Intellex. Being able to play around with the technology has really demonstrated the benefit of the start-up programme. If you’re dealing with larger vendors you get "what's in the tin", but working with start-ups we have the ability to identify the potential value of the technology to us. For example, after an initial proof of concept with Avokka we identified the possibility of using their platform on two projects that were not originally envisaged by either Avvoka or the firm.


What impact will LawTech have on the law firm of the future?

I think it's pretty clear that over time LawTech developments are going to have a material impact on the legal sector. The law firm of the future is going to look quite different. We are going to have a broader pool of talent which will include data analysts, visualisers, project managers, process designers, legal engineers and other business professionals and our services are going to be enhanced by optimised tools and data driven insights.


Any LawTech predictions – will we need real lawyers in the future?

Absolutely, I'm pretty confident that the best lawyers will survive and thrive in an future powered by LawTech if they are prepared to adapt to this change.

As law firms we provide our clients with resources, information, prediction and judgment. The first three of these are being enhanced all the time with automation and machine learning tools. But the fourth, judgement, will never be entirely displaced by technology.

Our human strengths as trusted advisors (critical thinking, communication and negotiation skills, emotional intelligence, creativity, people management) are going to be just as, if not more important, in the future.

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