Matheson IT director: ‘AI and blockchain could alter the legal landscape’

28 Jul 2017

Matheson IT director David Lawson. Image: Matheson

We spoke to David Lawson, director of IT at Matheson, about how the law firm’s infrastructure supports digital transformation.

David Lawson joined law firm Matheson in 2000 as director of IT.

In his role, he leads a large team of IT professionals and has managed many important strategic projects within the firm to consolidate infrastructure.

‘Mobility and collaborative tools continue to be a focus but we are also looking at how developments in AI and blockchain can alter the way our lawyers process and draft legal documents’

Future Human

Lawson continues to introduce innovative and efficient technologies to the firm, and these innovative technologies deliver valued services to the firm’s clients on a 24/7 basis.

What is Matheson’s technology strategy for the next five years?

As a leading Irish law firm, we are constantly investing in technology to ensure our lawyers deliver the best possible service to our clients by using best-in-class applications and efficient processes.

The firm’s focus is on serving the Irish legal needs of internationally focused companies, and financial institutions doing business in and from Ireland, to the highest standards. Our clients include the majority of the Fortune 100 companies, seven of the top 10 global technology brands and over half of the world’s 50 largest banks.

Our IT strategy is integral to the delivery of the best possible experience for all our clients. Innovation is at the heart of everything we do at Matheson and our IT team collaborates with all departments in the firm to develop innovative ideas and efficiencies. Our strategy is to build on the systems we currently have in place and to focus on the deployment of technologies such as automation, AI, mobility, collaboration tools and other systems, which give Matheson the edge when providing quality services to our clients.

Can you give a snapshot of how extensive your IT infrastructure is?

Our IT infrastructure supports over 650 people working in five global offices across Dublin, London, New York, Palo Alto and San Francisco. While our infrastructure is modern, we always have to look to what is next and how it can evolve and be future-proofed. The current infrastructure is an amalgam of on-site and cloud networks, which facilitate our day-to-day business across multiple geographic locations.

In terms of managing IT budgets, what are your key thoughts on how CIOs/heads of technology should achieve their goals?

Talent is key. At Matheson, we focus on recruiting and developing the best talent, and we have seen the long-term benefits of this investment in our IT department.

Alongside talent, investing in core systems while also reimagining those core systems is important. Legacy systems, which often still serve a function sometimes, need to be replatformed and revitalised. CIOs and heads of technology are entrusted with the foundations for everyday business. When managing budgets and investing in systems, we need to be certain that the outcome ensures we are positioned to respond to our clients’ business needs of today, and of the future, in the most efficient way possible.

When replacing large systems, we would advise issuing an RFP (request for proposal) so as to ensure due diligence is followed, which then results in project efficiencies and better cost management. When selecting a particular technology partner, we would always check if savings could be achieved by consolidating services being delivered by one supplier rather than engaging multiple suppliers. Equally, simplifying the roll-out of systems by standardising the infrastructure build helps, while also ensuring all large projects are delivered by an experienced project manager.

Of course, new or revitalised IT assets can also introduce new cyber risks and, as CIO, there is an accountability that is ever present. Aside from investing in talent and systems, there is always a focus on security system processes and standards in order to safeguard data that has been entrusted to us. Risk and security is integrated from the outset ‘by design’ rather than as a later addition. It is essential that the cost of securing data and the necessary supporting tools are taken into account when managing the IT budget.

How complex is the infrastructure, are you taking steps to simplify it?

Our infrastructure is quite integrated and, like most businesses, depends on a relatively small number of core systems. We are continually upgrading and evolving our infrastructure, and one of our main selection criteria – when it comes to adopting or enhancing our systems – is ease of managing the system and also its internal diagnostics. It is also important that our infrastructure is flexible and can evolve with little effort as our business is ever changing, and our ability to extend our capabilities without any downtime is important.

Do you have a large in-house IT team, or do you look to strategically outsource where possible?

We have the right number of skilled in-house IT professionals to support our lawyers, all departments and the firm’s clients. In addition to this, we have managed services agreements in place with accredited suppliers for key services who provide advanced engineering skills, which further enhance our delivery capabilities. This approach has proven very successful.

What are some of the main responsibilities of your own role, and how much of it is spent on deep technical issues compared to the management and business side?

My core responsibility is to develop and implement the firm’s IT strategy to support the overall business plan of the firm, and to provide the best possible service to our clients when and where they need it. On a daily basis, I must ensure that all of our core systems are operating efficiently and, therefore, the design and management of such systems will always be key priorities of mine. My focus is also on the development of new services that support innovative processes at Matheson, so that we can continue to stay ahead.

What are the big trends and challenges in your sector, and how do you plan to use IT to address them?

Data security is an extremely important role for any CIO, especially within a law firm. The threat of cyber fraud can be difficult to combat as the software used by hackers can be extremely complex. We invest significantly in the right tools to protect the integrity of our systems as well as conducting regular and thorough training throughout the firm.

IT systems are always evolving so we never stop looking at innovative products and services that may benefit the firm and our clients.

Over the years, we have seen mobile devices become key tools for delivering information to our staff and clients. Collaborative tools, such as extranets, are also key to the way we communicate and deliver services to clients and, when streamlining deals and litigation cases, we have particularly seen the benefits of these systems.

Mobility and collaborative tools continue to be a focus but we are also looking at how developments in AI and blockchain can alter the way our lawyers process and draft legal documents.

What other projects do you have lined up for the year, and what will they contribute to the business?

We recently hosted Smart Week at Matheson, our annual forum dedicated to promoting innovative thinking and the creation of new efficiencies, as well as showcasing new technology products and services that are transforming the legal profession, in order to enhance the client experience.

Throughout the week, staff attended technology workshops and keynote addresses from senior figures, including: Brian Kuhn, global leader and co-creator of IBM Watson Legal; Lory Kehoe, director of strategy and operations with responsibility for blockchain at Deloitte; Enda O’Sullivan, global brand director at William Grant & Sons; Gene Murphy, co-founder of Startup Ireland and entrepreneur in residence at the Bank of Ireland; and Jonathan McCrea, founder of Whipsmart Media, technology journalist and broadcaster. The discussions centred on topics including blockchain, AI, cybersecurity and drones.

We also announced the adoption of Workplace by Facebook. We are the first law firm in Europe to use the product, which we believe will enhance collaboration across the firm. All staff can access the platform on desktop and mobile. This allows everyone to communicate and work more effectively using Facebook’s familiar groups, chat and multimedia features – including live video – yet on a completely secure internal platform. So far, the feedback internally has been very positive and I am excited to see how it gains momentum over the coming months.

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John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years