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The Future Law Podcast: Eimear McCann

The Future Law Podcast: Eimear McCann

Summize
March 17, 2021

Transcript

Mike Madison:

Welcome to the Future Law Podcast, exploring where the law has been in and where it's going. From the brilliant to the scary and everything in between. Please welcome your very real and very human host, mike Madison.

Mike Madison:

Welcome to the Future Law Podcast. I'm Mike Madison, Law Professor at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My guest today is Eimear McCann. Eimear is a fixture in the legal tech and innovation ecosystem in the United Kingdom. She's the Director of Strategy at a firm near Manchester called Summize. She previously worked at Flex, and before she got into legal tech and innovation, she was a practitioner in immigration and human rights law, and before that was a writer. We'll hear all about that and more. Eimear McCann, welcome to the Future Law Podcast.

Eimear McCann:

It's great to be here, Mike. Thank you.

Mike Madison:

Thanks. So I wanted to start with a broad question. When we connected for the first time last year, you introduced yourself by saying that you're very much about changing mindsets within legal. And I wanted to invite you to start off by reflecting a bit based on your career over the last several years in legal tech and innovation, what you mean by that?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, that's a really good question. I think for me, I feel as though there is an awful lot of talk about change within legal, but I'm not really sure how much is reflected in the reality. And I suppose at this point having obviously I studied law many years ago, and then I went off on a bit of a, I suppose, on a bit of a different trajectory in that I was a writer for a while before kind of coming back to practice law. And the reason for that was that when I studied law, I felt as though I had a creativity that wasn't really, I suppose it was being slightly quashed. And what's interesting to me now is that in addition to my role at Summize, I'm also a visiting lecturer at the University of Law. And I think it's interesting that there is a reputation and a sense of how many of the modules are taught. And it just kind of really hit me that, there are some fantastic things happening, definitely, but I feel as though legal teaching and beyond really needs to be re-imagined and not just updated. And I feel as though we need to properly change how people think and how we do that.

I wish I had a simple answer for that and I don't. But whenever you think about the students of today who live in a very different world than I did, anyway. I was very used to everything being on paper. I didn't live in such a kind of rich visual world and I didn't have a mobile phone, so it was very different. And they live by the screen and you've got all these images and new thoughts and feels like a lot of us do today. But I just wonder, just as one example, how much of that feeds into the way that students are taught. And kind of tied in with that as well is that the clients of today are different from clients even five years ago.

Mike Madison:

Can you give an example of what you mean about the changing character and expectations of clients and how that interacts with what you're seeing in terms of visual culture and the density and pace of information and communication?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, I just find it really interesting when you look at other sectors and there's this appreciation that we're living in a subscription economy and that everybody wants things quicker. That's just a very simple truth, I suppose. And I wonder whether we are totally up to where we should be in legal in that sense. Because you hear loads of people, I suppose, whether it's objective or whether it's anecdotal, talking about the billable hour, but it seems prevalent still. And I feel that there's a bit of a conflict. I always felt that there was an inherent conflict between any of the best interests of the client and the billable hour, for example. And until that changes, I don't feel that we're totally up to speed with where we should be in terms of what the client wants. Because if that's not in the best interest of the client, I mean that's just one example, but also that in other sectors, it's very much about keeping a pace with innovation and appreciating that we're in the midst of a digital revolution, essentially, and I don't know how much of legal has caught up with that.

Mike Madison:

So newer blends of creativity to meet client needs and goals in law is a bit behind other sectors. And where or how do you see change coming? Is this something that needs to be pushed through the education and training systems for lawyers? Is this something where clients can set new goals and objectives and use the financial incentives they have in their relationships with firms? Is this something that firms are capable of moving themselves? Is this something where companies like yours, legal tech and disruptive and other innovation in the legal ecology but not in the classic firm and client pipeline, maybe that's a source of this? Where do you see the best opportunities for change?

Eimear McCann:

I think that's really interesting because I feel as though there's a lot of talk about how we need to see changes in academia, and I totally agree with that because you've got all these students who are under an awful lot of pressure to be everything. As well as needing to be excellent lawyers, they're told they need to be more commercially aware, when a lot of them don't really know what that means. There are an awful lot of buzz words. You need to be more creative. You need to be innovative. You need to be this. You need to be that. And I feel like that needs to be kind of deconstructed a bit. And I wonder whether a pure law degree really serves the full purpose at the moment. I wonder whether there should be a bit more diversity that starts in academia, a bit of interchangeability between perhaps different sectors, different industries kind of starts then.

But what also strikes me is that you've still got then these junior to mid-level lawyers who are already in the profession and they've already had their teaching, they've had their training. And so I feel as though there's no real kind of diversity of skillset in terms of ongoing training that I've seen so far and many law firms. We have, for example in the UK, it's called CPD, which is Continuing Professional Development, but I wonder how much of that, and I'm not in practice anymore, but I wonder how much of that really looks at diverse skill sets. And really, I suppose, looks at what and how creativity could really assist so that you're kind of getting it from ... because I just really feel like, and I think we talked about this before, that the change has to come from within. And it feels very much to me like a lot of these buzz words, especially innovation, is being imposed on lawyers and then obviously they're going to be reticent to that change. So it has to come from within academia, within practice. And there isn't enough knowledge sharing, I think, between kind of, for example, in-house legal teams, law firms and academia.

Mike Madison:

Yeah. There's some pretty substantial barriers in all of those things. So you mentioned Continuing Professional Development, CPD, in the UK. So in the US, this is usually regarded as Continuing Legal Education or CLE. In some jurisdictions, I trained and practised law in California, out there for historical reasons it's called MCLE, which stands for Mandatory Continuing Legal Education. And the terminology is telling because most of the providers of that content are within the bar, either the bar itself or providers that are licensed by the bar to provide that content. And a large proportion of the content and a large number of the hours committed by lawyers in those programs is really to check the boxes to maintain licensure. It's not necessarily genuinely motivated by the desire to renew a skillset or expand a skill set or maintain a sort of cutting edge knowledge of somebody of law.

And I think the problem there largely lies with the fact that it's the bar that controls the process of supplying the material, so the incentives largely are to carry on the structure of training and updating the training within the legacy framework rather than trying to figure out how to use that mechanism to advance what you're talking about in terms of blends of skills and blends of disciplines and the more modern styles of understanding and using the law to solve legal problems. And academic law is a cousin of the same problem. I'm sure it's similar although not identical in the UK relative to the US or relative to other countries, where universities and law schools and law faculties have very, very long-standing commitments to how their faculties are organized and how their curricula are organized and how the teaching materials are published and used by students. And to change any of that is like steering a battleship in a new direction rather than steering a speed boat, which comes off as a little bit defensive because I'm a professor and I'm in the middle of all this. But in many, many instances, these really are very, very large bureaucracies that have very large pre-existing commitments and not everybody on the staff, not everybody on the faculty, shares your intuition or shares my intuition that large scale change is necessary.

There's a lot of people out there teaching law and training lawyers who think that the system is working really well and it has worked well for decades, and there's no reason to think that it can't simply adapt to emerging technology demands for innovation and creativity and whatever the different perspectives of young people are coming into the profession. 18-year-olds or 21-year-olds or 25-year-olds always have gone through cultural shifts in terms of culture and technology and the economy, and nothing is materially different today.

So none of this is to excuse the fact that there isn't as much renovation underway as there needs to be, but it does make the sort of pause a bit and wonder whether the more promising routes of change and adaptation on a larger scale are going to come from outside the classic pipeline of education, training, recruitment of new lawyers, client relationships, the billable hour, that is so fixed. Whereas the legal tech sector, which is still relatively small in aggregate terms, but it behaves very much more like an innovation-based business sector rather than a classic legal services, legal profession based sector. To me, it may be that that's the more promising source of whatever innovations might emerge both first in the business world and then migrate from there into the educational world.

Maybe this would be a good moment to ask you a bit about the specifics of the companies that you've worked for and how in addition to the teaching that you've been doing, you're currently Head of Strategy at Summize, a legal technology and innovation company near Manchester, and you worked in legal tech before that as well. And so I wondered if you could talk a bit about your company, products and services, and as to where Summize fits in the ecology of legal tech and what the vision is for you and the firm going forward.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. So Summize is a contract automation platform which was funded by Tom, who was a former in-house lawyer and legal director. And it was essentially something which was born out of frustration after a very arduous contract review. And he was really, really keen to develop a product that was really simple, that was very easy to use, but also something that was more aligned in terms of budgetary requirements, specifically for in house teams or for the kind of the SME world or the kind of small to mid-sized firms. And whenever he was kind of looking at what products were available, he kind of felt that there wasn't anything out there that really kind of aligned with what his vision was.

And kind of going back to what I've said at the start, that we are in a very client-centric environment and we are in the midst of a subscription economy. And for those reasons, the kind of trajectory that Summize is on has being very much dictated by client feedback, but it's also a subscription model, just to kind of make everything as possible. Because I think, I'm sure you've seen this as well, that there's a lot of noise out there in the legal tech space, and it's very hard to kind of cut through that. But I feel that because we have a very simple kind of core message in terms of the use cases and also in terms of the pricing, that that's kind of what the passion is that sits behind Summize.

But what was also interesting is what you were talking about in terms of this kind of legal being, I think you used kind of an analogy of it being a really big ship in terms of trying to get it to turn. And I totally appreciate that and appreciate everything that you've said. But what I think's interesting is that we are at Summize, for example, are very much about tech and really small steps for change. And I know it is easier because we're a startup. It's more nimble. It's agile. And we're also in a market where innovation is expected. But everything we're done is kind of really small steps. So we actually have a channel on our kind of teams communication that is devoted to this notion of kind of a 1% change every time on something, this concept of continuous improvement. And I think that, first of all, I think it's really key to kind of the team culture on this feeling of trust. You could come out with a kind of very much an out-there idea and that people would sit down and go, "Okay, well, let's have a think about it."

And I would love to see that mentality, I suppose, within legal because I appreciate that there's an awful lot to go out, but I feel that if there are small little steps, that there's probably a lot, I'd say I probably learned a lot from working at Summize and in that context, which has been very different from the time in practice.

Mike Madison:

So you're also active around the UK in the larger legal tech and innovation ecology and wondered if you could talk a bit about that larger space, that larger sector. Is the spirit at Summize that you just described, that sort of sense of the imperative for continuous improvement and openness to continuous improvement, is that something that in a broader sense characterizes the legal tech sector that you've observed in your years in that space?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, definitely. And I think because it is, I suppose it is quite a new market really. And I think there's been a lot of kind of momentum that has built up around technology within legal. And it's got to the point where that kind of hype, it kind of nearly felt that there was a bit of a hype that there was a bit of cynicism perhaps within law. But I feel like that's kind of subsided. And then there's this substance and all of this kind of energy around new ideas and collaboration. And I also think it's a really, in the UK anyway but anyone I've been in contact within Australia and the US as well has been the same, but there is a really lovely sense of collaboration. And as somebody said to me recently, "There's enough room for all of us." So the more knowledge that we share and the more that we kind of try to work together, I feel that any of that kind of remaining cynicism that might exist will hopefully disappear.

Mike Madison:

As you talk to your clients and customers and partners, how much of that sort of spirit of collaboration and opportunity is reciprocated in the more traditional legal communities?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, I think it's been quite surprising. I think this year has really changed all of us. I think there's been a real opportunity for, it's obviously been such a tough year for so many people and so many businesses, but we've all had insights and into I suppose people's perceived vulnerabilities that we haven't seen before within the profession, whether it's kids jumping around. I've had calls with Lego bouncing off my head and people's pets and stuff in the background. I think I've actually really loved seeing that because I feel like in law, and that's how I felt anyway, you feel like you're kind of a diluted version of yourself, that you're behind this veneer of suits and polish. And I think that a lot of that has been broken down and I feel that we've got a real opportunity now to kind of build on that.

But I've been really surprised that it hasn't just been the firms that have innovation managers and innovation hubs. It's been really interesting to see the kind of firms that have looked Summize and gone, "This is great. Let's sign up tomorrow." That kind of spontaneity that perhaps people wouldn't have maybe expected within smaller law firms. But interestingly, someone, there was actually a panel event recently, and we were talking about whether the smaller firms actually have more scope for innovation because they are more agile. And going back to what you were talking about earlier, they're not kind of like a big corporate that takes a while longer to get everybody on board to kind of turn in a different direction. So it's been really interesting.

Mike Madison:

So I'm going to pick up for a moment on your reference to Lego because I'm just going to offer a hypothesis. So I've been teaching virtually for a year, a lot of people around the world. And I see cats, I see dogs and I see sometimes living rooms and kitchens and so forth, wherever my students happen to be and sometimes family members. And so as you say, there is a kind of intimacy, a kind of informality that is baked into this new virtual world out of necessity. And it sort of exposes some of the artificiality, some of the ritual, some of the distancing that is baked into the traditional in-person law firm environments, corporate environments, academic environments. And so my hypothesis is that this new way of socializing with people, which is on the one hand very distancing because we're all on screens. On the other hand, it's a different kind of intimacy because of the ways in which you can see into other people's daily lives, is itself potentially transformative in larger ways.

And so you gave an example of how there's opportunities for creativity and opportunities for spontaneity and opportunities for innovation in terms of relationship building. So companies that might say, "Hey, this is an interesting product or service that Summize is offering. Let's give them a try and see if that works out." In a way that a more classical hierarchical office-based conversation might not have gone in that direction. And so I'm just going to speculate about, so when we started this today, which was about creativity and the need for a change in mindset and wondering out loud about some of the environmental or contextual circumstances that we find ourselves in helping to encourage or at least reinforce some of those instincts. I'm wondering if any of that resonates with the experiences that you've had over the last year?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I just find that so interesting. I think because creativity is such a big concept, isn't it? It's very easily misconstrued and people believe that it's a domain of artists and painters and musicians. And I think that to me, creativity within legal, for example, comes in loads of different guises. But I also see the link between individualism and creativity, and I feel that that's what's really resonated about what you were talking about, this kind of the intimacy, I suppose, of seeing into people's homes and kind of breaking down barriers where people are allowed to be more of themselves.

And interestingly, we just finished recording a series on mental health within legal. And the one thing that kept coming up was that people didn't feel that they could be themselves and they couldn't come across as an individual. It was more of this homogeny within law where everyone seemed the same, looked the same, sounded the same, and how that made people feel very isolated and very lonely. And as you pointed out, even though we've all been kind of isolated physically, there's been a connection. And I think intimacy is a really interesting word in the sense that it is not something that any of us a year ago would have ever thought that we'd even be having this discussion because I thought we'd all have maybe felt a bit more removed from people. But that hasn't happened, which I think is really interesting.

Mike Madison:

Yeah, so I'd say over the last year's worth of my interviewing people on this podcast, I've had an unexpectedly broad and deep number of conversations with people all over the world. So legal tech and innovation and questions about the future of law are on the minds of lawyers and law professors and students in essentially every country. I actually have gotten messages from new lawyers in Africa and central Europe as well as Western Europe and around North America, and it's just a fascinating phenomenon. And I don't think that all of that conversation would be emerging if we weren't directed in that way because of the pandemic circumstance. I'm not sure exactly how it would have been directed, but I think that the pandemic really concentrated it in some ways.

I wanted to spend a few minutes at the close of the podcast just talking a bit about your own career. You mentioned having trained as a lawyer and then gone into writing for a while and then come back to law and then eventually into legal tech. Could you talk to us a little bit about what was motivating you and some of the specific stops along the way that seemed to work well for you or that worked less well and prompted you to think about a change in direction?

Eimear McCann:

Yes, I think that I was a bit of an accidental lawyer, really. I wouldn't say that I loved my law degree. I did law with Spanish because my love was probably literature in languages. And I just loved the idea of back then, whenever we were actually funded to head to Salamanca in Spain, which was lovely. But I also, I suppose back then, the career advice was very much, "Stick to vocation." And it was kind of, "Do medicine, do law, do dentistry," whatever it was. And interestingly, sorry I'm going on a tangent here, but interestingly, it seems that in the time of crisis, students are now gravitating back to vocational degrees again, which has been interesting.

But anyway, so then after I did my law degree, I decided that I didn't feel that maybe law was for me. So I took a graduate job working for a magazine and then travelled for a while. And then I did freelance writing for a couple of years. And then it was actually a chance encounter, I'm very honest, with a friend from uni really, who said, "Have you never thought about coming back to the legal fold and see what you make of it?"

So then I did go back and finish what's called the legal practice course, which is the more practical side of law, so it wasn't like the undergrad, in the North of England. And then I did my training in London. And I was thinking about this recently because it came up in conversation and I know I keep talking about this creativity aspect, but whenever I was in private practice, I've said it before, but I just didn't feel like I could be myself. I didn't feel like I had permission to really bring myself to work. It was kind of you put on your suit and then I changed. I had to be very professional. But when I worked, I worked for a law centre for like five years, and it was probably the happiest that I ever was within law because it was a really creative hub. When I think about it, everybody, some people would come in in suits, some people were in their jeans and hoodie, but there was no judgment and there was just this feeling of trust. But it was also a very kind of creative place to work.

And we brought a lot of strategic cases before the ECJ. A lot of my colleagues were, there were judges as well as lawyers and advocates, like really brilliant minds. But there wasn't a feeling of, when you break it down into little bits, it was about permission to be creative, permission to be yourself and a feeling that there was no judgment and it was really, I absolutely loved it. Probably would still have been there if things hadn't kind of changed politically and the funding kind of went for the immigration and the human rights work that we were doing in Ireland.

And then I just felt that in private practice, I just, it was a brilliant firm, but it just really wasn't, I suppose for me, because it would probably be a push more into the corporate work. And I think I always had that feeling of being pulled back to doing something a bit more creative to get that, you know when you just have that feeling that you're not fully satisfied in what you're doing? And I've always written since I was four.

Mike Madison:

I felt that myself. Felt it myself. It's one of the reasons I'm an academic and not a practising lawyer any longer, very similar feelings. And so you got out of the practice and eventually migrated into the innovation and legal tech world where you're able to express more of your blend of your analytics skills, your law training and your sort of more creative side.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, very good, very good synopsis of it, definitely.

Mike Madison:

So I wonder as you have gotten more in meshed in legal tech and innovation in your current roles, maybe just to conclude, I wonder if your summary of your own story, your own journey tells us something broadly about where the future of the profession ought to be going in the sense of the creativity instinct, the idea of blending skills and interests and competencies, enabling lawyers and people trained in law to sort of be comfortable in themselves and to be their best selves, which is a phrase that I've come to like. Is something that the educational side, the training side, the practice side should be more focused on as an intentional thing rather than as an accidental or circumstantial thing. So is that a fair summary of your thinking these days?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I had never really thought about it, but now that you've said it, that makes total sense. It kind of feels like there's a lot of loose strands, I suppose, that that need to be pulled together. And perhaps that's and the personification of that where it was different bits that have kind of come together. But I feel that one thing that I find interesting just really quickly is that I'd never heard that expression before of like a portfolio career, but I wonder if that's probably where we're going, where you see graduates, for example, who have the opportunity to work, be practising lawyers, legal writers, and also work in legal tech and innovation.

Mike Madison:

Hm. Interesting. As you work with your students in your teaching, what kind of general or even specific advice do you give them about career development and pathways and types of experiences that they should be focused on?

Eimear McCann:

I mean, the one thing, particularly when I worked at Flex and before I joined Summize I worked with a lot of law students there, and my advice was always to explore as many options as they could when they could. Because as you know, once you're in a certain area of law, you're very quickly pigeonholed into something and it's really hard to shift. But also kind of make up your own mind and follow if there's something that you find that you're really passionate about and you can find a way where that kind of dovetails with law, there are ways to make it work. And I think some law students were kind of nearly panicking about, "I need to understand tech. Do I need to code?" And just if you're interested in tech, bring it and do get an understanding of it because you do need digital literacy. I mean, that's an inevitability. But it doesn't mean that you have to go off and code. It doesn't mean that you need to do an internship with a tech company. But if you have that interest, definitely go ahead and do it. And as you know, people, I suppose, being themselves and their true passions, it comes across in an interview or in the workplace anyway.

Mike Madison:

Fantastic. Well, we need to wrap this up for now, because it's been fascinating and we could carry on. But we're going to bring it to a close and maybe we'll reconnect later and do a round two of the podcast. This has been so interesting. Eimear, it's great to chat with you today. I really appreciate your taking the time. Good luck with your career. Good luck with Summize. I'll be watching what's happening in legal tech in the UK. And maybe when the pandemic ends and I'm able to get across the Atlantic, I'll come North in England and come say hi face to face.

Eimear McCann:

I'd absolutely love that. We can head out for a beer. But thanks so much, Mike. It's been great.

Mike Madison:

Okay. Thanks so much.

Mike Madison:

Thank you for listening to the Future Law Podcast. For links to the articles mentioned and to contact the host, visit FutureLawPodcast.com.

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The Future Law Podcast: Eimear McCann

By
Summize
March 17, 2021

Transcript

Mike Madison:

Welcome to the Future Law Podcast, exploring where the law has been in and where it's going. From the brilliant to the scary and everything in between. Please welcome your very real and very human host, mike Madison.

Mike Madison:

Welcome to the Future Law Podcast. I'm Mike Madison, Law Professor at the University of Pittsburgh in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. My guest today is Eimear McCann. Eimear is a fixture in the legal tech and innovation ecosystem in the United Kingdom. She's the Director of Strategy at a firm near Manchester called Summize. She previously worked at Flex, and before she got into legal tech and innovation, she was a practitioner in immigration and human rights law, and before that was a writer. We'll hear all about that and more. Eimear McCann, welcome to the Future Law Podcast.

Eimear McCann:

It's great to be here, Mike. Thank you.

Mike Madison:

Thanks. So I wanted to start with a broad question. When we connected for the first time last year, you introduced yourself by saying that you're very much about changing mindsets within legal. And I wanted to invite you to start off by reflecting a bit based on your career over the last several years in legal tech and innovation, what you mean by that?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, that's a really good question. I think for me, I feel as though there is an awful lot of talk about change within legal, but I'm not really sure how much is reflected in the reality. And I suppose at this point having obviously I studied law many years ago, and then I went off on a bit of a, I suppose, on a bit of a different trajectory in that I was a writer for a while before kind of coming back to practice law. And the reason for that was that when I studied law, I felt as though I had a creativity that wasn't really, I suppose it was being slightly quashed. And what's interesting to me now is that in addition to my role at Summize, I'm also a visiting lecturer at the University of Law. And I think it's interesting that there is a reputation and a sense of how many of the modules are taught. And it just kind of really hit me that, there are some fantastic things happening, definitely, but I feel as though legal teaching and beyond really needs to be re-imagined and not just updated. And I feel as though we need to properly change how people think and how we do that.

I wish I had a simple answer for that and I don't. But whenever you think about the students of today who live in a very different world than I did, anyway. I was very used to everything being on paper. I didn't live in such a kind of rich visual world and I didn't have a mobile phone, so it was very different. And they live by the screen and you've got all these images and new thoughts and feels like a lot of us do today. But I just wonder, just as one example, how much of that feeds into the way that students are taught. And kind of tied in with that as well is that the clients of today are different from clients even five years ago.

Mike Madison:

Can you give an example of what you mean about the changing character and expectations of clients and how that interacts with what you're seeing in terms of visual culture and the density and pace of information and communication?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, I just find it really interesting when you look at other sectors and there's this appreciation that we're living in a subscription economy and that everybody wants things quicker. That's just a very simple truth, I suppose. And I wonder whether we are totally up to where we should be in legal in that sense. Because you hear loads of people, I suppose, whether it's objective or whether it's anecdotal, talking about the billable hour, but it seems prevalent still. And I feel that there's a bit of a conflict. I always felt that there was an inherent conflict between any of the best interests of the client and the billable hour, for example. And until that changes, I don't feel that we're totally up to speed with where we should be in terms of what the client wants. Because if that's not in the best interest of the client, I mean that's just one example, but also that in other sectors, it's very much about keeping a pace with innovation and appreciating that we're in the midst of a digital revolution, essentially, and I don't know how much of legal has caught up with that.

Mike Madison:

So newer blends of creativity to meet client needs and goals in law is a bit behind other sectors. And where or how do you see change coming? Is this something that needs to be pushed through the education and training systems for lawyers? Is this something where clients can set new goals and objectives and use the financial incentives they have in their relationships with firms? Is this something that firms are capable of moving themselves? Is this something where companies like yours, legal tech and disruptive and other innovation in the legal ecology but not in the classic firm and client pipeline, maybe that's a source of this? Where do you see the best opportunities for change?

Eimear McCann:

I think that's really interesting because I feel as though there's a lot of talk about how we need to see changes in academia, and I totally agree with that because you've got all these students who are under an awful lot of pressure to be everything. As well as needing to be excellent lawyers, they're told they need to be more commercially aware, when a lot of them don't really know what that means. There are an awful lot of buzz words. You need to be more creative. You need to be innovative. You need to be this. You need to be that. And I feel like that needs to be kind of deconstructed a bit. And I wonder whether a pure law degree really serves the full purpose at the moment. I wonder whether there should be a bit more diversity that starts in academia, a bit of interchangeability between perhaps different sectors, different industries kind of starts then.

But what also strikes me is that you've still got then these junior to mid-level lawyers who are already in the profession and they've already had their teaching, they've had their training. And so I feel as though there's no real kind of diversity of skillset in terms of ongoing training that I've seen so far and many law firms. We have, for example in the UK, it's called CPD, which is Continuing Professional Development, but I wonder how much of that, and I'm not in practice anymore, but I wonder how much of that really looks at diverse skill sets. And really, I suppose, looks at what and how creativity could really assist so that you're kind of getting it from ... because I just really feel like, and I think we talked about this before, that the change has to come from within. And it feels very much to me like a lot of these buzz words, especially innovation, is being imposed on lawyers and then obviously they're going to be reticent to that change. So it has to come from within academia, within practice. And there isn't enough knowledge sharing, I think, between kind of, for example, in-house legal teams, law firms and academia.

Mike Madison:

Yeah. There's some pretty substantial barriers in all of those things. So you mentioned Continuing Professional Development, CPD, in the UK. So in the US, this is usually regarded as Continuing Legal Education or CLE. In some jurisdictions, I trained and practised law in California, out there for historical reasons it's called MCLE, which stands for Mandatory Continuing Legal Education. And the terminology is telling because most of the providers of that content are within the bar, either the bar itself or providers that are licensed by the bar to provide that content. And a large proportion of the content and a large number of the hours committed by lawyers in those programs is really to check the boxes to maintain licensure. It's not necessarily genuinely motivated by the desire to renew a skillset or expand a skill set or maintain a sort of cutting edge knowledge of somebody of law.

And I think the problem there largely lies with the fact that it's the bar that controls the process of supplying the material, so the incentives largely are to carry on the structure of training and updating the training within the legacy framework rather than trying to figure out how to use that mechanism to advance what you're talking about in terms of blends of skills and blends of disciplines and the more modern styles of understanding and using the law to solve legal problems. And academic law is a cousin of the same problem. I'm sure it's similar although not identical in the UK relative to the US or relative to other countries, where universities and law schools and law faculties have very, very long-standing commitments to how their faculties are organized and how their curricula are organized and how the teaching materials are published and used by students. And to change any of that is like steering a battleship in a new direction rather than steering a speed boat, which comes off as a little bit defensive because I'm a professor and I'm in the middle of all this. But in many, many instances, these really are very, very large bureaucracies that have very large pre-existing commitments and not everybody on the staff, not everybody on the faculty, shares your intuition or shares my intuition that large scale change is necessary.

There's a lot of people out there teaching law and training lawyers who think that the system is working really well and it has worked well for decades, and there's no reason to think that it can't simply adapt to emerging technology demands for innovation and creativity and whatever the different perspectives of young people are coming into the profession. 18-year-olds or 21-year-olds or 25-year-olds always have gone through cultural shifts in terms of culture and technology and the economy, and nothing is materially different today.

So none of this is to excuse the fact that there isn't as much renovation underway as there needs to be, but it does make the sort of pause a bit and wonder whether the more promising routes of change and adaptation on a larger scale are going to come from outside the classic pipeline of education, training, recruitment of new lawyers, client relationships, the billable hour, that is so fixed. Whereas the legal tech sector, which is still relatively small in aggregate terms, but it behaves very much more like an innovation-based business sector rather than a classic legal services, legal profession based sector. To me, it may be that that's the more promising source of whatever innovations might emerge both first in the business world and then migrate from there into the educational world.

Maybe this would be a good moment to ask you a bit about the specifics of the companies that you've worked for and how in addition to the teaching that you've been doing, you're currently Head of Strategy at Summize, a legal technology and innovation company near Manchester, and you worked in legal tech before that as well. And so I wondered if you could talk a bit about your company, products and services, and as to where Summize fits in the ecology of legal tech and what the vision is for you and the firm going forward.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. So Summize is a contract automation platform which was funded by Tom, who was a former in-house lawyer and legal director. And it was essentially something which was born out of frustration after a very arduous contract review. And he was really, really keen to develop a product that was really simple, that was very easy to use, but also something that was more aligned in terms of budgetary requirements, specifically for in house teams or for the kind of the SME world or the kind of small to mid-sized firms. And whenever he was kind of looking at what products were available, he kind of felt that there wasn't anything out there that really kind of aligned with what his vision was.

And kind of going back to what I've said at the start, that we are in a very client-centric environment and we are in the midst of a subscription economy. And for those reasons, the kind of trajectory that Summize is on has being very much dictated by client feedback, but it's also a subscription model, just to kind of make everything as possible. Because I think, I'm sure you've seen this as well, that there's a lot of noise out there in the legal tech space, and it's very hard to kind of cut through that. But I feel that because we have a very simple kind of core message in terms of the use cases and also in terms of the pricing, that that's kind of what the passion is that sits behind Summize.

But what was also interesting is what you were talking about in terms of this kind of legal being, I think you used kind of an analogy of it being a really big ship in terms of trying to get it to turn. And I totally appreciate that and appreciate everything that you've said. But what I think's interesting is that we are at Summize, for example, are very much about tech and really small steps for change. And I know it is easier because we're a startup. It's more nimble. It's agile. And we're also in a market where innovation is expected. But everything we're done is kind of really small steps. So we actually have a channel on our kind of teams communication that is devoted to this notion of kind of a 1% change every time on something, this concept of continuous improvement. And I think that, first of all, I think it's really key to kind of the team culture on this feeling of trust. You could come out with a kind of very much an out-there idea and that people would sit down and go, "Okay, well, let's have a think about it."

And I would love to see that mentality, I suppose, within legal because I appreciate that there's an awful lot to go out, but I feel that if there are small little steps, that there's probably a lot, I'd say I probably learned a lot from working at Summize and in that context, which has been very different from the time in practice.

Mike Madison:

So you're also active around the UK in the larger legal tech and innovation ecology and wondered if you could talk a bit about that larger space, that larger sector. Is the spirit at Summize that you just described, that sort of sense of the imperative for continuous improvement and openness to continuous improvement, is that something that in a broader sense characterizes the legal tech sector that you've observed in your years in that space?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, definitely. And I think because it is, I suppose it is quite a new market really. And I think there's been a lot of kind of momentum that has built up around technology within legal. And it's got to the point where that kind of hype, it kind of nearly felt that there was a bit of a hype that there was a bit of cynicism perhaps within law. But I feel like that's kind of subsided. And then there's this substance and all of this kind of energy around new ideas and collaboration. And I also think it's a really, in the UK anyway but anyone I've been in contact within Australia and the US as well has been the same, but there is a really lovely sense of collaboration. And as somebody said to me recently, "There's enough room for all of us." So the more knowledge that we share and the more that we kind of try to work together, I feel that any of that kind of remaining cynicism that might exist will hopefully disappear.

Mike Madison:

As you talk to your clients and customers and partners, how much of that sort of spirit of collaboration and opportunity is reciprocated in the more traditional legal communities?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, I think it's been quite surprising. I think this year has really changed all of us. I think there's been a real opportunity for, it's obviously been such a tough year for so many people and so many businesses, but we've all had insights and into I suppose people's perceived vulnerabilities that we haven't seen before within the profession, whether it's kids jumping around. I've had calls with Lego bouncing off my head and people's pets and stuff in the background. I think I've actually really loved seeing that because I feel like in law, and that's how I felt anyway, you feel like you're kind of a diluted version of yourself, that you're behind this veneer of suits and polish. And I think that a lot of that has been broken down and I feel that we've got a real opportunity now to kind of build on that.

But I've been really surprised that it hasn't just been the firms that have innovation managers and innovation hubs. It's been really interesting to see the kind of firms that have looked Summize and gone, "This is great. Let's sign up tomorrow." That kind of spontaneity that perhaps people wouldn't have maybe expected within smaller law firms. But interestingly, someone, there was actually a panel event recently, and we were talking about whether the smaller firms actually have more scope for innovation because they are more agile. And going back to what you were talking about earlier, they're not kind of like a big corporate that takes a while longer to get everybody on board to kind of turn in a different direction. So it's been really interesting.

Mike Madison:

So I'm going to pick up for a moment on your reference to Lego because I'm just going to offer a hypothesis. So I've been teaching virtually for a year, a lot of people around the world. And I see cats, I see dogs and I see sometimes living rooms and kitchens and so forth, wherever my students happen to be and sometimes family members. And so as you say, there is a kind of intimacy, a kind of informality that is baked into this new virtual world out of necessity. And it sort of exposes some of the artificiality, some of the ritual, some of the distancing that is baked into the traditional in-person law firm environments, corporate environments, academic environments. And so my hypothesis is that this new way of socializing with people, which is on the one hand very distancing because we're all on screens. On the other hand, it's a different kind of intimacy because of the ways in which you can see into other people's daily lives, is itself potentially transformative in larger ways.

And so you gave an example of how there's opportunities for creativity and opportunities for spontaneity and opportunities for innovation in terms of relationship building. So companies that might say, "Hey, this is an interesting product or service that Summize is offering. Let's give them a try and see if that works out." In a way that a more classical hierarchical office-based conversation might not have gone in that direction. And so I'm just going to speculate about, so when we started this today, which was about creativity and the need for a change in mindset and wondering out loud about some of the environmental or contextual circumstances that we find ourselves in helping to encourage or at least reinforce some of those instincts. I'm wondering if any of that resonates with the experiences that you've had over the last year?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I just find that so interesting. I think because creativity is such a big concept, isn't it? It's very easily misconstrued and people believe that it's a domain of artists and painters and musicians. And I think that to me, creativity within legal, for example, comes in loads of different guises. But I also see the link between individualism and creativity, and I feel that that's what's really resonated about what you were talking about, this kind of the intimacy, I suppose, of seeing into people's homes and kind of breaking down barriers where people are allowed to be more of themselves.

And interestingly, we just finished recording a series on mental health within legal. And the one thing that kept coming up was that people didn't feel that they could be themselves and they couldn't come across as an individual. It was more of this homogeny within law where everyone seemed the same, looked the same, sounded the same, and how that made people feel very isolated and very lonely. And as you pointed out, even though we've all been kind of isolated physically, there's been a connection. And I think intimacy is a really interesting word in the sense that it is not something that any of us a year ago would have ever thought that we'd even be having this discussion because I thought we'd all have maybe felt a bit more removed from people. But that hasn't happened, which I think is really interesting.

Mike Madison:

Yeah, so I'd say over the last year's worth of my interviewing people on this podcast, I've had an unexpectedly broad and deep number of conversations with people all over the world. So legal tech and innovation and questions about the future of law are on the minds of lawyers and law professors and students in essentially every country. I actually have gotten messages from new lawyers in Africa and central Europe as well as Western Europe and around North America, and it's just a fascinating phenomenon. And I don't think that all of that conversation would be emerging if we weren't directed in that way because of the pandemic circumstance. I'm not sure exactly how it would have been directed, but I think that the pandemic really concentrated it in some ways.

I wanted to spend a few minutes at the close of the podcast just talking a bit about your own career. You mentioned having trained as a lawyer and then gone into writing for a while and then come back to law and then eventually into legal tech. Could you talk to us a little bit about what was motivating you and some of the specific stops along the way that seemed to work well for you or that worked less well and prompted you to think about a change in direction?

Eimear McCann:

Yes, I think that I was a bit of an accidental lawyer, really. I wouldn't say that I loved my law degree. I did law with Spanish because my love was probably literature in languages. And I just loved the idea of back then, whenever we were actually funded to head to Salamanca in Spain, which was lovely. But I also, I suppose back then, the career advice was very much, "Stick to vocation." And it was kind of, "Do medicine, do law, do dentistry," whatever it was. And interestingly, sorry I'm going on a tangent here, but interestingly, it seems that in the time of crisis, students are now gravitating back to vocational degrees again, which has been interesting.

But anyway, so then after I did my law degree, I decided that I didn't feel that maybe law was for me. So I took a graduate job working for a magazine and then travelled for a while. And then I did freelance writing for a couple of years. And then it was actually a chance encounter, I'm very honest, with a friend from uni really, who said, "Have you never thought about coming back to the legal fold and see what you make of it?"

So then I did go back and finish what's called the legal practice course, which is the more practical side of law, so it wasn't like the undergrad, in the North of England. And then I did my training in London. And I was thinking about this recently because it came up in conversation and I know I keep talking about this creativity aspect, but whenever I was in private practice, I've said it before, but I just didn't feel like I could be myself. I didn't feel like I had permission to really bring myself to work. It was kind of you put on your suit and then I changed. I had to be very professional. But when I worked, I worked for a law centre for like five years, and it was probably the happiest that I ever was within law because it was a really creative hub. When I think about it, everybody, some people would come in in suits, some people were in their jeans and hoodie, but there was no judgment and there was just this feeling of trust. But it was also a very kind of creative place to work.

And we brought a lot of strategic cases before the ECJ. A lot of my colleagues were, there were judges as well as lawyers and advocates, like really brilliant minds. But there wasn't a feeling of, when you break it down into little bits, it was about permission to be creative, permission to be yourself and a feeling that there was no judgment and it was really, I absolutely loved it. Probably would still have been there if things hadn't kind of changed politically and the funding kind of went for the immigration and the human rights work that we were doing in Ireland.

And then I just felt that in private practice, I just, it was a brilliant firm, but it just really wasn't, I suppose for me, because it would probably be a push more into the corporate work. And I think I always had that feeling of being pulled back to doing something a bit more creative to get that, you know when you just have that feeling that you're not fully satisfied in what you're doing? And I've always written since I was four.

Mike Madison:

I felt that myself. Felt it myself. It's one of the reasons I'm an academic and not a practising lawyer any longer, very similar feelings. And so you got out of the practice and eventually migrated into the innovation and legal tech world where you're able to express more of your blend of your analytics skills, your law training and your sort of more creative side.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, very good, very good synopsis of it, definitely.

Mike Madison:

So I wonder as you have gotten more in meshed in legal tech and innovation in your current roles, maybe just to conclude, I wonder if your summary of your own story, your own journey tells us something broadly about where the future of the profession ought to be going in the sense of the creativity instinct, the idea of blending skills and interests and competencies, enabling lawyers and people trained in law to sort of be comfortable in themselves and to be their best selves, which is a phrase that I've come to like. Is something that the educational side, the training side, the practice side should be more focused on as an intentional thing rather than as an accidental or circumstantial thing. So is that a fair summary of your thinking these days?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I had never really thought about it, but now that you've said it, that makes total sense. It kind of feels like there's a lot of loose strands, I suppose, that that need to be pulled together. And perhaps that's and the personification of that where it was different bits that have kind of come together. But I feel that one thing that I find interesting just really quickly is that I'd never heard that expression before of like a portfolio career, but I wonder if that's probably where we're going, where you see graduates, for example, who have the opportunity to work, be practising lawyers, legal writers, and also work in legal tech and innovation.

Mike Madison:

Hm. Interesting. As you work with your students in your teaching, what kind of general or even specific advice do you give them about career development and pathways and types of experiences that they should be focused on?

Eimear McCann:

I mean, the one thing, particularly when I worked at Flex and before I joined Summize I worked with a lot of law students there, and my advice was always to explore as many options as they could when they could. Because as you know, once you're in a certain area of law, you're very quickly pigeonholed into something and it's really hard to shift. But also kind of make up your own mind and follow if there's something that you find that you're really passionate about and you can find a way where that kind of dovetails with law, there are ways to make it work. And I think some law students were kind of nearly panicking about, "I need to understand tech. Do I need to code?" And just if you're interested in tech, bring it and do get an understanding of it because you do need digital literacy. I mean, that's an inevitability. But it doesn't mean that you have to go off and code. It doesn't mean that you need to do an internship with a tech company. But if you have that interest, definitely go ahead and do it. And as you know, people, I suppose, being themselves and their true passions, it comes across in an interview or in the workplace anyway.

Mike Madison:

Fantastic. Well, we need to wrap this up for now, because it's been fascinating and we could carry on. But we're going to bring it to a close and maybe we'll reconnect later and do a round two of the podcast. This has been so interesting. Eimear, it's great to chat with you today. I really appreciate your taking the time. Good luck with your career. Good luck with Summize. I'll be watching what's happening in legal tech in the UK. And maybe when the pandemic ends and I'm able to get across the Atlantic, I'll come North in England and come say hi face to face.

Eimear McCann:

I'd absolutely love that. We can head out for a beer. But thanks so much, Mike. It's been great.

Mike Madison:

Okay. Thanks so much.

Mike Madison:

Thank you for listening to the Future Law Podcast. For links to the articles mentioned and to contact the host, visit FutureLawPodcast.com.

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