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The Lawyer's Escape Pod: Eimear McCann

The Lawyer's Escape Pod: Eimear McCann

By
May 28, 2021

Transcript

Megan Smiley:

Hey fellow nerds. I'm Megan smiley and this is The Lawyer's Escape Pod. For those of you who've gotten into practice, looked around and thought, "So this is my life?" I get it. You're in deep and you feel stuck. You may have no idea what the next step would be, or maybe you have an idea, but think it's unrealistic. I truly believe that there's a path forward for each of us if we're intentional about finding it. And this podcast will be a great source of advice and inspiration for you to make that leap to a more fulfilling career.

Megan Smiley:

My guest today is Eimear McCann. Eimear is the Head of Strategy at Summize, which is a legal tech company in the UK. Eimear tells us that she left law school vowing not to practice law, but after a stint of freelance writing, she came back to the law and worked for quite a few years in immigration and human rights. Work that she loved, but her organization lost funding and her family moved. And so at that crossroad, she had to decide what to move into. And she was intrigued by the technology space, the innovation, the creativity, the flexibility, and she has followed that interest into her new career in legal technology.

Megan Smiley:

Two things I wanted to highlight in this conversation is the idea of innovation within the legal field and how it doesn't always have to mean hard technology. Eimear tells us as an interesting story of the first sort of legal tech firm that she worked for that, but what they did was that instead of sending resumes and sort of staffing companies instead of sending resumes, they sent videos and encouraged people to present themselves as full humans rather than just statistics on a page and shocker, that was well received. I think it's really interesting to see people doing genuinely different things in the space that tends to be slow to adapt to change. So I just thought that was interesting.

Megan Smiley:

And the second idea that we talk about that I think is very important is this idea of there being a different season for different types of work in your life, Eimear really enjoyed, you'll hear her say, enjoyed the immigration and human rights work. She enjoyed the environment, the people in that space, but it was quite emotionally draining after a while. And it wasn't because it was the wrong thing for her to do for a while, but it was just the time for her to make a change. So it's just a really good reminder that for people who are sort of spinning in their heads about what "the right next thing to do, or the thing that you need to be doing" that doesn't exist perpetually, right?

Megan Smiley:

This is a journey, we're all on a journey and may fit for a certain amount of time and then not fit at some point in your life. And that is okay, you are allowed to evolve. Your interests are allowed to change. Your priorities are almost certainly going to change. So just a reminder to give yourself a little bit of a break on having to come up with that sort of perfect solution to the question of what you should be doing with your life. So one more reminder, this week the VIP presale for the program is open. It is going to be bumping up in price. If you want to get in on the VIP early bird sale, you can still sign up through the link and I will send you information, or you can just send me a DM and it's really a guided process to help you discover and move towards whatever that next season of your career is.

Megan Smiley:

All right, moving on to the conversation with Eimear. Eimear welcome to the podcast.

Eimear McCann:

Well, it's great to be chatting to you Megan.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. I'm really excited to have you on. So I start with everyone in the same place, although your answer may be a little different here, but what took you to law school in the first place?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, I think I was probably a bit of an accidental lawyer. I think the career advice that I had at school was very much about getting a vocation and we were pushed into medicine, law, dentistry, teaching. And I think when you're really young as well, you're not really ... Well I know I wasn't really, I couldn't think beyond the next couple of months, never mind the next couple of years or kind of future and my love at school was languages and literature. And I think as well there was an assumption that if you were a literary that you would automatically enjoy law because of the focus I suppose on the written word and the advocacy as well. So in truth, I did law with Hispanic studies, which included a year, like an Erasmus year at a university in Spain in Salamanca. And that may have a small part because my sister had actually done did the same degree and had a fantastic time studying in Spain. So yeah, I think that was probably a factor as well if I'm really honest about it.

Megan Smiley:

I know right. Well, I studied abroad as an undergrad then I also studied abroad in law school. So maybe I should have just taken the hint that it was the studying abroad part I was interested in than the law.

Eimear McCann:

I am very, very much relieved about it definitely.

Megan Smiley:

So what sort of what was your path when you came out of school then?

Eimear McCann:

So it was in I studied that Queens University in Belfast. So I had a couple of years studying in Belfast, then I had the year in Salamanca in Spain and then finally got back in Belfast. And then after that actually decided that law wasn't for me. I just find this stuff very, very dry, and I actually made a pact with the three people that I travelled to Spain with. The four of us said, "Let's just make a pact." I mean, I was 21 at the time, but we made a pact that we would never train as lawyers. So two of us did and the other two took very different paths, but yeah, so it just really felt like it wasn't for me. So I ended up actually getting, I got a job as an editorial assistant working for a magazine and then worked as an assistant editor for them. And then I did freelance writing for a couple of years after that.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. I think there's a sort of a cultural difference certainly and maybe a financial difference between sort of how Europeans and people around the world go to law school versus how Americans go to law school. But I wonder if did you feel sort of like, it was hard to make that pact and walk away from practising? Or were you just kinda like, "Oh, I'm just not that into it. It's early on. I'm not that invested that I can't walk away."

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I think that's a really good point because I suppose back then it was 20 odd years ago when I graduated. So for us, we were just in that kind of golden era where we didn't have to pay any fees to go to university, which when I look back and realize, "Gosh, we were just so lucky." Whereas, now obviously the students here it's so much more competitive. It's just so much tougher and obviously, in the U.S. there are most students I understand it will leave with pretty huge debts at the end of it. So to walk away from it would be a much bigger decision I imagine but yeah, it was more the latter. I kind of thought, "Well, I've done the degree." And in my mind, I thought I had a great time. I really enjoyed university. I learned a lot. It wasn't really for me, but I'm really glad that I explored it.

Eimear McCann:

So it was kind of, I had that luxury and I realized that it was a complete luxury to be able to go and study and to leave with a small amount of debt that in reality was accumulated through travel rather than the actual fees.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. So like all these people listing being like, "Oh my God, I'm so jealous of her."

Eimear McCann:

It was a different world, but I was actually speaking to somebody in Denmark last week. And I didn't realize that in Denmark ... I knew that their tax for example it's 50% I think of income. I could be totally wrong, but around that anyway. It's very high. But here there are no, you can essentially go to for university four years without any fees still in Denmark. So it's just completely different cultures, isn't it?

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. It's so, much a piece of the puzzle for people here. I mean, also because it's a three-year graduate degree on top of your undergraduate degree here. So it's sort of both the time and this additional, and most people are taking loans out for both the undergrad and the law. So it really accumulates here in a way that sort of just systemically keeps people I think more stuck than other places perhaps.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. Yeah. Completely. I can completely see that.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. So it sounds like you kind of went back to your roots of editing and writing. Was that sort of always something you knew that you wanted to do?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I think probably went from a really early age. I love to write. I kept a journal. I kept a diary and then I started writing poetry and short stories and I just love, I just love the written word. I love the beauty of a novel or poem or whatever it might be. That's never really gone away. And I remember really clearly at my Spanish lecturer saying "Don't do law because it will cause your creativity, don't do that." She was kind of nearly pleading with me not to do it and I'd love to say that things have changed since then, but I'm not really sure that they've changed a lot, but yeah. So it's something that I'd always really kind of loved. And then it was actually a chance encounter with an old uni friend. He said I did, what was the equivalent, I don't know what the equivalent is in the U.S. but it's called the legal practice course. So it's more, it's post-grad very practical that you need to basically do before you can go on to get your training contract, but he had just completed his legal practice course in England.

Eimear McCann:

And he said, "Look, it's great. I think you'd like it. Why don't you come back to law kind of thing." And I think I was getting a wee bit disillusioned with the writing and editorial side of things and what I was done with I think deep down the curiosity was that what if I did qualify would I really enjoy it? It just hadn't really totally gone away. So then I went back, I did the legal practice course and actually really, really enjoyed it because it was very kind of hands-on. It felt like it could have been in practice rather than it being very, very dry and learn and really different ways. And for me being kind of lectured too and being given loads and loads of information to go off and study on my own, it just didn't really, I suppose it didn't really do it for me. So the legal practice course was a different world really.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. And what sort of side of the law was that? Did it cover a range of things or was it like you're going to be ... Did it qualify you to be a barrister or a solicitor?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, so the one I did was that the qualification for solicitor lawyer, but they do like, you have your core subjects, and then you get what are called elective. So you have then the choice, whether you kind of, and I think that's when lawyers start to get boxed and really it's when you start making those choices are you going to go down the more commercial route or do you choose I suppose the other sectors such as family law, immigration, et cetera? So that was a one year course, which I really enjoyed, it was excellent.

Megan Smiley:

So what did you do after that?

Eimear McCann:

So I started my training contract in London. And then I qualified whenever I qualified I started out in litigation. And then I moved over to immigration and human rights work. And I did immigration and public law essentially for about seven or eight years. So I worked for a law centre actually in Belfast. I moved back to Ireland and it was just brilliant. It was just a really fantastic place to work. A very creative hub. We had solicitors barristers who many of them also sat as judges in the different tribunals, but you kind of just turned up as yourself. So if you wanted to turn up in your jeans that was fine. If you preferred to wear a suit, that was fine. I think because the whole ethos was very much centred around change, campaigning work, strategic cases before the European courts.

Eimear McCann:

It was just a really, really interesting for us to work and it suited me particularly well I think because it had that real mix of the practice of law, but also a kind of a feeling that we could almost ideate and explore and see what worked and what didn't. And there was a lot of policy work as well and training. I did a lot of training. It was just a brilliant place to work essentially. It was kind of like I had found my legal home compared to private practice, which I didn't practically enjoy.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's sort of, I think so many people, maybe not everybody, but I think there are a lot of people that go to law school with sort of aspirations of doing something in that realm. But at least in the U.S. to often get sort of sidetracked by the more commercial route, because it seems more lucrative pretty much.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I can say that, especially if you've got a lot of debt and you've got financial commitments and I was thinking law is such a funny world in that for example, one of the friends who qualified at the same time, we had the same grades everything was probably earning 10 times what I was earning because they chose to go down a corporate route. Whereas I was drawn more to kind of the stories and the kind of the bigger picture stuff which is ... And it's just I suppose very idealistic. I was definitely very idealistic and still am to a degree. But it wasn't that there was any, I totally understood why he chose that route. But we're just all motivated by different things. Aren't we? But I don't think that's ever really properly explored when you're at law school or during your training.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. I think it's even like I took a lot of international law courses, human rights courses. I actually, when I studied abroad in London, I worked at someplace called Liberty, which was like a human rights organization.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, yeah.

Megan Smiley:

So I did sort of an internship there for the semester I was studying there. But it totally resonated. It was like yeah people in jeans, it was sort of like very really high-level important work they were doing, but the atmosphere was very much more laid back. It wasn't sort of suits and ties and very, very serious.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I know, I think you're right. And you know what? Now that I work in the world of tech and it's essentially was a tech startup when I joined that's what it felt. It's kind of felt like that where it was all very collaborative. It doesn't feel like we were competing with each other. It was like, we're all in this together. How can I help you? From what you're saying, it's sounded quite similar in London.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. I think it's interesting because people when they're thinking about what they want to do, they have this idea of like sort of the substance of what they're doing maybe, but there's also this element of the environment in which you're doing it, right? What is the culture of the place that you're working? It's so important.

Eimear McCann:

Completely. It changes everything.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. So it sounds like you really enjoyed that work.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I absolutely loved it. But unfortunately, then the political landscape changed a lot in the UK and we lost our funding then to do the immigration work at the law centre. And then we ended up moving over to Manchester because of my husband's work over to Manchester in England. And I ended up back in private practice and it was just that feeling again that I just ... You know the feeling that you're being slightly drained and I just you keep exploring different things in your head. But as you say, where you work, the culture where you work, even if the work you're doing is entirely the same in one place compared to the next it's everything really.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah exactly. So as you were there and feeling drained, what was your thought process there? Were you thinking, "Okay, well maybe I need to sort of get in a different field?" Or was that the point where you started to sort of think more broadly about what your next step would be?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, I think I was very much thinking is the problem that I need to get out of law or is the problem that I need to get back into the I suppose the not-for-profit or the NGO sector. But I had kind of two kids within that period. I think it was quite hard to get proper clarity and what I wanted to do. So I didn't make any kind of rush decisions. But what I had decided was maybe it is a case that I need to be self-employed maybe I'll go out on my own. So I actually set up, it was kind of like I set up my own website, et cetera, and worked on a kind of consultancy basis for a while. But then it was only through doing that that I thought, "Gosh, I actually enjoyed building the website far more than the practice of law."

Eimear McCann:

And also it's not really the kind of freedom that I'm after even though I still I think we all seek our freedom, don't we? But, it was more than I thought and I just really felt like I'd had enough of it. And I know people talk about compassion, fatigue, et cetera, but I think especially with immigration and it's challenging, very emotional work. And I think something slightly shifted within me after I had kids. And I find the trafficking cases, the deportation cases where kids were involved, that I find that I was just going to bed at night and thinking about it an awful lot and I just wasn't sure how much more of that I could take. I don't know, something just kind of changed. And I thought, no I actually just had, I didn't feel like I was giving at a 100% anymore.

Eimear McCann:

So that was when I thought, right I need to really think a bit more clearly about what I want to do. But obviously within a very programmatic context because you have two kids with the expense of childcare, et cetera. So all those factors kind of came into play after that.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. I think that's so interesting because I see a lot that people sort of think, "Oh, there's this one perfect answer out there." Like if I could do human rights or if I could do immigration, I would feel all set forever. And I think the truth is for a variety of reasons, things might be a good fit for a season and not the right fit for the next season. So I think that's really interesting in terms of yeah having sort of enjoyed something in one context, but just being ready in this case because it was sort of an emotionally heavy practice area. But for whatever reason, something might work for a while and then it just doesn't anymore.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. And that's more or less I didn't know whether either maybe I'm just too honest or whether everybody else have more kind of seamless trajectories, but I kind of feel like that's what life is anyway, isn't it? Certain things fit for a certain time. And I don't know, I'm also a big believer in trusting your instinct when something doesn't feel right. There's usually a reason for it when you explore a bit more.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. So what was sort of this next chapter? You've alluded to going into tech and liking building your website. So it seemed like maybe that was the first inkling of that for you.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, I think that's it actually. I never really thought about that, but I suppose it was. Yeah. And then I was just starting to read about all this build-up and momentum around tech, within legal and I just don't always find tech startups really fascinated me because of what we had talked about because of the culture and the fact that there seem to be digital nomads and they could work from anywhere and people seemed to just be themselves and get on with their work and Excel at it. And I just thought that sounded so interesting. But I also then had wondered what it would be like to actually code. And I thought, well, maybe that's important. So I did, I just thought I went on a complete exploration of so many things, to be honest.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. I love that.

Eimear McCann:

So I did a coding course in Java and I thought it was brilliant and really interesting, but I just thought it wasn't really for me, but that it was so useful because from my perspective understanding the amount of time it takes to write a piece of code to get one simple thing to happen was unbelievable for me. But I also really wanted to understand what people kept talking about, what sits behind and on the backend and all the terminology. And I really wanted to understand that because I thought, well, if we're already in it, we were already in a digital revolution, then it's been a very long one in many ways but the acceleration has been rapid. But I wanted to understand that as much for my kids because I thought well, they're going to probably learn to code.

Eimear McCann:

And I want to understand a bit of what they'll be learning, but it turns out who knows where there might be a more focused on no code, low code kind of applications in the future. But I thought it was important anyway, I find that really interesting. So I started exploring options of like what could I do? And I think you know this better than anyone but you know when you're in law, how do you get, how do you kind of move? Because I think going back to career advice years and years ago, you know, "Oh, if you do law and you get a law degree, it's such a brilliant degree. You can do anything." I mean, that is completely inaccurate. You can't, people we love to be able to, we love to pigeon with people. It's how we survive.

Eimear McCann:

It's an evolutionary hangover. It's a simple judgment, isn't it? A snapshot of people on their lives. And so people decide you're a lawyer, not only are you a lawyer, you're one of those idealistic I'm going to save the world lawyers essentially how people say that to me. So moving out of that was really interesting. So yeah, I looked into lots of things, at creative avenues, lecturing, training, and then it was only then when I started to explore the tech world that I thought, hold on a minute, this is actually a pretty great place perhaps for me because it kind of seemed to set at the intersection of creativity and innovation and the tradition of law. So that was kind of where I thought, "Well, this could be something to properly explore that I might find really interesting and could actually find a role within it as well."

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. I love that. I've told people this, my story of sort of exploring with things. And I just, I love hearing that when another person's story of just really just kind of throwing some spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, right? It isn't necessarily a magic process. It's just giving yourself the time and space to mess around with some stuff and see what you actually like to do.

Eimear McCann:

Completely. And I think that that's part of the problem because there are so many myths about the legal profession and you've got very shiny programs about law and how glamorous it is and big paychecks and everything, or else you've got people as you said earlier, who think oh, I'd really love that. And then I would be happy and as you said, there's no magic formula, is there? It's just kind of ... But I suppose it depends on your thinking. I've always kind of thought, well, we're here on this planet and we might as well explore as much as we can and you never know something might actually come out of some of these opportunities and explorations, but it's not easy. I think that's the one thing. It's not easy to find a different route I think if you've been in law for a while and I'd been qualified, I'd had 11 years, I think it was 11 years qualification within legal. So it is quite difficult to then persuade people that you actually have something else to offer.

Eimear McCann:

I think what I did, and I don't know if this is helpful to anyone, but I find it really helpful was I actually removed the word legal and law from my CV and then re-read it. And it could have read as a CV from loads of other sectors. And that was kind of I think a bit of it kind of changed my perspective slightly. And I thought, "Well, that's interesting if I take it law and legal out of my career, what have I really been doing?" And I thought that I found that really useful.

Megan Smiley:

That's interesting because it's not even to like sort of disown the experience you had, but it's just to put it a different lens on it really by removing that you realize what you did have was maybe more a generalizable universal than it seems when you put the label law on it.

Eimear McCann:

Exactly. Yeah. And you can start to kind of deconstruct stuff about it and start to go actually well, that scale could be really useful for this, or actually, that was creative. That was innovative. That was whatever it was. And it was really helpful for me and I find that a really helpful thing to do.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. So then you sort of found yourself at the intersection of your sort of legal experience and this technology world that was intriguing to you.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. And then I think particularly in the UK back well, what? Three, four years ago, where I was just getting that feeling of all this energy around it, we had the legal geek conference in London and all these startups in London there's just an awful lot of buzz around it. And so I started with a company called Flex Legal, and they wanted somebody to set up their Northern office in Manchester. So, that was essentially like an on-demand paralegal service. So it was matching up law students and graduates and to kind of projects for law firms and in-house legal teams. But it was really interesting for me because I've still I suppose always had a bit of a draw to help people. And I think with the ... I did a lot of talks at universities.

Eimear McCann:

I was chatting to law students every day and it was even though it was a legal tech company in the sense that you use the fantastic technology to match them up, it was all done by an app. It was brilliant, but it was very much about helping law students who really felt like they couldn't get the experience. And it's that whole thing of well you don't have the experience, so, therefore, we can't offer you a training contract, et cetera. So it was actually getting their foot in the door and also giving a benefit kind of levelling the playing field a bit because it was all about the ... We took videos of every single person that we interviewed.

Eimear McCann:

So it wasn't a CV. It was somebody chatting through who they were and nearly everyone that used Flex would say that they had chose paralegals or law graduates, but they wouldn't normally have chosen if they'd just seen in their CV. Because some of them I think there's such a push isn't there? For not just law students for all students and young people to make themselves stand out that then it blends into a bit of homogeny sometimes because everybody's trying to do the same thing. But whenever they show the videos, their personality comes across and I just kept saying, but you're absolutely and you come across with all this passion and people who felt that they had nothing to add and didn't even put stuff on their CV because they didn't think it was relevant came out in the interview that they used to ... One of them was a ballerina.

Eimear McCann:

There was people she had spent summers singing on cruise shifts. There was all these different things that really showed who it basically was and stuff that what I find really inspiring was the partners and heads of legal were going to that. I really love that they went and did that. I loved that they climbed a dormant volcano or whatever it might be which they had decided wasn't really that relevant. And I was like but you as a person, that's the important bit because you do any one of them. So yeah, so that was-

Megan Smiley:

I love that because I could not agree more that it feels like often the legal industry just sort of strips you of all of your individuality and reduces you certainly when you're just coming out of law school, it feels like you're just your GPA basically and whatever the rank of the school was that you went to. And I think that's demoralizing, to say the least for a lot of people, but it's interesting because it required the buy-in from the firms as well to that system. Right? So it's always interesting. I'm very interested to hear when sort of the more entrenched sort of legal industry adopt these sort of innovative approaches to different things.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I think that's what I find was quite uplifting I suppose. And it gave me an awful lot of hope for future lawyers because I thought, well they can see what we're seeing here, which is the personality and the background and the passion. And you don't see any of that from a CV, do you? As you said, it's just about grades and it becomes a bit elitist sometimes.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. For sure. That just sounds like a very, yeah, not only interesting from sort of the fact that it was your interest brought together, but kind of it had its own mission as well.

Eimear McCann:

I think, yeah. That's a really good point. Actually I just there was a very strong kind of vision. And yeah it was, I think that was it. And that's what I think interests me about legal tech more generally is that every company or every segment has a very distinct vision of how they're going to change law and I think it needs to be changed and from so many angles and being a part of that in many ways is fantastic.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. And so what has your experience in that field been since then?

Eimear McCann:

So then I joined Summize which is where I'm working at the moment, which is a contract review and creation platform. And I actually met Tom who's the founder whenever we were working on a project actually with the Flex and he took on some paralegals and he was working then as legal director JC for a company. But he was already kind of on his mission of changing the way that lawyers had to review contracts. That it didn't have to be this really arduous process, but also it didn't have to be a really clunky piece of tech that took ages to train up and implement. And he was kind of just asking all of those what-if questions, what if it was really lightweight? What if it was intuitive? What if it's cost-effective? What if it was a subscription model?

Eimear McCann:

And those so I just, I suppose he's just so passionate about what he's done that I just really thought that this is where we have to go. It's very much about meeting the lawyers where they are so not trying to go, right you're you need to change everything that you're doing, but actually, you're already for example you use Microsoft Word. So we're going to give you something that integrates and sits on top of Microsoft Word that will mean that your job is easier. And if you use Outlook or Slack or SharePoint, whatever it might be, we will come and meet you there. And I just, I loved that kind of the fells of helping people, help them learn as making their job easier, but making little specific bits of it easier because I think that's where sometimes things get a bit lost. It's like, oh, this makes the job of the lawyer easier.

Eimear McCann:

That's a really big statement and you think, well, what does that mean? The job of a lawyer in every day is different in every firm in every legal team. And I think there was just that period wasn't there? Where there was an awful lot of hype around tech. And then I think that's settling a lot on paper going well actually, oh yeah I can see a use for that and use for this. And the same way that I think for us we've been adopting tech in our personal lives on an ongoing basis and we're not at the point of been incredibly discerning about it because there are so many options, but only selecting the bits that are really going to be helpful. Just apply for your stuff for me anywhere on my phone it's just gone because there's no point in it being there and we've got enough. I think the kind of cognitive load is a heavy one to carry. So yeah. So I think it's really interesting to see where how and where technology is really changing how lawyers are working.

Megan Smiley:

And I would imagine from your perspective, it's also if what you have identified that you enjoy is innovation, it's going to be constantly innovating for the reason you just said. Which is things just keep developing so quickly that you can't just create something, put it out there and just maintain it forever.

Eimear McCann:

Completely. And I think as well because it's relatively new as a market, we're constantly asking for feedback and changing and I suppose it appeals as well from my perspective the sense of it's always kind of exploration, always asking questions, always being curious about what we could do better, what we could do next essentially.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. So what is your exact role then?

Eimear McCann:

So my title is Head of Strategy, so I suppose a lot of it is about looking for opportunities, and kind of working at how I suppose the development of the product and the new markets that we're looking at and how we align all of those with what the overall kind of vision is. And I think it's really, I suppose it's very multifaceted because it's a young company and I love that as well that it's not just, this is a tick box of a job description, of a job spec. So it just really appeals to me. But I also do a bit of a visiting lecturing at the University of Law as well, which means that I'm still kind of in tune at least a little bit in terms of what academia looks like for most students at the moment. So it's really interesting.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. It's sort of a little composite career.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah.

Megan Smiley:

Well, if someone were sort of interested in transitioning from law into sort of this legal tech space, are the things that you would tell them are important to sort of was coding important or was it just kind of a nice to have, or what kind of sides of that industry are really sort of good spots for a lawyer to transition into?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, that's a really good question. I think for example if somebody was really interested in legal tech from a very technical perspective so for example, they were interested in becoming a legal engineer or a legal technologist, I would say definitely coding would be really useful. I am not by my own admission or really a technical person. I think I'm better at seeing the bigger picture, but not detail-driven. And I can see that. But so that's why a role I suppose in strategy or marketing actually really appeals. But I think it just depends on the type of role but I would say, just do research. Have a look and say what's happening in the market? What kind of companies interest you and why what is it that really ... Because what I've actually noticed in my exploratory phase before I was kind of I ended up happily and luckily in legal tech was understanding what actually motivates you is far harder than you think and from my perspective, it was anyway.

Eimear McCann:

And the only way that I could truly identify what I really wanted to do was to imagine, like properly imagine what would it be like waking up every day and doing that role? What would that really look like and how would I feel? And it was only when I did that I think I really understood what I was looking for. So I think if somebody is thinking of legal tech, it's such an interesting time to be doing it, and there's so many opportunities out there and there will be far more. So I would say just understand what it is that motivates you. Why are you interested in the technology side of things? Are you very technical? Explore it, but maybe do a little online course with Codecademy or whatever it's called. I think that's what it's called, and then start just connecting with people whether it's LinkedIn or other platforms and following what they're doing and listen to different podcasts, following different groups.

Eimear McCann:

And you'll really quickly, it's a really nice community. And I think that because of COVID and lockdown we ended up connected to people all over the world because it was just as easy to jump on a video call to Australia for me as it was in the UK. And so these groups, I've kind of followed groups, members of groups in all different places in Europe, in the U.S., Australia, and you'll start to see trends and patterns and your mind start to think actually though that have really interests me. And I think it's only when you do that, that then you can kind of whittle down what kind of route might really, really appeal.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. That makes sense. At the end of the day, it's sort of yeah, just exploring, experimenting, researching. It's not a flip of a switch to know, "Oh, this is for me."

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, yeah. Which would be great.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. And I imagine they're different types of environments, right? They're probably the more startup type companies and there are sort of probably the more established, larger companies and working for those are going to be very different experiences, same with a big firm and a small firm.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. Completely. Yeah. And I suppose like the legal sector itself, you're going to get just a different culture in different places and different segments and part of it as well.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for taking the time. And I know talking at a distance where we're between the UK and California here. So I know it's getting into the evening for you.

Eimear McCann:

I know.

Megan Smiley:

But it's been a real pleasure talking with you and sort of I think it's so interesting to hear about how this field is evolving and really sort of the type of experience it is to work in it. So thank you for sharing your experience with this.

Eimear McCann:

Oh, it's been just so lovely chatting to you, Megan. Thank you so much.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah, absolutely.

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The Lawyer's Escape Pod: Eimear McCann

By
May 28, 2021

Transcript

Megan Smiley:

Hey fellow nerds. I'm Megan smiley and this is The Lawyer's Escape Pod. For those of you who've gotten into practice, looked around and thought, "So this is my life?" I get it. You're in deep and you feel stuck. You may have no idea what the next step would be, or maybe you have an idea, but think it's unrealistic. I truly believe that there's a path forward for each of us if we're intentional about finding it. And this podcast will be a great source of advice and inspiration for you to make that leap to a more fulfilling career.

Megan Smiley:

My guest today is Eimear McCann. Eimear is the Head of Strategy at Summize, which is a legal tech company in the UK. Eimear tells us that she left law school vowing not to practice law, but after a stint of freelance writing, she came back to the law and worked for quite a few years in immigration and human rights. Work that she loved, but her organization lost funding and her family moved. And so at that crossroad, she had to decide what to move into. And she was intrigued by the technology space, the innovation, the creativity, the flexibility, and she has followed that interest into her new career in legal technology.

Megan Smiley:

Two things I wanted to highlight in this conversation is the idea of innovation within the legal field and how it doesn't always have to mean hard technology. Eimear tells us as an interesting story of the first sort of legal tech firm that she worked for that, but what they did was that instead of sending resumes and sort of staffing companies instead of sending resumes, they sent videos and encouraged people to present themselves as full humans rather than just statistics on a page and shocker, that was well received. I think it's really interesting to see people doing genuinely different things in the space that tends to be slow to adapt to change. So I just thought that was interesting.

Megan Smiley:

And the second idea that we talk about that I think is very important is this idea of there being a different season for different types of work in your life, Eimear really enjoyed, you'll hear her say, enjoyed the immigration and human rights work. She enjoyed the environment, the people in that space, but it was quite emotionally draining after a while. And it wasn't because it was the wrong thing for her to do for a while, but it was just the time for her to make a change. So it's just a really good reminder that for people who are sort of spinning in their heads about what "the right next thing to do, or the thing that you need to be doing" that doesn't exist perpetually, right?

Megan Smiley:

This is a journey, we're all on a journey and may fit for a certain amount of time and then not fit at some point in your life. And that is okay, you are allowed to evolve. Your interests are allowed to change. Your priorities are almost certainly going to change. So just a reminder to give yourself a little bit of a break on having to come up with that sort of perfect solution to the question of what you should be doing with your life. So one more reminder, this week the VIP presale for the program is open. It is going to be bumping up in price. If you want to get in on the VIP early bird sale, you can still sign up through the link and I will send you information, or you can just send me a DM and it's really a guided process to help you discover and move towards whatever that next season of your career is.

Megan Smiley:

All right, moving on to the conversation with Eimear. Eimear welcome to the podcast.

Eimear McCann:

Well, it's great to be chatting to you Megan.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. I'm really excited to have you on. So I start with everyone in the same place, although your answer may be a little different here, but what took you to law school in the first place?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, I think I was probably a bit of an accidental lawyer. I think the career advice that I had at school was very much about getting a vocation and we were pushed into medicine, law, dentistry, teaching. And I think when you're really young as well, you're not really ... Well I know I wasn't really, I couldn't think beyond the next couple of months, never mind the next couple of years or kind of future and my love at school was languages and literature. And I think as well there was an assumption that if you were a literary that you would automatically enjoy law because of the focus I suppose on the written word and the advocacy as well. So in truth, I did law with Hispanic studies, which included a year, like an Erasmus year at a university in Spain in Salamanca. And that may have a small part because my sister had actually done did the same degree and had a fantastic time studying in Spain. So yeah, I think that was probably a factor as well if I'm really honest about it.

Megan Smiley:

I know right. Well, I studied abroad as an undergrad then I also studied abroad in law school. So maybe I should have just taken the hint that it was the studying abroad part I was interested in than the law.

Eimear McCann:

I am very, very much relieved about it definitely.

Megan Smiley:

So what sort of what was your path when you came out of school then?

Eimear McCann:

So it was in I studied that Queens University in Belfast. So I had a couple of years studying in Belfast, then I had the year in Salamanca in Spain and then finally got back in Belfast. And then after that actually decided that law wasn't for me. I just find this stuff very, very dry, and I actually made a pact with the three people that I travelled to Spain with. The four of us said, "Let's just make a pact." I mean, I was 21 at the time, but we made a pact that we would never train as lawyers. So two of us did and the other two took very different paths, but yeah, so it just really felt like it wasn't for me. So I ended up actually getting, I got a job as an editorial assistant working for a magazine and then worked as an assistant editor for them. And then I did freelance writing for a couple of years after that.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. I think there's a sort of a cultural difference certainly and maybe a financial difference between sort of how Europeans and people around the world go to law school versus how Americans go to law school. But I wonder if did you feel sort of like, it was hard to make that pact and walk away from practising? Or were you just kinda like, "Oh, I'm just not that into it. It's early on. I'm not that invested that I can't walk away."

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I think that's a really good point because I suppose back then it was 20 odd years ago when I graduated. So for us, we were just in that kind of golden era where we didn't have to pay any fees to go to university, which when I look back and realize, "Gosh, we were just so lucky." Whereas, now obviously the students here it's so much more competitive. It's just so much tougher and obviously, in the U.S. there are most students I understand it will leave with pretty huge debts at the end of it. So to walk away from it would be a much bigger decision I imagine but yeah, it was more the latter. I kind of thought, "Well, I've done the degree." And in my mind, I thought I had a great time. I really enjoyed university. I learned a lot. It wasn't really for me, but I'm really glad that I explored it.

Eimear McCann:

So it was kind of, I had that luxury and I realized that it was a complete luxury to be able to go and study and to leave with a small amount of debt that in reality was accumulated through travel rather than the actual fees.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. So like all these people listing being like, "Oh my God, I'm so jealous of her."

Eimear McCann:

It was a different world, but I was actually speaking to somebody in Denmark last week. And I didn't realize that in Denmark ... I knew that their tax for example it's 50% I think of income. I could be totally wrong, but around that anyway. It's very high. But here there are no, you can essentially go to for university four years without any fees still in Denmark. So it's just completely different cultures, isn't it?

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. It's so, much a piece of the puzzle for people here. I mean, also because it's a three-year graduate degree on top of your undergraduate degree here. So it's sort of both the time and this additional, and most people are taking loans out for both the undergrad and the law. So it really accumulates here in a way that sort of just systemically keeps people I think more stuck than other places perhaps.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. Yeah. Completely. I can completely see that.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. So it sounds like you kind of went back to your roots of editing and writing. Was that sort of always something you knew that you wanted to do?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I think probably went from a really early age. I love to write. I kept a journal. I kept a diary and then I started writing poetry and short stories and I just love, I just love the written word. I love the beauty of a novel or poem or whatever it might be. That's never really gone away. And I remember really clearly at my Spanish lecturer saying "Don't do law because it will cause your creativity, don't do that." She was kind of nearly pleading with me not to do it and I'd love to say that things have changed since then, but I'm not really sure that they've changed a lot, but yeah. So it's something that I'd always really kind of loved. And then it was actually a chance encounter with an old uni friend. He said I did, what was the equivalent, I don't know what the equivalent is in the U.S. but it's called the legal practice course. So it's more, it's post-grad very practical that you need to basically do before you can go on to get your training contract, but he had just completed his legal practice course in England.

Eimear McCann:

And he said, "Look, it's great. I think you'd like it. Why don't you come back to law kind of thing." And I think I was getting a wee bit disillusioned with the writing and editorial side of things and what I was done with I think deep down the curiosity was that what if I did qualify would I really enjoy it? It just hadn't really totally gone away. So then I went back, I did the legal practice course and actually really, really enjoyed it because it was very kind of hands-on. It felt like it could have been in practice rather than it being very, very dry and learn and really different ways. And for me being kind of lectured too and being given loads and loads of information to go off and study on my own, it just didn't really, I suppose it didn't really do it for me. So the legal practice course was a different world really.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. And what sort of side of the law was that? Did it cover a range of things or was it like you're going to be ... Did it qualify you to be a barrister or a solicitor?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, so the one I did was that the qualification for solicitor lawyer, but they do like, you have your core subjects, and then you get what are called elective. So you have then the choice, whether you kind of, and I think that's when lawyers start to get boxed and really it's when you start making those choices are you going to go down the more commercial route or do you choose I suppose the other sectors such as family law, immigration, et cetera? So that was a one year course, which I really enjoyed, it was excellent.

Megan Smiley:

So what did you do after that?

Eimear McCann:

So I started my training contract in London. And then I qualified whenever I qualified I started out in litigation. And then I moved over to immigration and human rights work. And I did immigration and public law essentially for about seven or eight years. So I worked for a law centre actually in Belfast. I moved back to Ireland and it was just brilliant. It was just a really fantastic place to work. A very creative hub. We had solicitors barristers who many of them also sat as judges in the different tribunals, but you kind of just turned up as yourself. So if you wanted to turn up in your jeans that was fine. If you preferred to wear a suit, that was fine. I think because the whole ethos was very much centred around change, campaigning work, strategic cases before the European courts.

Eimear McCann:

It was just a really, really interesting for us to work and it suited me particularly well I think because it had that real mix of the practice of law, but also a kind of a feeling that we could almost ideate and explore and see what worked and what didn't. And there was a lot of policy work as well and training. I did a lot of training. It was just a brilliant place to work essentially. It was kind of like I had found my legal home compared to private practice, which I didn't practically enjoy.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. I mean, that's sort of, I think so many people, maybe not everybody, but I think there are a lot of people that go to law school with sort of aspirations of doing something in that realm. But at least in the U.S. to often get sort of sidetracked by the more commercial route, because it seems more lucrative pretty much.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I can say that, especially if you've got a lot of debt and you've got financial commitments and I was thinking law is such a funny world in that for example, one of the friends who qualified at the same time, we had the same grades everything was probably earning 10 times what I was earning because they chose to go down a corporate route. Whereas I was drawn more to kind of the stories and the kind of the bigger picture stuff which is ... And it's just I suppose very idealistic. I was definitely very idealistic and still am to a degree. But it wasn't that there was any, I totally understood why he chose that route. But we're just all motivated by different things. Aren't we? But I don't think that's ever really properly explored when you're at law school or during your training.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. I think it's even like I took a lot of international law courses, human rights courses. I actually, when I studied abroad in London, I worked at someplace called Liberty, which was like a human rights organization.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, yeah.

Megan Smiley:

So I did sort of an internship there for the semester I was studying there. But it totally resonated. It was like yeah people in jeans, it was sort of like very really high-level important work they were doing, but the atmosphere was very much more laid back. It wasn't sort of suits and ties and very, very serious.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I know, I think you're right. And you know what? Now that I work in the world of tech and it's essentially was a tech startup when I joined that's what it felt. It's kind of felt like that where it was all very collaborative. It doesn't feel like we were competing with each other. It was like, we're all in this together. How can I help you? From what you're saying, it's sounded quite similar in London.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. I think it's interesting because people when they're thinking about what they want to do, they have this idea of like sort of the substance of what they're doing maybe, but there's also this element of the environment in which you're doing it, right? What is the culture of the place that you're working? It's so important.

Eimear McCann:

Completely. It changes everything.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. So it sounds like you really enjoyed that work.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I absolutely loved it. But unfortunately, then the political landscape changed a lot in the UK and we lost our funding then to do the immigration work at the law centre. And then we ended up moving over to Manchester because of my husband's work over to Manchester in England. And I ended up back in private practice and it was just that feeling again that I just ... You know the feeling that you're being slightly drained and I just you keep exploring different things in your head. But as you say, where you work, the culture where you work, even if the work you're doing is entirely the same in one place compared to the next it's everything really.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah exactly. So as you were there and feeling drained, what was your thought process there? Were you thinking, "Okay, well maybe I need to sort of get in a different field?" Or was that the point where you started to sort of think more broadly about what your next step would be?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, I think I was very much thinking is the problem that I need to get out of law or is the problem that I need to get back into the I suppose the not-for-profit or the NGO sector. But I had kind of two kids within that period. I think it was quite hard to get proper clarity and what I wanted to do. So I didn't make any kind of rush decisions. But what I had decided was maybe it is a case that I need to be self-employed maybe I'll go out on my own. So I actually set up, it was kind of like I set up my own website, et cetera, and worked on a kind of consultancy basis for a while. But then it was only through doing that that I thought, "Gosh, I actually enjoyed building the website far more than the practice of law."

Eimear McCann:

And also it's not really the kind of freedom that I'm after even though I still I think we all seek our freedom, don't we? But, it was more than I thought and I just really felt like I'd had enough of it. And I know people talk about compassion, fatigue, et cetera, but I think especially with immigration and it's challenging, very emotional work. And I think something slightly shifted within me after I had kids. And I find the trafficking cases, the deportation cases where kids were involved, that I find that I was just going to bed at night and thinking about it an awful lot and I just wasn't sure how much more of that I could take. I don't know, something just kind of changed. And I thought, no I actually just had, I didn't feel like I was giving at a 100% anymore.

Eimear McCann:

So that was when I thought, right I need to really think a bit more clearly about what I want to do. But obviously within a very programmatic context because you have two kids with the expense of childcare, et cetera. So all those factors kind of came into play after that.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. I think that's so interesting because I see a lot that people sort of think, "Oh, there's this one perfect answer out there." Like if I could do human rights or if I could do immigration, I would feel all set forever. And I think the truth is for a variety of reasons, things might be a good fit for a season and not the right fit for the next season. So I think that's really interesting in terms of yeah having sort of enjoyed something in one context, but just being ready in this case because it was sort of an emotionally heavy practice area. But for whatever reason, something might work for a while and then it just doesn't anymore.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. And that's more or less I didn't know whether either maybe I'm just too honest or whether everybody else have more kind of seamless trajectories, but I kind of feel like that's what life is anyway, isn't it? Certain things fit for a certain time. And I don't know, I'm also a big believer in trusting your instinct when something doesn't feel right. There's usually a reason for it when you explore a bit more.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. So what was sort of this next chapter? You've alluded to going into tech and liking building your website. So it seemed like maybe that was the first inkling of that for you.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, I think that's it actually. I never really thought about that, but I suppose it was. Yeah. And then I was just starting to read about all this build-up and momentum around tech, within legal and I just don't always find tech startups really fascinated me because of what we had talked about because of the culture and the fact that there seem to be digital nomads and they could work from anywhere and people seemed to just be themselves and get on with their work and Excel at it. And I just thought that sounded so interesting. But I also then had wondered what it would be like to actually code. And I thought, well, maybe that's important. So I did, I just thought I went on a complete exploration of so many things, to be honest.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. I love that.

Eimear McCann:

So I did a coding course in Java and I thought it was brilliant and really interesting, but I just thought it wasn't really for me, but that it was so useful because from my perspective understanding the amount of time it takes to write a piece of code to get one simple thing to happen was unbelievable for me. But I also really wanted to understand what people kept talking about, what sits behind and on the backend and all the terminology. And I really wanted to understand that because I thought, well, if we're already in it, we were already in a digital revolution, then it's been a very long one in many ways but the acceleration has been rapid. But I wanted to understand that as much for my kids because I thought well, they're going to probably learn to code.

Eimear McCann:

And I want to understand a bit of what they'll be learning, but it turns out who knows where there might be a more focused on no code, low code kind of applications in the future. But I thought it was important anyway, I find that really interesting. So I started exploring options of like what could I do? And I think you know this better than anyone but you know when you're in law, how do you get, how do you kind of move? Because I think going back to career advice years and years ago, you know, "Oh, if you do law and you get a law degree, it's such a brilliant degree. You can do anything." I mean, that is completely inaccurate. You can't, people we love to be able to, we love to pigeon with people. It's how we survive.

Eimear McCann:

It's an evolutionary hangover. It's a simple judgment, isn't it? A snapshot of people on their lives. And so people decide you're a lawyer, not only are you a lawyer, you're one of those idealistic I'm going to save the world lawyers essentially how people say that to me. So moving out of that was really interesting. So yeah, I looked into lots of things, at creative avenues, lecturing, training, and then it was only then when I started to explore the tech world that I thought, hold on a minute, this is actually a pretty great place perhaps for me because it kind of seemed to set at the intersection of creativity and innovation and the tradition of law. So that was kind of where I thought, "Well, this could be something to properly explore that I might find really interesting and could actually find a role within it as well."

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. I love that. I've told people this, my story of sort of exploring with things. And I just, I love hearing that when another person's story of just really just kind of throwing some spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks, right? It isn't necessarily a magic process. It's just giving yourself the time and space to mess around with some stuff and see what you actually like to do.

Eimear McCann:

Completely. And I think that that's part of the problem because there are so many myths about the legal profession and you've got very shiny programs about law and how glamorous it is and big paychecks and everything, or else you've got people as you said earlier, who think oh, I'd really love that. And then I would be happy and as you said, there's no magic formula, is there? It's just kind of ... But I suppose it depends on your thinking. I've always kind of thought, well, we're here on this planet and we might as well explore as much as we can and you never know something might actually come out of some of these opportunities and explorations, but it's not easy. I think that's the one thing. It's not easy to find a different route I think if you've been in law for a while and I'd been qualified, I'd had 11 years, I think it was 11 years qualification within legal. So it is quite difficult to then persuade people that you actually have something else to offer.

Eimear McCann:

I think what I did, and I don't know if this is helpful to anyone, but I find it really helpful was I actually removed the word legal and law from my CV and then re-read it. And it could have read as a CV from loads of other sectors. And that was kind of I think a bit of it kind of changed my perspective slightly. And I thought, "Well, that's interesting if I take it law and legal out of my career, what have I really been doing?" And I thought that I found that really useful.

Megan Smiley:

That's interesting because it's not even to like sort of disown the experience you had, but it's just to put it a different lens on it really by removing that you realize what you did have was maybe more a generalizable universal than it seems when you put the label law on it.

Eimear McCann:

Exactly. Yeah. And you can start to kind of deconstruct stuff about it and start to go actually well, that scale could be really useful for this, or actually, that was creative. That was innovative. That was whatever it was. And it was really helpful for me and I find that a really helpful thing to do.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. So then you sort of found yourself at the intersection of your sort of legal experience and this technology world that was intriguing to you.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. And then I think particularly in the UK back well, what? Three, four years ago, where I was just getting that feeling of all this energy around it, we had the legal geek conference in London and all these startups in London there's just an awful lot of buzz around it. And so I started with a company called Flex Legal, and they wanted somebody to set up their Northern office in Manchester. So, that was essentially like an on-demand paralegal service. So it was matching up law students and graduates and to kind of projects for law firms and in-house legal teams. But it was really interesting for me because I've still I suppose always had a bit of a draw to help people. And I think with the ... I did a lot of talks at universities.

Eimear McCann:

I was chatting to law students every day and it was even though it was a legal tech company in the sense that you use the fantastic technology to match them up, it was all done by an app. It was brilliant, but it was very much about helping law students who really felt like they couldn't get the experience. And it's that whole thing of well you don't have the experience, so, therefore, we can't offer you a training contract, et cetera. So it was actually getting their foot in the door and also giving a benefit kind of levelling the playing field a bit because it was all about the ... We took videos of every single person that we interviewed.

Eimear McCann:

So it wasn't a CV. It was somebody chatting through who they were and nearly everyone that used Flex would say that they had chose paralegals or law graduates, but they wouldn't normally have chosen if they'd just seen in their CV. Because some of them I think there's such a push isn't there? For not just law students for all students and young people to make themselves stand out that then it blends into a bit of homogeny sometimes because everybody's trying to do the same thing. But whenever they show the videos, their personality comes across and I just kept saying, but you're absolutely and you come across with all this passion and people who felt that they had nothing to add and didn't even put stuff on their CV because they didn't think it was relevant came out in the interview that they used to ... One of them was a ballerina.

Eimear McCann:

There was people she had spent summers singing on cruise shifts. There was all these different things that really showed who it basically was and stuff that what I find really inspiring was the partners and heads of legal were going to that. I really love that they went and did that. I loved that they climbed a dormant volcano or whatever it might be which they had decided wasn't really that relevant. And I was like but you as a person, that's the important bit because you do any one of them. So yeah, so that was-

Megan Smiley:

I love that because I could not agree more that it feels like often the legal industry just sort of strips you of all of your individuality and reduces you certainly when you're just coming out of law school, it feels like you're just your GPA basically and whatever the rank of the school was that you went to. And I think that's demoralizing, to say the least for a lot of people, but it's interesting because it required the buy-in from the firms as well to that system. Right? So it's always interesting. I'm very interested to hear when sort of the more entrenched sort of legal industry adopt these sort of innovative approaches to different things.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. I think that's what I find was quite uplifting I suppose. And it gave me an awful lot of hope for future lawyers because I thought, well they can see what we're seeing here, which is the personality and the background and the passion. And you don't see any of that from a CV, do you? As you said, it's just about grades and it becomes a bit elitist sometimes.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. For sure. That just sounds like a very, yeah, not only interesting from sort of the fact that it was your interest brought together, but kind of it had its own mission as well.

Eimear McCann:

I think, yeah. That's a really good point. Actually I just there was a very strong kind of vision. And yeah it was, I think that was it. And that's what I think interests me about legal tech more generally is that every company or every segment has a very distinct vision of how they're going to change law and I think it needs to be changed and from so many angles and being a part of that in many ways is fantastic.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. And so what has your experience in that field been since then?

Eimear McCann:

So then I joined Summize which is where I'm working at the moment, which is a contract review and creation platform. And I actually met Tom who's the founder whenever we were working on a project actually with the Flex and he took on some paralegals and he was working then as legal director JC for a company. But he was already kind of on his mission of changing the way that lawyers had to review contracts. That it didn't have to be this really arduous process, but also it didn't have to be a really clunky piece of tech that took ages to train up and implement. And he was kind of just asking all of those what-if questions, what if it was really lightweight? What if it was intuitive? What if it's cost-effective? What if it was a subscription model?

Eimear McCann:

And those so I just, I suppose he's just so passionate about what he's done that I just really thought that this is where we have to go. It's very much about meeting the lawyers where they are so not trying to go, right you're you need to change everything that you're doing, but actually, you're already for example you use Microsoft Word. So we're going to give you something that integrates and sits on top of Microsoft Word that will mean that your job is easier. And if you use Outlook or Slack or SharePoint, whatever it might be, we will come and meet you there. And I just, I loved that kind of the fells of helping people, help them learn as making their job easier, but making little specific bits of it easier because I think that's where sometimes things get a bit lost. It's like, oh, this makes the job of the lawyer easier.

Eimear McCann:

That's a really big statement and you think, well, what does that mean? The job of a lawyer in every day is different in every firm in every legal team. And I think there was just that period wasn't there? Where there was an awful lot of hype around tech. And then I think that's settling a lot on paper going well actually, oh yeah I can see a use for that and use for this. And the same way that I think for us we've been adopting tech in our personal lives on an ongoing basis and we're not at the point of been incredibly discerning about it because there are so many options, but only selecting the bits that are really going to be helpful. Just apply for your stuff for me anywhere on my phone it's just gone because there's no point in it being there and we've got enough. I think the kind of cognitive load is a heavy one to carry. So yeah. So I think it's really interesting to see where how and where technology is really changing how lawyers are working.

Megan Smiley:

And I would imagine from your perspective, it's also if what you have identified that you enjoy is innovation, it's going to be constantly innovating for the reason you just said. Which is things just keep developing so quickly that you can't just create something, put it out there and just maintain it forever.

Eimear McCann:

Completely. And I think as well because it's relatively new as a market, we're constantly asking for feedback and changing and I suppose it appeals as well from my perspective the sense of it's always kind of exploration, always asking questions, always being curious about what we could do better, what we could do next essentially.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. So what is your exact role then?

Eimear McCann:

So my title is Head of Strategy, so I suppose a lot of it is about looking for opportunities, and kind of working at how I suppose the development of the product and the new markets that we're looking at and how we align all of those with what the overall kind of vision is. And I think it's really, I suppose it's very multifaceted because it's a young company and I love that as well that it's not just, this is a tick box of a job description, of a job spec. So it just really appeals to me. But I also do a bit of a visiting lecturing at the University of Law as well, which means that I'm still kind of in tune at least a little bit in terms of what academia looks like for most students at the moment. So it's really interesting.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. It's sort of a little composite career.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah.

Megan Smiley:

Well, if someone were sort of interested in transitioning from law into sort of this legal tech space, are the things that you would tell them are important to sort of was coding important or was it just kind of a nice to have, or what kind of sides of that industry are really sort of good spots for a lawyer to transition into?

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, that's a really good question. I think for example if somebody was really interested in legal tech from a very technical perspective so for example, they were interested in becoming a legal engineer or a legal technologist, I would say definitely coding would be really useful. I am not by my own admission or really a technical person. I think I'm better at seeing the bigger picture, but not detail-driven. And I can see that. But so that's why a role I suppose in strategy or marketing actually really appeals. But I think it just depends on the type of role but I would say, just do research. Have a look and say what's happening in the market? What kind of companies interest you and why what is it that really ... Because what I've actually noticed in my exploratory phase before I was kind of I ended up happily and luckily in legal tech was understanding what actually motivates you is far harder than you think and from my perspective, it was anyway.

Eimear McCann:

And the only way that I could truly identify what I really wanted to do was to imagine, like properly imagine what would it be like waking up every day and doing that role? What would that really look like and how would I feel? And it was only when I did that I think I really understood what I was looking for. So I think if somebody is thinking of legal tech, it's such an interesting time to be doing it, and there's so many opportunities out there and there will be far more. So I would say just understand what it is that motivates you. Why are you interested in the technology side of things? Are you very technical? Explore it, but maybe do a little online course with Codecademy or whatever it's called. I think that's what it's called, and then start just connecting with people whether it's LinkedIn or other platforms and following what they're doing and listen to different podcasts, following different groups.

Eimear McCann:

And you'll really quickly, it's a really nice community. And I think that because of COVID and lockdown we ended up connected to people all over the world because it was just as easy to jump on a video call to Australia for me as it was in the UK. And so these groups, I've kind of followed groups, members of groups in all different places in Europe, in the U.S., Australia, and you'll start to see trends and patterns and your mind start to think actually though that have really interests me. And I think it's only when you do that, that then you can kind of whittle down what kind of route might really, really appeal.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. That makes sense. At the end of the day, it's sort of yeah, just exploring, experimenting, researching. It's not a flip of a switch to know, "Oh, this is for me."

Eimear McCann:

Yeah, yeah. Which would be great.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. And I imagine they're different types of environments, right? They're probably the more startup type companies and there are sort of probably the more established, larger companies and working for those are going to be very different experiences, same with a big firm and a small firm.

Eimear McCann:

Yeah. Completely. Yeah. And I suppose like the legal sector itself, you're going to get just a different culture in different places and different segments and part of it as well.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah. Yeah. Well, thank you so much for taking the time. And I know talking at a distance where we're between the UK and California here. So I know it's getting into the evening for you.

Eimear McCann:

I know.

Megan Smiley:

But it's been a real pleasure talking with you and sort of I think it's so interesting to hear about how this field is evolving and really sort of the type of experience it is to work in it. So thank you for sharing your experience with this.

Eimear McCann:

Oh, it's been just so lovely chatting to you, Megan. Thank you so much.

Megan Smiley:

Yeah, absolutely.

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