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James Touzel – Don’t Tell People, Show People

In this episode, Elevate’s, Stephen Allen, VP of Get Sh*t Done, talks with James Touzel, a partner in the UK law firm TLT.

Describe your vision, how the future can be different.

In this episode, Elevate’s, Stephen Allen, VP of Get Sh*t Done, talks with James Touzel, a partner in the UK law firm TLT. James leads the Future of Law practice; a multi-disciplinary team brought together to solve problems for clients with an emphasis on legal technology, legal transformation, and operations.

  • [01:30] – It’s about delivering the best way that you can and anticipating future client needs.
  • [04:38] – Our collaboration with LegalSifter brought the ability to create new modules based on what clients are saying.
  • [07:50] – You want to move quickly because, like any change program, you do want to deliver on your promises.
  • [08:25] – We’ve been looking at and helping clients with their data.
  • [11:00] – FutureLaw is five years operationally old, we’re continuing to talk with clients about legal transformation, helping legal departments envision what their next-generation operating model should be.
  • [13:55] – The hardest thing is bringing people on the journey, nudging them, getting people to buy in, embrace it, and engage with it.
  • [16:37] – The level of support we’ve had to build a new team in the business was surprising.
  • [17:55] – A number of challenger firms have become the establishment. The willingness to challenge is part of our culture.


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Podcast Transcript

Note: This transcript has been adjusted to improve readability. Transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human transcribers. The context and more than 95% of the actual transcript have been preserved.  We strongly encourage our listeners to listen to the audio.


Nicole Giantonio: Welcome to the Elevate. Together. Podcast: Voices of Change in the Business of Law. Hello, this is Nicole Giantonio, the Head of Global Marketing at Elevate. The podcast episode you’re about to hear is part of our impact series, featuring Elevate customers implementing transformative change. In this episode, Elevate’s Stephen Allen talks with James Touzel of the law firm TLT. James describes programs TLT implemented to support their challenger firm description and a culture that delivers what it promises to clients.


Stephen Allen: This is Stephen Allen from Elevate. I’m the Vice President of Get Sh*t Done, and today I’m talking to James Touzel. James, do you want to introduce yourself, your role, and what you do?


James Touzel: Hi. Stephen, thank you for inviting me to the podcast. I’m James Touzel; I’m a partner in the UK law firm TLT. I lead our Future Law Practice, the multi-disciplinary team, to solve a wider range of problems for our clients than just their legal ones. So that’s an emphasis on things like legal technology, legal transformation, and operations, how we use data, and generally more on strategic consultancy that we do for clients around the future of delivery of the legal services, both in the law firm context, but also for in-house legal departments.


SA: And I know one of the things that you feel strongly about, and I feel strongly about, is at Elevate, we don’t like using the term alternative legal service providers because we’re a law company, and we don’t think we’re an alternative, and I think you feel equally strongly about that as a term, describing kind of how law firms can deliver services.


JT: Yeah, I’m not sure. Alternative is right. Like any professional industry, it’s going to appear to change, and things that might have felt alternative a few years ago have become business as usual. It’s just about delivering the best way you can and anticipating what future client needs are, and making sure that you continue to change to do that. That could be a law firm providing all of those services that our clients need and competing with alternative legal services providers on that basis. I don’t think alternative is quite the word; it’s the new way of delivering legal services.


SA: Do you want to explain a bit about how you got to where you are today? I’ve had the pleasure of working with you, and I’ve seen the impact that it’s had based on TLT itself and your clients that it might be useful for people to give a bit of your journey – how you got here, what you’ve done, and some tricks of the trade, etcetera.


JT: I suppose our approach has evolved over many years to a degree. TLT always tries to do something different and deliver services differently because we’re a challenger firm and have been seen as one. Doing the same thing that everyone else has done doesn’t get us noticed and doesn’t help us win work. So we’ve always tried to think about how we can deliver services differently. I suppose it was about six years ago that we recognised alongside many other firms and providers that clients’ needs were changing rapidly in delivering legal services.

We needed to work out how we needed to change to reflect those changing requirements better, so it started in a very exploratory way, looking at how we will work out what clients want, and I felt we’d always been good at talking to clients. Still, I suppose one moment in time was the publication of the LexisNexis report of amplifying the client’s voice, which is also by Mark Smith. The central elements of that report were that the general counsels surveyed felt a significant disconnect between what they wanted and what law firms were delivering. We invited Mark to talk to our client programme, and obviously when he was saying that to a group of senior leaders in our business, the immediate reaction was, “That’s terrible, isn’t it, but it’s not us.”

With a little bit of mature reflection – and I think it was probably all law firms – it really made us think about needing to be a bit more systematic in assessing what clients need both at that point and in the future. We needed to have a more structured way internally for reshaping ourselves to deliver that, and that has been a long period of experimentation. At the heart of it, it’s been an increased focus on talking to clients about what they want and going away, and looking at different ways to meet that need.

An early example of what we did that showed how we started and where that led was our collaboration with LegalSifter at the end of 2017. That was on the back of talking to clients a lot about how they handle business as usual contracts in their business in a sense that they want to get them reviewed, but they don’t want too many lawyers spending too much time on them. There was considerable focus on artificial intelligence at the time, so we went out to market to see whether there’s an artificial intelligence product that could review contracts and provide legal advice. After a long search, we came across LegalSifter in the US. We found them through an article that they did with Richard Truman and gave them a call. They did a demo, and one thing led to another, and what was clear was that they shared the same vision as us, in terms of the role of technology is to augment how the lawyer reviews contracts, not to replace them. Still, it is more than risk rating contracts in that context; it can also review and advise on contracts and the technology to do that.

So we invested in their business at the end of 2017, we signed up a partnership agreement, and even though we were convinced this is what could solve a lot of problems with our clients because we’ve been talking to them, we wanted to get a couple of early clients on board to make sure that we were right. So there was a lot of collaboration with clients, showing them what we had, getting some feedback, and working with LegalSifter to continue and improve the product, and we’ve just done that since with people like Clowles partnering with them around contract automation, which we’ll talk more about perhaps. Still, it’s that point of where we work extra hard to listen to what clients want to go out to the market to see what solutions are out there, combine that with our expertise, and deliver a solution to clients that work.


SA: And the great thing about the LegalSifter product, I think, is the ability with which you can create new modules based on the same thing, what sorts of contracts in the early days were clients saying, Oh, we could do with some help here and you kind of early model contracts with LegalSifter?


JT: Certainly procurement-type contracts, so NDAs contracts, provision of services and software and the main is the principal focus, but I think what early on we saw was when we showed them the product, they were both to external clients but also internally because we use the product internally as well, is the user, the person that you’re demonstrating it too, would run ahead quite quickly and say, “Oh, if you can do those contracts, can you do my real estate contracts?” We were talking to banks. We’d say, “Well, we can, but shall we walk first? Shall we solve your immediate problem, and then we can develop the product further?” Technology is a great way to help understand what the art of the possible is, but then it’s breaking that down into more simple things to solve to get those quick wins before going onto bigger problems.


SA: It’s a great point on innovation, I think, generally and particularly. I don’t know if it’s peculiar to the legal industry; you and I haven’t done it in any other. But the need to both be the accelerator pedal and the brake, the brake lever, at the same time [chuckle] is often challenging.


JT: Yes, and getting that right balance, because you want to move quickly because like any change program, and doing change in legal service is no different, you want to deliver on your promises. So whether it’s technology or something different, you do want to be able to show that the benefits you promised you could provide and get those quick wins, but equally, you don’t want to go too fast because there’s only so much change that the business can take in one go.


SA: So we talked a bit about LegalSifter. You mentioned Clowles, and document automation, which I presume, and you can correct me if I’m wrong, that you’re using internally and with clients at the moment.


JT: Yes.


SA: I know you are also interested in things like data. What sorts of things are you looking at in terms of your data and helping clients with their data?


JT: We’ve been looking at several different types of data. There’s the business information, so the internal information we have around the performance of our business, which enables us to make more informed decisions. Secondly, there’s performance data. So there’s data around how we deliver services to our clients, and we measure that data against a formal KPI, a  key performance indicator, where we have those with clients about how quickly we’ll respond or deal with issues. Other times we don’t have formal KPIs, just what clients’ expectations are around our service delivery more broadly. So those two things are essential, but the kind of next-level for us has been how we provide genuine insights that contribute to a client’s bottom line.

Clients recognise that we support them in many areas across their business. We support many clients in their industry, and we work across industries. And what experience can we bring to help them, as in the in-house legal department, often change how they operate to deliver better value for their business. And one example about which I continue to champion internally is working with a large institutional client, which we have done for about 20 years. We have been doing this particular type of work for this client and comparable institutions in the UK. And having that view across the markets, this particular process that this client was following wasn’t delivering the same results quickly. Because we could see how other institutions were doing it and had worked with them on designing their processes, we were able to come back to this particular client and say, “Look, if you make this change, we think you can better achieve the benefits that you want to achieve because we’ve seen how other people do it.”

And it’s not as simple as it sounds, but we made the change, working with the client to do that and it delivers that benefit, and for me, whether it’s about process change, or whether it’s about anticipating regulatory impacts, or whether it’s about how we deploy legal project managers, those insights, which is bringing data to life and more understanding and wisdom than just more data, it’s something which the Big Four do terribly well, but law firms don’t necessarily do as well as they could, and yet when it comes to legal issues, and not least contracts, we probably have at our fingertips all the data needed to make those kinds of insights, provide those insights to clients.


SA: FutureLaw now is five years operationally old, maybe. What’s next from a FutureLaw perspective, and what are your thoughts on the impact it can have on your clients and the impact you can have in the broader firm for the rest of TLT?


JT: First thing is embedding a bit more what we’re doing. There’s a risk that we try and run a bit too far, so we run on to the next thing. With clients, it is continuing to talk to them about legal transformation, helping legal departments envisage what their next-generation operating model needs to be to support how their businesses will change over the next few years. There will be a particular emphasis on automation and finding more complex areas to introduce automation for clients and how automation can capture the data we discussed. We want our clients to move away from too many people typing into spreadsheets at month’s-end and getting to the point where more data is captured automatically as part of a project transaction.

And deploying that more internally. We’ve had some great wins internally, and groups who only a few years ago hadn’t embraced the new approach as much as we had hoped are now leading the firm in that approach. Still, it’s about being more consistent in that, and I think embedding that point is important to get the goodwill and belief that we can move on to the next thing because we’ve implemented the first things well. Next, there’s more to do with technology, I think. Every year we like to go out to the legal tech market and assess what’s out there based on the client needs that we are identifying. We recently conducted a re-assessment of other options, instead of or in addition to what we’re currently using. There’s some more opportunity to add more value through technology some partnerships that we might develop.

There’s a piece around legal transformation, as I mentioned, and perhaps trying to bring more to clients some of the lessons we’ve learned about transforming legal service delivery in a law firm and see how that applies to in-house legal departments. We have a particular focus on commercial consulting, so helping clients run their procurement teams. Hopefully, they’re soon to announce some developments around that in terms of how we can broaden our capabilities around commercial consulting. So to help extend the impact of many of the things we do around legal technology, legal project management, and data outside the in-house legal department into other teams like procurement. Finally, just building on the expertise that we’ve got. We’ve got a team of around 15.

That’s in addition to the individuals we work with, alongside in IT and knowledge management, but building out additional specialists in legal technology, legal project management, and process optimisation, that kind of thing, so skills development as well as continuing to push forward with ideas.

With clients, it is continuing to talk to them about legal transformation, helping legal departments envisage what their next-generation operating model needs to be to support how their businesses will change over the next few years.

James Touzel

There will be a particular emphasis on automation and finding more complex areas to introduce automation for clients and how automation can capture the data…

James Touzel

We want our clients to move away from too many people typing into spreadsheets at month’s-end and getting to the point where more data is captured automatically as part of a project transaction.

James Touzel

SA: The kind of question that I always found when I was working in a firm, the question I’m going to ask you because you’ve been doing it for a fair amount of time. The hardest thing, of course, is bringing people on that journey, and almost before you get them, nudging them to a… [chuckle] at least step on that journey. What lessons would you give, say a positive and a negative, in terms of doing that stuff that works and stuff that doesn’t work, get people to buy into new, embrace it, and then engage with it?


JT: Well, one tip, which Kevin Miller gave me, he was a CEO of LegalSifter, when we were talking to him was about how we would implement change through the use of LegalSifter was, “Don’t tell people, show people.” It’s important to describe your vision and how the future can be different and appealing in technology. However, it is not all about technology; how it’s never going to replace lawyers, it just augments lawyers. Nonetheless, show them how things can be better by implementing those quick wins. I know I’ve said that a few times, but that is probably the most important thing. Finding an earlier doctor, someone who’s enthusiastic, and someone who can fill in the blanks in the vision, because if you’re doing something a bit more innovative, you won’t necessarily know all the questions and know all the answers.

And so you’re finding someone who believes that this will take them on their journey, working with them, deliver something positive and sharing that as a case study, so other people look around and say, “Why aren’t you talking to me about that?” It creates some demands. That has worked for us, both internally as we deploy different things across the business and with clients where we can share stories across clients about how that has made a difference, and I know there’s always a view that lawyers don’t like change. But I don’t think lawyers do any differently than anyone else.

Describe to them what it means for them, they do buy in quite quickly, and where I’m sitting right now, my biggest problem is the level of demand, and that is individuals across our business, but also within clients who have started to see if it’s with clients, it might not just be us, obviously seeing across there are other panel firms what’s possible, and wanting to hear more about it. And certainly, I spend most of my time talking to clients, so that includes in the context of panel reviews and things like that. In the last 12 months, we’ve seen an increasing number of panel reviews where the key criteria for pointing a new panel firm are not how many lawyers you have in a particular area and how big the last transaction was. Now they want to know how you will deliver differently, what we would call future law. That’s what they want to hear about, and that’s how they’re deciding which firms to pick.


SA: I think one of the things about when you’re trying to do something different is that it’s an uncharted journey, and you never know what’s going to come. In your journey, what surprised you the most, either positive or negative?


JT: I would say it’s the level of interest and support. Internally, the level of support that we’ve had to build a new team in the business, in the knowledge that future law isn’t a thing that’s done on the side of the firm. We want future law and what we’re doing to run through the whole firm. It’s this idea of asking clients what they want, rather than assuming and going back within our business and thinking about how we can blend needing legal expertise for some technology with legal project management. It’s how we’re going to use data and deliver a solution that meets that need instead of the other way around, building something and hoping they’ll buy it. It’s just a mindset that works very well in legal services, and we’re trying to coordinate across the whole firm and in terms of clients; it’s their willingness to engage and collaborate with us and not expect us to have all the answers on day one. They’re excited about making mistakes together, and obviously, I don’t mean that we try not to make mistakes in the context of delivering legal services. Regarding how our experimentation into how to do things differently and how we’re helping them anticipate what the future might look like, that open-mindedness has been surprising and very welcome.


 SA: Fantastic. You described yourself as a challenger firm, and obviously, you do a lot of stuff in the financial services industry, so you like us are aware of the challenge of banks, etcetera. A number of firms historically have been challenger firms, and then they become the establishment, and if anything, their appetite for change drops away. How are you, James, kind of as the custodian of that for TLT? What do you think you’re going to need to do to maintain that challenge of firm e-source even as you grow and you’ve become increasingly established?


JT: I would say two things. One is culture. The willingness to challenge the way things are done is a part of our culture.  I don’t think you can invent a new culture, but perhaps augmenting that and encouraging it, and through leadership, showing that is important, will be how we keep on track for that type of agenda. And then I think more broadly – particularly with clients delivering on our promises which sounds simple but actually in the context of change, if we’re saying to a specific client, “Look, we’ll deliver this automation in the way that you.” Using a recent example, we have a client who prepares 1800 employment contracts a year, so they’re a 14C-250 type of business with lots of employees.  We said, “Well, we’ll help you to deploy automation around that to enable you to resource that work more efficiently within your business and do things more quickly and more effectively.” Are we delivering those benefits? And are we continuing to work hard to improve the way that’s done? And I think keeping those promises is very important to show that we’re on that continual development part with clients so culture and delivering on your promises.


SA: Keeping the promises. Great, James, thank you very much. That was fantastic.


JT: Thanks, Stephen. I’ve enjoyed it.

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