In this captivating episode of “Legal Tech Made Simple,” Andy Wishart, the Vice President of Drafting and Productivity Solutions at Thomson Reuters, shares his remarkable two-decade journey in the legal tech industry and as the co-founder of Contract Express.
Andy shares the story of the fascinating origins of Contract Express, birthed in the basement of a law firm in 2000. He delves into the challenges faced by the legal tech community amid the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing Thomson Reuters’ unwavering support for its clients during this trying time. Furthermore, the conversation touches on the ever-evolving legal tech landscape, with insights into end-to-end solutions and the emergence of legal engineers.
Andy concludes with sage advice for law firms, highlighting the robustness of legal tech tools and the critical role of strategic planning for automation.
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Dom Burch: Welcome back to Legal Tech Made Simple with me, Dom Burch. I’m not a lawyer or a techie, which makes me perfectly qualified to make legal tech simple. Join me on this podcast as I interview expert legal engineers, software developers, law firms, and large corporations. You’re at the cutting edge of legal technology, and I’m delighted to be joined by Andy Wishart today, the Vice President of Drafting and Productivity Solutions at Thomson Reuters. Andy is a co-founder of Contract Express and was described by our founder, Alistair, as a legal tech rock star. So welcome to the podcast, Andy.
Andy Wishart: Hi Dom, great to meet you, and thanks for inviting me to your podcast. It’s great to be here.
Dom Burch: So, question one has to be, what sort of rock star are you, Andy?
Andy Wishart: Very good. Let me think. Well, a couple of nights ago, I watched Scotland’s equivalent of La La Land, which is Sunshine on Leith. So, if I were to choose an appropriate rock star, it would be The Proclaimers. Also, because they’re from a town quite close to where I grew up, called Auchtermuchty, which very few people can pronounce. So, I’ll go for The Proclaimers. They’re cool, hip, and not old.
Dom Burch: So, tell us, you’ve been in and around legal tech for 20 years, co-founded Contract Express, and been there since the very start. Just give us a potted history of that journey over the last couple of decades.
Andy Wishart: Yeah, I mean, I cannot believe it’s actually 20 years since we started Contract Express. You know, back in 2000, the summer of 2000, along with Richard Newton and Tim Allen, Henry Steen and Phil Vasey, we co-founded the company in the basement of a law firm. The law firm was called Tarlo Lyons, which through various acquisitions and mergers has become Blake Morgan. And we were incubated and funded by that law firm. The partners had put in the original seed funding. And we were sitting in their basement over in Farringdon, working on a prototype that became Contract Express and co-creating that prototype with one of their clients, which was a major international bank. So, it’s funny to see the sort of growth of legal tech over the past five years, following a similar sort of pattern to what we followed 20 years ago.
Dom Burch: Bring it up to the present day. What challenges and hurdles are your clients and customers facing through Thomson Reuters, especially in the context of Coronavirus, and how are you helping them?
Andy Wishart: Yeah, good question. I mean, for a lot of our customer we’re just trying to help them with business as usual. We are really fortunate at Thomson Reuters that if I think about the way in which our product and technology teams work – we’re globally distributed. And prior to the current crisis we were spending most of our day on video conferencing and collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams. We’re doing all that from a different room now. We’re continuing to make sure that are we’re addressing any issues within our products. Make sure that we’re keeping up to the pace that we’ve got with bringing out new product releases. And then for the wider business we know our customers are working really hard at the moment on making sure that they can continue with their work. Law firm customers are continuing to help to serve their clients, and we’re doing as much as we can to be a good partner, both to our law firm customers and to our corporate customers as well.
Dom Burch: It’s a challenge for everybody, isn’t it? We’re a digital company. We’re agile. We’re based at home, and we’ve got 60 people around the world who are used to working remotely. But for a lot of people, this will be the first time they’ve had an extended period of actually having to operate and do their day job in and around childcare, in and around the tech falling over, the Wi-Fi not working. So, it’s not just doing the day job, is it? And getting used to perhaps using automation tools for the first time. Actually, just the standard. How on earth do I get up in the day and get through my to-do list is going to be a huge challenge for folk over the weeks ahead.
Andy Wishart: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, we’ve been helping some customers even on just some issues that they’ve been having with their teams having local connectivity problems. So just rolling up our sleeves and helping out in any way that we can, particularly with us being distributed for so long, we can help and give advice that we wouldn’t normally be in a position to give on how to best make use of things like Microsoft Teams or Zoom and best practices. So yeah, we’re just helping our customers in any way we can.
Dom Burch: Are you giving people advice on how to turn their profile pictures into potatoes? I saw that was doing the rounds yesterday. I’m instantly downloading the Snap Camera to my laptop today. I mean, what’s interesting to me is as a relatively newcomer to the legal tech sector, is just how quickly the big players like Thomson Reuters are beginning to build end-to-end solutions. So, you know whether that’s HighQ coming on or attaching Tracker, so almost allowing companies that have perhaps one of your products to actually build out from there an entire end-to-end solution or just go in narrow and offer a very sophisticated point solution to the thing that they need to fix right now.
Andy Wishart: Yeah, Dom, it’s really an exciting time for us at Thomson Reuters right now, following the acquisition of HighQ. We’re beginning to look at those end-to-end workflows that can help our customers solve more and more problems, including workflows initiated within HighQ, combined with document automation from Contract Express. And bringing that all together into a seamless user experience, which I think is going to be really powerful. Customers are also interested in solving discrete problems like an end-to-end drafting capability with Contract Express. So, we’re obviously still catering for those customers that are looking for those point solutions.
Dom Burch: And I guess companies like SYKE have sprung up over the last three or four years to actually do some of that configuration, some of that implementation, and handholding, whether it’s a corporate customer or a law firm through the process because it’s a change management program, really, as much as it is about introducing technology or new software.
Andy Wishart: Yeah, absolutely. It is change management to adopt a solution like Contract Express. It’s not like just turning on access to Zoom or Microsoft Teams. There is a change management process to go through. There’s work that has to be done, grind work, and preparation for getting the most out of a solution like that. I think if I look back over the past 20 years, the proudest thing is to look across LinkedIn to see the number of people that have Contract Express skills on their LinkedIn profile. We’ve created an ecosystem of people that can build sophisticated, complex templates in Contract Express, but we also know that there’s still not enough of those people. And as demand for automation solutions like Contract Express increases, we’ve seen the emergence of legal engineers and organizations like yours that we partner with to help serve those customers and provide the necessary skills to get their projects off the ground.
Dom Burch: It’s a tough question I’m going to ask, but if you had a crystal ball, what do you see happening in the industry over the next 6 to 12 months? Whether it’s consolidation of product stacks and tech stacks or just ways of working due to the inevitability that we won’t be in our offices for extended periods of time, possibly for the next 12 months.
Andy Wishart: I think it’s too early to tell, and I wouldn’t want to speculate. However, some in the industry believe that this will be a major event and a significant acceleration of digital transformation in law firms and corporate legal departments. We’ve seen from history, particularly during the global financial crisis, an increased focus on digital transformation in law firms. We’ll have to wait to see what happens following COVID-19. Many law firms and corporate legal departments are focused on how legal tech can drive efficiencies and help differentiate their services. I suspect there will be a greater focus on that, and we’re here at Thomson Reuters to assist them on that journey.
Dom Burch: This podcast is called Legal Tech Made Simple because we’re trying to demystify legal tech for those who either haven’t started the journey or have been left to pick up the pieces and try to work out how to get value out of it. What advice would you give to someone in a law firm who either already has some licenses for Contract Express or is considering starting that journey? What pitfalls should they look out for, and what pearls of wisdom can you offer to reassure them that this is the right thing to do?
Andy Wishart: The biggest reassurance is that these tools are robust and mature. We’ve been refining them with top law firms and corporate legal departments for the past 20 years. If organizations are looking to adopt tools like Contract Express or implement document automation, now is a good time to plan. Identify the types of documents they could see value and automate either right now or in 6 months’ time. Talk to us. We have a team of customer success managers and partnerships with organizations like SYKE to help with the journey and implementation.
Dom Burch: Brilliant. Well, listen, Andy, it’s been an absolute pleasure to have a rock star on the podcast, and others will have to rise to that title now. Thank you so much. Really appreciate you taking the time. It’s been absolute pleasure speaking to you and I look forward to staying in touch.
Andy Wishart: Thanks, Dom. My pleasure. Thank you.