In this episode, Dom Burch welcomes Becca Windsor and Laura Ferraz, legal engineers at SYKE, discussing their unconventional paths into legal tech.
Becca highlights the importance of authenticity, sharing a humorous interview story, while Laura advises students to be fearless in pursuing opportunities. The conversation explores their roles at SYKE, experiences on major projects, and their perspectives on the future of legal technology, including AI, machine learning, smart contracts, and blockchain.
Gain valuable insights into navigating the legal tech landscape and the lessons learned on their journeys.
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Dom Burch: Welcome back to Legal Tech Made Simple with me, Dom Burch. I am not a lawyer, and I am not a techie, which makes me perfectly well-placed to help make Legal Tech Simple. And I’m delighted this week to be joined by two expert panellists, Becca Windsor and Laura Ferraz, who are both legal engineers at SYKE. So, Becca and Laura, welcome to Legal Tech Made Simple.
Laura Ferraz and Becca Windsor: Hi Dom, thanks very much for having us.
Dom Burch: That was a beautiful, in unison, “Hi Dom” as well. It’s almost like we rehearsed. So, Becca, I’m going to start with you because on my teams in front of me, you are on my left. Tell me a little bit about you. Where did you go to uni, and how come you ended up working for this organization which we love to call SYKE?
Becca Windsor: My path to SYKE was kind of an interesting one. I never planned on studying law. I wanted to study politics but had a nightmare application season for university. Long story short, ended up doing law with politics at Manchester. Kind of on a coin flip, really. I don’t know if I should be saying that, but it turned out really well. In my third year, got an ad in a sort of law department email for SYKE. They were recruiting their new round of legal engineers. And I never thought I’d be a lawyer, let alone going into legal tech, but I’d really recently become really interested in cyber law. And I thought, you know what? I like this conjunction of law with tech. I’ll apply. And after I think three rounds of interviews and tests and stuff, I became a junior legal engineer at SYKE.
Dom Burch: What about you, Laura? How did you end up becoming a legal engineer?
Laura Ferraz: So, mine is also quite like Becca’s. When you mentioned the coin flip, Becca, it really reminded me of why I kind of went into law as well. So, I studied sciences at A level—chemistry, biology, and maths at sixth form. I was going to university to study chemical engineering, so I was thinking of becoming an engineer of some sort. Not a legal engineer, but an engineer, nonetheless, so I’ve always enjoyed solving problems. It’s kind of how I kind of think naturally and I’m quite mathematical and methodical in the way that I think. However, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to study science as the kind of engineering that I wanted to go into, so chemical or civil or mechanical engineering. I knew that I wanted to solve problems, but I just wasn’t sure the type of problems that I wanted to solve. So, I kind of looked at law to help clients in solving their legal problems. And I thought, you know, this is something that I was quite interested in. And so, I applied to study law instead. Really enjoyed it. And then when I got to my third year and I started studying legal tech, also kind of a coin flip because we had to pick six modules, and I had exhausted my five. But then I had one more to pick, and legal tech seemed quite interesting.
I studied legal technology and really, really enjoyed it. That’s where I met Alistair, and luckily that’s how I landed my job at SYKE as a junior legal engineer 18 months ago. Then things just progressed ever since.
Dom Burch: And it’s funny, isn’t it, because even the term legal engineer didn’t really exist in common parlance two or three years ago? Certainly.
Becca Windsor: I mean, even within SYKE, different legal engineers have different roles. So, I can give you my typical day. A lot of it is real face-to-face client work. I mean, the two sides of this are Laura said, you’ve got to be really good at problem solving, but a big aspect of that is being able to, firstly, ask the right questions, and two, be able to pull out accurate information but in a friendly and really personable way. A lot of my day is sitting down with clients, maybe even demoing to potential future clients. One of my favourite parts is putting down two hours to build a solution in HighQ. It’s very compact, a lot of turnovers in terms of getting a solution, designing it, and building it, it’s done and next one. Whereas, for example, Laura has been working on one huge solution for a really long time now. So, it’s quite different, but a lot of time, it’s just those two hours you’re building a solution, you’re really focused. So, some of it is just spending time with yourself, trying to solve a big or multiple little problems. And then other times it’s just getting to interact with loads of interesting different people. So, it’s a mix of those two.
Dom Burch: And Laura, I know when I left uni, I really wanted to be sort of operating at a strategic level, but I understood the fact that I was still green, right? I hadn’t worked in companies, so I felt like I had the skills and the aptitude, and I was bright, and I just wanted to be let at the real meaty stuff, the juicy stuff, but it’s like you have to earn your stripes when you first come out of university. How have you found it? Because you’ve been involved in some major projects working alongside some of our big customers like Unilever. What’s it been like? Obviously about giving any secrets away, what’s it been like being involved in those big, strategic, complex projects? It must be exciting.
Laura Ferraz: Yeah, no, definitely, Dom. And that’s really what is SYKE’s unique selling point, right? When you come out of university as a trainee, you’re expected to do a lot of the mundane work. Drafting, helping to draft review contracts, replacing words and I’ve heard multiple and countless stories of trainees just kind of staying up, reviewing piles of documents, but the work that you do in SYKE is exciting and the opportunity that you’re given as well. I remember maybe the first client meeting that I had working at SYKE was with another global client, ABInBev, to capture their requirements, and that was literally the first call that I ever had with the client. I was let loose to meet with the client, capture the requirements. I was also trusted from the start, which is what I really appreciated being given that responsibility early on, which has been incredible. But then bringing that on to Unilever, some of the things that I’ve experienced with Unilever and the level that I work on. Being able to speak and work with people who are, for example, senior associates at different law firms. I’m two years out of university and I don’t think I’d get that experience anywhere else.
Dom Burch: Becca, I spoke to Claire Mcgourlay, the old professor from the Uni of Manchester, and one of the things she remembered about you, particularly at university, was that you’re always in the front row and always willing to ask a question. That question was often quite difficult. You stood out from the crowd, showing initiative. It’s such an important aspect when joining a place like SYKE, especially now, working in a virtual world. We’re not all sat in an office together. We don’t get to socialize often as a group. Standing out and showing initiative are important characteristics. I’m thinking, what would your advice be, there will be students listening to this, either at A level, thinking about university and like, “Oh, I don’t know which way to go, maybe I’ll flip the coin for law.” Or they’re studying law at the moment and just at that point of imagining life outside in the real world. What would your advice be to your younger self, talking back to Becca three or four years ago? What would you advise Becca to do?
Becca Windsor: I think now is time for the embarrassing interview story because that covers it. To preface this, you’re right. You have to be able to not be afraid to be yourself. Don’t be afraid to show people who that is. Because when I first had that initial interview for SYKE, I remember Lewis asking me, can you tell us a fun fact about yourself? And in that moment, I felt like time slowed down. I was like, what is a fun, what do I tell, what is a fun fact? How exciting of a person can I be in one fun fact? And I panicked and went on to say, “I have a heart in my freezer” and Lewis said can you elaborate? And I was like, Oh I’m going to sound like a psychopath but it’s because I really love cooking Peruvian food because I am Peruvian. And one of the things that you can make is cow heart and I prepare it. I know this sounds like it’s not relevant at all, but my point is, in that moment, Lewis and I started having a cool conversation about how we both like cooking. And how we both like to prepare these kinds of dishes, and in that way, just even on a personal level, if you show people that you are interesting, and I think Dom, you’ve said, “The kind of people you want to look for are the kind of people you want, you are willing to be stuck on a plane with or in arrivals or in departures for four hours.” Can you have a drink with that person? Or can you sit in a park with that person for a long period of time? The friendlier, more personable, and interesting you are not only does that helps people working with you, but it also comes through in your work. It can show that you’re creative, you can solve problems in an interesting way, because you apply that to your own life.
Dom Burch: I love that, and I’m going to give credit to the person who first said that to me. He’s a board director of Missguided, a chap called Nick Bamber, who I had the pleasure of managing for a while, and like all people that I manage, the older I get, the further they bounce off in front of me and do more exciting things than I can ever imagine.
Laura, what would you say looking back and I’m just thinking about paying it forward a little bit. What would your advice be to students who are listening to this podcast thinking what they’ve just described sounds brilliant. I want to do that. What are the things they should be thinking about now? In readiness for having that interview with Lewis and putting the heart in the fridge.
Laura Ferraz: I really love that anecdote, Becca. I think at university that’s the time you must shine and the time looking back at it now and there are so many things that I wish I participated in. Just take it all in your stride and anything that comes your way, any opportunity at university, just take it. I know that, for example, with the legal tech course, if I hadn’t flipped that coin, I wouldn’t have studied legal tech. I wouldn’t have made the connections I made and met Alistair and met the rest of the SYKE team. So put yourself out there and don’t be afraid. I think the other key thing and something I learned from a previous internship was to be fearless. It’s something that a lot of people fear getting things wrong, but I think it’s probably worse to not even try. You get things wrong; you pick yourself up and you learn. And I think that’s quite an important lesson that I’ve learned as well. I’ve gotten things wrong, but it’s not the end of the world. You pick yourself back up and keep going.
Dom Burch: I think that flip a coin thing, it’s more nuanced than that. There’s a film out at the moment and they’re on Netflix called, ‘Yes Day.’ And it’s about parents who have fallen into that trap of always saying no to the kids. Can we go swimming? No. Can I have ice cream for breakfast? No. And then they give over a day of the year where the answer must be yes, kids made the rules. That is that art of saying yes to things without full confidence or security of knowing whether you’ll succeed opens doors, makes new connections. And I guess it’s partly about building your network, isn’t it? When you’re younger and you’re looking out on life, it’s hard to imagine next week, let alone five, 10 years. I hate that question. What will you be doing in five years’ time? Who knows? But being willing to say yes to new opportunities is infinitely better for you, isn’t it, than thinking, ‘oh, I’m not quite ready.’
Is that how it feels, Becca, even now at SYKE, you’ll be given the opportunity to do things, and I bet sometimes your hearts in your mouth, isn’t it?
Becca Windsor: Oh, absolutely, yeah. I was just thinking, being at SYKE – No, I haven’t worked in a firm like this before, and I can’t say I have a lot of experience to compare it to. But being at SYKE, there are so many new opportunities every day, it feels too good to be true almost. And in terms of structure, we’re such a flat company. So regularly, as a junior, at first, I thought this was just so out of the ordinary, but regularly as a junior, Alistair would call me and say, I have this project that I’m working on, do you want me to help you work on it? It just felt surreal. Why is the CEO of the company I’m working calling me to work with him. But it feels really normal now and we get to work with so many interesting people all across the company and no one really cares that you’re a junior legal engineer because like Laura said they have so much trust in you, that you’re given a task, you go, and you get to show people your creative side.
Dom Burch: Laura, I’m just going to change tack a little bit then. As you look forward you have the benefit of being right at the cutting edge of some of these interesting projects working in large organizations. As you look over the horizon, what are your hopes and aspirations for the next six, 12 months?
Laura Ferraz: I think there’s the short-term future and tech vision of the future, which is what everyone’s talking about machine learning AI. But looking even further into the future and what I’m interested in seeing play out is smart contracts and blockchain. So, we focus a lot on AI and machine learning now but what will be really interesting would be self-executing contracts further in the future. I know that some of the vendors that we have, for example, DocuSign, it is something that’s on their roadmap, right? So having self-executing contracts as well. I’m really looking forward to that in the future. Working at the cutting edge of legal technology and seeing how that pans out.
Dom Burch: Brilliant. Well, listen, I could chat to you two all day because you just bounce with energy and its brilliant fun working with you. It’s inspiring for old fogies like me to see people at the start of their careers just exploring and not being afraid. And you said it, Laura, that thing about just go for it, give it everything you’ve got because what’s the worst that can happen?
So, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you so much for joining with me on Legal Tech Made Simple. Becca and Laura, speak to you soon.
Laura Ferraz and Becca Windsor: Thanks very much Dom.