This week Profile of a Legal Innovator is of Pete LeePartner in Simmons and Simmons and CEO of Simmons wavelengththe firm’s Legal Engineering and Data Science group.

When did you first hear the term “legal tech” and what did you think then?

20 years ago this March, I was deployed as an infantry soldier during the invasion of Iraq. Up until that point I hadn’t thought much about the law, except when I was trying to keep my colleagues out of trouble in Germany, where we were usually based. But the war opened my eyes – people not only questioned the legality of everything, but also chaos on earth.

As the fighting unfolded and the “peacebuilding” that followed, it became clear that the fabric of Iraqi society had rapidly crumbled and needed to be rebuilt. For a while I would say it was lawlessness. I remember thinking how important the rule of law was as the “glue” that held everything together.

Over the next few years, I began to read about law and its role in society. Around that time I picked up To Richard Susskind “The future of law,” and I think that would have been when I first heard the phrase “legal tech” in the context of making law more accessible, efficient, and scalable. I liked the concept because I was a scientist at the university and we used data tools and techniques to do our work effectively. I eventually went back to college and became a lawyer. I should have stopped there, but I have an expensive habit of starting new businesses.

I kept coming back to this idea of ​​applying technology to transform my practice because the way we were working seemed very traditional with a lot of potential for improvement. My first (failed) foray into legal tech was a SaaS data escrow startup that I co-founded from the side of my desk while working as an associate at a city firm. Something I wouldn’t recommend if you value your sleep.

What is your role now?

I am a partner at Simmons & Simmons, where I work in the firm’s solutions group and manage our legal engineering business. We deliver technology, consulting, design and data science solutions to clients. Our core business lines include achieving more efficient legal teams and processes (legal operations), accelerating legal tasks using supervised machine learning tools and data science techniques (legal data engineering), and presenting information and legal work in new or more consumptive ways (legal design).

I am responsible for an incredible and diverse team that includes overseeing growth, people management, P&L and strategy. I also lead Simmons’ Cambridge office and sit on the firm’s UK Management Committee.

Why did you move into this field (if it’s not the only field you’ve worked in)?

In 2016 I quit my wonderful secure job and co-founded another startup called Wavelength with the big brain Drew Winlow (now also Partner and Chief Legal Engineer of Simmons). I think we were lucky to spot a gap in the market around using technology, data science and legal design to improve the way people interact with the law. Wavelength was the first regulated legal engineering business and it was very exciting. There were a bunch of new, friendly and open-minded legal tech businesses starting around the same time (including the Artificial Lawyer if I remember correctly!) and it was great fun.

We also had great advisors, like second to none Katherine Bamford who was one of the non-executive directors of Wavelength. We started with Wavelength but grew quite quickly in incubators around Cambridge and London and in 2019 we were acquired by Simmons & Simmons, a large international law firm.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your job?

I realized that I care about developing successful, happy teams and I love supporting talented people to flourish, which I try to do every day. I also love building businesses and solving complex business challenges. These days we are working on some wonderful projects with impressive clients from all over the world.

Sometimes we push boundaries and do things for the first time in the legal sector. This can feel a bit intimidating even when you have a great team and solid methodologies you trust, but I love it – I couldn’t imagine the tedium of doing the same mundane manual task over and over again for years… imagine you’re a carrier lawyer – hey!

Looking into a crystal ball, how much do you think the day-to-day practice of law will change in the next five to ten years?

I hope it will become the norm for client service teams in our sector to be multi-disciplinary – with lawyers sitting side by side with technology, data, design, process, project management and other experts to deliver beautiful solutions to the customers.

If you had one gripe about legal tech companies, what would it be?

It’s always a shame when companies build and invest in a product before doing proper market validation and testing to see if people really want to buy it. It’s such an easy trap to fall into (I’ve done it myself) before you know it, you’re hurtling down an expensive road to nowhere.

People talk about the total addressable legal tech market being in the multi-millions, but in reality the buyer pool for a particular legal tech product is relatively small, so we have to be really focused and make good choices in this industry.

If you had one thing you’d really like to applaud legal tech companies for, what would it be?

Be relentlessly positive about our efforts to change the way we deliver and access legal services.

Finally, what advice would you give to anyone looking to get into this field?

Get in touch, we’re hiring!

Thanks Pete…and the awesome dog!

(And there are several more profiles currently being developed by a wide range of people from across the legal innovation space, see AL for more.)

Legal Innovators UK Conference – 10 + 11 November, London

If you found the topics discussed in this profile interesting, please visit Legal Innovators UK Conference in London, 10 and 11 November.

For information and tickets see here.


Legal Innovator Profiles: Pete Lee, CEO, Simmons Wavelength

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