Dom Burch 0:11
Welcome back to arch.law’s podcast with me Dom Burch. I’m delighted this week on ‘delivering legal solutions differently’ that Andrew is joined on the virtual sofa by Alastair Maiden. Alistair is the founder and chief exec of SYKE. Andrew.
Andrew Leaitherland 0:27
Thanks, Dom. I Alistair how are you?I
Alistair Maiden 0:29
Very good. Thank you, sir. Very good.
Andrew Leaitherland 0:31
Good. So obviously we’ve known each other for quite some time and just just keen for people to understand who SYKE are, what it is that you built. And then we can talk a little bit more around what what caused you to go down this route?
Alistair Maiden 0:44
Yeah, thanks. Andrew says SYKE are a legal technology consultancy, we have about 100 people operating all around the world. We help corporate legal teams and law firms to buy and implement legal technology. And that technology really spans pretty much anything in the legal space, so, document automation, matter management, practice management, AI, law bots, spend management tools, pretty much everything.
Andrew Leaitherland 1:14
And certainly from my perspective, we decided to use your good services from SYKE in terms of building our own technology platform and being really pleased with how that’s coming together. The rationale has been about trying to create as frictionless a process as possible, both from the clients perspective, and from the individual lawyer’s perspective. Arch is now, just about there in terms of getting up and running. It’s been an interesting seven or eight months from, from my perspective, and there’s been many times where I’ve looked back and thought, Why on earth am I building something from scratch? It is just, it’s really difficult. I completely underestimated how difficult it was going to be. And just listening to your own podcast I recall, you say that at the first Christmas party, you had four people at the second Christmas party had 10 people. Just give us a little bit of insight as to you know why it is that you decided to set up this type of business and what your experience as a founder of a business has been?
Alistair Maiden 2:06
I think it’s fair to say that I don’t really have a an entrepreneurial background. You know, I was never a partner in a law firm, my parents not really that way inclined, I spent most of my career before founding SYKE as an in house lawyer. I set the business up very much on the principle of this is something that I want to do, it’s a passion. And I guess the business aspect of that has stemmed from that passion. So, in the early days, things were I think it’s fair to say I set the business up without a plan. I very much just tried to listen to what customers wanted. Obviously, I’ve worked at Asda and Morrisons previously. So I was I guess my default setting is to be quite customer orientated. It was a pretty quiet and relaxed introduction to the business really, very much selling my own services as a consultant. And it went from there. And I think what, what’s really accelerated the growth of the business in the last few years has been the timing really, the, I guess, the thirst for organisations for implementing technology to enhance legal services. Again, I’m not I’m not ashamed to say that a lot of the things that we’ve done, I think a lot of the products that we’ve worked with and the deliverables that we’ve produced, it’s very often been the first time anyone has used the technology in that way. So it’s been, I mean, it’s been exciting and fun, but it’s also pretty hard work at times, and, and not everything has worked as we had planned. But over the last couple of years, and particularly over the last year, we’ve really enjoyed the benefit of being the kind of first movers in the space. And I guess, you know, the original legal tech consultancy, if you like, I must admit, being the CEO of the organisation has become a bit more fun and a bit more relaxed. I sleep better now than I did at the start.
Andrew Leaitherland 4:13
Yeah, I can definitely relate to that one, as I’m sure every founder of a business can relate to it as well, which takes me to my next point, Merlie Calvert, who is the founder of Farilio, which is one of our other collaboration partners, very focused in terms of enabling startup businesses and founder businesses to get going. Keen to understand from your perspective, Alistair, any words of advice for people who operate in this space? Any words of advice for people who are thinking of founding a business?
Alistair Maiden 4:43
Yeah, I think being agile is really important. So what I would advise against is sitting down before you even started the business and writing out a long and convoluted plan and spending a load of time on it. I would spend time gsoetting out speaking to potential customers listening to what they want, and then figuring out how to provide it also, I was always extremely focused on on getting paid or getting paid has always been critical to me. And the consequence of that is I’ve been able to grow the business without taking on a load of debt, but also taking on a load of, I guess, additional shareholders and investors that might cause difficulty later so, I also think getting, you know, having a focus on getting paid, brings really good discipline. And I think that’s kind of that you know, that as a cultural point is permeated throughout the organisation and has really helped us moving forward.
Andrew Leaitherland 5:41
Obviously, a major part of your business is the sourcing and implementation of technology, legal tech. Well, the world massively changed over the last 12 months, which will have seen an acceleration in your type of business. And I’m sure what, what trends are you seeing, you know, what, what are clients talking to you about at the moment in terms of what they need to implement? And are they giving you reasons as to why
Alistair Maiden 6:03
Yeah, you’re absolutely spot on, Andrew, there’s a real focus on on probably three separate areas at the moment. The first is digital contracting, which has been a theme for quite a long time, that has been really accelerated by the maturity of some of the big technologies out there, particularly DocuSign, and Icertis, and also the various TR products as well, you’re also seeing more what I call legal front doors and their various forms. This is a way of triaging a legal service request to the right internal or external lawyer, I think it works on the presumption that, let’s say 30% of requests could be self serve by an FAQ or by some form of automation. And if it actually needs people input, then the system would very quickly send it to the right lawyer, or or non lawyer. And then the final thing is AI, which is really exploding in the last couple of months. And we’re really lucky to have one of your former colleagues, actually, Jonny Badrock, heading up that area. And I think AI starting to apply itself to law. I think this has been long predicted, but it’s only really now happening to try and give some tangible examples. We’re currently using AI to power a due diligence process on a large corporate transaction. And in just a couple of months, we reckon that we have saved the customer something like 6500 hours of manual effort. And so that is, obviously it’s got huge power to be disruptive. And we’re very excited about that moving forward.
Andrew Leaitherland 7:51
What type of market segment is it that’s really tapping into the benefits of AI? Does it tend to be your larger enterprise clients? Or does it come down from there as well?
Alistair Maiden 8:00
I think at first, it was just enterprise clients, really, but we’re increasingly seeing clients of every size and sector expressed an interest in this, obviously, some of the products that I’ve mentioned previously are what you would describe as enterprise products, you know, we have a really successful emerging what we call native practice team, led by its director, Jamie Goldrich, which looks at products that the customers already have in their tech stack. So I’m thinking Microsoft, M365, and thinking ServiceNow, and the Google suite of products, and customises those things for for legal purposes. And that’s quite easy to achieve. It’s not quite the it’s not quite the Rolls Royce of some of the premium enterprise products, but it does the job at a reasonable cost. And it makes a difference. You know, we’re very excited to, you know, to get into that new area and start working with smaller organisations too.
Andrew Leaitherland 9:04
Obviously arch.law as a startup, very much falls within that category of organisation. And Jamie actually has been the lead on our build. And I have to say, it’s been exceptional. I’ve been really pleased with the work that he’s done. So thank you for that recommendation. And what does the future look like Alistair, you know obviously we have seen an acceleration in terms of adoption of technology, or legal tech, as a consequence of COVID. Do we see that continuing as a trend? Do we think it’s going to slow down? Or what’s your view?
Alistair Maiden 9:31
I think it’s going to accelerate really quickly. You know, from a SYKE perspective, we’re hoping to double in size, you know, in the next calendar year, that’s very much based on our pipeline and the demand for the kind of services that we provide. And we’re not alone in the market. We’re increasingly seeing organisations trying to emulate us as well and so, you know, that’s a really strong indicator of customers adopting this kind of technology more and more. From a tech perspective. I think the future is all about integrations, you know, I talk on LinkedIn about data flowing freely between different systems to provide a joined up user experience. And to bring that to life. For the audience, it might be the case that a user enters data into the system to into a CRM system to create a sales opportunity on a Salesforce or Microsoft Dynamics. That data is then recycled once the once the deal has been done with a customer. And it’s recycled and used to create a contract. It is then used to determine where on a system that contract is stored, you can then use it to set up reminders about when the contract is going to expire or key milestones, you can kind of use it to combine information about that contract with other contracts for let’s say, reporting purposes to understand risk, or you can compare it with your maybe the payment terms and the payment amounts flow through into a finance system, so that you can make sure that you’re invoicing the customer correctly, these integrations are extremely exciting. I think that when we can make that happen, that will be the point where tech is literally running everything.
Andrew Leaitherland 11:17
I think it gets back to that comment that I made about frictionless experience, you know, is just taking the hassle out of everything, isn’t it? It was one of the things that used to frustrate me frequently was clients having to provide two or three datasets, which are exactly the same data set and are being loaded on the system two or three different times. And you think, Why Why? Why can you not just have one pull through in terms of the data and everything is populated as consequence. And then we can use and maintain that data moving forward for everything else that we do.
Alistair Maiden 11:45
Look, I think pretty much any customer of a law firm will feel some frustration in that respect. At the moment, I’ve been, you know, obviously, given my background, I’ve done a lot of corporate transactions in my time. And it is really annoying that you’re being asked the same questions by accountants and lawyers, corporate finance advisors. And the idea that data can just flow freely between the different groups, but also that you can, you can in an automated way control access is really exciting. I think it’s gonna make a huge difference, the frictionless experience.
Andrew Leaitherland 12:24
I absolutely agree. And I think if you can work alongside that and build the relevant playbooks and then have that data migration through in a frictionless way, it’s just a huge winning combination. And that’s the direction of travel, I think, in terms of legal services and legal solutions overall, just just moving on to premises. Obviously, if we’re seeing greater technology adoption, moving forward, which which I think we’re all hoping for people that work from home for the last 12 months, you founded your business as a fully distributed model with people working around the world, when I started looking at arch dot law as a fully distributed model. And then I felt that we needed some collaboration hubs, particularly as a new business so that people could meet, people could actually network effectively, and have that place to socially interact, that now the use of those collaboration hubs may vary as time goes on, particularly as people get more social interaction as a consequence of the release of the lockdown. But the big question I’ve always had has been, how do you create that culture within your organisation? And how would you make sure that that continues to permeate? You know, you’ve been going for what four years now? How have you managed to build your culture on this distributed remote model?
Alistair Maiden 13:30
What hasn’t changed, Andrew, is that you need to work hard to build culture. And that’s, that’s still the same. And I think you need to keep at it, my team are great actually in reminding me of the importance of that, as we grow. We’re all learning quickly. One of the things I was describing earlier today was the fact that I’m personally I’m very comfortable in Teams in the last year, and I’ve been using equivalent, I guess, WebEx technology for over 10 years now, I used to use it very regularly at Asda to communicate with colleagues at Walmart. But it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve turned the camera on regularly before then the camera was pretty much always off, so that improves things. And a more recent trend is I’ve noticed that in larger meetings, people will use the chat as well to contribute, which I think is brilliant. And it means that you actually have that kind of two layers of communication, which you don’t even have in a face to face meeting. So I think that’s great. Moving forward, we’re actually involved in a couple of projects with customers at the moment where they are using virtual reality and augmented reality solutions to enhance that further. So, I think the future is the future’s bright that it’s about. I think being open minded to change and learning is really important, but it’s also the fact that it is just so easy isn’t it to pack your diary with a very formal official Zoom meetings and you sit there. And it’s interesting because our productivity has gone up quite significantly since we switched to being completely digital. But likewise, you can tell that it’s, you can see a situation where colleagues might burn themselves out, I think, because there’s less of the informal, you know, personal chat and less, maybe a bit less focus on wellbeing. So I think it’s really important to make time for those things. For example, one of the things that we’ve a lot of Indian members of our team, we’ve got a service centre in India, and we’re talking today about organising a cook along where they show us how to make a masala dosa. And we cook it along with them, which is just the kind of thing I love that and I just think we need to get used to that. You know, what Andrew that said, I can’t wait to I think since we’ve been working together this time around, we haven’t actually met in person. I can’t wait to go for a beer at a pub. You know, what a privilege that will be when, when it’s available.
Andrew Leaitherland 16:08
Yeah, I can definitely relate to that. Even if it means that I’m going with my lockdown lack of haircut, I could definitely go for a beer, that’s for sure. Just moving on to different ways of employing people. So I think, again, there’s a similarity between our two respective businesses. When I set up arch.law, I didn’t want to go to a traditional law firm structure of equity partners and fixed share partners and associates, it just it didn’t feel right for the future, it felt as though it was something that was quite outdated, really, in terms of approach. So I looked at the distributor firm models in terms of revenue share, and I looked at the fully flexible contracts in market, which we which really allowed us to build arch.resource and but also realise that certain people would need certainty of income with arch.direct as well. But having that fluidity, that ability to work between the three different ways for me was really important. How have you built the way that you work with your people in terms of SYKE? What do you think that looks like in the future, generally,
Alistair Maiden 17:03
There’s much more flexibility about the different types of employment models or engagement models as probably a better way to describe it. It’s all about from my perspective, it’s all about getting the right people for the job. And perhaps the model, which facilitates that is, is quite significantly more flexible than it used to be in the past. Just to kind of bring that down from the clouds a little bit. I mean, in terms of doesn’t really matter to me, where the person is, from a geographical perspective, doesn’t really matter to me what hours they work, provided that they’re, I’m getting their deliverables, and I’m getting the deliverables at the right cost and value. I don’t really mind whether I’m employing someone or engaging them as a contractor. I don’t mind if someone works part time or full time. You know this is quite a significant change even from a few years ago, when I was working inhouse where things were much more rigid in that respect. And I think from a entrepreneur’s perspective, it’s a great thing, because it just allows you to set up a business so much more easily than even two or three years ago.
Andrew Leaitherland 18:15
Yeah, I can definitely relate to that. I was talking to someone yesterday who lives in Vancouver, they’re an England and Wales qualified solicitor, and they’ll join arch.resource, hopefully. But they’ll work from Vancouver because they enjoy going for walks the outdoors. And why wouldn’t you really having that flexibility and freedom. Certainly talking to so many people who have expressed an interest in joining arch.resource, that’s what they’re looking for is that that level of flexibility, which as you say, when you’re building a business is great, because you don’t have that huge payroll every month that you’re thinking Crikey, I’ve got enough cash to meet. The final one for me is the arch dot law model is very focused on a skinny overhead base. By that I mean, don’t employ lots and lots of people as your central overhead because it just costs a fortune to keep going. So just about everything that we do, is provided through a third party. So you guys obviously are there as our technology supporting providers, which is fantastic. We’ve got Flinder, in terms of our accountancy support, numerous other providers that we tap into on a remote basis, rather than building that central support. And you kind of look at what law firms have done over the last 12 months with all the central support working from home. I’ve got to ask where that ends up in 12 months time, do law firms just end up drifting to the lowest cost denominator to protect their p&l or are they going to continue to use their people who’ve stuck with them during the pandemic do you think?
Alistair Maiden 19:36
We have a very similar operating model to use so, to be honest, it’s difficult to understand why you would burden yourself with a with a large central cost base. It’s not just people it’s it’s I think increasingly in the future is buildings and, and other tangible things as well. So I think it benefits everyone to to keep that as low as possible?
Andrew Leaitherland 20:01
Well, that’s been fantastic. Thank you very much for your time. Dom, back to you.
Dom Burch 20:05
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