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Many sectors fast-tracked the adoption of new technology during the pandemic, but in the legal sector Cleaver Fulton Rankin was already working behind the scenes to facilitate the integration of the latest legal technology and to take the lead in introducing a whole new dedicated Legal Technology Group. Managing Director, Jonathan Forrester, and Director of that new Group, Kerry McCloy talk to Ambition Magazine.
Cleaver Fulton Rankin is held in high esteem in the UK commercial law field. It is the legal brawn behind some of the most prestigious projects currently in progress here, including the redevelopment of Dundonald Icebowl, the new £40m Northern Regional College Campus and Microsoft’s new Belfast cybersecurity centre.
It has been recognised for that commercial excellence and leading expertise in the Chambers UK Legal Directory 2021 guide too, in what is its largest edition to date. This includes recognition for its specialisms across 19 practice areas where it takes a client-centric approach providing innovative solutions for their clients’ complex legal issues.
So it’s not surprising that it is the first in NI to heartily embrace innovation in the sector by adopting the latest technology and investing heavily in that area to ensure it sustains the latter standing.
“The process began before the pandemic, about two years ago,” Jonathan Forrester, Managing Director of Cleaver Fulton Rankin begins. “Back then we looked at a number of factors, including the increase in the amount of electronic documents our clients hold. There was, in particular, exponential growth in the amount of data we had to deal with during the commercial litigation discovery processes,” he adds.
Client demand also fuelled the set-up of the new team at Cleaver Fulton Rankin, meanwhile the commercial court supporting the move towards a more digital legal setting where eDiscovery and legal technology will play a central role, also prompted action at the firm.
“Mr Justice Horner, Head of the Commercial Court in Northern Ireland, is driving Northern Ireland forward as a centre of excellence in commercial litigation and he is very keen to promote legal technology too,” Jonathan continues.
The establishment of a specialist group to deliver eDiscovery services which, in simple terms, is the process of legally reviewing and sharing electronically stored documents, traditionally in the context of litigation, is just part of the firm’s move to the digital side. The newly appointed Director of Innovation and Legal Technology, Kerry McCloy, and her initial team of eight are another facet to the digital evolution at the firm. “We will be providing our document review services in the context of commercial litigation matters as well as regulatory investigations, data subject access and freedom of information requests, corporate due diligence, real estate lease review and in many other ways. The list is ever evolving,” says Kerry.
The new software has many efficiencies Jonathan says, and moves away from the traditional approach of engaging large teams to manually review a high volume of hard copy documents in cases. “This technology is not about replacing lawyers but about enabling them to do their job in a more efficient way. It allows us to deliver on time, on budget and deliver real value to our clients,” Jonathan is quick to point out.
And testament that tech is not and will not be replacing manpower, Kerry, who joined the company in April to head the Legal Technology Group at the business, explains: “Discovery is probably one of the most difficult, yet vitally important, aspects of litigation. It can be an onerous process. However, we can use the technology’s advanced analytics and search filtering technology to conduct early case assessment, identify patterns and trends in the documents at the outset and reduce the document pool to a much smaller, more manageable set for review. This presents the client with a high quality, more efficient offering in terms of time and cost.”
“When the technology comes into play it allows our lawyers to focus on where they can add most value in the discovery process – the legal review and advising the client. It allows them to get to the most important documents faster, to get to the core of the issues in the case and in order for them to advise our clients.”
Kerry’s mission as head of the new Legal Technology Group at Cleaver Fulton Rankin will include the development of the department to leverage legal review technology in order to deliver bespoke, innovative solutions to clients, but she will also lead the digitisation of the firm’s other departments. “Our aim is to streamline and digitise our internal processes in order to drive efficiency gains and increase our capacity across all practice groups”.
“The obvious areas that will embrace eDiscovery first are litigation and dispute resolution which often involve large scale document reviews and discovery exercises but we will also be using the technology and working with other practice areas across the firm including our employment team, for example, in responding to data subject access and freedom of information requests and the corporate team on due diligence matters,” she adds.
“New use cases arise all the time and there is no limit to the scope of the group. We very much see this as a growth area and fully intend to expand the team in the very near future. There is a huge market out there for these services.” Kerry adds: “We will be delivering our services to our Northern Ireland corporate clients and to those outside of NI.”
Cleaver Fulton Rankin is ahead of the curve when it comes to the employment of such tech and the introduction of a dedicated specialist team, Jonathan adds: “We are the first indigenous law firm that has decided to take this step,” he says. “And I strongly believe that, in time, this investment in our digital strategy will enhance our service delivery across our full suite of practice areas.”
It’s only the beginning of that technological movement too, he continues: “This is a very significant investment for us, in terms of people, technology and in training”.”
eDiscovery isn’t the first time the firm have embraced revolutionary technology. During lockdown, the firm made headlines when it led the way in alternative dispute resolution using the Consumer Code for Online Dispute Resolution (CCODR) platform, to resolve a client dispute using remote mediation and to deliver their legal services seamlessly and without interruption. It was the first here to do so. Launched in May this year, the CCODR platform enabled alternative dispute practitioners at Cleaver Fulton Rankin to work whilst practicing social distancing.
“Legal Tech is at the heart of our company and it has, undoubtedly, enabled us to streamline our services and grow our business. Legal Tech enables our company to compete with larger firms and deliver our legal services on time and on budget. Being the first to use the CCODR platform is one of many strategically important initiatives we have been involved in recently. We have ensured that all of our team has the ability to work remotely anytime, anywhere and developed e-playbooks for our transactional services. We are also the only law firm in Northern Ireland to offer client businesses a range of self-paced eLearning courses delivered through Cleaver Fulton Rankinʼs Learning Management System,” Jonathan continues.
“We saw an opportunity to create efficiencies and after a great deal of hard work, we have set up our Legal Technology Group, headed by Kerry, our Innovation and Legal Technology Director, being the first in the NI legal sector. She has hit the ground running and we are confident the Group will open up significant opportunities for us.” he adds.
An exciting and innovative time lies ahead for Cleaver Fulton Rankin.
Click here to find out more about the Legal Technology Group and our expert eDiscovery services.