Technology and innovation play a major role in how workplaces across all sectors run today and are integral to moving business development forward. For Stuart Whittle, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer at Weightmans, the journey of becoming a leader in the firm has been one of using technology to enhance its daily operations.
Stuart spoke with Chris Mansfield, Co-founder of GoodCourse, about how he uses technology within his role to drive change.
My title is Chief Technology & Innovation Officer. Weightmans is an award-winning law firm with over 1,400 people working across our nine UK offices. We think what sets us apart from other firms is our people; we are dedicated to doing the best work we can for our clients and tailoring that service to them. We aim to be their preferred legal service provider.
I’d never have thought that this would be my role; I was brought here by a series of opportunities. When I began, Weightmans was a small firm, and that gave me the chance to think more innovatively about things that interested me, such as how we could use technology to deliver legal services. This was how we could make the firm a big competitor in the sector — using technology where we perhaps didn't have the physical workforce.
I then did an IT Master’s and took an opportunity to make that my speciality and become involved in Weightmans’ IT. I began getting involved in the business on a wider scale and we came to the decision to manage all of our work on a single platform. The reasons for that decision still hold true today, 20 years on. Come 2005, I was running the IT department, which I did for five years, and then took over responsibility for Facilities, Projects, Risk and Compliance, Marketing and HR too — all of the business services functions of Weightmans other than Finance. I am now responsible for Information Systems, Data Services, Business Change and KM and our new Product and Innovation department, on which much of my time is currently focused.
It’s definitely difficult. The job that lawyers do today is more demanding than it was when I was practising, and we still have to run it as a business, which comes with many more complications than it used to. On top of that, I now have to bring technology and innovation into it as well. When it comes to change and innovation in this sector, everyone is moving in the same direction, but broadly, everyone is running their own race, and some departments and individuals are further ahead than others.
Before the pandemic, many people probably would have said it would be impossible or at least impractical to have everyone work remotely. So during the pandemic, we had a huge learning curve, but over time people realised it was doable. Now we are in a place where people are actually happy to work in this way — the result is that people are more willing to embrace technology. Now, I think our innovation is going to be what really propels our firm forward.
The legal market is hugely competitive, and consequently, law firms must be highly responsive to client needs. When our lawyers are facing challenges that we think we can solve using technology, we often find that our innovation ends up helping them with their client work.
I’ve been on the board for twelve years, and it has been a deliberate decision to take specific initiatives here. We still have a lot of work to do, which we acknowledge, even though we have come a long way in the time I have been here. We have four core D&I strands that are used to advise the board on what we should be doing — the strands are LGBT+, REACH, disability and mental well-being, and gender. For me, the lightbulb moment was hearing about the experiences of others and learning how their experience had affected their work life in a way that I couldn't personally relate to. Particularly for me, hearing colleagues speak about having to navigate hiding parts of themselves at work was very impactful for me. These aren’t experiences I have, and this shows how essential it is to encourage people to bring their whole selves to work and ensure that the space accommodates them.
We still have a lot of work to do, which we acknowledge, even though we have come a long way in the time I have been here.
The most successful lawyers I have met are the ones that have a genuine interest in the work that they do. You are likely spending a large chunk of your life in your firm, and getting involved makes such a difference. If you have that interest, it means you're always learning outside of billable hours, and it makes you better at what you do.