Posted in Interviews on 30 Oct 2017
1). Talk through your career – how did you end up here?
Jonathan has extensive Business Development experience specifically in the legal sector. Beginning his career as a graduate in a law firm he was tasked in the set-up of an investment banking group of institutional relationships and worked generally in the co-ordination of people.
He notes that in the early 2000s law was considered the least entrepreneurial sector but was on the cusp of change. This came rapidly, 2009 saw a transformation in model of the law firm which has been subject to several peaks and troughs until the turning point in 2012. The rise in alternative resourcing methods, new technology, data and non-conventional design considerations were all considered disruptive forces contributing to this change.
DWF as quite a young firm was onboard for change- it’s vision a bold one. DWF itself was evolving at the time of this transformation, embracing new reach on a global scale and expanding from its more regionally anchored North-West base. DWF Ventures was born from the growth in this innovation culture.
2). Tell us about the work you do with DWF?
Through a dedicated Research and Development focus DWF Ventures champions the generation of ideas and supports early growth services. An objective of this specialised hub is to help clients solve problems and offer them business growth solutions. Its work is experimental in nature and centres around the disproving and proving of ideas as well as putting innovation into practice.
There are two aspects to Research and Development and Jonathan adds that it is important to achieve the right balance of these. The first builds on ideas and processes already in place. Fundamentally, it does not change the model but is intended to improve pre-existing structures and procedures bettering internal capability. The second aspect relates to the creation of completely new concepts. In terms of innovation, it is more imaginative in its scope and often draws on emerging digital and online trends. The development of new service lines also plays a role here in addition to the combination, scaling up, or reorganisation of already established service lines.
DWF’s Connective Services was launched in 2017 and is one of the fastest growing parts of the firm. It is non-legal in focus and covers areas including: claims handling, costs, advocacy, auditing and forensic work and loss adjusting. An example of this is DWF 360 which is a technology development and digital products business.
3). Sum up your remit in a few short sentences?
Jonathan oversees the generation and conceptualisation of new ideas, supports the emergence of new growth services and manages the processes surrounding Research and Development opportunities, including (if successful), their practical implementation. One task is to spot good ideas that have potential to add value and to test these to ascertain whether these can be commercially successful. To do this, ideas are piloted on a small scale to see if these are of commercial value and if they fit into a greater pricing and cost strategy. It is not just about seeing an excellent idea on the horizon but putting that in a broader context and making sensible business decisions.
As well as working closely with clients and investors to develop new products and ideas, he acts in a consulting capacity helping to identify potential connective services and watches out for the latest technological trends.
Ensuring the right balance between pursuing the development of completely new ideas and the refinement of old processes is of top importance. Additionally, good management of the teams when dealing with these two outlooks is crucial- it is important to select the right people at the right time for a task they are best suited to. This also involves handling ‘failure’ with the management of disappointment being part and parcel of the work. Jonathan estimates around two thirds of ideas fail. By ‘fail’ he means not achieve completion- failure is not something that is necessarily negative, it is about learning and moving on.
4). What is the most challenging aspect of the role?
Jonathan states that the most challenging elements of the role centre around humanity’s reaction to change. One of DWF’s core values is “disrupt to progress”, a key point given Lawyers are traditionally conservative in their approach to change. Technology and people relate to each-other heavily- it is not just about pure technology which is often viewed negatively as disruptive force. It is the reaction and adaption of change on an individual and wider company basis which is an incredibly important focus.
Part of Jonathan’s role is to challenge the preconceptions surrounding change- pushing people to see future-proof solutions, progression in terms of stagnant thought, and helping the work force recognise that moving forward shouldn’t be feared.
5). What do you enjoy most?
For Jonathan, the generation of a dent in a century old model and being a part of this movement at such a pivotal, transformative time is exhilarating. Whilst the development of technology is incredibly interesting what Jonathan enjoys most about his role is the more human element to the work and the impact that Research and Development can make to people-centric processes.
Additionally, the exposure to a greater intellectual field through working closely with innovators and experts is an enjoyable aspect to the position. This links to the psychology and behavioural aspects of the job with not only the management of an evolving ideas process but additionally the creators and people behind it.
6). What new trends excite you?
The first trend that excites Jonathan is new services and new servicing models. The emergence of the gig economy model is particularly interesting here- a working environment that offers flexibility is becoming increasingly more desirable. What is notable is not just the numbers of lawyers working on a contractual basis but that this has risen with regards to other key professionals including investigators and auditors.
The second is data. The usage of data in the development of ideas is an exciting trend, especially when it is utilised to pre-empt issues, refine retrospective processes and in helping with training and compliance.
The third is technology- often hyped as the breakthrough trend. It may not resemble anything from a Sci-Fi film but the rise in new technology such as digital platforms, the virtual assistant, A.I. (with the extraction and review of documents), and digital tools that improve monotonous processes are already set to cause a great impact.
7). How do you manage the need for change vs budget restriction?
Structure plays a key part here- as DWF Ventures is a wholly owned there is a degree of separation and freedom from the normal budgetary strategy constraints. It also helps support a more ‘grassroots’ style of innovation that is distanced from the usual politics in law firms that are driven by a more top-down process. The structure of DWF Ventures also allows greater collaboration and partnership with other external companies and bodies, allowing ideas to be implemented using the best tools and resources that are possibly available.
Jonathan relates the thinking of investment in today with that of the future. A pragmatic approach when analysing developing trends is highly considered by the DWF Ventures team. One example of this, as discussed previously, is the piloting of ideas on a smaller scale before implementing them on a mass scale. The thought behind this being to thoroughly test not only the idea but the cost-effectiveness and commercial viability- an important factor when considering this very question.