The Rise of DWF

A conversation with Jonathan Patterson (JP), Managing Director at DWF Ventures.

Take us back to the beginning: when did you become interested in legal innovation?

So I think you could trace it back to pre the financial crisis when there was the opposite of innovation. Nothing much changed. That’s what piqued my interest. You know there was almost a fascination with how legal operated, particularly in the UK. So I just got a kind of mainstream business manager type role at that point. And I’d always scratch my head as to how interesting it was. You know you could just put prices up and demand wasn’t massively affected. There could be peaks and troughs in the economy and nothing seemed to happen to the legal industry. So my interest in innovation was honestly piqued by the complete lack of it.

What have you seen change in the legal industry since then?

It coincided with the change in regulation from a legal services perspective which opened up a lot of stuff here (UK). And we had a kind of change in buyer sophistication around 2010. I got the sense that if you weren’t investing in innovation, you probably weren’t going to be around forever. So I think it was a mix of all the macro factors coming together at the same time.

It definitely started with pricing and so I think anybody apart from that top tier of global firms or highly specialized businesses felt price pressure. I think that was what we felt first. It’s been overdone now, I think, but you had lots of firms talking about the fact that they were being asked to deliver more, from a legal services perspective with a smaller budget. It was that Richard Susskind tagline that gathered a lot of momentum — essentially it was people saying I’ve got no more, or sometimes less budget, than I had last year, but I’ve got to deliver more things with it.

How did you end up in your current role as Managing Director at DWF Ventures?

My original role was something called development director. The first year was spent looking at the market, looking at what clients were interested in and what new law products and services and companies were coming into the market — and making recommendations about what we should buy or what we should build, and what we should ignore. So it was a kind of a brand new role created at the time with a brand new strategy. The DWF strategy was one of significant acquisition and consolidation to get to a certain size and scale. We wanted to be different and the different came from trying to stand out from the conventional legal market with the slightly different approach and part of that was working out how much of this kind of new landscape we should be adopting.

How are you tackling innovation at DWF right now?

I was lucky to be given a fairly broad remit. So there wasn’t necessarily the kind of specific confinements of you know, go look at this category or this kind of model. We see two types of innovation. There’s innovation that will help others improve the kind of original business model by making it more efficient, make it work better, lower the costs in it and widen out the clients that could pay for it. We called that Engine 1. So that was kind of existing business model, sustainable innovation, classic marginal gain stuff. And then we also had another category which was Engine 2 — things that may well in the long run disrupt our existing business model and could well be the thing that is the law firm of the future.

Do you have a specific ask of the legal industry?

Be more collaborative and open to working together to find industry level client solutions.

Where you can find JP:

Twitter @pattersonJP

Linkedin: Jonathan Patterson