You are one of the latest law firms to establish in Qatar. What prompted you to establish in Qatar and where do you see the growth potential?
Obviously, DWF sees Qatar as a pretty robust market with numerous opportunities. There have been a couple of factors which have been the driving force behind us establishing here. Firstly, we have a number of partners who have historically been doing work in Qatar for a long time. At some point, it became the obvious next step for us to support the business those partners are doing.
Secondly, I think from the outside looking in, many spectators look at DWF as just another law firm entering a market that already has multiple international law firms. But DWF does not consider itself to be a traditional law firm. DWF is a legal business. The way that it is set up is that we've a part of the business that is specifically dedicated to delivering legal services, but we also have a part of the business specifically dedicated to delivering non-legal services that complement our legal services.
What that looks like is, for example, under our Connected Services division, we offer a wide range of non-legal services. These products and services include: data analytics, forensic accounting and cost adjusting to our clients, - to name a few. So DWF has a host of non-legal services that we deploy to our clients which sit alongside our legal offering, and that's what we believe makes us different from your typical law firm. These two factors combined were the driving forces behind saying “It's the right time for entering the Qatari market”. The fact that there were other firms doing other things, leaving the market for whatever those reasons were, didn’t really impact our decision because what we saw was a very different service being deployed into the market.
What are the sectors that you think are the most interesting in Qatar?
I’ve been in Qatar for over a decade and the one thing I’ve learned is that in order to be successful in this market, you have to remain agile. Some days, some sectors are up and six months later, those sectors are down. I think there are a number of sectors where you could safely predict that over the coming years, they’re likely to remain strong performers. The construction industry is an obvious one, and the construction practice across a number of business sectors – transportation, energy, renewable energy, hospitality and healthcare. The expectation is that those sectors will continue to perform well in the coming years, so we at DWF have built the office around those specific offerings.
Secondly, it is no secret that the country is making a concerted effort to make Qatar an investor-friendly jurisdiction. I think what we're likely to see as a result more investor-type disputes happening. For example, you’ll have more ICSID-type arbitrations. There are a handful now, but I think we’ll see growth in that area. It’s an area we're focused on as a business and as an office, and much of our growth is around those two particular areas.
You’ve talked about being agile and what makes DWF different. What do you see as the key forces that are changing the way legal services are provided? Obviously, we’re talking a lot about the impact of legal technology, alternative providers of legal services, the emergence of the big 4, what do you see as the key forces changing the way that law firms need, and how can they adapt to those forces?
There are multiple forces driving change within the legal industry. DWF sees itself as one of the legal businesses that is trying to predict that change and position itself to deal with that change.
It's no secret that there's a significant amount of pricing pressure on law firms. In my view, the reason for that is that the cost of delivering legal services is astronomical - it isn't because lawyers get big salaries.
There's a desire to change the way law firms deliver services, so as to become leaner, more cost effective and efficient. I think we witness law firms making a number of changes in the coming years which will address these types of issues. Right now, when you look at the big international law firms, their operations are significant. Big international law firms have various offices which share particular services. Typically, those shared services will be headquartered in the jurisdiction where the law firm was established. For example, for DWF our shared services are primarily housed in Manchester and London. Those two markets are relatively expensive from which to deploy shared services. I think you'll see law firms moving to cheaper jurisdictions to deliver those shared services making them leaner and reducing the cost of delivery. Law firms will be looking more towards developing their technology in order to make delivery of legal services quicker, more cost-effective and more efficient.
The high cost of real estate and resource greatly contributes to the significant delivery cost of legal services. By making your operations leaner, i.e. reducing operations head-count and moving shared services operations to cheaper jurisdictions, can dramatically reduce costs.
Another thing you'll see law firms do is reduce their exposure in terms of real estate. This is something that DWF has started to do already. Law firms recognised this nearly five to ten years ago by introducing open plan working spaces instead of dedicated offices for each lawyer. DWF has gone a step further to introduce agile working policies, thus reducing the need for expansive and/or dedicated offices. I think law firms will now start moving towards having very small offices, because the fact of the matter is, if you’re reviewing a contract for a client, the client doesn’t care whether you’re working from your kitchen table or in an office. Clients are now saying to lawyers, “Look, instead of meeting in your office, meet in my office, or meet at a restaurant”, so the need for expensive real estate is diminishing.
We’ve been talking about the death of the hourly billing rate model. If you look ahead five years from now, do you see a change in the way that law firms charge, whether it’s certain services being charged at fixed fees, using technology? How do you see law firms interacting with in-house clients differently over the next five years?
I think that’s going to be driven by technology. There will be a lot of services that law firms have to deploy in the market that will be susceptible to being delivered using LegalTech. Once you move away from people delivering those services to tech delivering those services, you’re able to price those things on a fixed fee because you can predict the time and the outcome.
What do you see as the potential of artificial intelligence in the legal sector? Are you excited about the possibility?
I think that we're a long way off from seeing AI play a dominant role in the industry. The delivery of legal services necessarily requires nuance, agility, creativity and interpretation, and it’s difficult to replicate human behaviour in such circumstances. To put that in context, imagine yourself in a negotiation. Body language matters. You might change a negotiating strategy or position based on body language. There are all kinds of factors that have an impact on how you might deliver certain types of services. That's not to say that there isn’t a role for AI in the legal industry. The way we handle discovery, document review and due diligence could involve AI. I welcome that kind of a change simply because, when you think of doing due diligence for a client, you look at that and you see four, five, six or seven lawyers slugging over papers. The lawyers don’t like it. The clients don’t like it because it’s incredibly expensive. If we can make this process leaner, through the use of technology, it will not only be more attractive to the client but also more cost-effective for lawyers.
What can we expect from DWF in Qatar over the coming year?
We’ve had a tremendous amount of traction related to our connected services division. A lot of people still don’t know about it, but whenever we have the opportunity to explain to clients or potential clients, eyebrows are raised, the ears peak, and so we’re excited to be able to bring something that we think is new and revolutionary to the market, and it’ll be interested to see how that looks a year from today.