TLT partner Siân Ashton discusses her science background, life in the firm’s FutureLaw team and why TC hunters need to be open-minded and flexible, ahead of her appearance at tomorrow’s virtual careers event
Siân Ashton graduated in geology, converted to law, applied and was accepted for a training contract at TLT. After training at the firm she qualified into commercial dispute resolution and later became a partner in the same team. Two years ago, Siân became the client service transformation partner at TLT following the growing need for innovative strategies both within the firm and with clients.
When we speak, Siân tells me she wanted to be a lawyer from a young age but chose to study geology because she found it so interesting. She reflects on her science background and tells me that it gives her an alternative perspective which differs from the traditional way of approaching law which can be ‘wordy’ and ‘over-complex’. Instead, a scientific approach has helped Siân, who explains that “clients want to be given the answer to their problem and only want to read a couple paragraphs. They do not want War & Peace. I think science graduates are particularly good at getting to that point”.
From talking to Siân, it is clear her open-mindedness helped her shape her career path based on what she found interesting and what she saw would benefit the firm and its clients. Her current role as the client service transformation partner is one that was created out of client and business need and to keep ahead of increased innovation within the legal sector. Siân tells me, “we sat down and looked at what was happening in the market and what we needed to do to change the way we operated because although TLT has always been innovative, real client service transformation was mainly done by the lawyers as a side hustle”. As innovation became a growing trend, a “side hustle” was not enough to keep TLT ahead, meaning it needed dedicated people to innovate and look at how client service could be delivered differently.
When asked about the day-to-day life of a client transformation partner, Siân tells me there is no such thing as a typical day. Her work involves legal project management, talking to internal and external clients, advising in-house legal teams on improving or refining their own processes and overseeing legal tech developments for the firm and its clients.
Though Siân says she would not go back to being a full-time litigator, she appreciates how 17 years in legal practice helps her understand how lawyers and law firms operate. “I have lived that life and I understand when things are painful and frustrating,” she says. She goes on to give an example of a current project involving a legal technology provider who has developed a product specifically designed to help corporate lawyers write reports. When thinking about when to test the product, Siân explains how she knows that corporate lawyers are extremely busy between now and the New Year. Thus, guided by her background in legal practice, Siân knows to advise the vendor to wait until a quieter period to approach them.
Siân jointly leads TLT’s FutureLaw team, a team developed and grown to focus on the future of law: looking at consultancy services, technology, transformation as well as continuing to identify new innovations and changes to bring to clients. Commenting on legal technology and the digitisation of society more generally, Siân tells me how in practice the technology itself is often not the most important factor as she notes, “talking to clients is step one”. Siân goes on to say that talking to clients about blockchain and digital contracts isn’t beneficial if the client is still storing its contracts in hard copy and, as Siân tells me has happened before, in a filing cabinet locked with a bike chain. Understanding what the client really needs is critical.
In terms of trainee engagement in legal technology at TLT — an area in which the firm received an A* in the Legal Cheek Trainee and Junior Lawyer Survey 2021 — Siân tells me she has had a trainee complete a seat in FutureLaw before and is keen to do this again alongside regularly taking on secondees. She is also keen to involve trainees and other junior lawyers in testing the technology “as they will be the ones using it and are best placed to identify areas for development”. Stressing how a law degree is not a prerequisite to being a lawyer, Siân tells me about plans to get graduate apprentices involved in the FutureLaw team. “There are different routes in, so you are bringing in people with different skillsets”, she says, adding that this way “you get a real mix of people with technical as well as legal skills”.
Giving her advice to students and graduates looking to follow a similar path, Siân encourages being flexible and open-minded about where your career might take you. She concludes:
“You can be a litigator, you can be a real estate lawyer, or you can be a corporate lawyer, but you can also do things differently — you can change the way law firms are operating.”
Siân Ashton will be speaking alongside other TLT lawyers during ‘The digitisation of society — with TLT’, a virtual student event taking place tomorrow, on Thursday 11 November. You can apply for one of the final few (and free) places to attend the event.
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