A look back at last year's CIO50: #10 Gary Adler, Minter Ellison

gary adler
Minter Ellison

CIO Australia is running its fifth annual CIO50 where we highlight the achievements of the top 50 senior technology and digital executives who are driving innovation and influencing change across their organisations.

2020 has been a very difficult year for organisations across Australia and around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic has put enormous pressure on tech chiefs and their teams to deliver remote working solutions that provide business continuity during a crisis.

Nominate for the 2020 CIO50.

We are taking a look back at last year’s top 25. Today, we profile MinterEllison's Gary Adler, who ranked number 10.

The legal sector is facing unprecedented disruption and law firm Minter Ellison’s ambition is to set the standard for impact through innovation for its clients and people. A key component of that is the firm’s digital transformation roadmap, led by chief digital officer, Gary Adler.

“The innovative way we are delivering this is unique to our industry. Over the last 12 months we’ve built a highly connected two-tier digital team underpinned by Lean Six Sigma methodologies to drive transformation.

The two tiers are: a traditional IT engine room that manages applications, infrastructure, services and cyber risk; and a secondary legal operations team made up of an entirely new mix of skill sets.

“We call this team our ‘techno-lawyers’ - a combination of senior lawyers, business analysts, workflow and AI/automation specialists - some of whom are embedded inside each of its legal business units,” says Adler.

“Operating alongside our lawyers day-to-day and having a legal background, they are uniquely placed to understand and identify the specific challenges of each team and then match them to digital transformation opportunities. The new team has created an effective conduit between the digital strategy and the business, effecting change from within.”

Under this delivery model, Adler and his team have rolled out, or are currently implementing, key automation innovations, which include: new artificial intelligence tools that simplify and expedite outcomes surrounding legal contract reviews; and legal document automation and profiling tools to reduce the cost to produce transactional legal documents and improve the quality and consistency of output.

It has also introduced robotic process automation technologies to improve the management of burdensome administrative tasks, expedite processing time and reduce internal overheads; as well as an intelligent business process management system that sits at the heart of its lawyers’ digital toolset.

“Over and above legal workflow automation, the [business process] dashboard will provide our lawyers with insights into their current matters, granular tasks, work in progress, team and resource management, as well as a single pane of glass into other key integrated systems including our practice management system and document/contract management system,” he says.

Adler says that as a firm with almost 200 years of history, MinterEllison knows that digital innovation is mission-critical to retaining and increasing its competitive advantage in a highly disruptive market.

“We’re relentlessly exploring new innovations which focus on delivering market-leading service to our clients, strengthening transparency and consistency of delivery. This empowers our people to focus on the most complex elements of a matter rather than the routine, and creates a culture of continuous improvements and tangible innovation that involves everyone in the firm,” he says.

Quantitatively, the firm’s first year of transformation has saved more than 31,000 hours per annum, says Adler.

In the year ahead, based on further uptake and new innovations, the company is predicting over 42,000 measurable hours saved.

“This includes 1.3 million minutes through document automation, 700,000 minutes through workflow automation, and 500,000 minutes through an internally-developed ‘M&A Dealbook’ tool, and a minimum of 50,000 hours through the application of machine learning, AI and robotic process automation.

“Qualitatively, we are empowering our lawyers to focus on the more complex and intellectually stimulating elements of a legal matter, pushing the more routine components to digital automation,” he says.

Rather than jumping straight to technology, Adler and his team worked hard to understand the legacy processes of an old law firm.

“Untangling and optimising processes has allowed us to develop and implement the most appropriate and effective digital platforms to empower our people and deliver on our objectives now and in the future,” Adler says.

“With the delivery of each new project, we’re embedding a culture of innovation and curiosity throughout the firm. Ongoing and fluid consultation is developing genuine change and high levels of adoption in a historically traditional vertical.

“As projects are delivered and run by agile teams, that include both digital team members and key members from the legal business unit, a joint sense of ownership and pride in each new innovative tool is created, as well as champions inside the business units who help re-shape the culture across their peer group,” he says.

It’s all about culture

Adler says the biggest lesson he has learnt in his career is that digital transformation is far more about culture than technology itself.

“The majority of my career has been spent working inside legal firms, a traditional profession that has a reputation for being highly change resistant, and one that is often assumed - sometimes unfairly - to be lagging other sectors when it comes to technology.

“For digital transformation to truly succeed, everyone needs to be committed to change, adopting new processes and embracing new technologies. Therefore, creating and nurturing a digital culture and mindset across the entire organisation becomes mission-critical,” he says.

Adler says this is being achieved at MinterEllison by building collaboration between legal and digital teams into its organisational structure and embedding legal thinkers who are able to provide a non-technical, plain English connection to digital.

“This has resulted in reshaping traditional thinking across the business to a firm that genuinely understands and embraces digital opportunities. Further, the creation of agile, cross-business unit teams have built new digital champions equally keen to see a traditional industry succeed and leapfrog its peers.”

Adler says that fostering a culture that inspires teams to grow in their own roles, and empowers individuals to achieve their personal and professional goals, is something he’s focused on.

“My preference is to build internal capability rather than hiring externally. In the last four years in this role, I’m pleased to have created more than 25 internal promotions which, in turn, contributes to a culture of growth and deep loyalty.

“At MinterEllison, we know a workplace that leverages diversity through a culture of inclusion will foster stronger connections with colleagues and clients, enhancing the ability to create innovative solutions. Across our IT and legal services operations teams collectively, the gender split is 53 per cent male and 47 per cent female. Across the manager, senior manager and team leader cohort, the gender split is 50-50,” he says.

Finally, MinterEllison has a strong culture of mentoring staff all at levels, he adds.

“From a personal perspective, I take great pride in taking a ‘two-down’ approach to mentoring - spending time with team members at a level once removed to understand daily issues and pain points in all areas, and to personally help people to reach their goals.

“We also give all team members an opportunity to join our digital leadership team meetings to present on an initiative close to their hearts. This prepares our people for executive presentation skills and gives them vital exposure to the leadership team,” he says.

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