Head of legal, London

Sam Ruback

I applied for vacation schemes and loved the one I did with Mishcon de Reya. I found the range of clients and issues fascinating, as well as the depth the lawyers went into to understand their clients and advise them creatively. I liked the fact the firm felt scrappy and dogged on one hand but polished and thoughtful on the other. I was over the moon when Mishcon offered me a training contract after the vacation scheme.

After completing an undergraduate history degree at the University of Nottingham, I spent two years at (the then) College of Law undertaking the GDL and LPC before training. I enjoyed aspects of all the different teams I spent time in, which was probably the first hint I would enjoy the in-house route.

I qualified into the white-collar team, which had recently been formed. I thought it would be enjoyable to help build the team from scratch in an area of law that was really taking off. 

In my personal life, I had become a lot more interested in tech, in particular fintech, as the consumer revolution in London was taking off, spearheaded by Revolut, Monzo and others. I liked the ambition of the start-ups in taking on incumbents and thought they quickly made a difference in showing people how financial services could work better for consumers. Around the same time, Mishcon established MDR LAB to incubate and advise lawtech start-ups.

I got closer to the programme, meeting some of the founders, finding out about the problems they were addressing, and getting to know the people in the business who were running the LAB. As I built up this knowledge and contacts, I was looking for a way to fuse my interests and career.

By chance, I was introduced to the then general counsel of WorldRemit, Sam Ross, who shared many of my interests and gave me a real insight into what the life of a lawyer was like at a fast-growth fintech. I was able to organise a secondment and a link up between Mishcon and WorldRemit.

'It’s key to help lawyers recognise that the upfront change and education associated with legaltech is worth it to reap the benefits'

After spending six years at a law firm –albeit a forward-looking one – working at a fast-moving fintech was another world. On a day-to-day level, working closely for the first time with people who weren’t lawyers was a huge learning curve. Understanding this dynamic was more of a change than advising on a range of legal issues (commercial, regulatory, employment, litigation, data protection) at Mishcon. I’d always liked just getting on and being practical so it came quite naturally. The legal team was great, very collaborative with a range of skills, and we managed to work closely with the business.

I’d been increasingly interested in legaltech and was attracted by the possibility of working at an ambitious business at the intersection of law and technology. I’d heard of Thirdfort a few years earlier when they participated in the MDR LAB programme. When an opportunity arose to join at the end of 2020, I jumped. Thirdfort is a web and mobile app that combines document scanning, facial recognition technology and open banking to streamline identity and source of funds checks for lawyers. The platform helps lawyers cut out fraud risk while improving the client experience.

As head of legal, I am responsible for managing and advising on all legal issues that arise from our clients, consumers or other parties, working with Jack [Bidgood], our co-founder, on regulatory and compliance requirements, and also providing commercial insight into the legal industry, what’s on the horizon and how we can expand.

It’s an ongoing challenge to convince some lawyers that a legaltech service will make their life easier and work more interesting, and enable them to deliver a better service to clients. Rather than ‘risk averse’, I find many lawyers are creatures of habit. So it’s key to help them recognise that the upfront change and education associated with legaltech is worth it to reap the benefits in the medium- and long-term.

I think there are three main ways of looking at legaltech: solutions for lawyers or professionals; B2B tools for in-house lawyers; and B2C legaltech companies providing legal services or guidance in place of traditional legal advice. I’d say there’s been a real proliferation of companies in the second and third categories, whether it’s on contract or spend management, or in relation to standard corporate and fundraising documents, for example.

I still think there’s a long way for legaltech to go within firms and, at the very least, for more firms to adopt services that automate the creation of routine contracts or extract key points from large datasets.