CIE Legal partner on lawyers needing to chill out

Andrew Thompson also dreams of owning his own vineyard

CIE Legal partner on lawyers needing to chill out
Andrew Thompson

If he didn’t become a lawyer, Andrew Thompson would “without doubt” be a winemaker. A self-proclaimed avid wine drinker, he dreams of bolstering his knowledge of viticulture so he can have his own vineyard and share its amazing products with his friends.

However, the intellectual challenge of the law drew Thompson and pulled him away from a career in IT. He has continued to utilise his IT experience in his role as a partner at CIE Legal, where he’s worked on matters involving tech and IP law, ICT outsourcing, data security and risk management, among others.

In this interview, Thompson shares his thoughts on using AI in law, why lawyers need to relax, and the worrying attrition rate in the legal profession.

What made you choose a career in law?

I initially didn’t choose law. I studied economics at university and, at the start of my career, worked as a management consultant specialising in IT. At the time (way back in the early 2000’s), IT consulting was going through some big changes and a lot of the work we did was becoming automated and commoditised. I was attracted to law for the substance of the profession – the intellectual rigour of it. I’d also always had an interest in social justice issues, so the law appealed for that reason too.

What is going on at CIE Legal? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

This year, we’ve got a particular focus on using technology and processes to deepen the sector-driven services we offer. We’re known for advising consumer product businesses – they come to us because we know their market inside and out. Now we’re moving from just having people who know the sector, to developing products and service lines that are specific to the sector. For example, we’re working on a tool to help handle customer complaints more effectively. 

What tech-related initiatives adopted by the organisation, if any, are you most excited about?

We’ve used generative AI for some due diligence work on M&A transactions. For example, we have used it to automate contract and lease reviews. I’ll admit, it wasn’t easy to use gen AI to start with – and we made a number of mistakes – but we persevered, and now we’re using it regularly for review work. It’s exciting. I can see the impact generative AI will have and the way it will change competitive advantage in the legal sector.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?

I’m proud of growing a really strong corporate team at CIE Legal. In just seven months, we’ve worked on four large transactions and that’s bonded us as a team.

We’ve also got a strengthened bond with some of our major clients. For example, we’re concluding a second acquisition for Optimus Group and are now turning our attention to working with the management team to achieve the results they targeted when they decided to make the purchase. That’s really satisfying – working alongside a business to help them grow – not in an abstract way but in concrete steps where you can see the results of your efforts. 

What should the profession focus more on?

I could say a lot here – there’s so much to cover! However, for me it boils down to relaxing a bit. Lawyers are notorious for seeing themselves as a breed apart, but if we continue to take this rarified approach, we’ll get left behind. The world and our profession are changing. What matters more than ever are results and relationships, not posturing and points-scoring. If I had one wish for the profession, it would be for us to chill out and focus on being more human and commercial.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

Retaining quality people in the law is an issue that concerns me – especially retaining quality people in private practice law.  The attrition rate is an issue and we’ve got to ask ourselves why we’re losing good people. How do we make law – and private practice law – attractive to the next generation?

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

I’m most looking forward to a holiday to South Africa in the spring!

Professionally, I’m looking forward to bedding-in the technologies and process improvements we’ve developed throughout this busy year for M&A deals. The more we can do to make deals commercial and efficient, the happier I am.

If you weren’t in law, what do you think you’d be doing as a career?

Without doubt, I’d be a winemaker. I already have some of the qualifications, being an avid wine drinker! My dream is to learn more about viticulture, own a vineyard, make fantastic wine, and share it with my friends.

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