Derek Southall Head of Innovation and Digital

Speaks:  English

Qualified: 1992 - Solicitor of England & Wales

Primary office:  Birmingham

Secondary office:  London

Areas of expertise:

Derek Southall

Derek started out as a corporate lawyer but changed path in 1999. Since then he's immersed himself in the world of legal technology and productivity as well as organisational and market change. Derek has helped us as a firm make improvements to our own business. More importantly, he's become a key player for our clients, too, helping them to do the same.

Derek has spent over 15 years working both within the business and with our clients in developing strategies and implementing a range of business improvement projects relating to technology, compliance, risk, and productivity. When Derek joined the firm (Wragge & Co) in 1994 it turned over around £27million and since then has played a key role in supporting this growth through the dotcom era, multiple recessions and several waves of technological changes.

He has helped steer the innovation strategy over the 2015/16 financial year and in 2016 Gowling WLG was named the second most innovative law firm in Europe.

The Financial Times ranked Derek as one of the top three most innovative lawyers in the UK in their first study into the UK market and was recognised in 2017's prestigious Acritas Stars database as a 'star lawyer'.

Client support

Derek has worked with many of our major clients over the years including a range of global FTSE and Fortune 500 companies.

He has one of the strongest track records in the market of working with clients to solve their departmental issues, ranging from some of the largest legal functions in the world to some of the smallest who employ no lawyers. His skills are always in great demand as our clients transform their businesses and grapple with the challenges of fast-moving technology, rising costs and increasing regulatory pressures. Derek saves them time, effort and money, helping to materially improve their functions and learn from industry best practices.

Derek has helped clients (often on an added value basis) with a range of issues such as technology, knowledge management, delivery models, market changes, Legal Services Act opportunities, efficiency initiatives, procurement strategies and more. Derek leads our consultancy support to clients and manages our deliverables in relation to many client-facing projects. A global client recently commented that his meeting with Derek was the "most useful meeting he had had that year". Another automotive client said "an hour with Derek Southall is never an hour wasted."


Derek is by nature creative and has a natural enthusiasm which helps him to make things happen. His personality profile shows him as a technical entrepreneur and he tends to be very solutions driven.

Over the years many of our innovative projects have involved Derek in some way and so the firm has recently formalised this by appointing him as Head of Innovation and Digital. We break innovation down into Legal Innovation (the creative use of law to solve client problems), Business of Law Innovation (structuring ourselves to best meet client demands) and Digital Innovation (the creative use of digital technologies to support our strategy). Derek has worked hard to ensure we have an integrated offering and supporting ecosystem to encourage innovation. We need to ensure that people have the space to be creative, we can resource their ideas and that people have the freedom to experiment, it being accepted they will sometimes fail. In this area Derek works closely with Mark Tamminga in Gowling WLG Canada. We really welcome clients approaching us with difficult issues to solve and never feel constrained by the way things have been done in the past. Derek is a founder member and chairman of the Legal IT Innovators Group (LITIG).


In relation to Digital, Derek has overall responsibility for our strategy and feeds into the firm's overall IT strategy.

Digital excellence is at the core of what we do as we recognise that the world is undergoing unprecedented change, with huge increases in quantities of data, increased computing power, cyber security and advances in artificial intelligence and robotics. Derek leads our strategies in this area and we have been making strong progress in all of these areas.

The firm was ranked as the Legal Business Technology team of the Year in 2015 and in the past has won many of the leading awards in the marketplace including the 'Legal IT Best Use of IT Award', 'Legal Business Enterprising Law Firm of the Year' and the FT's 'Most Innovative Legal IT Function in Europe' in their first study into the European legal market.

We have been ranked third in Passle's analysis of Digital Output by the top 100 firms and have released market-leading gamification products for employment training and Pensions in 30 Podcasts.

In relation to wider capability we supply a range of e-client services such as portals, deal rooms, data feeds, matter approval systems and deeds databases. We have real strength in this area and have always been able to meet clients' requirements

Knowledge Management

Derek leads the firm's Knowledge Management Strategy with support from a range of senior information professionals such as Susanne Homer and Karen Gray and a team of around 20 Senior Professional Support Lawyers. Technical excellence is key to the firm and in recent years we have made some real inroads with our KnowlEdge Strategy. We have a range of practice area Knowledge Centres, Sector Hubs, Federated Search tools and Manzama personalised dashboards, all of which ensure our lawyers have the best, most up-to-date information at their fingertips.


Legal project management and streamlining for a leading automotive manufacturer, achieved by developing and applying PRINCE2 methods and working with project management experts to drive efficiency, including applying Lean Six Sigma approaches.

Identifying alternative resourcing models for a market leading telecoms company. Derek leveraged different approaches, including day rates and partnering with flexible resource providers.

Role swapping with a major high street retailer . Derek and his team used new methods, including reverse secondments, to help develop skills among in-house and law firm lawyers - an effective way of providing support for strategic projects.

Derek advised on a range of options to help with document, email and knowledge management for a global engineering group.

Pioneering alternative fee models for numerous clients. Derek developed a range of innovative options, including task milestone quoting, capped and fixed fees for transactions, capped fees for entire areas and real value billing.

Working with in-house legal teams to help with key issues affecting them, from crisis management to sourcing strategies; from process analytics to document management. Also helping them to use technology to make them more efficient, save money and reduce risk.

Working with a large in-house legal department, some 700 plus people, on the global procurement and installation of a matter and document management system, including e-billing.

Providing our clients with strategic feedback and understanding on the market positioning of potential technology investments, allowing them to get to the point of decision quicker than competing bidders.

Career & Recognition

Filter timeline:
  • 2017

    • Career
      May 2017
      Gowling WLG (UK), Head of innovation and digital
  • 2016

    • Career
      February 2016
      Gowling WLG (UK), Partner and head of innovation and digital
  • 2015

    • Career
      December 2015
      Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co LLP, Partner and Head of Innovation and Digital
  • 2014

    • Career
      June 2014
      Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co LLP, Partner and Head of Strategic Development
  • 2003

    • Community
      May 2003
      Litig.Org - Chairman and Founding Member
  • 1994

    • Career
      Wragge & Co LLP, Partner and Head of Strategic Development
  • 1992

    • Qualifications (Year of Call/Admission, etc.)
      Qualified, Solicitor of England & Wales