In Focus: Q&A with Peter Hickling, Capacity Co-founder and CTO
So, how did you come to co-found Capacity?
More than anything else, it was William’s enthusiasm that inspired me. I’d been working as a software engineer in small start-ups and scale-ups, when William came to me with the simple idea of giving senior lawyers the ability to see the ‘capacity’ of juniors so that they could evenly distribute work.
I had some spare time on the weekends, so thought I'd surprise him with a very simple proof-of-concept. As they say, the rest is history!
What’s been the biggest challenge in building Capacity?
From the development side, regardless of the size of your team, it’s always figuring out the most impactful thing you can do with the limited resources that you have.
A part of that is carving out an identity for the product – the core USP, the thing we do much better than anyone else, the unique factor that provides value to the people we want to help. I’ve found that sticking to that, and marshalling our resources around our core value proposition, is so much more effective than spreading ourselves too thin on too many bells and whistles.
How does your team go about receiving and actioning feedback from clients?
First thing: feedback is great. We thrive on it. We’re always looking for ways to collect more of it from the people using the product day-to-day. It’s really fundamental to listen and learn when building an app like Capacity.
Practically, responding to feedback means understanding the surface-level issue or suggestion, and then trying to understand as a team whether there’s anything underlying that ought to be changed. In software development, you always have to resist knee-jerk solutions to identify the best, most prudent long-term solution. Then it’s a case of mobilising our team – from our UX genius to our copywriter to our developers – to build, test, green-light, release, and monitor our update.
Talk us through the algorithm – how do you make sure it’s bias-free?
The crucial thing is to never introduce it to data that refers to protected characteristics, or that could be used to infer them. If you do, any algorithm could reproduce bias that exists ‘out there’ in the real world.
This is actually why we’ve opted for an advanced algorithm over AI – the latter is trained on so much data that, at the moment, it’s very difficult to say with certainty that it’s bias-free. It’s like sending your kid off to school – they’re going to come back with all kinds of new ideas, hopefully good ones, but ideas you can’t necessarily control.
Besides data hygiene, we’re also always monitoring our algorithm – we know when it’s really helping people, and when people begin to trust it to allocate work automatically. In those cases, we can be confident that we've fulfilled our goal of removing bias from the allocation process.
And how about user experience (UX) – how important is that for an app like Capacity?
Yeah, so UX is incredibly important. Of course, that’s the case for all apps, but especially for Capacity. We’re very conscious that Capacity works at the centre of one of the most important processes in law firms – how, where, and when work should be allocated.
Capacity doesn’t target a niche technical aspect of the job. It’s more fundamental to how the firm functions. We know therefore that we need to win over the hearts and minds of lawyers in order to succeed in making such a big change to their lives.
Capacity can really help firms to address the biggest issues facing the industry today – loss of staff, finding efficiencies, reducing client costs, boosting diversity and wellbeing – but the simple fact is that one bad or confusing experience on Capacity can send lawyers back to their old habits and ways of working. We want to see Capacity fulfil its full potential for firms, so designing the app to be as user-friendly, simple, and intuitive as possible is one of our highest priorities.
How has it been making the shift to developing LegalTech?
It’s certainly challenging! I've learned a lot about juggling the wants and needs of many different people. Law firms are complex places with many different players, each with their own needs, difficulties, and ambitions. Seeing as Capacity is so central to how law firms function, we have to make sure we’re achieving balance in everything we do, treading on no toes and leaving everyone with a good experience.
What do you love about your job?
I love being involved in the learning and development of our magnificent, talented people. I like explaining concepts that sometimes have a huge number of different, conflicting elements that we as a team need to solve. I love teaching cognitive dissonance reconciliation. And also, just seeing the product gain more of a concrete identity, and seeing how that is mirrored in the culture and identity of our business.
And what would make you love it that bit more?
I'm looking forward to a time where we have the budget for quarterly company get-togethers around the world. We have a truly brilliant remote-working team, but getting into the same room from time to time, both for sprint working and for socialising, would be the cherry on top for me!