Signing a player is already a considerable challenge. There are the negotiations with the other club and then those with the player himself to get through, plus the entire process has to be completed within a tight timescale.
The problem Everton faced was the speed at which player transfer documents needed to be produced
January’s mid-season transfer window is open for a month. If a deal is not completed by deadline day, it’s off. Global football governing body FIFA is strict with the deadline. In one case, Leicester City FC were unable to complete the signing of a midfielder because the paperwork arrived 14 seconds too late.
In the autumn of 2016 Everton’s then-head of legal Chris Anderson (who has now himself transferred to Brighton & Hove Albion FC) was thinking about ways to make the transfer process easier. In particular, he was wondering what could be done around automated contract solutions. Anderson began to look at the options. Julian Diaz-Rainey, the Manchester-based Pinsent Masons relationship partner for Everton, was aware that Anderson was looking at some of these ideas and introduced Anderson to David Halliwell, the firm’s director of knowledge and innovation delivery.
Automated contracts process for case study on Pinsent Masons football club Everton
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The automated solution
Diaz-Rainey and Halliwell met with Anderson, mapped out the contracting process and discussed Pinsents’ capabilities including those of the knowledge engineering team that included its own coders and had the Contract Express software already. Anderson was taken with the idea of using a law firm as a one-stop-shop rather than Everton investing in the technology and its in-house legal team working it out on their own.
The problem Everton faced was the speed at which player transfer documents needed to be produced. Often, player negotiations are confidential and the legal team may only be involved at the last minute, but then need to process the documents quickly to meet the transfer deadline.
All parties swiftly agreed that football contracts were a good fit for automation, given their structure and the requirement for speed in getting them through. The job of creating a product that would allow this was given to Sarah Wilson, the manager of Pinsents’ knowledge engineering team, and her colleague, knowledge engineer Jennifer Purser.
The knowledge engineering team is part of Pinsents’ SmartDelivery team, headed by Halliwell. It has 10 members and is made up of document automation engineers through to managing senior knowledge engineers, with Wilson heading it up. The team implements document automation using Contract Express and is also involved in data extraction, testing software for the business and producing workflow systems with purpose-built in-house software.
Window of opportunity
The timescale was tight: the club wanted the product ready for the start of the January 2017 transfer window. The green light had been given on 15 November 2016, giving Pinsents only a couple of months to create something from scratch.
The documents Everton wanted to automate were sent to the firm in the middle of November. In total, nine suites of documents needed to be handled. They were:
Transfer in (domestic player)
Transfer out (domestic player)
Transfer in (international player)
Transfer out (international player)
Loan in (domestic player)
Loan out (domestic player)
Loan in (international player)
Loan out (international player)
The first thing Wilson and Purser did was a scoping exercise to get an early ideas of what might be possible and desirable to automate. To scope the documents Purser and Wilson had to look at formatting, work out how much coding could be used across multiple documents to save time, and work out how to split the documents effectively. Once this was done, the team would be able to give Everton with a date when a first draft test link would be available to view.
They went back to Everton with suggestions as to how the suites should be split and the level of automation. Purser and Wilson also said they would be able to produce a first draft test link without Everton being required to produce a questionnaire and mark up the templates, as they could use their experience to code areas ripe for automation. The pair worked with the club’s in-house legal team to pin down what the client wanted.
Purser got to work on the coding while Pinsent Masons’ client technology team developed the client-facing part of the product
While Diaz-Rainey was kept in the loop, there was no lawyer involvement. Purser got to work on the coding while Pinsent Masons’ client technology team (also part of the SmartDelivery team), based in Glasgow and headed by Mike McGlinchey, developed the client-facing part of the product.
In terms of requirements from the client, Everton had forms that needed to be able to be automated, but the result had to be approved by the FA. If a document is not to their standards the FA have the right to reject it from being part of the transfer. There was a technical limitation in that the FA forms were in PDF format but the software can only automate Word documents, so FA forms had to be converted from PDF to Word while ensuring they remained compliant. Two or three changes were made between December and the January transfer window to put the final polish on the system.
The product Pinsents ultimately delivered works as follows. Users of the system open a Pinsent Masons portal via an app in which they answer questions relevant to the player’s transfer through a mixture of multiple choice fields and free text boxes. The app then generates documents, the number depending on the type of transfer in question. Players under 18, for example, have different questions to answer than those who do not require parental signing.
Due to the nature of the documents and how many need to be produced for each deal, Pinsents used the automation tool to suit the necessary documents together according to transfer type. This meant complexity across the board, pulling together each of the documents to be produced in different circumstances.
Key advice points for case study on Pinsent Masons football club Everton
The entire product covers 62 documents in total. It was a massive task to create, but some of the effort was taken out of it by the fact that there was considerable overlap between the documents, so not all had to be created from scratch. The process of creation would have been quicker if they had not been split into suites, but Pinsents took the view that this was clearer.
The project went down to the wire. Purser had created a finished product before Christmas 2016, but over the holiday period there was still some back and forth as various elements were tweaked. Final sign-off was received in the last moments of 2016 and the system was ready for the opening of the January 2017 transfer window.
That month saw Everton use the app to assist in the signing Morgan Schneiderlin for £24m and the loan of Gerard Deulofeu to AC Milan, among other deals.
Pinsents’ SmartDelivery document automation solution resulted in time savings of more than 20 hours over the month-long window.