The following is a part of a series of interviews with legal professionals and their experiences and interaction with innovation and technology in the legal sector. We hope you’ll get value from what others have learnt along the way and their recommendations.
What has been your experience or interaction with legal innovation and technology?
I’ve always been interested in using technology to help me work better, but coming up through law firms and an in-house team, I had very limited opportunities to try new systems out. Mostly I dabbled in work-arounds as best I could, while trying to do all the usual parts of my job too. Even then I was able to find ways to work better, which reinforced that you don’t need a lot of technology to innovate.
Since setting up LawHawk, I’ve been immersed in the legal tech space. Document automation sits nicely in the middle of so many other processes, that I see a lot of opportunities and talk to a lot of people about other legal technologies, what they do, and how they can fit together as part of overall solutions. I’ve really enjoyed that part of things as it is the overall solution that matters, not the individual components.
What changes have you seen in your firm, team or organisation recently?
We are still a relatively new company, moving quickly in a rapidly developing market, so there are always a lot of things changing.
When we launched in June 2016, very few people we spoke to had any idea that document automation existed as a concept. It felt like we were building a new market, one conversation at a time. We are seeing more awareness and interest in the idea, though knowledge of how to use it for advantage is still low, so that is a focus for us.
Our preference remains to work with law firms, but we haven’t been waiting for them to figure things out, and have been working more directly with in-house legal and procurement teams, and testing offers direct to consumers. After throwing the net out broadly looking for early adopters, we’ve been narrowing our focus and looking for customers we can do a lot more with to help them make substantial gains.
What challenges or barriers do you face when innovating or looking to use new tech?
The same as any lawyer really: limited technical knowledge; limited budget and limited time.
I’m a lawyer that likes to use new technology when I think it can help me be more effective. I don’t always understand all the details about how it works. I have to take time to talk to people who do understand those things, and who I can work with to figure things out. Usually they have no idea how lawyers work, so it’s a sharing of ideas that is required. We have the best technology partners we could find.
I also don’t have an unlimited budget, and have to prioritise where to focus. We have to make sure that we are spending our money on things that our customers will benefit from, and that they want now. Timing is important – you can’t afford to be too far ahead of the market.
Thirdly, I also struggle to find time as much as everyone else does. I have to make time, as I usually find the new technology is a lot better, and easier to use, than I thought it would be.
What opportunities do you see with legal innovation?
Once you have a clear strategy – you know the outcomes you want to achieve, and why – you can take your pick! Firms can innovate to win more work, protect the work they have, make law affordable for those who can’t or won’t pay, change pricing models to fixed prices or retainers, work more seamlessly with clients, increase quality, reduce risk, get real work/life balance by getting hours of work done in minutes, delegate more (or if you are a younger lawyer, be able to do more of the job), attract and retain the best people. As one example, Auckland Council was recently offering exclusive panel appointments to firms offering real innovation, which I thought was great to see.
Overloaded in-house teams can bring more work in-house and still do it easily, and enable their businesses to do more themselves. We recently helped an in-house team reduce the time to prepare a 3910 construction contract from 4 hours to 1 hour (and hope to get that lower). Instead of each person being able to process 2 contracts (at best) per day, they could do 7 or more and still have lunch. This will have substantial benefits for their organisation and the people that organisation serves.
With greater adoption of tech and more innovation, how do you see your role evolving in the future?
We have two core parts to our business.
One is our online store, where people (including law firms that don’t have a precedent and/or automation) can buy a good legal document that they can really customise to suit their circumstances at a very low cost (usually under $50). We haven’t progressed this as much as we wanted to because the demand hasn’t been there and it is time consuming to develop documents for such broad use. We would like to partner more with law firms in particular areas to develop more of an overall solution – documents + legal advice. We’ve done this in the areas of wills, enduring powers of attorney and employment agreements.
The other side of our business is the custom automation of documents for customers. We started with a focus on law firms, but increasingly are working with in-house and procurement teams who have a greater immediate need and sense of urgency, and are closer to the real problems to be solved. We do expect to work more with law firms to identify and act on these opportunities together as that is what I think clients (and us) would really prefer, and law firms are starting to realise through tenders like Auckland Council’s that there is demand for it, and if they don’t do it, someone else will.
LawFest is focused on innovation and tech in the legal profession, why do you think it’s important for legal professionals to attend an event like LawFest?
One big benefit of an event like LawFest is the chance to learn from some really knowledgeable people who are at the forefront of a rapidly changing area, in a very time efficient way, but that isn’t the end of it.
I actually think a bigger advantage is in the networking, because it’s the combinations of people and technology that create the best solutions in each case.
At last year’s LawFest for example, we met two new organisations that we have since partnered with to develop joint solutions for particular areas of the market. One we planned to talk to, and the other was complete chance. Don’t just go to listen – make time to talk to people and find out what is really going on and how you can be part of it.