LawFest organiser Andrew King continues his series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.
An interview with Laura O’Gorman, Partner at Buddle Findlay.
What has been your experience or interaction with legal innovation and technology?
Coming from a family of computer experts, I have always been interested in technology. I am lucky to work in a large firm with the resources to innovate. This has enabled me to be an early adopter of tools that help my practice as a litigator, such as litigation support software, voice recognition and e-bundles for court. Meanwhile our general IT systems have also evolved dramatically over the last 10 years, to include a wealth of applications that make our jobs easier (eg document management, time recording, billing, CRM etc).
What changes have you seen in your firm, team or organisation recently?
The rate of change is ever-increasing on a number of fronts. In addition to technology changing the way law is practised, client expectations and the way we prefer to work are also evolving. We are moving along the continuum towards a paperless workplace, reducing the need for floor space and improving communication flows within workgroups. There is an increasing demand for flexibility, which has both positives and negatives. From the client perspective, this can require after hours availability on urgent or important matters – portable devices and remote access greatly assist in delivering that level of service. On the other hand, we are more conscious than ever of the need to nurture wellbeing and other aspects of our lives and support systems outside of work. We are noticing a trend towards more project-based provision of services, requiring more innovative and collaborative problem-solving and pricing structures, often multi-disciplinary. There is a greater focus on delivering our primary value-add at the expert level, and minimising the costs of low level and routine work (eg through automation and AI, outsourcing, or those aspects being managed in-house). This is good for our junior lawyers because the quality of their work is better, but we are conscious that it might it reduce the overall volume of entry level work for law graduates. Overarching all of this, cybersecurity is now a major issue for any law firm.
What challenges or barriers do you face when innovating or looking to use new tech?
This depends on the particular innovation that is proposed, but the main recurring issues are cross-expertise communication/understanding, change resistance, costs and learning curves, integration and security. In the past, the different functions within law firms were more independent. Lawyers could focus on providing legal advice, and the IT experts could set up our computers and digital voice recorders, without particularly requiring any understanding what the other was trying to achieve. Now the objectives are much more integrated (eg designing and using software to achieve a particular legal task), posing the challenge of finding people with multi-disciplinary expertise, or working collaboratively and communicating more effectively across those disciplines. To do this successfully, people need to be open to change, listen effectively and adopt a problem-solving attitude rather than simply sticking with the status quo as a matter of convenience or change-resistance. There are some great technological solutions out there, or that could be potentially developed, but this often requires risk and significant upfront investment (including overcoming a learning curve). Lawyers are generally risk-averse and time poor, so overcoming this type of barrier is difficult. To be done successfully, lawyers need to understand the reasons for the change and the benefits they will receive. Before introducing new technology, it is also critical to consider and test the knock-on implications in terms of how it will integrate with other existing systems (both internally and externally), and what security issues arise.
What opportunities do you see with legal innovation?
The purpose of innovation for any service provider is to deliver better value for clients and exceed their expectations. Value can be achieved in a number of ways – higher quality, lower cost, faster delivery, proactively understanding the client’s business better, anticipating issues, collaborating more effectively, reducing risk and adding value. Technology provides us with one way to achieve these objectives. We have seen many examples already, such as software that better deals with the vast volumes of electronic material (in contexts such as litigation or due diligences), cloud-based platforms that facilitate project and client collaboration, commoditising basic documents and automation of mundane or repetitive takes. These trends will continue, allowing us to focus on the areas in which we truly add value with our legal experience and expertise.
With greater adoption of tech and more innovation, how do you see your role evolving in the future?
While the core service we provide is still legal advice, there is a much greater responsibility to ensure that we understand the bigger picture, and integrate our services both efficiently and effectively with others, including the clients themselves, technology experts and other service providers. Leaders within the firms need to prepare their teams to be problem-solvers in a rapidly evolving profession. This requires nurturing the skills of open-mindedness and adaptability, recognising that we need to keep learning and innovating throughout our careers. This will require technology skills too, not just legal training.
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?
LawFest is unique because it’s suitable for the different types of people that need to be on top of these issues within the legal profession – not just lawyers, but management and IT as well. It’s a very effective way for attendees to see the bigger picture from all perspectives, and get insight into what is best practice now and into the future, depending on where your firm sits on the investment and innovation curve.
If you want to learn more about innovative practices, drive greater efficiency within your organisation and ultimately drive profitability, then LawFest is the event for you. LawFest is being held at the Langham hotel in Auckland on 8 March 2018. Find out more – https://www.lawfest.nz/