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.
An interview with Susan Bennett, Principal Sibenco Legal & Advisory, Co-founder and Director Information Governance ANZ
What has been your experience or interaction with legal innovation and technology?
When I commenced as a lawyer there was only the traditional paper ‘discovery’ and the technology to enable ‘eDiscovery’ had not yet been developed. I was a user of the initial versions of several eDiscovery technology tools and established a legal technology support team to support litigation matters and due diligence in M&As. I was also involved in one of the earliest commercial litigation trials in London that used live transcript – that was back in 1995. I was involved in the first electronic trial in a major commercial litigation case in the New South Wales Supreme Court, which was back in 2000-2001. As is often the case with technology, it takes time and improvements both to the technology and with the skills of the users before the full extent of the benefits are realised. The first electronic trial was also accompanied by multiple sets of an initial 165 folder trial bundle set, and almost everyone insisted on hard copy print outs of the transcript each day over the course of a 12 month hearing.
Further development of litigation legal technology in recent years has continued. In particular, the development of AI capabilities in eDiscovery software has been impressive. Technology Assisted Review (TAR) operating in conjunction with eDiscovery software, enables vast amounts of information across an organisation to be searched, identified and collated, and then utilising the sampling, training and prediction functions of TAR can result in significantly reduced number of paralegals and review lawyers.
The courts have also been active in deploying technology, from the use of electronic trials on a regular basis (with little or no paper), to the ability of court users to file documents on line, which is a huge time saver and reduces costs.
What changes have you seen in your firm, team or organisation recently?
I’m now a lawyer who is a NewLaw provider and technology is key to enabling practitioners like myself who choose to practise law outside the traditional large law firm model. Soon after Microsoft built its cloud in Sydney, I moved to a fully electronic legal practice and now use a number of software programs to carry out my work. Technology is also the enabler to allow consultants and contractors who work with my firm to work remotely. The upside of email, mobile phone and web conferencing is that it enables lawyers to respond and communicate with clients with ease, even when they are not in their law firm office. Whether I am travelling overseas and/or working remotely, I find it is a non-issue for clients – the key issues are that you are accessible and available to do the work and then deliver.
What challenges or barriers do you face when innovating or looking to use new tech?
I think a key challenge is properly understanding both the scope and the limits of new technology. I often ask for an explanation as to how a product being demonstrated differs from its competition to understand what the product does differently. The gap between what lawyers do and think they need and what the technology does, needs to be understood in order to get the best solution. Increasingly it is likely to be the lawyer who will need to change the way do their work and/or how they deliver their services. However, sometimes it is less about which software you are using and more about having the right skill set using it.
What opportunities do you see with legal innovation?
I see great opportunities for those in the legal profession who innovate and are able to compete in a legal environment that will be completely disrupted by technology. The technology revolution is in its early stages and we will really begin to see some of the profound changes that technology will bring to the legal industry as technology becomes embedded and/or replaces traditional areas of practise. eDiscovery technology tools and Legal Process Outsourcing (LPOs) have now reduced the size of law firm paralegal and lawyer teams on document review. Other examples include the increasing use of AI software in contracts and blockchain, which will have a profound impact on contract and commercial legal areas.
Technology disruption to law presents innovation opportunities for lawyers who can see and seize the opportunities. For students and young lawyers, combining technology and legal skills will open up new frontiers – such as the development of legal apps or legal Chat bots. Students who combined technology and law qualifications are likely to have more employment opportunities and faster career progression given there will be an increasing demand for the combined legal and technology skills.
With greater adoption of tech and more innovation, how do you see your role evolving in the future?
For current and including older lawyers, we all need to be continually learning, seizing opportunities and innovating. Experienced lawyers can combine their skills and expertise with new learnings to deliver new services. For example, my background in large scale document production in litigation and Royal Commissions and my involvement with the development of eDiscovery led me to write and speak on the importance of good document and information management and defensible disposition of records to reduce discovery and litigation costs. I now deliver services in Information Governance, including frameworks, policies and processes to manage the exponential growth in data within organisations from a strategic organisational perspective. This work also includes – privacy frameworks, privacy impact assessments, data impact assessments for data analytics projects including an ethical based assessment as part of the overall assessment framework. The legal work in data protection and privacy is a rapidly growing area of law, which exists because of the technology developments.
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?
Everyone attending LawFest will learn something new from a diverse range of leading innovators and leaders in law and legal technology. It’s a great to hear the speakers explain current trends and latest developments with their insights and practical experience.