The following is the second 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 Thomas Bloy, Director of Evolution Lawyers and CEO of CataLex.
What has been your experience or interaction with legal innovation and technology?
My professional career today centres on legal innovation and technology. In 2014, I left Simpson Grierson to start CataLex (www.catalex.nz), a software company that develops solutions to improve access to law and legal services. Although I have no coding experience or development expertise, it was clear to me that 70-80% of what I and most other lawyers did at SG would one day be assisted by software, or automated to the extent a lawyer was not required. I think all lawyers face a simple choice:
- stay as you are, and hope technology won’t replace your job before you voluntarily exit the profession; or
- start adapting now – join the new technological wave that will shortly change the profession forever. You can’t beat ‘em, so join ‘em.
I chose the latter. My reasoning was, as it tends to be, pragmatic and simple: I would much rather create the technology that replaces my job than fall victim to it. Of course, when I say “create”, I mean “pay expert developers to create”. I wasn’t misguided enough to attempt to retrain as a software developer and DIY.
Adaption is the key word. My experience has convinced me lawyers and law firms who do not adapt to new technology will find it increasingly difficult to survive. Having a few staff who ‘know about IT’ won’t cut it. All lawyers must adapt or die.
The Darwinian theme runs deeply through both my businesses – CataLex (my SaaS company) and Evolution Lawyers (my virtual law firm). The two businesses are corresponding sides of the same coin: one creates software to provide services for functions where lawyers aren’t required in the brave new world; the other provides services that truly require a lawyer.
The more services that move from Evolution Lawyers to CataLex, the better. Ultimately, the Darwinian process will leave the legal profession with an irreducible core of services that no machine or software can provide; the services that define what it means to be a lawyer.
The law firm uses technology wherever it can to save time and cost for its clients. Evolution Lawyers is 100% Cloud-based, paperless (you know, to the extent you can be), virtual (no fancy central office), and mobile (we come to you). I have found a focus on technology, particularly on how it can improve efficiency, to be universally appreciated by staff, clients, and associates of the firm. It has also proven profitable.
What changes have you seen in your firm, team or organisation recently?
Our team loves new solutions and processes that make their jobs easier (who doesn’t?). It frees them to focus on the more challenging but rewarding parts of their role. For example, Evolution Lawyers recently subscribed to CataLex Sign. Now, all our staff are signing documents, and inviting others to sign documents, online whenever possible. No more printing, signing in ink, transporting the original, scanning the original into the Cloud, and emailing to the client. The process is completed electronically in a few clicks.
What challenges or barriers do you face when innovating or looking to use new tech?
A persistent issue for Evolution Lawyers is whether to buy software off the shelf or develop it ourselves. My experience in CataLex has taught me that many bespoke software solutions can be developed relatively easily and inexpensively. That knowledge led to a decision that Evolution Lawyers would create its own document template system, rather than buying Actionstep, LawHawk, Automio, or any of the other, numerous template solutions out there.
But not all decisions are so easy. What about practice management? Business and trust accounting? Document management? Should we create those too? Where do you stop? How can I know if the capital outlay is justified long term? Difficult questions indeed.
Another pet peeve, is the way some software companies oversell their products. Terms like automation, artificial intelligence, blockchain, smart contracts, and machine learning, are thrown around willy-nilly, often incorrectly. These days it seems “Cloud” means “Internet”, “artificial intelligence” means “smart”, and “automation” means “less data entry”. This kind of exaggeration and muddying of the waters confuses customers and makes them sceptical.
I’ve noticed this reaction when promoting CataLex products, despite being conservative when discussing feature benefits. There is a general distrust of software providers, perhaps with good reason.
What opportunities do you see with legal innovation?
The opportunities are almost infinite. I have staked my professional reputation on that belief and am confident it is well-founded.
Keep an eye on CataLex and Evolution Lawyers to learn the opportunities legal innovation will deliver!
With greater adoption of tech and more innovation, how do you see your role evolving in the future?
Evolving – I like that.
I see lawyers becoming generalists again. Whereas most lawyers now tend to specialise, or at least head down that path, technology will enable lawyers to compete in multiple practice areas. This includes areas of the law where generalists would ordinarily be unable to practice. Tech will bridge the knowledge and experience gap, creating more competition and benefitting the consumer.
For me personally, I look forward to technology that enables small firms to compete with the big boys. Technology that enables a savvy junior lawyer of five years’ experience to go toe-to-toe with a long-toothed practitioner. Technology that, in short, will level the playing field.
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?
Because LawFest is a great vehicle for improving access to law and legal services, which is my passion.
I will be there in 2018 for sure.