LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

It means doing things better. It means being able to step back and watch how you could join the dots differently. Interestingly, this is a skill not everyone has, and lawyers often tend to be challenged by transformation.

Legal innovation is important for our clients, firm productivity and also for our current and prospective staff. Fifty-four percent of my firm’s staff is millennial, so we get staff to think about and find new ways of doing things that are exciting, interesting and challenging. Firms need to challenge and engage their younger staff to think differently and add value to the work. Engaging millennial staff the right way can get the best from them and will help to potentially retain them for longer. It costs a lot to train quality talent, so retaining them for as long as possible is important.

What role does technology play in innovation?

Technology plays a crucial role in getting a firm excited about the opportunities that innovation can bring, as innovation is the key and technology is simply an enabler.

Getting partners to join the innovation bus. It is all about bringing people along for the ride from traditional law firms. Having automation champions and drivers of change is the key. These staff may not be tech-savvy, but they seek opportunities for improvements.

The biggest opportunity lies in automating tasks and workflows. Many firms may use your existing software rather than investing in new technology.

What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?

Firms are very competitive. Changes are impacting on the profession as it is being driven by pro-active firms and legal entrepreneurs. They are keen to cash in on an industry that has been historically slow to change. Clients are pushing some of the changes but on the basis of our experience we need to challenge our clients with different offerings and ways of doing things.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?

Many smaller and mid-tier firms are now able to “get in on the action” as the price of technology drops and the number of legal technology start-ups increases. The challenge lies in execution. Many of the legal start-up offerings make the execution of legal tech and innovation a whole lot easier for firms compared to what it was five years back. There are plenty of AI platforms but for many firms this is an area left to the big boys. Delivering automation to much of our daily routine is the key where smaller firms can improve service delivery, turnaround and productivity. AI will happen and is happening but only to a niche few at this stage.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought you?

The push to change the way we deliver our services is much less of a push these days. Lawyers are actively highlighting the opportunities and seek assistance from practice service teams. It means legal innovation is no longer an internal sell and is now really gaining a life of its own.

If process improvement is your thing then it is an exciting time to be in law and for me, I simply enjoy reflecting on how far our firm has come over the last ten years. We have not been bold but have just been very consistent at improving the way we do things.

What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?

A few years back we picked a few innovation champions to assist with developing a programme of hackathons. From these hackathons we developed some key outcomes whilst actively promoting and celebrating each win we have had internally. Lawyers are a competitive bunch, so there is nothing like a little bit of peer pressure to get things moving.

Another key lesson we have learnt is to try and get things done quickly – if you are going to fail … fail fast and get on to the next project. Lawyers want things perfect and educating lawyers about delivering a project requires it to be delivered in a way that is 70% complete and then work on the next 30% during testing. Once we get teams past that hurdle, then the take-up has been really positive.

Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?

The challenge has been finding the right platforms to assist us with our journey. Many practice management software offerings in the 75 users-plus range, struggle to deliver an effective API [Application Programming Interface] let alone a workflow that would be considered leading in 2019 terms. Software offerings need to be easily integrated and vendors need to be willing to “play nicely with the others in the sandpit”.

Working with our legal tech start-ups on the other hand has been a real pleasure. The legal tech partners that we deal with are keen to grow, to adapt. Working with a service partner that is agile makes a real difference as they have touched all parts of our business and in client areas. So, it would be difficult to change like family law.

Andrew King andrew@lawfest.nz is organiser of LawFest 2020, which will be held in Auckland on 18 March 2020.