In late March, 280 legal professionals from across Aotearoa gathered in person in Auckland for the premier legal innovation and technology event on the New Zealand calendar.

Like so many events globally, LawFest had considerable disruption and challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic to run the event in person. However, in Aotearoa we have been fortunate to be able to bring together again the legal and technology community to celebrate, collaborate, network and learn about legal innovation – and all in person.

The last year has reinforced why we need to innovate and leverage technology – LawFest 21 demonstrated how we can go about this !

The event was once again a must for anyone interested in driving efficiency in their organisation.

The key highlights

The one-day event was a great opportunity to hear from leaders and change makers in the innovation space. The programme provided something for everyone, from those new to technology, to those currently at the forefront of legal innovation. Over 20 amazing speakers, delivered practical insights of what they are doing, together with how they started, as delegates learned from their stories of success and failure and what they did next.

Mary O’Carroll, President of CLOC and Google legal operations guru was the opening keynote and inspired and challenged thinking. Mary discussed how legal operations is shaping all our futures and explored what’s next for the legal industry, challenging us to think about our own roles and ask ourselves “what will I change” and “what will I keep”. There were so many valuable learnings for those in in-house legal departments, also those in law firms.

The other fantastic keynote was Gus Balbontin, who provided an energetic and highly entertaining session on adapting. Gus challenged us to face the future with courage and an open mind, whilst warning us if we don’t deliver to our customers what they want, we risk becoming obsolete. It was such a refreshing and relevant session, delivered with superb passion.

Grant Pritchard, a senior in-house Lawyer at Spark and President of ILANZ delivered an inspiration and thought-provoking session on the critical topic of mental wellbeing for lawyers. Grant shared his own raw experiences, offering practical ideas and strategies to improve wellbeing for individual lawyers, teams and firms, including the Umbrella model and the role of technology in supporting better mental health.

A catalyst for change

Throughout the day we heard how the disruption of COVID-19 was the catalyst for change that many resisted for so long. Those that were reluctant to innovate or invest in technology now appreciate why they need to, together with the value of investing further going forward. Barriers to change quickly disappeared, as many were forced to make changes within weeks that previously may have taken years to implement.

The opening keynote panel featured Emma Priest of Blackstone Chambers, Julian Benefield of Foodstuffs, Hayden Wilson of Dentons Kensington Swan, together with Louise Taylor of Russell McVeagh with their journeys as they (and their organisations) adopted new ways of working and found opportunity amid the chaos of COVID-19. They shared key lessons they learned along the way and discussed whether the pandemic is a critical stepping-stone to the wider transformation of legal services.

Jarrod Coburn of Portia challenged thinking, with a thought-provoking session proposing a brave new world for the legal profession. He took us forward four years and gave us a sneak preview of the Law Practitioners Act 2025, together with what the future might hold for law in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Sara Cole Stratton and Taurean Butler of Tech Futures Lab, provided a fascinating perspective on how technology offers the opportunity of personal reinvention, focusing on harnessing people and technology. They explored how engaging with new technologies offers us all the opportunity to become agitators, to innovate ourselves, and define our potential in the evolving digital economy.

The event culminated in a fascinating conversation on what the future holds for the profession and the delivery of legal services with Nick Whitehouse of Onit AI Center of Excellence, Maria Sopoaga of Auckland Council, Jarrod Coburn of Portia, together with Helen Mackay of Juno Legal. They identified what is possible and how we can better adapt in this ever-changing world.

Practical Insights

A panel of legal+tech experts featuring Gene Turner of LawHawk, Tila Hoffman of MinterEllisonRuddWatts, Lindie Walsh of Efficient Practice and Sam Kidd of LawVu explored the reality of tech adoption. They provided practical insights on how to successfully leverage technology, sharing what they have done, the ‘hits’ and ‘misses’ along the way, what they are doing now, and what comes next.

Leading in-house lawyers Julian Benefield of Foodstuffs, Rebecca Robertshawe of the Ministry of Education, Melissa Anastasiou of Spark and Helen Mackay of Juno Legal, shared their personal innovation stories. They  outlined the key strategies, tactics and tools they have adopted to drive change in their departments and organisations – highlighting what worked (and what didn’t) plus the challenges they overcame along the way.

Jeremy Sutton of Bastion Chambers provided a highly practical session on how to achieve success from simplicity. Jeremy shared how he utilises technology to make work less repetitive for lawyers and more user friendly for clients and the various ways he has achieved success by stripping things back to basics.

Sarah Peterson and Jessica Kwon of iCourts, explored how technology can be used to level the playing field, delivering practical insights walking through recent case studies.

Nick Whitehouse of Onit AI Center of Excellence, shared his journey from idea to successful LegalTech exit. Nick explored what he learnt from four years of deep R&D and experimentation with some of the largest players in the LegalTech world, whilst pulling back the curtain on the threats, the hype, and the practical things you can do to get ahead.

Bringing the fast-paced event together superbly was the MC, Erin Ebborn of Portia.

Seeing the great legal tech

LawFest continues to be the only legal event in New Zealand providing the opportunity to meet and see the leading legal technology in the one place on the one day. Even with border restrictions, we still had the largest turn out of legal tech exhibitors at the event, with many first timers all displaying their latest solutions for the legal industry.

Like the attendees these legal tech companies enjoyed the opportunity to meet with existing and potential clients once again – and doing so in-person.

Find out more !

With LawFest 21 behind us, the focus now shifts to LawFest 22 where we will look to explore further how to adapt and thrive in an ever-changing legal market.

In the meantime, if you want to find out more you can see all these sessions OnDemandhttps://www.lawfestondemand.nz/. This features all the sessions from LawFest 2021 as part of over 50 speakers from New Zealand and abroad providing practical insights of how to innovate and leverage technology.