The Innovators: Craig Columbus, Former Chief Information Officer, Russell McVeagh

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

Craig Columbus is the former CIO at Russell McVeagh.

What has been your experience or interaction with legal innovation and technology?

As CIO at Russell McVeagh, it is one of my responsibilities to ensure we invest in technologies that allow us to better serve our clients.

What changes have you seen in your firm, team or organisation recently?

Within the last year, we’ve updated or replaced nearly all of our technology (laptops, servers, networks, applications… the whole stack) with leading edge offerings; the modernization of our technical capability is continual. We have a standing Innovation Committee and our mandate is to ensure we’re regularly looking at emerging technologies that allow us to better serve our clients.

That said, technology is not the only way to innovate practice. There are firms that appear to still serve their clients well, despite using outdated technology like fax machines and avoiding accepted technologies like email. While they may not be innovating in a technological sense, perhaps they are innovating legal practice by investing more in effective communication, face-to-face dealings, updating their clients more frequently, collaborating with other firms, or perhaps charging fees that are far lower than the average.

I believe that technology has a large part to play in legal innovation. However, there are lots of ways to embrace technology, and lots of ways to innovate without adopting technology, especially the expensive technologies.

What challenges or barriers do you face when innovating or looking to use new tech?

There are a few challenges. Many new technology offerings fail to live up to the hype, so we must thoroughly test offerings before deployment. Being in New Zealand, it can be hard to gain access to bleeding edge tech, as many start-ups want to focus on major markets first and don’t have either the desire or infrastructure to support a geographically remote client. Integrating new technology with legacy technology can be challenging and often requires a redesign of work processes. Finally, it’s imperative to bring people along the journey. We must ensure that the pace of change is reasonable and that people are able to adapt to new ways of working.

What opportunities do you see with legal innovation?

My role will continue to evolve, with a special emphasis on creating greater business value through the selection and application of emerging technologies.

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 pulls together a fantastic blend of expert technologists and top legal professionals, all with a focus on building the future of law. LawFest attendees network, share knowledge and learn from one another in ways that would be hard to replicate outside of the event. If you’re serious about the future of your legal practice, you attend LawFest.

Andrew King is the founder of Legal Innovate ( He helps lawyers and organisations successfully innovate through leveraging technology to help improve the way they deliver legal services Legal Innovate includes LawFest (, LegalTech Hub ( and E-Discovery Consulting (
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