LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.
Michael Heron QC is a leading QC in commercial and regulatory litigation and arbitrations.
What does legal innovation mean to you?
Just giving something new a go that will make your service better quality, or faster, or both. One recent example, on an inquiry I was running, was to use a secure document sharing site which enabled us to know exactly who had access to the draft report (with two-factor authentication) and to control that access in a way that they were not able to share or print a copy. The technology was pretty cool but I confess I was worried about using it. Ultimately, with some trial and error, it worked well and made the whole process of sharing versions of drafts and minimising the risk of leaks much more manageable.
What role does technology play in innovation?
I think technology enables you to try something different. If the technology is simple to use and makes a process easier, then it is worth a try. It might be sharing your screen on an AV conference, signing documents online, or recording advice sessions on an AV application. Perhaps it is the ability to search across hundreds or thousands of documents to enable key documents to be located much more quickly. In a recent arbitration, the fabulous Crown Law team organised the hyperlinking of footnotes and documents referenced in submissions (every single document) within the space of a few hours. We finished them late in the evening and they were hyperlinked and ready in the morning for the hearing. We could go to any document referenced at the touch of a link.
What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?
Understandably, everyone wants more for less; or at least more for no more. And speed. I think clients are expecting answers more quickly, partly because time is money. The growth of in-house capability reflects that. As well as a more collaborative approach to delivery, with multiple firms, barristers, in-house lawyers and others being involved in bigger projects.
What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?
I suspect that we will see a bigger influence of AI in the lower level information gathering exercise that is involved in law. Also, the increasing availability of online legal services – not just by email, but genuine online and automated services where the customer can get all sorts of legal documents and advice without leaving their desk, when it suits them.
What opportunities has legal innovation brought you?
The ability to practise flexibly and give something new a go. New chambers, digital practice (as much as I can) and a start-up in online dispute resolution (a passion of mine). CODR and other online providers are focused on trying to improve access to justice (and legal services) for ordinary Kiwis – people without the money and time to use lawyers in the traditional way.
There is a developing range of offerings from some really innovative services – Automio, LawHawk, Justly, McCarthy Finch to name but a few.
CODR is offering a more efficient way of resolving issues in the areas of modest civil disputes and relationship property issues. ODR will (in time) provide the ability for people to get fast and fair decisions in smaller disputes from experts without having to go anywhere or print anything. I think it is time to look at this for our Disputes Tribunal and possibly even the District Court. So, legal innovation gives us the ability to try to solve the really intractable problems we have in the law.
What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?
I think I’m just starting myself and would not profess to be a real innovator – there are plenty more expert than me. Just give it a try, be curious, listen and iterate, I reckon.
Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?
Imagine if we still sent all our advice by letter. Or only used hard copy texts and reports. How many times do we think there’s probably a better way? May as well give it a go…