LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.
Steven Moe is a Partner at Parry Field Lawyers.
What has been your experience or interaction with legal innovation and technology?
I returned to New Zealand after 10 years working for an international law firm (Norton Rose Fulbright) where I was one of 3,800 lawyers in 55 offices. That role took me as a corporate lawyer to work for several years in each of Tokyo, London and Sydney. So I’ve seen first-hand how the biggest law firms operate and push the boundaries by adopting new technology and trying new things. On returning to New Zealand last year I was really keen to explore what that might look like here too. The context for that exploration has been keeping this great quote from Joshua Gan at the front of mind: “Successful firms that are disrupted are not complacent or poorly managed. Instead, they continue on the path that brought them to success.”
What changes have you seen in your firm, team or organisation recently?
At the end of last year I got really tired of reading about disruption in every article but often with only speculation left as the takeaway about ‘what next’. So we investigated for ourselves what it might actually mean for a medium sized firm like ours (8 Partners, 40 staff). The direct result was this year taking concrete action and forming a joint venture company with software developers who had developed AI chat bots before. This software start-up has been a wild yet fun ride of learning and growth. It’s called Active Associate (https://activeassociate.com) and it is developing an AI-enabled customer engagement solution for law firms. This solution is addressing some serious pain points for medium size firms such as a high amount of time spent on non-billable work and difficulties in maintaining a client base that can support their billable targets. Consumers are able to access the solution 24×7 via Facebook Messenger and ‘widgets’ on a firm’s website from their phones, tablets or laptops, and interact with it using natural language to get quick helpful answers to their legal questions. While helping future and current customers, the solution captures user information which can then be delivered to the law firm increasing workflow efficiencies and reducing the wasted time dealing with tire kickers. We’ve had a warm reception from forward-looking law firms in NZ and Australia who have already become our Innovation Partners and those that are about to join the Programme (we are open to a few more at this stage).
What challenges or barriers do you face when innovating or looking to use new tech?
Understanding what is hype and what is reality – it’s a grey mist you have to really squint to see through. For example the term “AI” conjures up images for some people of robots taking our jobs when for the foreseeable future it is better to think of it as a description for natural interaction with consumers.
What opportunities do you see with legal innovation?
The next generations are first going to turn to their phones before they walk through the physical doors of an imposing looking law firm. It will be critical for those law firms who want to survive that they prepare and are ready to interact with that next gen thinking.
Culturally, there are many who prefer to do business ‘kanohi ki te kanohi’ or face-to-face. So, while bots may have their place, such as dealing with routine communications and non-contentious work, I question whether clients feel special when their first interaction is with a bot. While lawyers should use every tool at their disposal to provide better client service, including automated technologies in many cases, the service provider should be a person whenever possible, in my view at least.
With greater adoption of tech and more innovation, how do you see your role evolving in the future?
My hope is that we focus more on the true value add that we can offer as professionals and get less tied down with the routine tasks that none of us really enjoy.
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?
It’s vital to stay in touch with the latest trends and developments and LawFest offers a great opportunity to hear from the best innovators in the field. By having a representative attend they can then go back and challenge the assumptions and old ways of thinking that will doom a law firm to irrelevance by just continuing to do what has worked in the past.
Andrew King is the founder of Legal Innovate (https://legalinnovate.nz/). He helps lawyers and organisations successfully innovate through leveraging technology to help improve the way they deliver legal services Legal Innovate includes LawFest (https://www.lawfest.nz/), LegalTech Hub (https://legaltech.nz/) and E-Discovery Consulting (https://www.e-discovery.co.nz/).