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What might happen for New Zealand legal services and lawyers?

Posted by Gene Turner on 20-May-2018 08:09:00

 

LawTalk 916 Cover

I was interviewed for LawTalk 916 on what the future might hold for New Zealand legal services and lawyers. 

The interview also captured the thoughts of Michael Smyth, Claudia King, Simon Tupman and Andrew King. 

You can read the full article here, and the parts of the interview that relate to me are set out below. 

29 March 2018

Predicting or speculating on future developments is fraught with danger. So many things can intervene. It can also be unfair to ask someone to look forward, with a myriad of possible influencers always ready to take things in new and unexpected directions. At the same time, marshalling current themes and practices and tracking their possible growth and adoption can be a very helpful way of benchmarking the current state of an enterprise or the wider industry in which it sits.

LawTalk asked five innovative New Zealanders working in the legal services industry about the changes needed today and what they think could happen over the next few years. They were each asked the same questions and asked to limit their answers to around 300 words per question.

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Gene Turner (gene.turner@lawhawk.nz) is Managing Director of LawHawk, an online document generation service for lawyers and procurement specialists. Gene founded LawHawk in 2016 after working for 17 years as a corporate and finance lawyer, with the last six as a partner at Buddle Findlay. He has an MBA (Dist) from Victoria University of Wellington and is on the Advisory Board of the Australasian College of Law’s Centre for Legal Innovation.

What are the biggest changes you think New Zealand legal services providers need to make to remain viable?


Gene Turner

Gene Turner: Change the business model, from selling time to selling solutions: Many law firms’ problems come from a business model based on selling time, which rewards inefficiency and discourages innovation. Moving to fixed fees, retainers and subscriptions for agreed deliverables will be game-changing.

Look externally, and to the future: Most law firms are still inwardly focused, with emphasis on maintaining and defending outdated practices that have worked in the past, rather than what will work best in the future.

Firms need to look outwards, towards the wider economy and best practices for the future. Looking at the most innovative legal services providers and other professional services firms in New Zealand and overseas, it’s easy to see plenty of opportunities and room for long term first mover advantage.

Find their clients’ real problems: I talk to organisations every day who have problems that lawyers could help with but currently aren’t involved with, or even aware of. There is a huge amount of work that is now being done without a lawyer anywhere in sight, because even though it has important legal aspects:

  • It is not sufficiently “legal” for lawyers to want to do it the way it is currently done; or
  • The way it is currently done makes lawyers too expensive at the prices lawyers want to charge.

Develop new solutions for them: Lawyers either don’t understand their clients’ real problems, or aren’t interested in addressing them because:

  • It doesn’t fit with perceptions of what lawyers should do; or
  • Lawyers don’t want to invest in new ways of working.

Lawyers should come up with new solutions for these problems before someone else does. What’s really crazy is that most lawyers will only become interested when they can see their competitors already doing this work, and it’s too late!

What do you see as the major developments which will happen in the delivery of legal services in New Zealand over the next five years?

Gene Turner: There won’t be one particular thing, it won’t all happen at once, and it won’t stop after five years. It will be a wide variety of small and continuous improvements that all build on and reinforce each other.

Everywhere I look, I see systems developing that are made up of combinations of people and technology. Increasingly, those combinations are being linked seamlessly by APIs (application programming interface). Stephen Ward, the founder of Billy Bot from the United Kingdom, recently spoke at a series of events organised by the College of Law’s Centre for Legal Innovation. “Billy” was a fantastic example of how this type of system can quickly grow from a very small base by adding more and more connections.

As more integrated end-to-end business process solutions are developed, legal services will increasingly become embedded into those broader processes and solutions. Legal compliance and delivery of many legal services will happen automatically, and mistakes through human error will be less common.

There will be a lot more collaboration than has been the case. Law firms will collaborate with each other, and with other solution providers and clients. Clients will collaborate more with each other, particularly in legal compliance.

Those lawyers that are involved in building and maintaining these systems will be very well positioned for the future. As well as the more predictable licensing revenue they should be able to earn from providing these systems, they should also be best positioned to seamlessly pick up whatever additional legal assistance is required.

Other firms could find that there is less legal work fixing mistakes or providing similar advice to multiple clients, and where legal support is required, it automatically goes somewhere else. There may be limited opportunity to crack into this new work from a weak competitive position.

Do you think the New Zealand legal profession in 2028 will be very different to the profession in 2018?

Gene Turner: I hope so! The way law is currently practised didn’t work well for me, and I know it doesn’t work well for a lot of lawyers.

There is good reason for hope though. Every other area of our life is changing so much, so why should law be any different?

I think it will happen more quickly and naturally than many expect, and a lot of the current barriers to adoption of new ways of working will disappear. For example, software that is currently only used to a limited extent because it is new, separate and server based, and requires training on how to use it with other systems, will become integrated into other cloud-based systems we already use so that we don’t even notice it – just like we now use Siri and Google Maps without thinking.

Clients and law firm staff will increasingly demand improvements from their law firms. At present a lot of them don’t know any better, and assume that their law firms are better than they actually are.

Law firms will increasingly want to make the changes anyway, either because they are losing work and realise they need to improve in order to remain viable, or because they can see the opportunities it creates.

I hear the talk about diversity and how law firms need to satisfy their client needs without sacrificing all the other areas of lawyers’ lives, but little seems to be changing. While the issues and solutions are complex, my view is that the technological changes that are coming will be at the core of addressing the work/life balance issues that play a part in the wider discussion. We can already see through our work with lawyers that automation is removing a lot of the hours, stress and repetitiveness from their work, and allowing them to do work that is much more enjoyable.

Topics: Law Firm Management, legal practice, Document Assembly, Document Automation, Practise of Law, Future of Law

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