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Legal tech news from New Zealand – things are happening here too!

Posted by Gene Turner on 18-Mar-2017 15:36:43

Binary stream concept background with female eye.jpegThe most interesting developments in the last month...

It’s been quite a month for legal tech in New Zealand, with several announcements by New Zealand firms that are worth of mention.

First up was the announcement by Minter Ellison Rudd Watts that they are investing $2m in Artificial Intelligence, in a joint venture with Goat Ventures (I love that name! They could call the JV LawGoat perhaps). It was reported that the joint venture has employed four artificial intelligence PhD holders who have experience at organisations such as Microsoft, Xero and Spark, and that Minters have “chosen have chosen to start with a blank sheet, away from legacy structures and practices in its core business”. Goat Ventures has major stakeholders including Stephen Tindall's K1W1, VMG Ventures, and long-term angel investor Ray Thomson and together they plan "to create a credible and global AI business you would be hard pressed to find in Silicon Valley".

It’s great to see a New Zealand law firm taking such a substantial step in this area, rather than reading about what international firms are doing and wondering what it means in practice. I recently had the opportunity to see some of the stuff that one of the major Australian firms is doing using technology to provide different some very different services to their clients. I didn’t think it would be as good as some of the PR has been indicating, but have to say it was really cool. Really. If other firms in Australia and internationally are doing anything like that, it will soon be a very different – and better - world for the lawyers who work in those firms and their clients. Not so good for their competitors.

There was also the announcement by Claudia King of Legal Beagle fame that they have raised $600,000 to fund her new start-up, Autom.io. As the article notes, Autom.io has been a long time coming, having been conceived by Claudia and her late father, Dennis King. It aims to give lawyers another alternative for automation of documents and monetising their IP, and is scheduled to launch later this month.

On 7 March, Simmonds Stewart announced that it had decided to open source their template range, so they are freely available for New Zealand lawyers. Simmonds Stewart have set a great example for other New Zealand lawyers of online content marketing in practice, and they’ve already had 125,000 downloads, many by other lawyers. This is also an interesting indication of the level of investment other law firms have(n’t) made in this area to date.

Simmonds Stewart and Autom.io have also just created a basic NDA automator which you can see here.

Things are clearly starting to move, and lawyers that want to change will increasingly have a range of options for how to do it, while those that want to stay the same might just get run over. From a LawHawk perspective, we think these changes are positive as they reinforce the message we have been pushing since we launched – change is coming, quickly, and from all directions. The existing business model that has sustained law firms cannot continue as it is.

Different solutions will appeal to different sections of the market, and at LawHawk we are particularly focussed on the high end where our market leading HotDocs automation software and our many years of top tier legal experience allow us to provide advanced automation solutions as a service better, faster and more cost effectively than anyone else. You can see here that our own automated confidentiality agreement or NDA is very different – and will appeal to a different market - to the one that Simmonds Stewart and Autom.io have created. Many people are conditioned to expect that technology solutions will cost a huge amount, will take a long time to get set up (e.g. How Expensive Is AI for Law Firms Really?), can’t be that complex or won’t deliver what is promised. But with our cloud based system and a focus on the areas that will make the biggest difference to your work, it does not need to be expensive at all, particularly for in-house legal, procurement or HR teams with existing high quality documents that do not contain as many options. Last week we delivered a custom-automated employment agreement for a customer for a development cost of $1,000, with a 1 day turnaround, both of which we committed to in advance knowing we could do it. With HotDocs it works perfectly.

Ask us for a quote on automating your own documents

Our own range of documents, while not completely free, might as well be in the context of traditional costs of legal services. Because they offer far more customisation than other alternatives, users get a much more tailored solution – far more quickly – than a free one-size-fits-all unautomated form or partially automated form. They should save them many times more than the LawHawk cost in legal fees when they ask a lawyer to review and amend for their particular circumstances, because much less amendment and customisation should be needed.

Massive investment occurring internationally

While it’s good to see further developments in New Zealand, the scale of activity internationally is something else, as my demo with the Australian firm mentioned above showed.

My favourite article of all for the past month was this one about JP Morgan using software to do in seconds what previously took 360,000 hours of work each year by lawyers and loan officers. “The software reviews documents in seconds, is less error-prone and never asks for vacation”. Of course, a system of this magnitude didn’t just fall out of the sky – it came about as a result of the firm’s $9.6 billion per annum technology budget. That’s 9% of their projected revenue! Imagine a law firm spending that proportion of revenue on the future. This one organisation has 20,000 developers – more than the population of Whakatane! One-third of the company’s budget is for new initiatives, a figure they want to take to 40 percent in a few years, as they expect savings from automation and retiring old technology will let them plough even more money into new innovations.

More on the end of lawyers vs. the beginning of better times

As usual there have been a number of additional articles debating the end of lawyers vs. the beginning of lawyers working in a much more productive and satisfying way. One good article by Richard Tromans, AI and the Legal Renaissance, concludes that the arrival of AI marks a Renaissance for the legal industry because it “permits lawyers to be real lawyers again and not tired process units counting down the hours of their day”. The same author also published Legal AI – a beginner’s guide, which is a very accessible summary that’s worth a read.

Another study has found that AI and other technology are less of a threat to lawyers’ jobs than believed. I’m not so sure about this one – the research seems to be based on how little law firms have changed the amount of time they record. I’ve written about that a lot recently in our Legal Sausage Factory series. I think this could change very quickly –if clients act as sophisticated purchasers, and ask tougher questions. I still agree that technology is less of a threat to lawyers’ jobs – but the nature of the jobs will change.

Hopefully lawyers will increasingly see the abundant options new technology will give them to do more work, faster, better, and more profitably. That’s our goal anyway. We are getting more interest from firms who are interested in how LawHawk automation could help them to win new clients, or more (and better) work from existing clients. A firm we have been working with just won a new client through an RFP, with a pitch that was heavily based around working with us to automate a key area of work. The partner told us “Thanks once again for your assistance – I don’t think we would have got there without the offering locked in like that”.

Support is needed

Sadly, not all great new ideas survive through becoming successful businesses. Legal Futures reported that a project to create the first online dispute resolution (ODR) system for divorcing and separating couples in the UK has been put on hold. Even when you have Google as one of your backers, without funding and customer support, it can be difficult to build a scalable business in a new area.

So it was good to see this example of a Government getting involved in helping the legal profession get up to speed with tech: Singapore has launched a multimillion-dollar program aimed to make small- and medium-sized law more technology-savvy. Funded by SPRING Singapore, an agency of the country’s Ministry of Trade that helps boost Singapore enterprises, the Tech Start for Law program will be administered by Law Society Singapore and is endorsed by Ministry of Law Singapore. Up to SG$2.8m has been earmarked to seed the initiative. The program gives law firms with 30 or fewer lawyers access to five products identified as basic technologies that help law practices become more efficient. Under the program, qualified law firms can get up to 70% of the first-year cost of adopting technology products for practice management, online research, and online marketing. According to data from the Law Society, 97% of law practices in Singapore are small-to-medium-sized. However, only 9% of these firms use technology to enhance productivity and operations.

Legal Education is catching up

Legal education is also catching up, which is great to see. In the UK, Ulster University has launched a legal innovation centre, bringing together its law school, school of computing and intelligent systems, and global law firms Allen & Overy and Baker McKenzie.

In Australia, The University of New South Wales will be giving its juris doctor students the chance to gain hands-on experience using cutting-edge legal technology as it launches a new course backed by law firm Gilbert + Tobin and artificial intelligence software company Neota Logic.

Also in Australasia, the College of Law has set up a Centre for Legal Innovation, directed by Terri Mottershead. Some of you will have attended Terri’s NZLS seminars last year and will know how awesome she is. I’m really pleased to have been invited to be a founding member of the CLI’s advisory board, with our first meeting this week.

As Mark Cohen has noted in Legal Education’s Other Challenge: Retraining Practicing Lawyers For A New Marketplace, education is not just for the new lawyers. What’s needed, he says, is a more intensive, granular, training for practitioners—an executive education boot camp that provides: (1) context for how and why new skill sets are required; (2) an overview of what those skills are and their key elements; (3) hands-on/experiential exercises supervised by experts; (4) lessons learned/reflection; (5) a synthesis of how these skills play into new legal delivery models; and (6) discussion of where “alt-law firm” opportunities lie. We absolutely agree with this. We talk to many lawyers who just don’t seem to be able to process all the changes and options that are being thrown at them, and need help to make sense of it all. If this is you, we may be able to help in some areas, or refer you to people who can.


Topics: Document Automation, Legal Technology, Document Assembly, legal practice

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