19 June 2018

Legalpreneurs Spotlight - Alison Laird

Published on 19 June 2018

Surveying a Brave NewLaw World with Alison Laird

Alison Laird never imagined she would work in a law firm – after all, she isn’t a lawyer. However, Alison is leading the innovation revolution within law firms through her consultancy, Laird Innovations, a series of roles in innovation and strategy implementation for DLA Piper, and most recently, as Head of Innovation and Project Delivery (Asia Pacific) for Pinsent Masons.

"In the past ten years, I’ve seen the legal profession grow, almost collapse (the GFC still stings), and re-emerge into what it is today,” said Alison.


Innovation, once unheard of, is now essential

“Legal innovation and technology has played an integral part in the way law is perceived, how it is delivered, and interestingly, the people now employed within the profession,” observed Alison. “You no longer need to be a lawyer to deliver legal services. Where once innovation was unheard of, today, it is not only considered possible, but essential to compete effectively in this NewLaw world.”

“The disruption and new competition the profession has seen from the Big Four, to new tech start-ups, to online offerings, flexible lawyers and managed legal services, has meant BigLaw has had to pivot with the times to keep up. Consequently, we're seeing an increase in ‘Heads of Innovation’ and ‘Chief Innovation Officer’ roles along with ‘Knowledge Engineers’ and ‘Legal Technologists’.”

While these are, strictly speaking, ”non-lawyer” roles, they have become strategically important, particularly to set a path for legal practitioners to deliver better client services.

“Even with these ‘titles’, everyone working in the profession is now expected to be embracing innovation in one form or another,” said Alison.


With every threat comes opportunity – especially for lawyers

“Some do see innovation as threatening the way we've always done things, and some think robots will soon take over their jobs,” said Alison. “I don't think there will necessarily be fewer jobs in law, but I do believe - as do many others - that there will be different sort of legal jobs. If anything, with the increasing regulatory environment around data collection and privacy, the role legal professionals play will become even more integral to the way we do business, the way we collect, store and use data, and the way we deliver legal services.”

“I believe legal innovation presents significant opportunities by freeing lawyers from the more mundane and routine or commoditised work. Technology helps us spend less time looking for information and more time using our skills, training and judgment to make the right decisions. We're upskilling our lawyers much faster as they work on more complex quality legal work much earlier in their careers.”


A quickening pace of change

“I think the legal profession will change more in the next five years than it ever has,” predicted Alison.

“Technology will play a significant part in that, but so too will the people in the field. Graduates (from a range of disciplines) entering law today have different expectations, with different ways of working, and bring different experiences and ideas to the table.”

Alison predicts an uptake in agile working, with an emphasis on work as activity rather than as a place.

“Presenteeism and sitting 9-5 at the same desk will become old fashioned,” said Alison. “Work is something you do, rather than somewhere you need to sit.”

In line with this, deliverables for clients will become the key performance indicator of success.

“Technology and other NewLaw disruption will continue to alter the way we deliver services and how we work. For consumers or individuals, I can see there will be more self-service options for obtaining legal advice, from apps and chatbots to more online services where you can self-select relevant scenarios and circumstances and receive real time or instant solutions to solve your legal issues.”

The corporate world will continue to see low-end, routine work shift to outsourcing or tech solutions involving AI or machine learning.

“In both circumstances, there will need to be lawyers behind the technology to translate 'legalese' into coded client solutions,” said Alison.


Resilience and flexibility are essential traits

“With all this change underway, we need to make sure we support legal practitioners, and enhance resilience and flexibility of those in the profession. We also need to bring everyone on the journey with us; internal communications are as important now as they have ever been. Change management in law has not previously been the 'norm', however, it will be increasingly used as the way we effectively drive innovation, embed technology and tools, and enhance an innovative culture.”

Management will be crucial to preparing firms for change.

“Legal management need to recognise that change is hard. It takes time. To ensure it is successful and that we evolve embracing disruption rather than resisting it, we need to develop robust change management programs and employ professionals to facilitate the changes we need to realise. We also need to recruit and train people with the right mindsets - delivering legal services is now so much more than just providing expert legal advice. Consequently, law firms need to develop employees to meet the challenges and opportunities ahead.”


Think outside the box – and supplement your skillset

“My advice for new lawyers, or those studying law, is to think outside the law. Consider updating your computer or technology skills. I don’t think all lawyers will need to be coders but an understanding of technology and how it works will definitely be an asset,” said Alison.

“Get involved in innovation early - join organisations like The Legal Forecast or others who work to advance legal practice through technology and innovation,” advised Alison. “Keep up to date with the Centre for Legal Innovation activities and regularly update your skills.

“Research and keep current with trends within the profession, and importantly, outside of legal – what's happening in retail innovation, or manufacturing – how might some of those ideas translate into professional services?

“Volunteer to work on innovation initiatives in the practice. Experiment, pilot, prototype, make mistakes, grow, learn and develop your innovation skills. Pitch to go on secondment at a legal tech start-up; swap skills, knowledge and experience.”

Alison urged new lawyers to always consider the law in a business context.

“Talk to your peers, talk to partners, talk to BD, talk to people outside of law – what excites them, what annoys them, how can you help make things cheaper, faster, better? How can some of those ideas translate into your role for you and for clients?”

Alison also praised the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) for playing a pivotal role in supporting the profession through this period of technological disruption.

“The CLI plays a critical role in helping the profession respond to disruption and change by acting as an independent support mechanism providing training, intelligence and research, linking academia with hands-on practitioner tools. It also provides a vehicle for thought leadership and collaboration with industry peers to get together, share and learn from each other,” said Alison.

“I'd encourage all those in the profession to keep up to date with activities, training and courses offered by the CLI. You should never stop learning!”


Alison Laird is the inaugural Chair of the CLI’s Chief Innovation Officer Forum. The Forum will launch in Sydney on 3 September. For more information and to register your interest, please visit the CLI website.