The future of law is lean, paperless and on-demand
Helen Mackay prides herself on being a hybrid lawyer. Helen founded Juno Legal, a hybrid law firm and lean legal startup driven by agile work methodology that provides on-demand in-house counsel for organisations in New Zealand and helps them plan and meet their legal needs.
Waiting for its ‘Uber moment’
“I think the legal profession is at a tipping point in terms of feeling the impacts of technological change,” said Helen. “Much of the work we see across different in-house legal teams is still manual bespoke lawyering without many opportunities for efficiencies being realised. There is a lot of talk about firms investing in document automation and other tech developments but very few clients see or feel the benefits yet.
“For Juno, technology has been a key enabler for our focus on collaborative work. Just earlier today, I was editing a legal services review report for a client in my office while another of our senior lawyers was working on the benchmarking section of the same report from her home. Using the full Office 365 suite means we can be paperless, working collaboratively as a team, with everything securely backed up to the cloud.
“The legal profession has not yet faced its “Uber” moment in terms of disruptive impact, but I believe it will be coming.”
Opportunities for agile, on-demand legal services
Helen sees the legal profession as being on the verge of major change, with low value, repetitive work to be automated and strategic work done by human lawyers.
“Opportunities are arising for legal work to be disaggregated and pushed out and down,” said Helen.
“New Zealand has been slow to benefit from the evolution of alternative legal services providers, but we are seeing more legal teams using LPOs, NewLaw firms and legal technology providers and thinking much more carefully about what to retain in-house and what to send out to external providers.
“We are also seeing an increasing amount of co-sourcing where two or more in-house legal teams with similar issues jointly instruct work and share the cost.”
Juno came from an innovative approach derived not only from how lawyers work, but how professionals in general should be working.
“The binary model of either employing lawyers as fixed resources or using the contingent capacity of professional services firms at premium rates has a new alternative of agile, on-demand resourcing. This covers particular projects or needs with skilled in-house lawyers.
“Rather than seeing automation as a threat, I see it as an opportunity to refocus legal work on the strategic and proactive problem solving that clients say they want lawyers to deliver.”
Stripping out inefficiencies and human error
Helen sees automation as a game-changer for lawyers, though there are to date only a few case studies in New Zealand to reflect its benefits.
“Technology can enable and support innovation by stripping out the inefficiencies and repetition that is common in legal work,” said Helen. “The ability to de-lawyer and reduce human input into document creation enables that time and effort to be better spent on finding proactive solutions. Better collaboration, project management and visibility are goals for most legal departments and there are some quite simple technological solutions that can help achieve these.”
Professional organisations should support and prepare lawyers
“The key in any change environment is to ensure people’s fundamental needs for control and inclusion are met,” said Helen. “Lawyers need the support of their professional bodies and forums to anticipate and prepare for these changes and, where possible, to contribute to the design of the future profession.”
Unlike what many might believe, innovation need not be huge, transformative or technology-based to make a difference.
“In our experience, the in-house legal teams that have improved the most over time have adopted an incremental approach and are constantly refining what they do with a realistic appreciation of the limits of budget and time. This also allows lawyers to adapt to change at a more measured pace rather than having change forced upon them. Design thinking releases lawyers from their traditional critical mindset and allows them to freely think about problems and potential solutions. I have led design workshops with legal teams where the creativity and change appetite of lawyers has surprised their leaders.”
Flex your adaptive muscles
For lawyers looking to thrive during this period of disruption, Helen advises adaptability.
“Develop your adaptive muscles,” said Helen. “Studies by Dr Larry Richard have shown that generally lawyers have a high level of scepticism, are mostly introverted, have very low resilience, are highly cautious and are often perfectionists. In the fast-paced business environments in which most of our clients operate these are not desirable traits, particularly where change is constant and rapid.
“Being adaptive, resilient, curious and creative are qualities that modern in-house lawyers need to acquire and develop. Lawyers should also embrace technology and work as hard as they can to understand how it works and its impact. There are very few industries that are unaffected by digital transformation and being seen as a Luddite is no longer funny or quaint.”
Helen praised the role of the Centre for Legal Innovation as a connector and influence within the legal profession.
“In New Zealand, there are very few conversations being held broadly about what the future looks like for lawyers and whether lawyers are adequately prepared for that future. We can’t prevent the changes that are coming but the profession will be better placed to meet and master new challenges as a result of the work being done by the Centre and the conversations they are facilitating,” said Helen.