Why General Counsel are demanding radically more from firms
Claire Bibby understands, in the most practical sense, how technology can improve access to justice. Claire is the COO, General Counsel and Director of Immediation, an online platform to resolve legal disputes using legal experts. Chief among Immediation’s aims is to provide a viable and swift alternative to the courts, particularly for the cost-conscious. People who previously may have been unable to access legal services now have an affordable option, while also easing the workload of the courts.
“Innovation and technology are two of my highest priorities,” said Claire. “To quote Richard Susskind, ‘…soon GC's (and their COO's) will have little choice but to overhaul their departments and working practices: the more-for-less pressure will build to an almost intolerable level and they will have to re-calibrate if not re-engineer the way they work internally and how they source external legal services.’"
Claire, who has spent the better part of her career as general counsel, knows that it is up to in-house lawyers to push for change.
“We can't expect external law firms to drive this change or tell us how to do it - we have to be leaders, be adaptable and be exploiting opportunities afforded by new ways of working,” Claire said. "If and when GCs become radically more demanding, they will have it within their power to urge a reshaping of the top echelon of firms and, in turn, redefine the entire legal marketplace."
The benefits are significant.
“As a critical part of the legal ecosystem, in-house counsel will benefit from collaborating on ways to introduce efficiency and work smarter, not harder,” said Claire. “To survive, let alone flourish, we need to continually add value and be rethinking how we can improve our service delivery. I'm very optimistic that technology and innovation are doors of opportunity we should firmly have our eyes upon.”
Don’t wait for law firms to innovate
“It’s my view that we can’t expect or wait for law firms to create ways for us to better serve our clients, or we’ll be waiting a very long time. Law firms have little incentive to move away from the traditional way of delivering legal services – and the in-house legal community’s buying power is greater than what they may expect,” Claire noted. “I encourage my colleagues to either be a legal innovator or know who the legal innovators are and follow their journeys.”
Claire is an active part of the Law Society of NSW’s FLIP Committee (Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession).
“In the legal tech space we identified a number of legal practices that are increasingly interested in and engaging with legal technology,” Claire observed. “This interest is being driven by the availability of increased computing power at lower costs, cloud computing, devices and consumer behaviour.”
“Lawyers are benefitting by applying metrics to analyse business practices and outcomes and learning how data fuels machine learning and other advanced computing applications. New areas of work and new roles are likely to emerge as legal technology develops and matures, meaning that lawyers’ levels of skill and interest in technology are naturally growing in response.”
“At the same time, issues such as artificial intelligence raise ethical and regulatory issues that require further investigation and guidance.”
Overcoming technological ambivalence
“A number in our profession, especially those that did not grow up with computers from an early age, have a curious ambivalence towards innovation in the legal tech space,” said Claire. “Whilst they adopt technology for personal use, it’s interesting to observe that some are reticent to embrace it professionally. However, all around them, our industry that is rooted in precedent and reputation, is changing into an interdisciplinary one that is increasingly valuing innovation and data. And at the same time, it’s difficult for younger lawyers to imagine technology not being an essential component in the delivery of legal services.”
In this climate, it is essential to consider education.
“The responsibility to support that change rests, in my view, with both the individual and the industry. Education is being revamped at both ends of the spectrum, starting with law schools changing their curriculum and industry organisations promoting the sharing of knowledge and information.”
Groups including the Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) and the Association of Corporate Counsel, are making strong moves towards educating the legal ecosystem from an in-house perspective. Claire noted that these initiatives are supported by many general counsel who work at the forefront of innovation and change.
Don’t find a faster horse
Henry Ford has been attributed to the quote, “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” It is a favourite quote of Claire’s, one which neatly summarises the fact that a tone-deaf attitude to customers’ needs for change can have a costly and negative impact.
“Technology will likely make some legal jobs redundant, but it will also open up opportunities to create new roles, affording opportunities for young lawyers (and those young at heart!) to make the most of their technological comfort with their knowledge of law to forge new career paths. I’d suggest new lawyers see these changes as an opportunity and find ways to embrace them, rather than hide their head in the sand about the reality of innovation being here to stay.”
“Innovation is also creating opportunities for entrepreneurs to shake up the global legal industry and we are seeing the rise of the legal entrepreneur, which I regard as very exciting.”
Amidst all the noise and turbulence of great legal innovation, Claire thinks the Centre for Legal Innovation has a central role to play.
“Industry involvement is critical to both the dissemination of information, as well as the establishment of thought leadership. The market place is full of so much ‘noise’ at the moment, and disingenuous claims of innovation, that the insertion of a sensible, unbiased voice, is of great value,” said Claire.