We must understand and adopt new technologies now – before we get left behind, says Schellie-Jayne Price
Inaugural Chair of ACC Legal Technology and Innovation Committee, Senior Legal Counsel at Chevron Australia, Schellie-Jayne Price fiercely advocates that lawyers must embrace the emerging technologies that are shaking up the legal sector.
In her work at Chevron, Schellie-Jayne champions legal innovation through the Technology Interest Group Law and Supply Chain (TIGLS) – an initiative she established and continues to lead. She has pioneered the use of low-code solutions to develop automation apps that delight users, enhance productivity and cultivate tech-savvy lawyers.
In this spotlight, she talks about the importance of tech adoption, the practical steps to bring about tech-based organisational change, and why we need more women in tech.
The importance of new technologies in law
According to Schellie-Jayne, lawyers must start understanding and adopting new technologies – quickly.
“While utilising new technologies now might give you a competitive advantage, if you fail to use processes like automation in the future – you’re simply not going to be in the game,” she says.
“I think there's a very real risk here, because if the legal sector doesn't stay current, the world is going to move ahead of us.”
Lawyers need to understand these technologies for three important reasons, she says.
“First, you need to know how to use the technology to enhance your insights and automate your legal work. In the future, I believe legal employees will be expected to develop their own apps to help improve workflow and efficiencies.
“Second, you need to understand the technology so you can advise on it. As your clients start using automation, AI and other technologies, they’re going to need your advice and guidance on the complex legalities and ethics that surround it.
“Third, if you’re an in-house lawyer, you should expect your external firms to use new technologies. Although technology can never replace a human lawyer, it can augment their expertise by delivering greater accuracy and speeding up the work. So, we need to be asking these firms about the technologies they use,” she says.
Embedding technologies into your workflow
Schellie-Jayne says the process towards greater internal technological integration involves three key elements: awareness, access and real-world application.
“It all starts with an awareness of what’s out there and on what others are doing. For example, I have ‘geek outs’ with my legal colleagues who work in firms and in-house, so that we can all share what we’re doing.
“Once you know what’s out there, the next logical step is to access and trial these technologies – which may be or may not be difficult depending on your situation. That’s why it’s a good idea to start with the existing technologies within your organisation – because that's one less hurdle to jump over.
“At Chevron, we have the Microsoft Power App suite. But even if you don’t have access to these types of low/no code technologies, it’s likely you’ll have access to Word and Excel – and you can use these technologies to innovate and automate.
“If you work in-house, find out what technologies your finance team and other divisions might be using. Often you can repurpose these for legal purposes.
“Finally, to really figure out what’s possible, you need to experiment. Unfortunately, this is something that many lawyers struggle with since it naturally involves many frustrations – and failures – along the way.
“But failure is a necessary part of innovation. It isn’t a dead end. It’s simply part of the journey,” she says.
Being a tech-force for change
Schellie-Jayne remembers the early days of her digital journey were rather lonely.
“I felt very isolated when I started experimenting in the tech space. Not many of my legal colleagues were interested… which I do understand, because for many, it doesn’t appear to have immediacy to our work.
“So, I decided to start up an interest group within Chevron. We called it TIGLS, which stands for Technology Interest Group Law and Supply Chain. TIGLS started with just three of us: me, a colleague in Houston and a colleague in China. Now, we have more than 100 people – from Asia, Africa, Europe, USA and South America.
“The group is predominately lawyers, but we also have other tech-interested people, including data scientists, researchers, commercial managers… all sorts of professionals who are simply interested in technology.
“My advice? If you’re also finding there’s a lack of interest within your organisation, stay the course. Consider setting up interest groups and finding ways to demonstrate the importance of tech. You will get buy-in once your colleagues start to see the value in what you’re doing,” she says.
Bringing more women into a male-dominated arena
“Tech is dominated by men,” says Schellie-Jayne.
“This fact isn’t lost on men in the industry. After I became interested in AI, I was standing in an elevator holding a book on machine learning, which is a specific branch of AI. A man in the elevator who I didn’t know looked at me and said, ‘Are you interested in machine learning?’
“I said ‘yes’ and he invited me to join the Perth Machine Learning Group, which happened to be looking for more women members at that time (and still is).
“He understood that from both a diversity and quality perspective, they needed more women in their group.
“In addition to the many benefits of a diverse workforce, it’s also about ensuring we don’t perpetuate a new type of discrimination surrounding tech-language and subculture that once again excludes women.
“That’s why one of my missions is to get more women lawyers interested in tech. And why all organisations should be conscious of gender-equality when it comes to new technologies,” she says.
New lawyers should be excited at the opportunities
“Entrants into the legal profession have come at the perfect time. The profession they’re entering is going to be way more fun than the profession I originally entered.
“When I was a graduate, I spent months in rooms filled with documents undertaking tedious discovery and due diligence tasks. But now, much of this work can be done by technology, which is fantastic.
“These new lawyers will get to do much more interesting and strategic tasks than in the past; the type of legal problem solving which attracted them to this profession in the first place.
“My advice to new lawyers is to keep abreast of how the profession is developing and how technology will be used. Connect with like-minded people in the legal field who are interested in tech and keep yourself in the conversation.
“And continue to hone the skills that future lawyers will need. Start by exploring and experimenting with the many low-code and no-code apps out there,” she says.
CLI’s role in creating ‘legalpreneurs’
Schellie-Jayne says, “I’ve been involved with the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) for more than three years. It all started because someone in the CLI found out about my machine-learning work in natural language processing.
“The CLI is ahead of the game in raising tech-related issues and bringing people together to discuss them.
“But more than that, the CLI is encouraging legal entrepreneurship. This is important because every future lawyer will need the ability to experiment and rethink how about both the practice and business of law.
“I feel so fortunate to have made that connection all those years ago. The CLI has added so much to my own digital journey. And I’m sure there are many other lawyers across Australia and beyond who would say exactly the same thing,” she says.