07 June 2018

Legalpreneurs Spotlight - Eric Norris

Published on 07 June 2018

Reinventing legal internships with InsideSherpa

Eric Norris, Head of Corporate Operations at InsideSherpa, is on a mission: to deliver open-access virtual internships to all students. Eric, who was formerly Minter Ellison’s Asia-Pacific Head of Graduate Recruitment, believes law schools will soon hit their “Uber” moment. He wants to help students and universities arrive at that inflection point of innovation.

“The legal sector has rapidly evolved over the last decade – for example, we have seen the globalisation of Australian law firms, new technology improving legal service delivery, and new areas of specialisation in response to emerging sectors and technology,” observed Eric.

Legal education, he feels, has not quite kept pace with this rate of change.

“Legal education has not (fully) evolved to recognise the new paradigm that lawyers operate in. Increasingly we are seeing that law students (through their degrees) aren’t exposed to the new technologies being used in the legal profession, have limited exposure to emerging areas of law, and are underdone when it comes to their ability to hit-the-ground running in the workplace.”

“Many students (and the industry itself) are questioning whether the current law school product adequately prepares students for a legal career. At InsideSherpa, we think the university sector could soon face its ‘Uber’ moment – law schools (as incumbents) must evolve to deliver students and the legal industry a better experience.  In order to remain relevant, the [university] sector needs to look at innovative ways to educate students on new areas of law, develop students’ practical skills, and maximise their career outcomes.”

 

Digitally amplifying traditional work experience

InsideSherpa sits at the intersection of legal education, recruitment and graduate careers.

“We partner with forward-thinking firms and select universities to deliver industry-created content designed to develop students’ legal skills, experience and confidence through a digital platform. By partnering with industry, we have created a unique model to upskill all students with legal skills and experience at no cost to the student,” said Eric. “I like to think of it as digital amplification.  At the core we are taking a great concept – real world work experience – and digitally amplifying it to enable a firm to offer opportunities to 1,000’s of students (for a fraction of the cost)”.

Fearing the onset of innovation is a mistake, according to Eric.

“I don’t buy into the ‘robots are coming’ threat - the efficiencies created by innovation will not run lawyers out of a job.  We need to reframe the conversation and look at technology as an “enabler” rather than being “replacer”.  Innovation (whether it is AI, big data, or cloud-based infrastructure) will enable lawyers to focus on what they do best – solving complex problems with commerciality and human judgement, without having to worry about time-consuming menial tasks! 

“Further, clients will be big winners as the profession embraces new technologies – there will be reduced cost shock, more robust and accurate solutions, and quicker answers.”

 

Tech solves “low-hanging fruit”

Eric is hopeful that legal innovation will offer future lawyers a more satisfying, intellectually engaging career.

“Legal innovation predominantly solves ‘low-hanging fruit’ – mass document reviews, tedious due diligence, project management and other tasks that typically fall at the feet of junior practitioners. At InsideSherpa, we have spoken to many junior lawyers and law students. While the next generation of lawyers recognise that there is value in gaining these skills, the earlier they are exposed to the more intellectually-stimulating, complex aspects of being a lawyer, the more satisfying their jobs will be.”

Eric firmly believes that Artificial Intelligence (AI) will have the single biggest influence on innovation in the legal industry.

While he acknowledges that the term artificial intelligence may be occasionally overused and is often misunderstood, for those that are genuinely innovating (and not innovating by headline) AI holds such a wealth of opportunity, and outsized returns, so its impact on the delivery of legal services can’t be understated.

 

Few industries better suited to AI than law

“I don’t know many industries which are better suited to taking advantage of AI than law – there are many repetitive, precedent-based tasks, and the methods to conduct unavoidable tasks such as due diligence, discovery and legal research have traditionally been very manual and costly.  AI type technologies like predictive coding can perform (almost) all simple legal tasks in a fraction of the time and with greater accuracy,” said Eric.

“We are already seeing legal AI companies starting to make an impact – companies such as ROSSIntelligence, Lex Machina, LawGeex and Luminance are really good examples. However, we believe the legal industry has only partially embraced what AI can do. 

“At InsideSherpa, we recognise that a firm’s most important investment is in its staff and we have developed AI-based recruitment technology to help firms optimise their recruitment process.  Recruitment is a natural fit with AI: it can help HR teams reduce unconscious bias, automate manual recruiting tasks, and increase the employers’ ability to predict which candidates will become high-performing contributors by using longitudinal analysis on big datasets. Not only will AI significantly reduce recruitment costs and streamline processes – it also provides legal employers with peace-of-mind that their newest recruits are the best for the job.” 

Innovation is already an integral part of our lives, according to Eric.

“We now live in a world where five of the world’s top six largest companies (by market capitalisation) are technology companies. Technological disruption impacts almost every aspect of our lives,” said Eric.

“What surprises me about law schools and ‘Big Law’ is that having an understanding of technology is considered a niche skillset. Universities and industry need to set up sustainable learning and development infrastructure to ensure that legal professionals can keep up to date with transformation in the profession. The CLI is a fantastic example of an education institution tackling this challenge seriously.”

Eric also praised firms like King & Wood Mallesons (KWM), for transcending the rhetoric of innovation, offering coding classes, technology knowledge-sharing groups, and the opportunity for their juniors to trial new LegalTech and develop their own cutting-edge solutions, such as the smart contracts developed by KWM’s Banking & Finance team.

For new lawyers looking to get an edge in a legal profession increasingly disrupted by LegalTech, Eric urges them to expand their knowledge beyond mere black letter law.

“I think we are truly fortunate to be immersed in a world where change is the only constant, in a few short years, we’ve seen the legal profession (particularly private practice) adopt new technological developments including blockchain and cryptocurrencies, whilst managing the emerging challenges of things like crowdfunding, big data, fintech and privacy issues.”

 

Learning beyond the lecture hall: the role of the Centre for Legal Innovation

“Students transitioning into the profession should understand more than ever that learning cannot stop in the lecture hall. Law, and the practice of law, is not static,” said Eric. “The best lawyers I have come across have always gone beyond their day job to find ways to build new knowledge and skills to remain relevant.”

Eric praised the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) for taking the lead on innovation in legal education.

“Navigating disruption is difficult for anyone, and leading innovation is even more challenging! For an industry like the legal profession that faces immediate and ongoing disruption, it is critical that organisations like the Centre for Legal Innovation exist.”

“At InsideSherpa, we look to the CLI as a model blueprint for how the profession should prepare its practitioners for a world of change and disruption. The same way the CLI is helping practitioners prepare for the new world, our team is committed to helping students for the world of work.”

“What I also love about the CLI is the community dimension to the centre – those taking a proactive approach to innovation can connect to thought leaders, innovators, and legal practitioners through the CLI network. Networks are pretty powerful when it comes to disruption and change, I can’t take credit for this one myself, but the saying goes: ‘A problem shared, is a problem halved’. The CLI is one of the most effective conduits for education in legal innovation, connecting expert thought-leaders and stakeholders through one forum to share knowledge and insights,” said Eric.

 

The Centre for Legal Innovation will be holding a Legal Project Management Certification Workshop in Sydney on 11-12 July. Register now if you would like to add the unique skill of Legal Project Management to your skill set.