14 March 2019

Legalpreneurs Spotlight - Demetrio Zema

Published on 14 March 2019

Delivering a true alternative to traditional law firms

Demetrio Zema set out to disrupt the law because, like so many other disrupters, he was frustrated. As a solicitor, Demetrio was familiar with the inefficiencies and challenges endemic to the traditional law firm model. By founding Law Squared, he sought to change the traditional lawyer-client dynamic. Law Squared reframes the relationship to one of partnership; lawyers act as risk advisers against future risk, rather than firefighters fixing past errors.

“Legal innovation, technology and disruption led to the opportunity to create and build Law Squared,” said Demetrio. “Whilst many feel threatened by the introduction of new legal technologies and disruptive business models, I think it has positively impacted the profession. Not only has it created new job and career opportunities, it has also forced traditional law firms to re-think their business models, including their engagement models with clients.

“Law Squared was born out of my frustrations with the traditional law firm model, and whilst it may be considered as a ‘disrupter’, we really aim to offer a true alternative to the traditional law firm model. Leveraging technology and taking an innovative business approach allows us to create a unique value proposition to the legal market.”

 

The promise of a meaningful, fulfilling career

Demetrio feels the most significant opportunity to be seized from disruption lies with lawyers leaving the profession.

“There are new career opportunities for lawyers or law graduates searching for a more meaningful and fulfilling career,” Demetrio said. “Legal innovation allows for creativity and opportunity in an industry that for many years remained frozen in time. In a world where email and instant messaging are key aspects of one’s day-to-day life, law firms lamentably remain ‘stuck’ in the traditional mechanics of client engagement. Indeed, the reality is that a traditional law firm, with its dictaphones, typists and word processing tools, sits awkwardly in today’s modern world of businesses, who want and need their lawyers to be present, adaptable, relevant and, of course, personable.

“The only threat legal innovation poses to the profession is to a generation which refuses to accept that the legal industry is changing and the traditional outlook of profit over outcome is diminishing.”

 

Generational shift to drive change

Disruptive technology will continue to push the legal profession to adapt, along with traditional law firm models and practices. In the coming years, Demetrio predicts that a number of legal technology ventures will fail, owing to an inability to address a real legal problem for lawyers and clients.

“There are some clever and intuitive AI and machine learning technologies,” said Demetrio. “As databases grow and develop, so too will their applicability, reliability and use.”

He thinks the number of alternative legal service providers will increase – which Demetrio defines as entities that essentially provide legal advice without being law firms. He also predicts a rise in boutique and specialist practices.

A changing of the guard will be the biggest driver of innovation.

“Technology not only allows for a more diverse and dispersed  work force, it also allows for greater opportunities for lawyers and more accessibility for clients,” said Demetrio. “As we see a generational shift in law firm leadership over the next 5-10 years, expect more wide spread changes across the board.”

 

Creating a tribe of lawyers ready for change

Encouraging a culture open to technological change is essential. Demetrio praised organisations like the RMIT University’s Centre for Innovative Justice and The College of Law for their role in providing support networks and CPDs, conferences, seminars and events.

“Not only do they help educate legal professionals, but these organisations help bring lawyers on the journey of change,” said Demetrio.

“Universities need to reconsider their traditional approach to the way both undergraduate and postgraduate law degrees are taught,” urged Demetrio. “Law students need more than just technical legal skills (i.e. black letter law skills) to thrive in the legal profession of the future.”

With the growth of firms like Law Squared, more and varied career opportunities will arise across traditional law firms, NewLaw or alternative legal service providers.

“Great leading lawyers, such as Clarissa Rayward, are taking the opportunity to create a tribe of lawyers looking to bounce ideas and opportunities off each other,” said Demetrio. “Leaders like Clarissa build courage, support and confidence in shifting away from traditional legal practices while managing our transforming profession.”

The shift towards technology frees lawyers to ‘be more human,’ which Demetrio regards as essential.

“Lawyers need to build relationships with clients, understand their goals, empathise with their situation, and be more transparent about what we’re doing and what we’re charging! This is the value we can add as lawyers, to actively understand both the commercial and emotional decisions and needs of our clients. This is something AI, technology and even automation cannot replace (yet).”

Clients, he said, choose law firms that focus on delivering the best client experience. This means addressing their needs with minimal fuss, communicate clearly, and are transparent about costs.

“With this in mind, new lawyers - in fact, all lawyers - should embrace and encourage the technological advancements in the legal profession. At the end of the day, technology and ‘robots’ won’t replace us but they will make us better. Those who chose to embrace the technology will be better off as a result.”

 

A critical piece to the professional puzzle

Demetrio praised the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) for its role in driving cultural change in the law.

“To me, the Centre for Legal Innovation is a critical piece to the professional puzzle,” said Demetrio. “Not only does it provide lawyers with a forum and platform to learn, collaborate and share ideas, it is also a leader in legal education.

“With its proactive and practical approach, the CLI is uniquely placed to support legal professionals navigating a turbulent yet exciting change to the industry at large. Having an innovation focused think tank to help guide and educate lawyers is invaluable in an industry that is not only resistant to change, but largely ill-equipped to handle the dramatic client-led changes ahead. The CLI gives lawyers the platform and opportunity to deal with the rapidly changing environment.”