“In three decades of practising law, I've been lucky to live through an explosion of change and disruption within the legal profession,” Genevieve said. When I started work as a graduate lawyer, all research was done manually via loose-leaf services in our library. A daily challenge was locating a working phone booth near court away from noisy traffic, so you could hear your clients sufficiently to get instructions.
“One of my university jobs was with my brother, Sean Howard, who started Australia's first Personal Computer magazine, APC. I regularly edited the exhibitor blurbs for tech shows, so I should have had some sense of what might lie ahead - apparently not!”
In fact, Genevieve turned down her brother’s offer to trial OzEmail at Lander & Rogers, back in the early 1990s.
“Why would we need fast access to information? We already have fast mail via AusDoc and a fast communicator - it's called a fax machine!"
Only threat of change is being left behind
Without question, the times have changed, and the pace of change itself has quickened.
“The way we work, the services we provide and the way we deliver our services inevitably throw up challenges and competitors, but also many exciting opportunities!” said Genevieve.
She feels the three most immediate opportunities for the legal profession are digital enhancements, cultural change and new business models.
“At a practical level, the use of digital tools such as automation, workflow, project and case management platforms, gift obvious efficiencies in time and accuracy, and improve the user experience by eliminating mundane tasks,” Genevieve said. “Cloud computing extends access to sophisticated software, allows for automated updates and provides better security. Client tools including online portals, interactive apps and digital collectors of material, streamline the client experience and offer greater transparency. We can also improve and accelerate client outcomes with predictive analytics and AI products for discovery, contract and document review.
“From a cultural perspective, mobility enables flexible working and easy collaboration. This in turn promotes a more diverse, curious, open-minded workforce, better suited to innovation, collaboration and problem-solving for clients,” said Genevieve.
Changing technology and workplace culture also provide the opportunity to innovate legal business models, particularly in broader sector consultancies, advisory work, and new areas of business such as Blockchain.
“I'm really proud that some of the Lander & Rogers' team are at the forefront of developing the new Blockchain standards, as a part of Standards Australia Smart Contracts Working Group,” said Genevieve.
“The real threat to the legal profession in all of this is if we sit back and ignore the threat and risk being left behind!”
Converting potential to reality
Genevieve predicts major investments in technology likely to create points of differentiation from competitor services.
“This is where exciting initiatives such as our dedicated Client iHub will use technology-enabled innovations to streamline the way we work and deliver this seamlessly to our clients,” said Genevieve.
“Innovation is about converting potential into reality - and putting into our hands the ability to make this happen.”
She also predicts a nimble, and less hierarchical future for the law firm.
“The domination of the 'command and control' model by older partners will fade, as the skills of younger tech-savvy lawyers and technologists become equally valued,” said Genevieve. “As we transition from lawyers with little tech ability to the current generation of digital native lawyers, the opportunity for true reverse-mentoring arrangements arises. This cultural shift to a more 'democratic' way of working is very exciting, but to be effective it will require young lawyers to be courageous and older lawyers to be humble.”
Collaboration between law firms is crucial and is an increasingly common trend regarding legal technology.
“It is no longer just a matter of competitive advantage between individual firms,” Genevieve observed. “I see a genuine willingness within the legal sector to share ideas and experiences for the good of the collective. After all, most of our clients are on their own technology journey and it is only natural that they view law firms through the prism of their adeptness with technology as well as law.”
Empower young lawyers to innovate – and get out of the way
Genevieve believes young lawyers will and should drive the future of legaltech.
“We simply need to cut them loose and get out of their way!” Genevieve declared. “They are a digitally savvy generation who should be driving the future of legaltech. I find it fascinating already to experience how our younger lawyers are striding ahead in areas such as Blockchain, in a way which would not previously have occurred at their stage of career. Together with the legal knowledge and experience of our older practitioners, the combination is powerful! A wonderful opportunity for our younger lawyers is our new LawTech Hub powered by YBF Ventures. This provides them with an immersion experience into the world of lawtech start-ups and the challenges they face.
“Older lawyers are often criticised for responding too slowly to change. We all have our war stories. I recall as an articled clerk having to deliver documents by hand because one of the partners didn't trust fax machines. However, if being slow to change were true historically, I don't think it's a fair reflection of the response to technology now. There is an increasing thoughtfulness about how legal firms should innovate and better service their clients, and a recognition that there are both efficiency gains and a better client and people experience through digital connection.”
Embrace the disruption – it is time
Genevieve encourages new lawyers to seize the disruption in progress – this is “their time.”
“As Nelson Mandela advocated, play big, not small,” declared Genevieve. “In this generational transition period between lawyers who have grown up with technology, and those who have not, younger lawyers have a huge advantage. They should see themselves from the outset of their career as leaders and contributors with an ability to influence and shape the future in a way which would not previously have been possible. In many ways, our younger lawyers are now best placed to respond to modern client challenges.”
She praised the work of the Centre for Legal Innovation in driving the right conversations around legal technology.
“In my view it is vital to have such a Centre focused on innovation within the legal sector,” said Genevieve. “The more we can find ways to share ideas, collaborate and think positively about disruption, the better. The Centre provides this forum for collectively creating law firms of the future. It is refreshing to have discussions and make plans together, outside of the old paradigm of law firm competition.”