Karen Finch saw the writing on the wall years ago. That’s why in 2015, she joined, and then became a co-founder of Legally Yours, a venture that is decidedly not a law firm, but an automated online legal marketplace that connects clients to fixed fee lawyers Australia-wide. As a board member of the Australian Legal Technology Association, Karen is well aware of the changes sweeping the legal profession.
On the precipice of great change
“In the very early days of Legally Yours, it was apparent that the legal industry was on the precipice of great change,” said Karen. “The rise of technology and the increasing sophistication of the legal end user meant that for the first time since industrialisation, the legal industry was being forced to change the way it was delivering legal services.
“In the UK, the demand for fixed-fee legal services was already in full swing, and we knew it wouldn’t be long before the demand reached Australian shores. Coupled with a deeper understanding of the huge untapped market of potential legal users who were not being serviced and what their barriers of entry were to engagement, Legally Yours was born!
“Legally Yours utilises technology as an enabler to disrupt the traditional modes of connection between lawyer and client, and at the same time innovates the way lawyers deliver their legal services by offering fixed-fee or value based pricing options to their clients. Innovation, technology and disruption were essentially the foundations upon which we built Legally Yours!”
Rethinking and revaluing the value of law
Innovation, according to Karen, offers the legal industry the opportunity to completely review and rethink the value it provides as a profession.
“It is forcing lawyers to think beyond just time as a basis of value, and analyse more deeply what actual services clients are seeking when they engage lawyers” said Karen. “At Legally Yours, we see the value of a lawyer as being their legal knowledge and expertise, their ability to understand and interpret the law, their ability to communicate to their clients, their negotiation skills, and their ability to feel compassion and empathy towards their clients - not just how much time a lawyer can spend working on a file”.
“Couple this with the amazing legal technology now on offer, the only threat I perceive is to billable hours and timesheets,” Karen declared.
Finding the balance between humanity and technology
Without question, legaltech is here to stay. Indeed, it will only become more sophisticated and entrenched in the entire delivery of legal services.
“The greatest challenge over the next decade will be finding the balance between technology and human interaction - or what I like to call ‘Human-ology’. With technology taking over the menial and repetitive tasks and being able to produce contract templates and sophisticated legal information to clients, lawyers will need to refine their communication and interpretation skills, and broaden their skillset beyond strictly legal skills,” said Karen. “Lawyers must become a trusted advisor to their clients - the first port of call when a legal situation arises - as opposed to being the last resort option when everything turns sour and the client is forced to contact a lawyer!”
Experiencing technology without fear
To support the legal profession to successfully navigate digital disruption, it is vital that lawyers experience technology in an open-minded, constructive way.
“Education and open forums are key,” Karen said. “We need to create accessible legal tech hubs, where legal professionals can touch, feel and experience technology without fear. Legal professionals need to be able to participate in discussion forums where they can openly talk about mental health challenges without fear of judgement. Legal professionals need to learn about design thinking, customer needs and wants, and training around pricing, marketing, business development and basic code.
“At Legally Yours, we believe that education equals empowerment, and coupled with open forums and legal tech hubs, we will be able to turn a fear of disruption into a desire for innovation amongst the entire legal profession.”
An exciting time to be a lawyer
Rather than fear the changes underway in the legal profession, Karen feels they should be welcomed, especially by the generation entering the profession.
“This is the most exciting time to be in law,” said Karen. “But you need to look beyond the traditional ways of how we have perceived ‘success’ within law and broaden your outlook to New Law firms and new ways of legal practice. Broaden your skillset to understand entrepreneurship, marketing, business development, technology, design thinking, and customer service. And look beyond being just a legal practitioner within a firm - innovation and technology has opened up a plethora of new roles within law firms which are exciting and cutting edge.”
Karen praised the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) for its commitment to helping the legal profession navigate digital disruption.
“The CLI plays a vital role in helping the legal profession respond to disruption and change,” observed Karen. “Overall as an industry, we are very risk averse and through organisations like CLI, a safe hub for lawyers can be provided which enables them to experiment and experience innovation without fear.”