Like many legal innovators, Stuart Clout knows we live in interesting times. As CEO of thedocyard, he now helms a legaltech startup that listed on the ASX in February, mere weeks before lockdown compelled the entire legal profession to work from home.
As a company that facilitates secure cloud-based collaboration for major law firms, banks and multinationals, thedocyard was unusually well placed to move into lockdown. Much of its team, from the top down, had worked from home for years, using the office where convenient.
Indeed, the agility of its transition to lockdown is characteristic of how the company is run, and its core values around innovation in the law.
“Legal innovation has profoundly impacted my life,” said Stuart. “Simply put, thedocyard would not exist without it. As lawyers and technologists, we recognised the material advantages of applying technology to the practice of law. Personally, without this insight, I might still be a partner of a large law firm, doing ‘lawyer things’, the old way.”
The Great Pause brings a much-needed reset
“Without organisations like the Centre for Legal Innovation, the Great Pause brought on by our self-imposed economic hibernation could have been full blown disruption,” observed Stuart.
“The profession is not out of the woods by any measure,” cautioned Stuart. However, he does think the profession - particularly individuals motivated to improve their own organisations - deserve more credit for their efforts.
“There is a perception that lawyers and ‘the law’ have been utterly recalcitrant to change,” said Stuart. “This is simply not true.”
Consider, for example, the field of disputes.
“In disputes, firms and lawyers have long been optimising how litigation gets done, with the beacon being the adoption and improvement of e-discovery technologies. This has been underway for the best part of two decades,” said Stuart.
Expect revolutionary leaps at higher velocity
Stuart dubs the innovations of the last five years as ‘legal innovation 2.0.’
“Much like web 2.0, legal innovation 2.0 is defined by user-generated content, ease of use, participatory culture and interoperability for end users,” said Stuart.
“In short, we will soon see better technology used more widely than ever,” he said. “What we are now seeing is innovation and technology shining lights into every corner of the legal profession, not just the obvious parts that clearly needed some help.”
What does this mean for lawyers and their clients?
“More clients are enlightened to the possibilities of innovation, just as much as lawyers themselves,” said Stuart. “This, in turn, has resulted in a higher velocity of technological uptake and increased profile for the innovation movement.”
The legal profession will evolve - as it always has
“Not to be too contrarian, but any industry that has survived for as long as the law has clearly needed to consistently innovate,” observed Stuart.
Like many, he feels this evolution has not been as quick as it could have been.
“Until now, our profession has had the luxury of getting away with minor shuffles instead of revolutionary leaps,” said Stuart. “However, innovative lawyers have been part of the movement since its inception. It is simply the rate of change and breadth of technological application that has taken a sharp turn upwards.”
Not a moment too soon, according to Stuart.
“There was once an outside possibility that the role of lawyers as custodians of the law would diminish,” said Stuart. “This possibility is becoming more real and distinct.
“Lawyers find themselves for the first time on a burning platform, joining fellow knowledge workers in every industry in every part of the world,” said Stuart.
“This is all the motivation they need to adapt, survive and continue to win.”
Law firms of the future could be software companies
Savvy lawyers are seizing the opportunities that come with change.
“Increasingly, lawyers understand that they do not own and run the legal profession,” said Stuart. “It is highly plausible that with de-regulation and the homogenisation of laws across jurisdictions, the ‘law firms’ of the future will be software companies.”
“We are actually seeing some NewLaw firms operating more like software companies in how they sell and price their services. LegalVision and Lawpath are two great Australian examples of this, alongside LegalZoom in the US.”
“However, the people who are succeeding understand and accept one fundamental truth - the law firm as we know it is gone.”
As Stuart observed, this simply means the law will be different. This too, presents opportunities.
“Most importantly, we will see a significant uptick in access to the legal system, remedies and justice for the broader population,” said Stuart. “More people than ever will be able to afford legal services, and this can only be good for everyone.
“I truly believe that tech companies can revolutionise law end to end - from the criminal justice system to high end corporate law. In so doing, we can help improve client outcomes, transparency around the law itself, and provide much-needed certainty for clients.”
The future of law is digital
COVID-19, and its accompanying disruption, has driven home the need for law to go digital.
In the years to come, Stuart expects this collective realisation to permeate every aspect of the legal landscape.
“Every touch point of the legal system will be digital. Every user will be tech-savvy. From local court appearances for minor crimes and misdemeanours to the biggest IPOs in the world - everything will go online,” observed Stuart.
“This is why, in my view, tech companies will run the law. If you are not a tech company, how do you build this capacity? Improve upon it? Contribute to this future?”
The digital future of law could deliver many benefits.
“By bringing the law online, you can expect a fairer, more consistent and accessible version of the law,” said Stuart. “Fundamentally, this is what the law has always been about - preserving fairness, protecting rights, and encouraging positive behaviour and change.”
Encourage bravery over trepidation
Lawyers, by nature, are risk-averse. This is essential to their role and their training.
However, to participate in this brave new digital age, Stuart counsels an optimistic pragmatism to counter prevailing fears around disruption.
“Encourage bravery,” Stuart urged. “I always coach lawyers to try things, and to get their firm and their clients into the ‘innovation tent’ to participate in experiments that will ultimately make legal work better and more affordable.
“Often change is held back because of fear,” said Stuart. “Lawyers fret over failure. They ask themselves, ‘What if this does not work? What if I look silly, or my client hates this, or if I’m sued? It’s all, ‘what if, what if, what if?’”
Win together, one innovation at a time
“This is why multi party ownership of innovation is so important,” explained Stuart.
“Get everyone involved to put some skin in the game and start winning together,” urged Stuart. There is no legal innovation deity who will come down from the clouds, wave a wand and immediately transform us into digital lawyers.
“Innovation occurs with one matter, one client, and one lawyer at a time. Together, we can look to improve how we do what we do. Typically technology will form a part of the improvement, alongside a major shift in mindset and the collective desire to just do things better.
“Above all, know this: your answer is in the cloud, not in a ‘legal innovation deity’ descending from it.”
Now is the best time to be a new lawyer
“Put on a seatbelt and helmet; this is going to be a ride,” said Stuart.
For lawyers new to the profession and those eager to embrace change, Stuart counsels against getting swept up in superficial advice.
“I have heard a million times that lawyers should learn to code,” said Stuart. “This is bad advice.
“If you want to be a developer, then learn to code. If you want to be a lawyer, then learn the law. Only from this foundation can you get curious about transforming the law and the delivery of legal services.”
When it comes to entering the law, he is equally a contrarian.
“I have heard plenty of people say they would advise against going into the law because your job will be disrupted away,” said Stuart. “Again, this is terrible advice. This is the best time in the history of the world to be a new lawyer. This is hands down the most exciting, engaging and impactful moment for new lawyers ever. I wish I was a new lawyer!
“The opportunity to be a part of the new way law will be - and is being - done, is beyond cool,” said Stuart. “You should also do a lot of stretching. To succeed in the law, everyone will need to be very flexible and highly agile to stay at the forefront of innovation - which, funnily enough, is exactly how you need to be to run a good tech startup.”
Global lockdown will change law forever - and for the better
Without question, the law is evolving faster than ever, and for the better.
However, Stuart believes the law cannot do so without institutions like the Centre for Legal Innovation (‘CLI’).
“The Centre of Legal Innovation is exceptionally important. As a champion of the legal innovation movement, the CLI provides essential advice and guidance, which is crucial during times of high change. This is exactly what the legal profession is going through right now; the CLI is at the coal face of this transformation.
“With the right advice, the right encouragement and the right engagement across every aspect of the legal profession - from students to clients, and fellow knowledge economy workers - we can help the legal profession undergo its digital transformation with contiguity and style.”