What is TLF Brainstorm?
TLF Brainstorm is an opportunity for our community of legal forecasters to share their creative ideas in response to an interesting question about the role of the lawyer.
TLF Brainstorm is one part philosophical, one part creative, and most of all, it is a space to share new ideas.
Some of our responses may be genius and change the world forever, some may completely lacklustre, some may be riddled with typos (having been typed and sent through on someone’s mobile phone while on the bus). This is the beauty of TLF Brainstorm.
This episode’s question:
What is legal innovation?
Emma Kendall (Partner, DLA Piper)
Legal Innovation is refusing to accept the status quo. It’s respecting the value of tradition and precedent, but embracing and driving change. It’s seeing a need and meeting it. It is realising that the Robots ARE COMING…and deciding that this is a good thing, that it heralds the Age of Imagination and will get rid of the crap work we used to have to do. It means being a doer, a creator and an investor, instead of just an adviser. It means getting some skin in the game, putting something on the line instead of standing on the sidelines. It means taking a risk rather than describing the risk.
Stuart Clout (Founder, thedocyard)
It means adapting to the changing needs of the client. I see a lot of innovation talk in the legal sector being very internally focused, which is plainly flawed.
Clients (still) are not properly being brought into the conversation, and this is reminiscent of the way law firms have always worked. And it is a huge problem. And it is also why New Law outfits which are doing things differently are winning work away from the old model. I think it is important to point out that innovation is not a new thing, we have been innovating since our ancestors used a stone as a tool. Innovation is about progress, doing things differently, trying new ideas and changing how you do something now for a better outcome.
The legal sector has been wonderful at avoiding change, but the game is well and truly up!
Gene Turner (Founder, LawHawk)
That’s a very hard question. We just had an interesting College of Law Centre for Legal Innovation roundtable on that topic, and there were different views amongst the attendees. For me, it has to be practical and so doesn’t need to be blindingly novel or disruptive. Small – but real – improvements can be powerful innovation. In our case, we’re focussing on some pretty low hanging fruit with document automation, but even then some lawyers have questioned whether we are two steps ahead of what the legal market is ready for. Timing is everything! Things like machine learning and blockchain are definitely of interest to us, but to my mind they’re too far ahead of what people can usefully use right now.
Sophie Tversky (TLF VIC)
Legal innovation means making a systemic shift from accepting the current state of legal practice, to putting on a new set of lenses which see change as an opportunity. It involves going back to basics and considering the core role of legal services, placing the consumer (client) at its centre and creating services and technologies which are more efficient, effective and meet market needs. Having said that, technology cannot always be equated with innovation – it is often a means to an end. Legal innovation means harnessing the analytical abilities of our profession and collaborating across industries such as IT, design and marketing professionals. It is at the intersection of these disciplines where the magic happens. Legal innovation will enable a greater emphasis on human capital and lawyer-client relations. Most importantly, it is about action, not theory – not doing for the sake of doing, but to meet a need.
The meaning and content of legal innovation is constantly evolving and therefore a set definition is an inherent limitation. The focus should be on stakeholders fostering open cultures that accept the right to fail, as well as the right to experiment.
Erika Ly (TLF NSW)
Lately, the term legal innovation has been abused and misapplied. In my opinion, legal innovation and innovation more broadly, is simply change for something new. It begins with the humble question: “how can we do this better?” Innovation recognises an existing problem, it speculates on an answer and most importantly, arrives at an executable solution. At its core, legal innovation capitalises on new ideas and improvements to existing ones. With this understanding, I emphasise that we must not conflate innovation with technology. Though used as interchangeable terms, legal innovation is the thing that law firms and lawyers ‘newly’ know how to do and technology is the thing that helps them do it (this is the value-add). An approach to legal innovation must involve an embrace of the new, a rejection to rigidity and a permission to execute. And it starts by asking “what’s wrong here?”
Jessica Wat (TLF ACT)
I believe the term ‘innovation’ is something that evolves over time. When you try to set the objective or meaning of the term, it loses the ‘spark’ of the term. The fundamental aspect the term tries to capture is that breath of fresh air either in a new industry or completely starting a new one. I think it it is so important that innovation is amorphous and that it does mean different things to different stakeholders – because that is when creativity and ambition collides to look at a matter from a new perspective and have the chance to create something completely new. Looking at legal innovation, what we are trying to encourage is a continuous rejuvenation of the legal sector such that it follows with social, political and economic developments in the world in order to provide information and services to people in a more accessible and inclusive manner. It is using technology and new management models to help make the legal process more efficient and justiciable.
Andrew Dibden (TLF QLD)
The evolution of the definition of Legal Innovation has been ambulatory, with several different paths to explore. This presents challenges when trying to consolidate a definition. However, I think as a starting point it encompasses: finding new ways to deliver legal services, finding novel ways to apply existing laws to adapt to the changing business and technology environments, and reimagining the possibilities when it comes to the services offered by law firms.
Each of these topics can be separately explored.
New ways of working
While some see technological progress as an existential threat, there are many procedural (and frankly, more mundane) changes and challenges posed by evolving technologies. These include things from use of electronic communications between lawyers, clients, and other stakeholders, to predictive coding and e-discovery. These innovations do not provoke the question of “what does it mean to be a lawyer”, rather they change the response to “as a lawyer, what do I do day-to-day”.
Novel legal applications
This refers to the ‘stretching’ of legal concepts into new areas, where there has not previously been a clear reaction from the legal system. Perhaps my favourite example was an unsuccessful attempt to expand doctrine of trespass in an attempt to protect privacy (Bernstein of Leigh v Skyviews and General Ltd  1 QB 479). This is not the only nor probably the best example, but is illustrative of a trend which will continue in the absence of clear leadership. There will need to be action, both from the legislature and the profession, to ensure that the law adapts and evolves with (and, optimistically, even ahead of) circumstances as they progress.
New service offerings
The capacity of law firms to provide value to their clients has never been so strong. Firms are in a trusted and privileged position in relation to their clients, which grants them the opportunity to provide insights and advice which are simply out of reach of many other professional services firms. This will start as providing insights and is likely to progress to more advanced analytics and other intelligence-based services which currently do not exist.
It it useful to have a multi-faceted definition for legal innovation as the flexibility allows for all meanings to be contemplated and included in discussions of legal innovation. Moreover, it should serve as a reminder that each face is as important as its peers and that the neglect one is to pass by an opportunity to drive change.
Adrian Agius (TLF NSW)
The second one tries to define legal innovation, they have failed to comprehend its purpose. If you can categorise what you are doing as innovative, you are already behind the eight-ball. It needs to be transient and non-identifiable to work properly. The likes of Google & Apple have embedded the concept into their culture, thereby reducing its meaning to nothing more than normal operation. Thus, for law, it should become a part of how everything operates and therefore also needs engagement by all stakeholders. The goal is collective, not specific. Although, adopting this understanding would render most legal PR departments, new law firm job titles and lawtech startups redundant.
Angus Murray (TLF QLD)
The very nature of innovation requires an amorphous meaning. As the central point, legal innovation is breaking away from the traditional legal process it is not necessary (or indeed appropriate) to apply a rigid definition to this concept. In this context, “legal innovation” will naturally have differing meanings amongst stakeholders. For example, an IT professional would likely perceive legal innovation through a focus on IT infrastructure whereas an architect would likely focus on the Court’s physical design requirements.
In the writer’s view, it is important to maintain a broad amorphous meaning as technology will invariably continue to be developed and these new technologies will require new forms of innovation to fully and appropriately implement them into the legal profession. The ability to explore different and novel technology and concepts must be and remain the definition of legal innovation.
Angus Fraser (TLF QLD)
Legal innovation is the application of novel solutions to needs of the legal profession, those outside the profession accessing its services, and the law itself.
The primary utility of language is to facilitate communication about a given subject in an understandable manner. Depriving terminology of clear meaning for the purpose of applying it in an ad hoc manner is therefore antithetical to the epistemic function of language. The fact that the subject matter to which given terminology refers is protean does not mean that its definition ought to be equally imprecise.
Mike Bidwell (TLF QLD)
Legal innovation is a new idea, method or product that shapes how we interpret, analyse and create the law and legal profession. I personally believe the term ‘legal innovation’ has been overused because people mistakenly link it to technology. Technology will absolutely disrupt the legal industry but it will take more to genuinely shape the legal industry. For example, a robot may be able to review disclosed documents quicker than a human but that will not shape the purpose of the review; it will merely make it more efficient. Technology can be associated with legal innovation but I do not believe it can shape the law and legal profession on its own.
It is important the term ‘legal innovation’ has a set meaning in shaping the law and legal industry because we need to recognise who the true innovators of our society are. Chief Justice Susan Kiefel is an example of legal innovation in my view. She has inspired many in achieving the position of the highest-ranking judicial officer in Australia because her education, gender and career path did not fit the expected norm. I believe she has shaped the legal profession through her perseverance and illustrated why our legal profession needs and improves with diversity.
Molly Thomas (TLF QLD)
Legal innovation, much like other types of innovation, is all about the new, which is why ‘innovation’ often sits uncomfortably with its descriptor. The law is all about history, patterns, and precedent.
Therefore, a workable definition of legal innovation which respects both parts of that term must necessarily involve an embrace of the old and new. Legal innovation consists in using old doctrines in new ways, developing new doctrines, reconsidering the implications of law, and expanding the focus of the law beyond what has been traditionally understood as its ambit.
I don’t think there should be one standardised definition or set of values which relate to legal innovation as the very nature of innovation would be against that but it is important to protect stakeholders’ interests by not misusing the word or diluting its potency.
Sam Sheehan (TLF QLD)
Legal innovation means a shift or ‘disruption’ in current values and methods used in the industry. Whether it is billable hours or AI innovation to me means creating or altering the way in which things are done to make the process easier/faster or more effective in turn moving the profession forward instead of staying stagnant. I think the above will always have differing meanings to different people which is important to the progression and imagination that is required in moving forward, whether it’s through technology or is just a different method of completing the same task. Without differing opinions everyone has the same ideas.
Milan Gandhi (TLF QLD)
What is innovation?
According to The Atlantic, at one point in history, to call someone an “innovator” was to accuse them of heresy.
With the rise of science and industry in the 19th century, ‘innovation’ came to have a positive meaning associated with inventing a technical marvel. It was a measurable concept.
Now, in public usage, ‘innovation’ really means ‘newness’ of almost any kind.
Is a dynamic, malleable definition desirable?
There is no doubt that the broadness of the term, and its status as a buzzword, risks a haemorrhage of meaning.
On the other hand, an overly static and prescribed definition would itself be contradictory to a point of meaninglessness.
The issue is why the definition is being reshaped in each case.
For example, ‘innovation’ is a term sometimes held hostage by those with ulterior motives. Take service providers who use the word in their marketing shtick. They may be quick to criticise as ‘not innovative’ those who fail to engage them. This kind of cynicism is the real source of confusion.
What, then, is legal innovation?
Legal innovation is ‘newness’ in a legal context. For example, new business models, new technology, new conceptualisations of what it means to be a lawyer.
I believe, however, that for such newness to be newness worth caring about, it has to bring about positive change in areas including (but not limited to) time efficiency, profitability, enhanced access to justice, and enhanced mental health outcomes for the people involved in the process.