Interview | Ram Devineni (Priya’s Shakti)

Michael (TLF) was very fortunate to interview Ram Devineni, co-creator of Priya’s Shakti and a documentary filmmaker.  The World Health Organisation estimates that 1 billion women worldwide have or will experience either intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime.  The idea to create Priya’s Shakti came after the horrible gang rape and murder of a young woman on a bus in New Delhi in 2012.  As a result, Ram and his team created a new Indian comic book superhero, Priya, who is a rape survivor with the capacity to inspire others and promote change.  UN Women has honoured the character as a ‘gender equality champion’ and there have been nearly 500,000 digital downloads!

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I swear I could go on and on about how amazing you and your team are at Priya’s Shakti but let’s go right back to where it started.  What particularly motivated you with the horrible gang rape and murder in New Delhi to get Priya’s Shakti going?

I was in Delhi when the horrible gang rape happened on the bus in 2012, and was involved the protests that soon followed. Like many people, I was horrified by what had happened and angered by the indifference exhibited by government authorities at every level. There was an enormous outcry in particular from young adults and teenagers — both women and men. At one of the protests, my colleague and I spoke to a Delhi police officer and asked him for his opinion on what had happened on the bus. Basically the officer’s response was that “no good girl walks home at night.” Implying that she probably deserved it, or at least provoked the attack. I knew than that the problem of sexual violence in India was not a legal issue; rather it was a cultural problem. A cultural shift had to happen especially views towards the role of women in modern society. Deep-rooted patriarchal views needed to be challenged. I think those protests were a turning point in India to address gender-based violence. Of course, violence against women have always existed in India prior that, but I think it was tipping-point, especially by young people.

You use Augmented Reality in your comic book and art exhibitions – the first of its kind with international outreach and social engagement.  You actually animate real-life stories and voices of Indian women who have survived assaults.  How do you believe this has more of an impact breaking down social stigma?

We hope to create empathy for survivors and challenge the patriarchy surrounding this crime. The goal of the comic book series and our partnership with the World Bank’s WeVolve program is to reach teenagers. The comic book format and use of augmented reality technology through the Blippar is perfectly designed and popular with teenagers. We hope to distribute the comic book in schools for free in the future. Teenagers are at a critical age when they are learning about relationships and developing their opinions of each other. So, this comic book series is a powerful tool to talk about gender issues.

One big AR element we created in this chapter is called the #TheLastMask which allows you to put on a transparent mask like Snapchat and share that on social media. We want people to show solidarity with acid attack survivors and tell everyone that this is everyone’s struggle.

Has the Indian legal system made any reform in response to the impact of Priya’s Shakti?

I think Priya’s Shakti and many other activities and the protests were part of a massive momentum that happened around that time. And helped to change public opinion and perceptions about gender-based violence in India. The Supreme Court of India setup a special panel to look into changes in the legal system and how police should address rape cases. There were a lot of changes implemented including special courts focused on rape, and to make survivors more comfortable and safe.

In all your amazing work in the gender equality space, what have you found to be the most interesting or shocking revelation?

Interviewing survivors of acid attacks was very difficult, but I was inspired by them because the ones I interviewed were all activists, so they wanted to talk and be out in the open. Of course, this is not true for everyone, but I think is a global movement and coalitions forming with acid attack survivors making them more open and public.

In general, acid attacks survivors have the same victim blaming problems that rape survivors face. Often, they do not tell others they were attacked with acid because the stigma surrounding it. Rather they say they were burned in a cooking fire or something else.

I think the power of the comic book series is that we are presenting very difficult topics – gang rape and acid attacks — in a very approachable and empathetic way. Readers can relate with the characters and story, and especially the main character — Priya and understand these problems without being turned off by them. Creating a female superhero and using the genre of “superheroes” provides readers with a familiarity and accessibility to the comic book and these problems.

Time for you to save the world – what innovation in our society’s way of thinking would genuinely help address gender-based violence?

I think the most important thing we want to emphasize with the comic book and with Priya is that change is possible. Trying to create a cultural shift is incredibly difficult, but not impossible. India is going through some remarkable and monumental changes in a short period of time. People’s views have not caught up with the speed in which things are changing in India. But, what was clear to me from the massive protests that happened all over India after the horrible rape on the bus is that we want things to change in our country. There were so many teenagers and young adults at those protests, and they will be the future catalyst and leaders who will define India, which is a hopeful sign.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

Interview | Max Paterson (Settify)

Sophie (TLF) recently caught up with Max Paterson, Co-Founder of BottledSnail Productions, Victorian Committee Member of Tristan Jepson Memorial Foundation and the current Principal and CEO of Settify.  When does he sleep?!  Settify is developed by Family Law solicitors and technology experts to assist lawyers with servicing increasing client demands.  They believe that the future of the legal profession is cooperation between human lawyers and technological assistance.

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How has creativity influenced your legal career?

I think traditional practice comes with opportunities for creativity – creative arguments, creative strategies, and new approaches to problems. I did feel somewhat limited as a traditional family lawyer though.

I take huge enjoyment from identifying ways that things can be done better, and then working hard to offer an alternative. That urge propelled me to build Settify – it replicates the initial client interview, at least in terms of the data-gathering aspect of it. The idea is to use AI to gather the information, which frees the lawyer up to apply their human skills in the first interview – to connect with the client, apply their experience to a new situation, and give meaningful advice.

How is the lawyer/client experience changing?

I actually think a major shift is occurring across professions whereby people no longer idolise the ‘expert.’ Law is built on the assumption that because we are special people with magical knowledge, we deserve to charge formidable sums for everything we do in relation to your matter.  I think the democratisation of information challenges that. People now know that not everything lawyers traditionally did can only be done by a lawyer.

With Settify, we have seen that clients are keenly aware of the value they gain from using tech to do the relatively straightforward, so that they can leverage value from lawyers where it matters – the application of experience and expertise. I think clients will soon revolt when a lawyer charges them $500 per hour to ask how to spell their middle name, and what their child’s date of birth is.

What role does interdisciplinary collaboration play in your work at Settify and in your opinion, what role will it play in the future of the legal industry?

My business partner Athol is a very good corporate lawyer and a gun full-stack developer. I know about Family Law, and what we do really sits at the juncture of those disciplines. We are constantly thinking about how to apply tech to solve problems in practice, and working to execute on the solutions we come up with.

I think we’ll see more and more collaboration with other disciplines to help things that were traditionally part of the legal process – particularly with tech, design, project management and process engineering.

How has the wellbeing conversation changed over the period you have been collaborating with TJMF and what do you think still needs to be addressed?

I graduated from law school in 2011 and I think the huge shift occurred before that, when the profession went from denying the issue to acknowledging it, and in some ways starting to think of wellbeing as a ‘hot topic.’

Since I started working with TJMF in 2012, there has been a fair degree of institutional response from law firms, law schools, courts, and other organisations. Some of it is lip service. Other bits are meaningfully chipping away at the structural issues that foment distress.

I actually think the most important shift has been cultural, particularly amongst younger lawyers and students. It’s the way we speak about mental illness and wellbeing, the attitudes we hold as we look at employers, and the way we treat each other. That’s a slow change, but ultimately the only true transformation possible.

How do you strike a balance between increasing efficiency through technology via your client-interface and ensuring that the human element and support are present, particularly in Family Law?

Good tech should improve the human element of lawyering. Good lawyers should identify the things that they are uniquely equipped to do for their clients, and do them well. In Family Law, that’s about talking to clients as people, meeting them in person, and applying expertise to their situation.

The thing that smart lawyers get, and plenty miss, is that you also need to think clearly and carefully about the stuff that doesn’t require you. It’s crucial that clients like the services their lawyers provide, but the other interactions they have with the firm are also important.

Our feedback shows that Settify improves client experience by giving them a clean, easy, friendly, efficient way to provide their instructions. They then walk into their first meeting knowing their lawyer has the background, and confident that they can make the most of their time.

In your opinion, what is the future for the Family Law sector?

I think we’ll see an emergence of alternative, largely tech-enabled ways for people to resolve their family law matters. Amicable separations will be routinized.

There will always be a core of clients for whom automation cannot provide the full solution. The crucial thing to attract, retain and delight those clients will be to demonstrate to them that they have received the best service they could, not just from their lawyers, but from the tech-enabled scaffolding around their lawyers.

How do you define success?

Having a vision and then getting the job done.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

Interview | Conrad Everhard (Flatiron Law Group)

Iain and Milan (TLF) had the fantastic opportunity to gain insight from Conrad Everhard, Founding Partner at Flatiron Law Group LLP (Flatiron) based in New York City.  Flatiron combines the traditional strengths of elite New York Law Firms with the nimbleness and industry savvy of the best Silicon Valley firms, the systems orientation of the Big 4 accounting firms and the latest secure cloud technologies to help get legal work done faster and better (and oh, by the way, less expensively too.)

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Getting to know Conrad

Conrad, what is something you believe that other people think is insane?

That’s an easy question.  What we are doing at Flatiron is insane.  We have left the comfort and security of our big firm practices to start a next generation law firm using a new business model.  If we succeed, we are going to fundamentally change the legal service delivery model.

We think we are going to do it!

Do you have a quote you live your life by or think of often?

Theodore Roosevelt:  “Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.”

What have you changed your mind about in the last few years? Why?

That’s a good question.  I have become more politically progressive in the last few years.  My own hardships, (the failure of my company, AE Polysilicon), and the hardships of others, have softened my Darwinian edge.  I am still a capitalist, but I am now more at home with the Silicon Valley wing of the Democratic Party.  This country faces real challenges, access to health care and the cost of secondary education, among others.  The future of work itself is in play.  I was a lifelong Republican, but regurgitating the 1980s Reagan playbook (tax cuts for the wealthy) is the last thing that the country needs right now.  Frankly, I think that the beneficiaries of automation and out-sourcing, the capital classes (the owners of equity), have an obligation to contribute back to society part of what I call the “innovation dividend” so that the people who have been “disintermediated” by the new economy have an opportunity to rejoin the economy.  Otherwise, you are going to get societal chaos, which is already happening our politics.

Flatiron and tailoring legal services to better serve startups

Please paint us a picture of your typical client – what does Flatiron offer that the said client can’t get at a global elite law firm?

Our model is to offer premium legal services (mostly in the areas of corporate deal work) at a level of quality that matches (or even exceeds) the quality of big law but at a production cost which is much lower than big law by using a higher efficiency, more rational, delivery platform.  That way we can price ourselves below the market, without discounting or sacrificing quality, and still capture a big chunk of the efficiency margin achieved by leveraging our platform.

It’s not rocket science.  It is just basic business strategy.  Thinking of it graphically, there are two components to our model, quality (which we call the vertical vertex) and a high efficiency delivery model (which we call the horizontal vertex).  Our model operates at the intersection of the vertical vertex (quality) and the horizontal vertex (the high efficiency delivery platform).

Quality always has to be the primary value driver.  Without quality, efficiency is meaningless.  You can’t compete against the big firms for premium deal work without quality.  You’re just LegalZoom.  There are two ways that we ensure quality.  First, all of our partners are senior level former partners of leading global law firms.  We have been trained at elite firms, including Sullivan & Cromwell, Thacher Proffitt and Jones Day.  Many of us also served as general counsels in the private sector and in entrepreneurial capacities.  We don’t hire junior associates and we don’t pass the costs of training junior lawyers to our clients.

Secondly, we are laser focused on practicing only in our core areas of expertise, principally corporate deal work in M&A, private equity and venture capital.  We have made a conscious decision not to try to be all things to all people, and dilute the quality of our brand.  We do what we do best and out-source to other legal providers the things that they do best.  We believe that this approach creates the best, most cost-effective outcome for the client.

In terms of driving efficiency, what we call the “horizontal vertex”, we apply project management principles to each client deal.  We look at each deal (each “project”, if you will) holistically, breaking the deal down into its components parts:  1) high value, strategic work, 2) high labor, lower value, commodity work, 3) high value work outside of our core areas of expertise and 4) repetitive, form driven tasks.  We then allocate workflows for each bucket in the most economically rational way, prioritizing quality in each instance.

Take for example an M&A deal.  We break down and allocate M&A deals as follows:

 

  • High labor, lower value, commodity work, like due diligence or opinion back-up, is either out-sourced outright to lower cost legal service out-source providers (we work with several of the leading LSOs) or (what we call) “in-sourced” within our own external community of project lawyers who work with us a project basis.  Most of these individuals are former big firm trained senior associates and junior partners.  In either case, the team is managed by Flatiron lawyers and supported by high efficiency electronic tools, like virtual deal-rooms and e-search engines licensed from 3rd parties.
  • Repetitive, form driven tasks, like creating 1st drafts of principal documents, drafting ancillary documents and schedules, and preparing closing materials, can also be out-sourced or “in-sourced”, including to non-lawyers, law students or lawyers in training who work under our supervision.  These tasks are also susceptible to the application of knowledge management (form repositories, databases) and advanced technology tools, like document automation and artificial intelligence.  We are developing our own state of the art form databases.  As part of our long term plan, we also intend to create proprietary AI tools, some of which we may commercialize.
  • High value work outside of our core areas of expertise, like tax and ERISA, is out-sourced to outside law firms that collaborate with Flatiron on a project basis.  We have collaboration arrangements in place with several law firms, including for tax.  We also out-source non-core non-legal services, like paralegal services, to third parties.
  • Finally, there is high value, strategic work, like complex deal structuring and drafting, high level deal advice and negotiation.  Under our model, this is where Flatiron lawyers devote most of their time, to the areas that are mission critical to the client.  Our mission statement is to apply the bulk of our creative energies to the areas that matter the most.

 

The beauty of our model, in addition to delivering the best outcome at the most cost efficient price for the client, is that we can capture in granular detail our own internal costs of processing deals, using our own proprietary back-office tools.  This allows us to bid and give estimates with confidence on legal projects and to offer fixed fees and other non-traditional service offerings, like services for equity.  If you would like to dig deeper into our model, please check out our M&A 2.0 white paper at https://flatiron.legal/ma-2-0-flatiron-way/

Why, as a partner of a global elite law firm, did you decide to pack up and start out on your own – in hindsight, was there a particular incident or turning point?

We left big law because we understood intuitively that we needed to get outside of the big law firewall to implement fundamental change in the business model, to a place where we controlled the strategy and the messaging.  At a certain level, this logic applies to all industries.  You need to get outside of the corporate suite to drive real change.  That’s why there is such a vibrant start-up industry in the United States.  But the thesis applies to even greater extent in the legal industry, which has been notoriously resistant to change.

There are two reasons why big law is so resistant to change.  The first is that, by historical accident, big law has become locked into the leverage model, which treats junior, untrained labor as a profit center rather than as a cost.  Under the leverage paradigm, each additional hour of junior labor time accrues to the bottom line, no matter how inefficient to the client.  You might think that reducing production costs to capture bigger margins might have some appeal to law firm managers looking to gain a competitive advantage.  But the argument does not resonate with the existing generation of law firm leadership.  They have spent their entire careers working under the leverage business model.  They are not out of the box thinkers.

The other problem with change in big law is the unwieldy corporate governance system.  Law firms are not like traditional corporates.  There is no real division of labor, with department heads responsible for dedicated business segments, like sales & marketing, all reporting to a CEO or board of directors.  In big law, each business generating partner is his or her own profit center, his or her own “power silo”, responsible for his or her own business generation.

So, in order to implement system wide change, you need the buy-in of virtually all of the “power silos”, no matter how strong or centralized the law firm management may be.  There is no way, short of using compensation as a weapon, to enforce across the board evolution.  That’s why, when you go to any legal technology conference, the big law “chief strategy officers” always talk of implementing incremental change, of walking on egg shells and of not rocking the boat with the law firm partners.  They talk that way because they have to herd cats.

We founded Flatiron because we want to drive fundamental change in the law firm model and  we could not accomplish this objective within the constraints of big law.

What was the toughest challenge you faced in starting Flatiron and how did you overcome it?

Our biggest challenge is getting buy-in from the big corporates and their general counsels.  A lot of general counsels talk about wanting the legal industry to change.  But, when it comes time to select outside counsel, more often than not, the GC will select the law firm that he or she knows.  It’s the safer bet, even if not the most cost effective.  If something goes wrong, nobody is going to point the finger at the GC for selecting a firm off the legacy list.

That’s starting the change.  More GCs are being held accountable to a budget and are under pressure to find efficiencies.  Some have reacted by bringing more work in-house.  But there is only so much you can do in-house.  Others have started to look at non-traditional solutions like legal service out-source providers (like Axiom and Bliss).  Firms like Flatiron are part of that mosaic.  If the general counsel community wants to drive real industry-wide change, they need to do more than just pay lip service to efficiency and start giving next-gen law firms like ours a seat at the table.  If our generation succeeds, it will force the industry to evolve.

We recently hosted a panel discussion event at DLA Piper Brisbane called ‘Startups 101 – How to run a startup off the smell of an oily rag’ – a few questions came up that you may be well placed to help us answer:

At what stage of the startup lifecycle do startups actually need legal advice?

In the United States, the first critical legal decision is whether to incorporate as a limited liability company (an LLC) or as a corporation.  There are pros and cons to both.  Both have tax and legal implications which can affect your ability to raise money and to commercialize your technology.  It is also at the formation stage that a start-up has maximum flexibility to use tax-advantaged equity to equitize partners and employees.  Because it is at this stage that the company can plausibly maintain that is has only a nominal valuation.  Once a start-up acquires “value” (via, for example, an equity fundraising or a strategic alliance), the company’s options for issuing equity to service providers and employees become much more limited.

Intellectual property is also an important consideration.  In the US, once an invention enters the public domain, via fundraising or other commercials activities, the clock starts running for filing a patent.  There may be other IP considerations in play as well from an early stage.

In your experience, what are the least understood legal pitfalls faced by startup founders?

The most common mistake that I see first-time entrepreneurs make is to squander their negotiation capital with the investors or venture capitalists, what I call “relationship capital”.  The most important thing for first time entrepreneurs to understand is that the playing field with the investors is not level.  Venture capital funds have more resources and know-how than you.  They do venture deals for a living.  They know that you need their money to succeed.

VCs look at hundreds of deals each year.  They have limited attention spans.  They are looking for reasons to pass.  You need to be conscious about conserving your relationship capital.

Here are a few high level tips:

 

  • Don’t let deal fatigue set in.  Understand at the outset what deal points are mission critical to you, and protect only those points.  Don’t become a nuisance negotiator.
  • Don’t obsess over dilution.  First-time entrepreneurs are going to get diluted.  That’s how the game works.  Your most important objective as a first time entrepreneur is to do everything within your power to drive your start-up to a successful exit.  If you register a successful exit, you will establish a track record with the VCs.  The next time around when you go to raise money, as a serial entrepreneur, you will dilute less.
  • Make sure that your house is in order.  It is important to make a professional presentation.  Before you go out to raise money, make sure that the chain of title to your intellectual property is squeaky clean and that your paperwork is in order.  There are a lot of off-the-shelf tools out there, like electronic deal rooms, where you can compile, organize and present your due diligence to investors in a professional manner
  • Clean up your messes.  VCs don’t invest into disputes.  If you have problems (with former partners or customers, or otherwise), and they are resolvable, resolve them before you go out to raise money, even if you don’t like the outcome.  It’s not personal, it’s just business.  And if you have problems or contingencies that are not resolvable, get out front of them and spin your story to the VCs to mitigate the issues as best you can.  Whatever you do, never hide the ball.  The VCs will conduct comprehensive due diligence and they will find the hidden ball.  Once they do, your credibility will be shot.

What should a startup founder look for in a co-founder?

There are three things that I think you should look for in a co-founder:  Trust, competence and work ethic.  Trust because, no matter what the legal papers say, as a practical matter you will be sharing control of the enterprise with your co-founder.  You will need his or her buy-in to make major decisions and changes (like raising money or selling the company). You want a partner that will have your back and that will be there for you when the chips are down.

Competence because, in a start-up, there are only so many resources and so much equity to go around, and you need partners that complement your skill set, not that are redundant.  You want partners that bring skills, relationships and/or access to resources that you don’t have.

Work ethic because you want to make sure that your co-founders are as invested and committed as you are to the enterprise.  The worst thing that can happen to a start-up is for one partner to work a lot harder than the others.  That leads to resentment and dysfunction, and ultimately to disputes over capital and equity ownership that will make it difficult for the company to raise money and grow commercially.   You need hard working co-founders.

Legal innovation in the U.S

In Australia and the United Kingdom there is a burgeoning movement away from the traditional law firm model – are U.S law firms good at innovation and if not why not (or vice versa)?

Outside of the United States, the big game changer in the legal industry has been the introduction of non-law firm players into the equation, especially the accounting firms.  The Big 4 accounting firms have applied their formidable service delivery logistics to the delivery of legal services.  This has forced the legacy law firms in those jurisdictions to adopt to survive by, for example, adopting more aggressive knowledge management and automation strategies (like expert systems and document automation) than their U.S. counter-parts.

This kind of innovation is not going to happen any time soon in the U.S.  What people don’t understand about the U.S. is that it is not one country.  It is in fact fifty separate sovereigns plus the District of Columbia (and a bunch of territories).  And the Bar in each jurisdiction jealously protects the commercial interests of its members by using its “practice of law” rules as a weapon to keep out not only lawyers from other jurisdictions but also non-law firm players, like the accounting firms.  There is no mechanism to impose country wide change.

There are progressive jurisdictions, like New York, which are relaxing practice rules to allow for more competition and different types of the competition, but these changes will take time.

What must-have legal technologies are practitioners sleeping on? Does Flatiron take advantage of any of these tools?

Lawyers are sleeping on using the cloud based collaboration tools. They afford fast and more organized communications and get away from the endless barrage and drudgery of email.  In fact most firms fail to recognize many of the cloud based technologies because they are stuck building and controlling their fortress, and they refuse to accept the reliability, safety and security of the right cloud systems and how nimble they make a firm.   Clients have embraced these tools- their counsel can and should as well.

What advice would give a law graduate in 2017?

I would give a 2017 law school graduate the same advice that I would give to any recent graduate, including my two college age children.  In this rapidly evolving economy, don’t be dogmatic about your career path.  Be flexible and nimble and live within your means.  Always be learning and adding to your skill set, whether it is new social media outreach tools or new practice areas.  If your practice area gets disrupted, be prepared to shift on a dime to a new practice area.  Expand your network, build relationships and learn how to generate business from an early point in your career.  After all, your ability to generate business will ultimately be what the legal industry will value you on.  Above all, don’t expect loyalty from your employer, whether it is big law or otherwise.  The new economy doesn’t work that way any more.

What is your legal forecast?  I.e. where will the U.S legal market be in 10 – 15 years?

We expect that there is a going to be a lot of disruption in the legal industry in the next 10-15 years.  We foresee that AM Law 200 law firms with bloated balance sheets and too much labor will begin to shed practice areas and assets and lawyers, deconstructing themselves into smaller, leaner organizations more focused on specific practice areas.  Some of these firms will go out of business.  They will be replaced by a new generation of law firms, like Flatiron, which will compete with the AM Law 200 firms on the basis of quality and efficiency.

At the end of the day, we don’t anticipate that there will be a winner that “takes all”.  Rather, we expect that a “mosaic” will develop over time populated by different types of legal service providers, all serving different niches of the market.  There will always be a place in that mosaic for the super elite top 20-30 law firms in the world that will continue to service their Fortune 50 clientele.  There will be a place for legal service out-source organizations (like Axiom) which will provide lawyers on or project or out-sourced basis to law firms and general counsels.  As well for non-lawyers who will provide complementary services, like e-search and due diligence services, supported by advanced technology tools (like electronic search platforms and deal rooms).  We also expect that corporates will continue to bring more commoditized and repetitive tasks in-house by expanding the size of their legal departments.

And, of course, there will be a place in the mosaic for the next generation law firms, like Flatiron, which, unburdened by heavy overhead and labor costs, will compete with the AM Law 200 on the basis of quality and cost and by offering fixed fees and alternate arrangements that big law will not be able to match.  We are not exactly sure how it is going to all play out.  We just know that, whichever way it plays out, Flatiron will have a seat at the table.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

 

Interview | Marianne Marchesi (Legalite)

Sophie (TLF) recently caught up with Marianne Marchesi, Founder and Principal of Legalite.  Legalite was founded in early 2017 to disrupt the traditional way of delivering legal services.  Their focus is on providing value based solutions at a fixed fee – allowing you to get back to business.

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Tell us about Legalite and your vision for your organisation.

I founded Legalite in 2017 with one key goal in mind – to simplify the provision of legal services. Many people find dealing with lawyers to be intimidating, confusing and often expensive.  I want clients to feel that legal assistance is accessible and to feel comfortable dealing with their lawyer from the start of a matter until finish.

Legalite adopts a fixed fee pricing model which provides certainty and transparency for our clients.   Unlike most law firms, we do not and never will have hourly rates (which, in my view, reward inefficiency and do not enable clients to have trust in the relationship).

In the first 5 months of trade, Legalite has already experienced rapid growth, which confirms my belief that clients are looking for something ‘more’ from their lawyers and are becoming less willing to accept the old way of doing things. My focus is on ensuring that Legalite’s offering provides a clear alternative to that offered by traditional law firms.  Ultimately, with continued growth, I hope to expand the firm into other areas of specialty.

What makes the legal experience different for start-ups and how do you engage with this group of clients?

New entrepreneurs are often (and understandably) quite time and cash poor, so it’s important to be able to engage with them in a way that fits seamlessly into their busy lives.

Legalite offers a fixed fee monthly retainer which includes unlimited legal advice and support and a business health check to point startups and other business owners in the right direction. This retainer works well for startups or those who prefer to “DIY” some of the more commercial aspects of their contracts, but also want the comfort of knowing that they’re on the right track and are protected from a legal perspective.

With the vast majority of startup owners being Millennials/Gen Y’s, there is a widespread expectation that legal advice be available at their fingertips or at the click of a button, so being flexible and adaptable is important.  I am often Skyping, video conferencing or texting with my clients and also enjoy interacting with them on social media.

Legalite offers fixed-priced legal services and is a virtual law firm- do you think these methods of doing business will increase across the legal industry and how have they changed your experience as a lawyer?

I have no doubt that the use of these methods will continue to increase as law firms begin to realise that they will need to adapt in order to compete.  I am a strong advocate for fixed or value based pricing as an alternative to the traditional hourly rates model.   In my view, hourly rates and broad costs estimates are inefficient and foster distrust and resentment from clients towards the legal profession so I would be happy to see these go!

Practising law in a NewLaw firm, as opposed to a traditional one, is different in many ways. The relationships I have with my clients are based on trust, in no small part because my clients know they will not experience the dreaded bill shock, which is all too common when costs are not pre-agreed. Another by-product of the fixed pricing model is that I no longer have to waste countless hours on billing and red tape. As a result, I have more time to develop an intimate understanding of each client’s business, which allows me to add additional value, both from a legal and a commercial perspective

What role do you think NewLaw is playing in driving the conversation and action regarding diversity?

The rapid success of NewLaw is forcing traditional law firms to re-evaluate the way they do things and to start considering alternative models.  In my view, traditional law firms will need to adapt and provide a more dynamic, agile and client-friendly offering.

I believe the NewLaw model fosters a high degree of professional satisfaction for lawyers, which in turn benefits the client, as they are dealing with a lawyer who is truly engaged.  With this comes an increased drive by lawyers to constantly innovate and improve their service offering.

The NewLaw model also promotes diversity, by offering flexible work practices and a horizontal (non-hierarchical), rather than vertical, business model. These elements are often especially attractive to parents returning to work, or those who simply want a more flexible working life.

How is the use of social media changing law firm and personal branding?

It is widely accepted that a very high proportion of customers (in the range of 70-80%) look at a business’ online reviews (on their smart phone) before making a purchase or deciding to engage with that business. Social media is an excellent way for law firms to promote themselves and engage with their clients.

In terms of branding, social media allows law firms to provide others with an insight into the firm’s culture and the personalities of its team members in a way that other, more traditional forms of advertising cannot. If you check out Legalite’s Instagram for example (@legalite_au), you’ll see a very distinct brand through the imagery, captions and our interaction with clients.

What advice would you give to new legal graduates regarding their future legal career?

I would encourage graduates to begin their careers with an open mind.  Gone are the days when it was seen by many as essential to commence your career at a top-tier or large law firm.  There are undeniable synergies between people of the typical graduate age and the way in which NewLaw firms operate.  In particular, having a good understanding of technology and the ability to think laterally and innovatively are becoming increasingly important qualities for a lawyer to possess.  These are certainly qualities that are valued within NewLaw firms and more broadly by clients.  There are many excellent traditional law firms and securing a graduate position within one is something to be proud of.  However, it is important to remember that NewLaw firms represent for graduates a genuine and exciting alternative to traditional law firms.

With this in mind, my advice to legal graduates is not to be afraid of speaking up and suggesting new and improved ways of doing things, even (or especially) if you are working in a traditional law firm.

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au

Interview | Jodie Baker (Xakia)

Milan (TLF) recently interviewed  Jodie Baker, Founder and Managing Director at Xakia Technologies.  Xakia was created in response to a widespread research project targeted at understanding the daily demands on in-house legal team management. A comprehensive list of in-house needs led to the building of Xakia Matters, and continue to inform the user-designed approach to its functionality.

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Jodie, what is something you believe that other people think is insane? 

Breaking something can be extremely productive – it forces you to find a new and better way to build it.

What have you changed your mind about in the last few years? Why?

In the journey vs destination discussion, it is more than recognising that the journey is just as important as the destination. I have come to realise (and even enjoy) that there may never be a destination at all, and that the goal posts will always be shifting as new possibilities emerge.

Is there a quote you live by or think of often? 

Life begins at the edge of your comfort zone

Tell us about Hive Legal.  Why did you start it? 

The idea for Hive Legal was born when I was working remotely in the U.S. for an Australian company. This experience was very powerful for me and cemented my view that granting talented people the autonomy to decide for themselves where and when they work most productively can lead to extraordinary outcomes.

At the time, I was aware of the exit of many talented people from the legal industry simply because there was an insufficient level of workplace flexibility and I was disappointed by the slow-moving nature of the major firms to address the issue. In the U.S. and the UK, law firms had been built which granted more flexibility, but there were very few (if any) options in the Australian market for lawyers doing top tier quality work who wanted flexibility.

I decided to build the solution for the Australian market.

In the process of building a ‘virtual’ firm it became clear that there were many aspects of legal practice that were ready for an overhaul. Hive Legal became a unique combination of flexible working, fixed pricing and tech savvy solutions.

As an entrepreneur, were there key learnings you took away from establishing Hive Legal? 

Thomas Edison was right: genius (or in this case, innovation) is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.

What does the term “NewLaw” mean? Is Hive Legal a “NewLaw” firm? 

This term has now become very broad … at the time Hive Legal was created, absolutely yes.

What are flexible work arrangements and why are they important?

See above

Tell us about Xakia Technologies. Why did you start it? 

We all love using beautiful software that helps make our working environment easier and more enjoyable. My background as a lawyer and a financial analyst has informed my desire to see in-house lawyers have a beautiful way to order their working environment and provide automated reporting, similar to platforms that are available for other industries and functions.

In particular, a central platform that makes it easy for legal teams to see ‘who, what and when’ about workloads can improve visibility and productivity significantly. There is a strong shift in market power toward corporate legal teams, yet tools built for law firms – which provide these sorts of platforms – don’t always adjust well to corporate legal environments.

At Xakia, we are building a beautiful, intuitive platform that corporate legal teams love to use.

Was there a point at which you felt the initial concept was validated? How important is validation? 

Hive Legal won loads of awards and received external validation early in its life.

For me, validation came in the form of stories from staff members who were able to change the circumstances of their lives because they had more flexibility. The ripple effect was very powerful.

How do you believe the role of in-house counsel will change over the next decade? 

As legal teams are empowered with legal technology tools, they will increasingly be able to run their legal function like mini-law firms. This will change the type of work they do, how they do it, how they deliver it, which external resources they engage to assist them, how they communicate with those external resources etc. A decade from now I see a highly systemised and automated in-house function, where the lawyers are focused on delivering the highest quality and most strategic legal work.

What does “legal innovation” mean? 

I don’t think legal innovation is any different to innovation in other industries – it is the combination of imagination and invention, finding new ways of doing old things or doing new things entirely.

Do you have any advice for legaltech entrepreneurs following in your footsteps? 

Understand the market you are trying to service. Henry Ford and Steve Jobs may have built their ideas on the basis that customers would follow but these are the exceptions rather than the general rule. In this industry, your clients are exceptionally smart people who can help you shape your product or idea. If you understand their needs intimately and give them a voice in its creation and continuous improvement, you will develop something amazing.

We understand you are the co-chair of the advisory board to the Centre for Legal Innovation.  What can you tell us about the CLI? Why did you decide to get involved? 

College of Law Centre for Legal Innovation is creating a central place or community where legal professions can be informed about legal developments and innovation, and prepare for the new world order in an accessible manner. Innovation has become an over-used term and has created a noisy environment where lawyers find it difficult to know what they should prioritise, what is relevant or important to them, and how they access the information they need. I’m excited to be part of an initiative that breaks this down and makes legal innovation an accessible topic to all legal professionals.

 

If you would like to be interviewed or offer your thoughts on a recent event, book or article, please contact our Editor In Chief, Michael Bidwell, at mbidwell@mccullough.com.au