Future of Sports Law – Part 2 | Rahul Gandhi (ESL)

Welcome to Part 2 of our two-part series on eSports and the future of sports law.  Today Milan chats with Rahul Gandhi (his cousin!) about what it’s like to work in legal services for ESL, originally the “Electronic Sports League”, and some of the legal issues commonly encountered on the job.  ESL organises eSports competitions worldwide and is the largest eSports company to broadcast on Twitch.



What is eSports?

Simply put, esports is an umbrella term that encompasses the playing of videogames in an organised and competitive manner.

What is ESL, what is your role at ESL and how did you land such an epic gig?

Electronic Sports League (ESL) is the world’s largest and longest-running esports organisation. We cater to the esports ecosystem in any way we can whether it’s organising and hosting large scale competitions across the world, running national leagues to give amateur players a path to becoming a professisonal, creating esports entertainment content or working towards furthering the industry. An example of the latter would be ESL partnering up with universities to provide esports modules taught by our very own staff!

I work in the legal team at ESL UK which essentially involves drafting, reviewing and negotiating various contracts. The workload varies considerably and encompasses many areas of law such as contract law, corporate law, intellectual property law and employment law. I also assist in business development by attending various events – though this isn’t strictly part of my role – I just love going to events and meeting people!

I actually got the role by attending a careers fair at a gaming expo. James Dean, the Managing Director of ESL UK (great name, I know!), gave a talk about careers opportunities in the esports industry. I had been trying to find a way to turn my passion for videogames into a career. I spoke to James at the end of his talk, emailed him my CV and… well the rest is history!

What has been your funnest day at work so far?

That’s a tough question – I’ve certainly had some very rewarding days at work. For example I assisted in negotiating a contract for a first-of-its-kind event for a large non-endemic company. It was tricky because the company had never been involved with esports before so explaining some of the legal issues that are unique to esports was challenging. But we eventually worked out all the kinks and came to an agreement. The event went ahead smoothly and seeing the positive buzz around the event (both at the event and on social media) was incredibly rewarding.

As for fun days – I do travel to a few international events which are always great fun! Back in August I attended Europe’s largest videogames expo, Gamescom, in Cologne, Germany. ESL’s headquarters are in Cologne so it was an awesome meeting some of my international colleagues, meeting the creators/developers/writers/artists behind some of the games I love and of course playing the latest and greatest games early!

What is the eSports “community” like?  What are the good things and what are the bad things?

The esports community is an interesting one. It is so vast that it is hard for me to give a general impression of it. However, if I had to sum it up in one word I’d say ‘passionate’. For better or for worse the esports community is extremely passionate. It is this passion that has allowed the industry to grow to where it is today and will be crucial in growing it further.

One of best things about my experience of the esports community is it dispels some of the stereotypes surrounding ‘gamers’ such as: they stay indoors all day or that they are socially awkward etc etc – having been to various esports events over the last year and making many new friends I can say with certainty that this is not the case! Attending events in person is the best way to see just how social it all is.

I wouldn’t say there are any particularly bad things about the esports community as a whole – one of the ongoing issues is ‘toxicity’ or online abuse in esports. Unfortunately the anonymity of the internet leads to a minority of players displaying ‘toxic’ behaviour to other players. This could come in the form of abuse toward newer players that are of a lower skill level than them or ‘trolling’ where players purposely disrupt the flow of the game or other players. The effect is that newer players feel discouraged from playing and engaging with the community – which is the exact opposite of what we as an industry want.

Traditional sports are associated with physical health, exercise and wellness.  Computer gaming doesn’t carry these connotations (and as far as I know Wii Sport does not have a pro tour) but, in your opinion, are there positive things that eSports should be known for?

I’m glad you brought this up. I absolutely think there are positive things! So called ‘traditional’ sports encompass a large variety of sports which don’t necessary fit the above categories. Sports such as darts, archery, snooker and golf (to name a few) don’t necessarily require the athlete to be in peak physical condition. What they do require is training, discipline and extreme technical skill all of which are, of course, highly regarded in their own right. These principals apply equally esports.

Professional players learn every aspect of a game and its mechanics and in doing so develop a deep understanding of it – much more than any casual player would have. They must be disciplined in doing this. Many professional players have strict practice regimes when preparing for competitions which involve a combination of activities such as meticulously studying potential opponents, coming together to develop new strategies to win and of course testing these strategies by practicing – it not as simple as just playing the game a lot!

As for technical skill, players often have unreal reflexes and hand-eye coordination. They often have to react to what they see as the game develops and make split second decisions as well as adapt their overall strategy on the fly. Skills such as communication, decision making, teamwork as all crucial to the majority of esport titles and are certainly positive skills that should be associated with it.

What are the main games that are played professionally in eSports?  Which is the most competitive and what kind of prize pools are we seeing these days?

There are a huge number of games that have a competitive/professional scene and it is hard to say which is the most competitive as the scene varies so greatly from game to game. If I had to give a top three I’d say the most popular games at the moment are Dota2, League of Legends and Counter Strike: Global Offensive though games such as Player Unknown Battlegrounds (PUBG), Overwatch, Rocket League, Quake Champions, Tekken, Street Fighter and Hearthstone follow closely.

As with the titles themselves the prize pools can vary greatly from depending on the game itself and the size, scale and prestige of the competition. Prize pools can be anywhere between a few thousand pounds to more than ten million pounds!

At the top of the spectrum would have to be Dota2’s ‘The International’. Without going too far into the ins and outs of the tournament scene, The International is by far the largest and most prestigious competition in the Dota2 tournament circuit. For context the competition was started in 2011 and had a prize pool of $1.6m. In August 2017 the prize pool for the main event of The International was in excess of $24.7m!

What factors are important in turning a videogame into an esport title worthy of professional competition?

There are a couple of crucial factors. Firstly the game needs to be skill based – if a game contains too many elements based on randomness it creates problems. For example a team could train for hours, days and weeks only to lose due to being unlucky with a random element that is impossible to prepare against. It is not conducive to creating a strong professional scene.

Tying into the first point is that the game should have a high skill cap. Simply put, the game should make it possible for players to differentiate their level of skill based on their time spent learning and playing the game. This could come in various forms – for example it could be via its mechanics. In Counter-Strike professional players have near pixel perfect accuracy which can only be developed by extensively playing the game and practicing. Another example would be providing the player with lots of options/decisions to make. League of Legends has over 120 characters, each with significantly different abilities and play styles. Understanding how each character’s abilities work, how these abilities interact with other characters’ abilities, composing a team with abilities that synergise and finally developing a strategy to defeat your opponent is something that only the most dedicated players will achieve.

Lastly, I think that the game needs to be fun to watch as well as play. There would be little point to having professional competitions if nobody watched them! Esports are strongly community driven and without spectators watching professional competitions the scene would eventually fade away.

What is going to happen to present day eSports athletes when the games they are experts on become “outdated”?

One option is to adopt a new title. In some cases the game that they were an expert in will spawn a sequel that they will get into. For example if FIFA17 was your game and it became outdated when FIFA18 came out, the player might just move over. Depending on the type of game there might be transferable skills. If you played first person shooter titles, say Halo for example – it might be easier for you to switch to another title such (say, Quake for example) because they are both first person shooting games and a player’s pixel perfect accuracy may translate over to the new game without having to go through all of the practice that a new player would.

It is worth noting that the lifespan of some of these games can be longer than a player’s career! League of Legends has been around for nearly a decade!

In the event the player doesn’t feel like taking up a new title they may retire and either take up another role in the industry either as an analyst or commentator for another, similar game (for example there were professional Street Fighter players that now commentate on games like Tekken or Mortal Kombat).

Or, of course, they may just leave the industry entirely and do something completely different – who knows!

What are the main professional competitions and how do we join up?

These vary based on the game – each game is so different that there is no standard structure to how the competitions work. Usually there will be regional and national qualifiers which will lead into the international tournaments.

**Shameless plug incoming** at ESL we have a ladder system called ESL Play. Essentially anyone can make an account, form a team and enter online competitions. If your team gains enough points in a season, they will qualify for the ESL UK Premiership and if they finish high enough in the Premiership they will move into the ESL Pro League. Strong results in the Pro League may see your team ending up on an international stage at one of the major events – where the big prize money is!

This is ESL’s ‘path to pro’ idea to facilitate amateur players making it to the big one but different games have different systems and it would take an age to explain them all!

Other than the prizes, where does the real money come from in the eSports industry and who is making it?  Is it in live streaming? Is it in gambling?

It really depends on what perspective you’re looking at it from – a player, a team, an organisation such as ESL, a publisher etc. For example let’s take players – in additional to a cut of any prize money won, they will earn a wage from the team. They may also live stream and earn revenue from their subscribers/viewers. Teams are often sponsored which provides them with a revenue stream as well as things such as merchandise sales. It gets a bit more complicated when looking at other organisations and the publishers so I won’t get into the ins and outs of it here! The main point to note is that there are a variety of different revenue streams depending on which perspective you look at it from.

One of the hot topics at the moment is the monetisation of broadcast/media rights as a revenue stream. It would certainly be an important one but the problem is how to actually go about achieving it. We need to remember that esports as a spectator sport really took off when websites like Twitch appeared allowing millions of people around the world to watch live broadcasts around the world for free. Changing this too drastically – i.e. making esports events pay-per-view or broadcasting them on premium channels that require payment to view, could upset the fans and potentially decrease viewership.

Just to touch on gambling, in some respects I would consider that a separate industry. Obviously esports gambling is intrinsically linked to esports – whether you’re betting on the outcome of a professional match or gambling in-game items on betting sites (though this is a separate issue in itself!). However, in terms of the monetary aspects of gambling I think it is separate because it is a different group that benefit – i.e. it’s not the teams, players, organisations like ESL or publishers etc that benefit.

As you’ve said to me before, “a key difference between traditional sports and esports is that in esports the game is owned by an entity” – does this cause legal complications for the pro tours and others?

Yes, that’s right. Nobody owns the sport of football for example. But, for example, League of Legends is owned by Riot Games and Counter Strike is owned by Valve Corporation. It does add some complications – one area in particular that can become problematic is rules and regulations. Depending on the publisher, they may want more of an active role in choosing the rules and regulations for a competition and these rules may conflict or be significantly different from what the tournament organiser would have chosen. It can be also be confusing for players and teams as different tournaments for the same game may have different rules and regulations.

Also, not necessarily related to competitions directly, but there can be complications when it comes to intellectual property – particularly licensing. The publisher owns the game and there can be situations where a competition is held that the publisher is not necessarily involved in, i.e. they give permission for the competition to go ahead but they let it be run independently of them. This can give rise to situations where third parties require additional licences when it comes to permission to broadcast, stream, create video on demand or use content for other purposes such as advertising and social media. It’s not necessarily a complication but rather just additional work and the fact that there needs to be an awareness that these additional steps need to be taken.

What areas of law are relevant to eSports and what are some of the day to day legal issues you contend with at ESL?

Many areas of law relate to esports but in terms of what I deal with on a day to day basis a lot of it is contract, commercial and/or corporate law. Areas like intellectual property sometimes come into it, depending on the type of deal/transaction. I also assist with internal matters that relate to areas such as employment law and data protection.

The majority of my work is drafting and/or reviewing various legal documents such as non-disclosure agreements, head of terms, commercial contracts, sponsorship/partnership agreements and talent contracts (talent being people like commentators, stage hosts, analysts etc). I also occasionally assist on internal matters such as updating policies/guidelines in compliance with changes to the law.

We read about the “Flight” match fixing scandal – do you think the danger of corruption in eSports is over or just beginning, and what do you think are the major risks to the integrity of eSports?

It’s hard to say whether it’s over or just beginning, but I think what’s more important is that it is an issue that is getting more consideration. As the industry grows and prize pools increase, you could say that the appeal of match-fixing and corruption increases because there’s more money involved. But the fact that organisations are appearing to guard the integrity of esports is a step in the right direction. For example ESL works with the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) when it comes to ensuring integrity in our competitions.

There are a couple of major risks that will always be problematic. Firstly, technology evolves so quickly and can be adapted in so many ways that it can sometimes be difficult to recognise when it is being used. In cases like this it is very difficult to stay one step ahead as it is hard to predict how this technology will manifest itself. Another issue is when players work with others such as bettors or betting syndicates and purposely lose a match in order to gain financially. As I said earlier playing professional esports requires an enormous amount of skill and practice – it is difficult to know if a player purposely reacted slowly or purposely missed a shot because the margins are so small. In a game like League of Legends where each player is making hundreds of decisions each game and where one wrong decision could cost a team the match – how can we identify that a decision that lost the game was made on purpose? The answer is “with extreme difficulty!”

Every organisation has their own way to combat this. In ESL’s case every professional competition has referees that know the games inside out that watch the matches being played live and look out for signs of cheating. We also follow the ESIC integrity programme which guides us in how we regulate our professional competitions from an integrity point of view.

But the issue of corruption will always be a threat and is something that the industry as a whole will need to constantly monitor and adapt to.

It’s absolutely awesome that you landed a role with ESL given your dream to turn your passion for eSports into a day job – what advice do you have for others in terms of finding a dream job?

My top tip is to be proactive! A lot of people that wish to find their dream job spend too much time just wishing for it.

I was guilty of doing that for most of my teenage years – growing up I played A LOT of videogames. I became so enamoured with the medium that I began closely following industry news/trends and subsequently daydreamed about one day working in the industry.

I continued to daydream about this for more years than I care to admit. I believed that to work in the games industry you had to be a programmer, an artist, a designer, a writer or have an extremely niche technical skill at some element of game or (in the case of esports) tournament production in areas such as AV, lighting, video editing etc.

It was only after I began going to events, speaking to people and trying to find out more about the opportunities in the industry that I discovered a whole series of roles in areas such as sales, marketing, HR and of course legal!

So if you have a dream job, don’t just wish for it – be proactive and go for it. You’ll be surprised at just how many opportunities there are!


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

Future of Sports Law – Part 1 | Ian Smith (eSports Integrity Coalition)

Welcome to Part 1 of our two-part series on eSports and the future of sports law.  Today Milan chats with Ian Smith, the Integrity Commissioner of the eSports Integrity Coalition (“ESIC”).  ESIC aims to be the recognised guardian of the sporting integrity of eSports and to take responsibility for disruption, prevention, investigation and prosecution of all forms of cheating, including, but not limited to, match manipulation and doping.

Ian Smith the ESIC integrity commissioner poses for a picture at the Fnatic Bunkr on March 8th 2017 in London (Photo by Tom Jenkins)
Ian Smith the ESIC integrity commissioner poses for a picture at the Fnatic Bunkr on March 8th 2017 in London (Photo by Tom Jenkins)

Why did you enter a career in sports law and governance?  What was the impetus for you personally?

I was always a big fan of sports and reasonably good at most sports without being outstanding at anything in particular. I found, as my legal career progressed, that I knew a lot of elite sportsmen through school, university and army and they needed a lawyer, particularly when rugby union went professional in the mid-nineties and more and more South African sportsmen came to the UK to play rugby, cricket and golf. I soon worked out there was a career to be made out of being a trusted advisor to professional sportsmen and I deliberately set out to foster that. From those haphazard beginnings, I developed an expertise in sports governance and regulation and the way in which sport is run has become a lifelong obsession.

Please tell us a bit about ESIC, its history, and its work.  What is your role at ESIC?

ESIC came about because it seemed the only logical response, given the nature of the esports industry, to the question of what to do about the various integrity threats identified by our risk assessment in the Autumn of 2015. As there was no governing body or obvious “center” to the industry, the only way to combat a common threat was to persuade individual stakeholder to come together to address it and, so, the Coalition idea was born. We exist, as per our mission statement, to be the recognised guardian of the sporting integrity of esports and to take responsibility for disruption, prevention, investigation and prosecution of all forms of cheating, including, but not limited to, match manipulation and doping. Everything is explained on the website www.esportsintegrity.com My role is to oversee and enforce the ESIC Programme – the combination of rules and regulations we operate as the foundation of our mission. The Programme gives me a lot of power, so I have to be accountable to the members of ESIC and responsible in my exercise of authority. It’s a role I’m grateful for and humbled by.

What spurred your transition into eSports?

In the summer of 2015 I was asked to do an integrity threat assessment of esports by a media company. The more I discovered and the more the work progressed, the more interested I became in esports, both in terms of how it was similar to traditional sports, but also, of course, in how it differed. It gave me a new lease of life – I had become stale and somewhat disillusioned in traditional sports.

Given your considerable experience in traditional sports (and particularly cricket), were you well equipped for the new role as ESIC’s Integrity Commissioner or was it a steep learning curve?

Getting to grips with esports itself and understanding the ecosystem was a steep learning curve because, prior to the autumn of 2015 I didn’t know esports existed. From a governance and regulation perspective, though, my life in traditional sport made me well suited to the role of Integrity Commissioner because, as the saying goes, there’s nothing new under the sun. The same issues faced by traditional sports in the areas of integrity and corruption face esports in exactly the same way. Fortunately, I was/am a gamer, so the video games themselves were no mystery to me; what was a mystery was how each game title had its own community, its own vertical, its own culture and its own relationship between publisher, tournament organiser, teams, players and fans.

What do you say to those who doubt that competitive computer gaming is really a sport?

Whether esports is a sport is a fun argument over a beer, but it’s largely irrelevant. In many aspects, esports mirrors traditional sports and in many ways it doesn’t. Personally, I’ve come to the opinion that it is a sport, but who cares what I think? I think esports should just continue doing its thing and not become distracted with trying to be thought of as a sport alongside traditional sports, trying to get into the Olympics or set up governance structures like traditional sports. Those structures are not exactly a shining example of success are they?

What is the difference between a gamer who is a hobbyist and an eSports athlete?

The gulf between a casual gamer and a professional esports athlete is precisely the same as they gulf between a kid kicking a ball in his back yard and Lionel Messi – the gap really is that big and the pros really are that good. A decent CS:GO pro would beat a team of 5 casual gamers on his own without breaking a sweat.

What is the role of sports in society?

This is too big a question to answer properly in an email – as a pragmatist (or perhaps a cynic) I would say sport exists to entertain and distract us, but it has wider implications for health, cooperation, education and so on… but these are accidental benefits – mostly it’s just about having fun.

Do you believe there are certain “moral values” at the heart of sports and if so what are they?

I think the idea that there are moral values at the heart of sport is overblown. I think people acquire their values from numerous influences and I think sport plays its part in that, but I think what ultimately ensures integrity in sport is good rules and regulations properly enforced – history has taught us that you can’t rely on people to “do the right thing” when money or medals are on the line. Occasionally, people do the right thing and it’s refreshing and uplifting, but you can never take it for granted.

Are these values visible in eSports?  Are there unique values in the eSports world?

Our recent survey into appropriate sanctions for cheating in esports shows that the esports community has certain values that differ from those broadly held in traditional sports, but they’re on the same spectrum. Human nature is human nature and esports players and fans are no different.

The integrity of sports seems to be under attack at the highest levels – the FIFA corruption scandal and the Russian doping scandal come to mind.   In your view, why do these failures occur?

Greed and the desire for power drive the corruption and bad governance allows it. The minute you mix money and integrity, integrity will almost always come second – you have to separate those functions out, which is why ESIC is not for profit, has no commercial programme and is not owned by anyone – it belongs to the members – no one has equity in ESIC; not me, not anyone.

Are the same threats confronting eSports?

Not the same threats – esports exist in a purely commercial context. They are for profit and, as such, the sort of corruption that might emerge is more akin to corporate fraud and corruption than sports governance corruption.

Are new threats confronting eSports that we’ve not before witnessed in traditional sports?

Yes – the technology involved in digital sports mean that the way in which someone might cheat or rig an outcome is very different to cheating in traditional sports. There is also the fact that the digital nature of the industry means it is possible to create fake competitions to manipulate betting markets and I think it’s highly likely that’s already happening.

What are the unique challenges in terms of the regulation of eSports?

The lack of a center to the industry is the greatest challenge -there’s nowhere to go to address governance issues in esports

Presumably the level of technology involved and the fact that computer games are privately owned by companies make for certain complications.

Yes – the fact that someone “owns the ball” and can take it away on a whim or change its shape or size presents a serious challenge on a number of levels. This is one of the reasons that ESIC deliberately keeps its focus very narrow – we want to address a core common problem that affects all game titles played in esports before we go on to look at other regulatory challenges. Let’s get this right first before we start trying to fix everything.

Where do you see the opportunities in eSports law for aspiring lawyers and do you have any tips for those who want to follow in your footsteps?

Because the industry is still in its infancy there are a lot of opportunities, but, just like every area of legal practice, it’s much more about who you know that what you know. The easiest way in is to represent players by being part of the scene in a particular game title and develop a client base. Of course, joining a firm with an existing esports or gaming practice is a good way in too. Remember that any client will (and should) take it for granted that you know what you’re doing from a legal perspective, so he will choose to use you because you look after him or her well, make them feel special and solve their problems – knowing the law is a small part of the picture – knowing the sector, how it works, who’s important in it and how to get to them is the most important element.


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

JD Legal Horizons Conference Review

Janders Dean Legal Horizons Conference 2017

Review by Josephine Bird (TLF QLD)

On the 20th of September, The Legal Forecast headed to Sydney for the Janders Dean Legal Horizons Conference, 2017. We had the chance to listen to and engage with legal and tech professionals from around the world, all of whom are dedicated to legal innovation. We were also lucky enough to watch two previous Disrupting Law contestants, Sam Cleary and Liz Ulrich, give a presentation on their journey after Disrupting Law 2017. We therefore thought it important to provide a recap of what we learnt over the two day conference.

#1 – Storytelling is important in driving disruption

The conference was opened with a message that lies at the heart of what the JD horizons conference was all about, being that we must ‘disrupt our norm’. Jeremy Donovan from Walking With Wisdom spoke with passion and sincerity about how his background could have entrapped him into a life of insignificance, however, by challenging the life he’d always known, he was able to create change. Jeremy now travels the world sharing his stories and empowering others to make changes in their lives. We believe that this sentiment can be applied to the legal profession, in that by sharing our stories and struggles, we can drive connectedness, create change, and empower each other to achieve our potential.

Disrupting Law alumni Sam and Liz doing us proud!

#2 – Big data and legal analytic tools are on the rise

Beth Patterson, Chief Legal & Technology Services Officer of Allens explained that 90 % of the world’s existing data has been created in the past two years. The legal profession creates an ever-increasing amount of data – being judicial rulings, precedents and interpretations. Innovation around the way in which law firms use big data sets is imperative to efficiency of future practice and delivering legal work at scale. General Manager of LexisNexis, Simon Wilkins, explained that big data is and will be increasingly important in improving client service and performance. Lawyers can employ analytics to structure these data sets to extract the most relevant information pertaining to their case. Simon drew links to Facebook, who he described as the ‘data master of the world’, producing approximately 4.75 billion pieces of content per day.

At the beginning of this year, Facebook conducted a study wherein it manipulated content published on approximately 700,000 users newsfeeds to determine how users respond to positive and negative content. Ethical issues aside, the use of big data in this way could work to predict mental illness in Facebook users. Simon posed the question: how do you stay on top of data when you have so much of it? This is where artificial intelligence comes in. Data driven systems can employ learning algorithms to decipher and analyse big data sets. Such as predicting mental illness in Facebook users, the use of probability analysis of past precedent can assist in predicting percentage of success in current cases.


 #3 – AI is the future

The increase in research around artificial intelligence processes and use of algorithms to analyse big data is not a new phenomenon, and the idea that AI is the future of the legal profession is not an entirely new lesson to learn. However, what we learnt about how AI will affect our futures provided us insight in regards to how law students and lawyers can engage and interact with technology moving forward.

AI can be a difficult topic to grasp, and is notoriously difficult to define. Tax Technology & Innovation Manager of KPMG, Peter Xing, explained AI in it’s broadest term as applying to any technique that enables computers to mimic human intelligence using logic and rules. Beth Patterson (Allens) also identified three arms of AI which will have/are having a major impact on the legal industry: speech recognition, natural language processing, and machine learning.

Global FinTech leader, Astrid Raetze, discussed the reality that it is approximately 5-8 years before AI replaces lower end work in law firms. The increased use of AI will impact available jobs, yes. However, it will also change the types of roles we have, being more advisory than technical legal work. With liquid workforces like Hive Legal and new areas of competition arising (i.e. internet based legal services), lawyers need to learn to adapt. The conference bought with it recurring themes of lawyers needing to be tech savvy, and the reality that technology literate firms are moving forward. Should lawyers and law students therefore learn to code? Not necessarily, but it’s clear that knowledge of this type of technology is becoming increasingly critical in order to deliver great solutions to clients. 

Rach and I enjoying the view from Pier One

#4 – Don’t fear the rise of technology, embrace it

Digital disruption is not new, but it’s at a point where it can be applied in a meaning way in order to democratise access to law. Rajiv Cabraal of Data61 quoted Richard Susskind’s three drivers for change, being (1) cost pressure; (2) liberalism; and (3) technology. On this, he explained that adhering to red tape currently carries a staggering $250 billion annual cost – an issue that Rajiv and the team at Data61 are working to change by creating applications that cut through these dense regulations. Rajiv believes that legal and regulation tech are industries that will thrive from digital disruption, and in his own words, must “wake up and innovate”!

Founder and CEO of checkbox.ai, Evan Wong, posed the question: what can’t be automated? Artificial Intelligence is a rule based system and can only automate structured work. Unstructured work that requires creativity, human interaction and value judgements doesn’t lend itself to computerisation, therefore lawyers should see the rise of technology as an opportunity to spend more time on this ‘meaningful’ aspect of law, rather than boring and mundane tasks. In this way, we learnt that the increased use of technology will allow decision makers to make better decisions. Uncertainty is not a threat, it’s an opportunity.

#5 – Innovation should also be a human endeavour

It was incredibly eye opening to hear that 95% of people within the legal profession suffer from ‘extreme stress’. Caroline Ferguson of Simpson Grierson in Auckland gave us an insightful talk about mental health in the legal industry and the importance of considering lawyer well being in the context of driving innovation. Caroline emphasised that we need to harness people’s struggles to encourage the entire legal profession to have more conversations. It’s important for senior lawyers and partners to share their journey in order to show law students and young professionals that they are not the only one’s who have struggled with stress and mental illness. Caroline’s words were incredibly empowering and with mental health being an ever-increasing issue, it’s important we share our stories and keep the conversation going. Education and awareness is important in creating more human focused businesses.

The legendary John Flood inspiring everyone in the audience, as per usual

#6 – Creativity and culture are key to innovation

Chief Product & Strategy Officer of HighQ, Stuart Barr, expressed a similar sentiment to Caroline Ferguson, in that innovation isn’t just about technology. People drive innovation, therefore allowing people to be creative leads to innovation and the competitive edge that law firms are all trying to achieve. On this, it’s imperative that law firms strive to create a culture in which their employees can actually be creative. Janina Stansson, Senior Lawyer at BUPA, spoke about the work the legal sector of BUPA is doing in order encourage and leverage design thinking, allowing employees to be their genuine selves at work. Janina believes that leaders must not take themselves too seriously, and that law firms need to ‘harness the power of the millennial brain’ when driving creativity and culture.

Monica Parker, founder of Hatch Analytics, drove home this point with the statistic that 94% of lawyers say the more meaning their job has, the more likely they are to be engaged. Monica also spoke about the need for lawyers to communicate more in order to drive connectedness, which in turn will highly benefit business practices as well. She provided a surprising (but also not so surprising) statistic that 71% of lawyers will not take the time to think during the day in fear of being seen as ‘slacking off’ during work hours. Sarah Roach, founder and director of Helix Legal, summarised this lesson perfectly with the statement that ‘innovation must be aligned with employee metrics and creating a good environment!’

#7 – Change happens because we demand it

Morgan Koegel, CEO of One Girl, gave an unbelievably inspiring presentation on the work that One Girl does, bringing education to girls in Africa. Morgan believes that knowledge is the spark that can change the world we live in for the better, and that in order to see change happen, we must demand it and work toward it as a team. In order for the legal profession to grow, we must help drive and the support the change that we demand.

Justin North ‘doing it in a dress’ for One Girl

Overall, the JD horizons conference was an incredible experience! Thank you to each of the speakers over the two day period who left us with thought provoking and inspiring advice that we can apply to our futures within the legal profession. We would especially like to thank Justin North and the team from Janders Dean for the wonderful opportunity to be involved. We never thought a conference could be as inspiring as it was fun, but you managed to pull it off!


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

Continue reading JD Legal Horizons Conference Review