Interview | Stewart Rasmussen (KPMG Australia)

Stewart Rasmussen is the Director of Legal Technology for KPMG Australia.  As KPMG leaps and bounds into the practice of law, Stewart is responsible for ensuring their adoption of technology is both industry leading and a point of differentiation.  Our Victorian President, Sophie Tversky, was fortunate to ask Stewart some great questions.

What interests you about the changing legal landscape?

Exactly that: the changes. But more specifically the sheer amount of passion I see coming out of the people creating the solutions, including start-ups. Many of these people are driven by an immense sense of purpose which is contagious.

In your discussions about the rise of the legal engineer, you mention the importance of opening up the communication lines in relation to technology and lawyers. What are key elements of ensuring lawyers and technologists are on the same page and what challenges have you seen?

The key is actually in the getting the correct skill set for this role. Don’t put a techie alone in a room with a lawyer (that has got to be the start of a joke, right?). Instead, ensure that you are employing people with great communication and problem solving skills. Lawyers will discuss their area of legal practice, so the challenge lies in actively listening and not being afraid to ask questions.

But it’s hard to find someone who knows enough about the legal industry to ask the right questions, and who also has a solid tech foundation to translate a legal process into a technology solution. Universities have only recently recognised this obvious skills shortage and are taking action to address it, and in some cases there are even brand-new “legal professional” degrees emerging, so I predict this won’t be a challenge for long.

What excites you about your role as Director of Legal Technology at KPMG Australia?

Having access to some of the industry’s smartest people all under the one roof. Honestly, the place is a boiling pot of amazing people with very varying skillsets. I, like much of the general public I suspect, had no idea that KPMG was involved in so many areas of business that actually have nothing to do with Tax. So tapping into those people and the diversity of knowledge will be the single most influential aspect to KPMG’s success in the legal industry.

If you could choose two learnings from other industries which could be applied to the legal industry, what would they be?

I think the most inspirational industries for me are Agriculture (Agtech) and Regulatory (Regtech).  The emergence of technology applied within the agricultural industry has given birth to so many inspirational stories and proves just how powerful a sense of purpose can be. I grew up in rural northern Tasmania, and many of our family friends were farmers. I remember just how hard those families worked to perform the simplest of tasks, such as turning the irrigation systems on and off, or the constant fence repairs needed. In recent years, I have watched some amazing companies go from strength to strength, not because they found a way to make money faster than their competitors, but because they started out by wanting to make a meaningful impact.

In contrast, Regtech is a fast-growing sector which is very closely aligned to Legaltech in my view. Looking at the ways in which regulation, and by proxy, compliance, is being “demystified” by the use of great technology solutions is a constant reminder for me that not everything can/should have a technology layer applied to it – i.e. if it’s not easily replicable, then the best solution might be simply picking up the phone and talking to your client (imagine that!).

How is client engagement changing in the legal industry?

I think it’s slowly improving, but not fast enough. In fact it’s this very thing that has paved the way for NewLaw/alternative legal providers as they are able to start out by first focusing on their customer service model and working back from there. The rise of “middle office” functions within law firms such as Legal Project Management and Legal Service Design, is evidence that firms are starting to invest in improving their service delivery model to include a more customer service-oriented approach. However, and I hate to parrot the experts who continue to say this year over year, the billable hour is still king, and without a significant shift away from this, I fear that the best laid plans will struggle to make a real impact.

If you could bust one myth about innovation in the legal profession, what would it be?

Innovation is not always about technology! I realise it may sound obvious to some, but if you are to believe all the media hype coming out by research companies, or your everyday social medial influencer (you know who you are), you would be forgiven for thinking that technology is the golden gun. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways technology can, and will, have a profound effect on the legal profession. But spending all of your time and effort trying to develop the next “Uber for Legal” is a high-risk strategy and you may first want to innovate within your team. Create new ways of problem solving, introduce better ways of communicating with your clients, or even look to introduce the concept of a legal service SLA. By starting there, the technology play will often become obvious.

Collaboration is a theme that keeps on coming up in the legal innovation discussion. Throughout your career, what have been key elements of successful intergenerational workplace collaboration?

Wow, great question! I’m not sure I have the answers but here are a few observations. Open plan offices break down hierarchies. When I was starting out, I never found the CEO to be a scary person.  OK, I didn’t really know what to say to him in the lift, but I was raised to treat all people as equal. However, many people do find it hard to approach senior staff members, especially if they have to go up and knock on their office door. I think removing the walls (literally) between graduate lawyer and managing partner (and everyone in between) sends a clear message that we are all part of the same team, and no member of that team is more important than the other.

My other observation is that the Millennial generation is so much more confident than we ever were. You ask most young people today if they have an idea to improve a process or deliver a better product and I almost guarantee that you will get a response. They have an amazing entrepreneurial mindset, and if I had one piece of advice for any Baby Boomer looking for ways to improve their business, it would be to start by asking the “kid” sitting a few desks down from them.

What is your legal forecast? How do you see the legal world in 10-15 years?

Pretty much the same as it is now. Just more efficient and more accessible. Potentially more fragmented by virtue of the rise in online legal service providers, but that’s a conversation best had over a bottle of wine.

Do you have any top tips for law students and graduates?

Think about spending your first few years out of university in a role that allows you to interface, or work with, the legal service teams within a firm. That may be the technology and innovation department, the project management team or the business development team, for example. You have plenty of time to go and become a lawyer, but developing your customer service skills early, will surely benefit you later.

 

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.

Interview | Sam Flynn (Josef)

Sam Flynn is the Co-Founder of Josef.  With Josef’s easy-to-use technology, you can create and launch your own legal chatbots without the need for developers.  Josef’s clients include top-tier commercial firms, plaintiff firms, government, in-house legal teams and community legal centres across North America, Europe and the Asia-Pacific.  Josef was created to bridge this access to justice gap, connecting expert legal knowledge with those who need it most. That’s why Josef continues to work with community legal centres, building products that help everyday people.

Alex Case was able to poke Sam’s brain on some burning questions.

What is Josef? How does it work?

 Josef is a platform that enables lawyers to automate legal services and launch their own legal chatbots. It’s really easy-to-use – you just click, type, drag and drop. (Law students at Swinburne Law School recently built chatbots on the platform in just a couple of hours!) The chatbots that you build on Josef are intuitive, engaging, available anywhere and anytime and can automate the production of personalised documents, like letters and agreements.

What sort of impact has Josef had on your clients’ organisations so far?

It depends on the organisation! Josef works across the legal industry, from top-tier commercial firms to plaintiff firms to in-house legal teams to community legal centres to government. So, while CLCs are using Josef to help as many people as they can (a chatbot can speak to countless people at the same time!), top-tier commercial firms are using it to create customised solutions for their clients (which they are loving). And in-house legal teams are using it for a different purpose again – they want to create internal efficiencies by supplementing their @legal inbox or automating the production of frequently-used documents like non-disclosure agreements. Because it is a platform designed especially for lawyers to use, there’s no limit to the areas of law that legal chatbots built on Josef can deal with.

For a lot of Australians, the thought of seeking legal advice is both intimidating and cost-prohibitive. How is legal tech helping provide more people with access to justice?

 This is exactly why we started Josef. Every year in Australia, 8 million people face a legal problem. Of those, only half seek any legal assistance. The stats are worse in the US and the UK. This is for a number of reasons, not least because services are inaccessible and expensive and the legal assistance sector is under-resourced.

In 2016, the founders of Josef were invited to a meeting of CLCs to figure out how we can start to bridge this huge access to justice gap using technology. Time and again, we have seen examples of digital legal assistance products succeeding in this space. We had myki fines in Melbourne in 2016 (which Sam helped to build) and DoNotPay in the UK around the same time. The challenge is simply to put these technologies in the hands of the right people. That’s why we came up with Josef.

You have previously spoken about how you believe law firms should be just as accessible as dentists and mechanics. What changes do you believe today’s firms need to make in order to improve accessibility to their services?

The changes will be many and varied. From where we’re standing, we can’t see them all yet. What we do know is that the answer will come from focusing more on the people involved in the legal industry. That includes everyone from the lawyers to the clients. Other industries have taken a human-centred design approach to their services for decades. But, for some reason, lawyers haven’t done much of this yet. I think we’re starting to see this happen now.

How important do you believe technological literacy is for today’s legal professionals?

Very! That is not to say that all lawyers need to learn to code, though. That would be like saying everyone needs to study the law. But there needs to be a base level of technological literacy which allows lawyers to understand what technology is out there and what it can do.

At a recent conference in Sydney, a number of people kept saying that “innovation does not equal technology.” On one view, this is definitely right. Innovation is much more than blockchain and chatbots.

But, on another, if legal professionals are trying to do things differently and improve the experience of the law for themselves, their employees and their clients, then it seems odd to ignore the tools that will enable them to do that in the most effective way.

What are your thoughts on current technology-focused educational opportunities for law students at Australian tertiary institutions?

This is something we’re very interested in at Josef! There are some fantastic courses out there, such as the course using Josef at Swinburne Law School. Some law schools are still catching up, but most are moving in the right direction. The best courses are those that teach the skills needed to build good legal tech, rather than just how to use legal tech. This involves teaching multi-disciplinary skills like design. If you want to read more, check out our blog post here!

How do you predict technology is going to change the legal industry over the next five years?

From what we’ve seen, we think that the legal industry is finally moving on from the “hype” phase, when people promise the world and deliver very little. We’ve seen that in the chatbot space recently as well. Two years ago everyone said that chatbots were going to replace apps and do everything! But of course they were never going to do that. Chatbots do one thing. Apps another. Blockchain another. What we’ve seen in the past is that once you move past the hype (and the ensuing disappointment), you can actually get to work and get stuff done. We think we’re almost there in the legal world, and we can’t wait to be a part of it.

What’s next for Josef?

We’re growing fast! After just a few months we’re working with clients across the legal industry – from top-tiers to CLCs – and from New York to Moonee Valley, and we’ll be heading to San Francisco later this year to meet with clients and investors. But, whatever happens, we’re not going to forget where we started: three young people with a dream to bridge the access to justice gap.

What advice would you give to current law/IT students and early career professionals interested in technology and the law?

There are so many paths to where we are. Kirill came down the tech path, being a machine learning expert and a general tech wizard. Tom came down the not-for-profit and academia path, being on the board of the AYCC and studying data analytics at Columbia University. Sam came down the legal tech path, working at NewLaw firm Hive Legal and building myki fines. We know it’s an annoying thing to hear when you’re a student, but the only advice is: do what you’re interested in. That doesn’t mean you have to drop everything and go and save the world or buy a paint brush and an easel. But it does mean that, whatever space you’re in, work towards what excites you and what you think is important. If that’s legal tech, then we’ll see you soon!

 

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.