Category Archives: Uncategorized

Australian Legal Technology Association launches its first conference in ALTACON

The Legal Forecast’s Victorian President Bori Ahn had the opportunity to attend ALTACON on Friday, 31 May 2019 in Melbourne. She writes about the experience here.

https://www.altacon.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/3O8A6538-1024x683.jpg

The inaugural, sold-out ALTACON had a genuine sense of pioneership, as Australian Legal Tech Association (ALTA) members came together to demonstrate their products, speak to prospective clients, and present their thoughts on the legal tech space. The conference showcased the visible growth of the Australian market, with:
– 270+ delegates from across the legal community;
– 40 speakers from around the world;
– 28 Australian legal technology companies exhibiting; and
– 11 Partners (led by ALTACON’s major partners, KPMG Law and Fincap Law).

https://www.altacon.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/expo-1-1024x768.jpg

ALTACON did not disappoint, packing the day full with a host of events.
The day consisted of numerous rapid-fire, TEDtalk-style presentations given by:
– Leading luminaries from all over the world, including Christian Lang from Reynen Court (USA) and Meera Klemola from Observ (Finland);
– Australian thought leaders, like Nick Abrahams and Peter Dunne; and
– Legal tech innovators and entrepreneurs who are creating the future of law, like Andrew Mellett from Plexus).

https://www.altacon.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/3O8A6520-1024x683.jpg

The conference also featured a segment called ‘Member Stories’, which was an opportunity for start-up founders to share in their successes and failures. A common thread in start-up journeys seems to be the frustration experienced as a practising lawyer, and the desire to do better by the client and themselves. And in the spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship, ALTA also hosted a pitch competition, simulating early-stage start-up ideation, which was won by Cynapse Legal.

https://www.altacon.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/3O8A7523-1024x683.jpg

ALTA’S strength lies in its members’ collaboration-cum-commiseration.
ALTA comes at a time where Australian legal tech companies need a peak body to represent them, collectivise their voices, and build their presence on the global stage. Up until now, so much of Australian legal tech has developed without a dedicated space for those in the sector to share information and collaborate.

https://www.altacon.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/3O8A7531-1024x683.jpg

ALTA ‘wanted to create a sense of community, collaboration and excitement about what is possible for lawyers, law firms and in-house counsel thanks to legal tech innovation. And have some fun along the way,’ says Jodie Baker, ALTA Chair and CEO of Xakia Technologies.

https://www.altacon.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/D725Z7XVUAAQ5N5-1024x768.jpg

Though there’s clearly no well-trodden path to success or growth in this area, ALTACON showcased well-established companies and those in the advanced stage of a start-up’s growth alongside budding new enterprise. Access to these distinguished companies for other ALTA members offers a great reference point and source of support to start-ups in their nascent stages that they simply would not have had before. This is particularly helpful given the youth of some of the start-ups and their founders at the conference, with some having been founded as recently as last year, not having launched onto the market yet, or being founded by law students and recent graduates.

Overall, ALTACON achieved its goal of not being ‘your ordinary legal conference’, but instead ‘bring[ing] together the legal community to explore the cutting-edge of law and technology’, in a unique event that will surely be the first of many.

Interview | Jess Caire (PEXA) | Technological innovation and the legal landscape – The PEXA case study

On behalf of The Legal Forecast, Milan Gandhi was lucky to sit down with Jess Caire, a long time supporter of our community of legal innovators and someone who has experienced, first hand, the effects of technological innovation on the legal profession throughout her career, first as a conveyancer and business owner (Jess bought her first business at the age of 25!), and, more recently as a Market Specialist at Property Exchange Australia (PEXA).

1. How has a failure or an apparent failure set you up for later success?  Do you have a ‘favour failure’ of yours?

One of my biggest flaws is the insanely high expectations I set of myself. I used to see failure as meaning that I wasn’t any good, which would put me in a bit of a shame spiral. I also used to see vulnerability as a weakness. As a result, the times I had to admit failure I used to feel pretty vulnerable, so I tried to avoid failing at all cost. My time as a business owner helped change that perception and view failures as opportunities for growth. This has led me down a path of discovery and reflection – which in turn led me to success. I’ve applied this same lens to my personal life, and in my current role at PEXA.

A few years ago, I had a pretty serious accident, which resulted in the failure of an important goal I set for myself. I didn’t allow myself the space initially to embrace the vulnerability that accompanied this experience. The experience made me reflect and challenge my definition of failure and also accept that vulnerability. In fact, most of my growth, professionally and personally, has come out of having to build resilience, digging deep when things get tough or uncomfortable, having determination and courage when it would be easier not to. I now choose to look at any failure as opportunities.

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

One isn’t necessarily born with courage, but one is born with potential. Without courage, we cannot practice any other virtue with consistency. We can’t be kind, true, merciful, generous, or honest” – Maya Angelou

I love this quote because it reminds me that courage and determination don’t discriminate – we all have it in us, we just have to unlock it, and by doing so we impact the world around us.

3. We understand that you are uniquely passionate about your work, have significant experience as a conveyancer (prior to coming to PEXA), and last year served as the Vice President of the Australian Institute of Conveyances (SA Division).

 How and why did you come to conveyancing?

By sheer accident really, I spent a couple of years overseas travelling straight after I finished high school, and when I came back to reality, I had to do something! I was always interested in the legal profession, but perhaps didn’t have the belief in myself that I could really make it. So, I took small steps and it was really about lining up my strengths with a profession that embraced them. Conveyancing is about being organised, outstanding relationship building, time management and a commitment to ongoing professional development – all things that aligned with my skill set and values.

I was young and naïve when I bought my first business (25) and to be honest, the lack of fear that sometimes comes with youth is a good thing – I had no option but to succeed!

4. What convinced you to join PEXA, and what is your day to day role as Market Specialist?

In my business I chose to be an early adopter of PEXA – for two reasons, one because it was obvious to see that this is where the industry needed to head, and I wanted to embrace digitisation where I could to create efficiencies within my business. PEXA was a catalyst for my business embracing all forms of technology. Secondly, it was the passion of the people who work for PEXA. They care and are as invested as you are in your transition.

You can see that in everything they do, internally and externally, they are genuine and authentic, values which I hold with high regard. When I sold my business and relocated to Brisbane and the opportunity to join PEXA arrived, I didn’t hesitate as I passionately felt from my experience that the industry needs to embrace this change and wanted to continue to empower our members to transition their businesses. The PEXA story is unrivalled and to be part of such a journey is something for which I am truly grateful.

As a Market Specialist at PEXA, my role is to work with the market and aid in the adoption of PEXA into their operations. As a previous business owner, I have unique insights on the challenges our members face in implementing change management and the very real benefits digitisation can bring. I also feed these unique insights to our team at PEXA where we are always evaluating, reviewing and implementing enhancements to improve the PEXA experience. Part of being a Market Specialist is working with peak bodies and stakeholders, not unlike TLF, to ensure that members are empowered and educated as the industry transitions. We want to make sure that we are always accessible to help wherever we can.

No two days are the same at PEXA, and it is an exhilarating ride!

PEXA

5. Jess, for those who don’t know, what is PEXA (Property Exchange Australia)? Why should early career lawyers and law students care?

PEXA is revolutionising the property industry – in essence, we are digitising a process that has been done manually and in paper for over 150 years. The platform removes the need to attend a physical settlement and removes paper, and bank cheques, bringing parties together to meet and exchange information online. Consider the digitisation of the stock exchange all those years ago removing the need for trading floors and paper share certificates, we are doing the same to the conveyancing industry.

Early career lawyers and law students should care. It will impact their learnings or perhaps it will be the norm for them, like the internet is to my kids! It is good for everyone to know the history of our property law system and the evolution and transition – I like to do things efficiently, so from a law student point of view, I would want to learn about the platform at university and then set about utilising it in practice. Early career lawyers and students wouldn’t see PEXA as a revolutionary concept, I would in fact see them considering it as a necessity to remove the administration component of the property law transaction so they can focus on their clients’ needs and deliver the professional outcomes they have studied hard to master. I also think it is important that the consumers’ needs are considered – consumers demand digital. It’s how they shop, it’s how they engage – it’s a logical step that they are offered a digital property settlement.

6. Why was an online property exchange network needed? What was the old system and what were its deficiencies?

The risks to the consumer in the paper world are significant.

According to a PwC report, 25% of paper property settlements are delayed. Some of these delays are due to something as simple as misspelling a name on a document, and clients are completely unaware, until it happens to them, that this could impact their transaction.

Unfortunately, a consumer’s property settlement is then tainted with financial loss and unnecessary stress, with one in five having to source alternative accommodation. These instances are something PEXA significantly reduces.

I would also add that e-Conveyancing is client friendly, once they understand the benefits such as reducing the risk of delays, not having to queue at the bank for a physical cheque, that they can receive funds from settlement within minutes of settlement depending on their financial institution and that they have the ability to track their settlement using a secure app, they’re completely onboard.

Speaking as an ex-Conveyancer, all I can say is that the old system hadn’t evolved fast enough. We were still lining up to exchange documents for cheques and then lodging them in at the Land Registry and waiting for an entire manual process to occur, but the funds had exchanged hands. Internally the time spent on phones booking settlements, the paper work, the endless administration chores that this system removes means you can focus on being the best professional you can be.

I also think the requirements that ARNECC have implemented regarding ID standards and documentation has required the industry to lift to a new level of consumer protection. In the way people live and work we are seeing less face-to-face interactions, so we need to have certainty around who we are dealing with in this significant transaction.

7. Do you consider PEXA to be an example of ‘disruptive innovation’

Yes, in the sense that it changes an established process. I think PEXA is an example of required innovation or an enabler to ensure our property industry is able to deliver exceptional service to the consumer and meet their demands. E-Conveyancing moves the 150 year old paper lodgement and settlement process online – the last asset class in Australia to turn digital.

It’s happening everywhere we look e.g. Uber, Deliveroo, Domain etc. The consumer is searching for their future home online, it makes sense that they would settle online.

Change can be scary for people and the word ‘disruption’ only enhances that fear – we are, after all, creatures of habit. At PEXA our members can be assured that we focus wholeheartedly on our member experience – and ensure that they are supported in the way they wish, empathy is required to acknowledge that change can be hard, and we put ourselves in our members shoes.

8. Before e-conveyancing/an online property exchange network, what was the biggest innovation to affect conveyancers and property lawyers?

To be honest, probably the removal of duplicate CT’s. Some states, like QLD for example, made this bold move decades ago, whereas SA and Vic have only done it recently. This really changed the thought process – and prior to that the way Transfer documents were stamped. You used to line up at the Revenue Office in your state, take a ticket, and wait in queue and have the document assessed by a person, and then have to hand over a cheque. Each state at different times then made an online system and there was outcry (in SA anyways). People thought ‘how could this possibly work or save me time’… think about that – people actually thought getting a cheque and taking a ticket and lining up while one person manually assesses your Transfer, was going to be more efficient than being able to stamp through a portal. Again, it is human nature to resist – but the industry did it anyway, and today you would be hard pressed to find someone who misses those days!

9. Do you believe that conveyancing and property law are particularly conservative areas, or has there been an opening to change in recent times?

It comes down to the individuals within organisations and their openness to consider the change. The decision makers in the firms obviously need to be able to look at the value proposition and then commit to implementing the change internally. I think lawyers are often generalised as traditionalist and conservative, but I see it more as an industry of great pride – pride in the history of the profession, but also risk adverse, and that is as a consumer what you want your lawyer to be! I recently attended the QLS Awards, and I can tell you the energy and enthusiasm of those in the profession is uplifting – and you can see the amount of lawyers (young and old) and law students who are passionately embracing innovation in their day to day lives.

10. Is it challenging for PEXA that different Australian states/jurisdiction have different property laws? How does PEXA deal with this?

It is reflective of the pride of the profession in each jurisdiction. We ensure that we are aware of the differences, and also respectful of how we engage with each member in other states.

One of the things that we are interested in at The Legal Forecast is the psychology and mindset of change. We understand that this is something that your role touches upon often.

11. Why, in your view, do people resist change or technologies such as PEXA? Can you provide us with any examples of where you have come across individuals resistant to change?

Humans fear change, and although I consider myself open and embrace change, I must admit that I felt a niggle of resistance when I initially implemented e-Conveyancing. When I explored it more, it was significantly easier and less time consuming than my change anxiety had told me it would be.

All the things that make a property lawyer a specialist aren’t removed because you use PEXA. PEXA just changes how you create a document, settle and move money. It doesn’t take away from your knowledge as an expert when it comes to contract negotiation, drafting special conditions etc. It is an enabler for you to focus on those things.

We have so many great stories of people who were resistant and then adopted – more often than not the ones who resist the loudest are now our biggest advocates! A great story recently was from a colleague of mine who had a member who told her she would retire before adopting PEXA.

Well she finally embraced this change and now thrives in the PEXA world – and openly advocates for PEXA!

12. What is the best way to respond to resistance to change?

Empathy. Humans want to be heard and understood. When you approach change with empathy and understanding of their position you are able to build a relationship of trust and belonging.

And now for a legal forecast…

13. Jess, what do you foresee as being the next significant stage of innovation in the property law/conveyancing world? In other words, what does the future hold?

I can only speculate but there are some cool things happening out there, I see firms who are creating all sorts of benefits for their clients through developer portals for reporting. Digital contracting, that end to end digital property experience – or utopia as I would call it!

I think that the focus is shifting from what is good for the firm, to what is good for our clients – how we can we meet their needs, and this is truly innovative because as consumers demand more, those firms that can differentiate through valuable offerings will always succeed.

Legal Project Management 101 with Peter Dombkins (Gilbert + Tobin)

On behalf of The Legal Forecast, Milan Gandhi and Iain McGregor-Lowdnes sat down with Peter Dombkins, the Head of Legal Project Management (LPM) at Gilbert + Tobin, in an attempt to find out more about LPM, why it is important to modern law firms, and whether it is a topic that should inspire interest in law students and early-career lawyers.

Thanks entirely to Peter, this interview is one of our best to date.  Peter is deeply knowledgeable and takes pride in transforming complex concepts, somewhere at the intersection of social science and law, into memorable and practical innovations with the potential to transform how lawyers’ work.

Getting to know Peter Dombkins

Peter, we are in the habit of starting these interviews with a few ice breakers aimed at getting to know you better. Please humour us!

1. Is there specific quote you live by or think of often?

Honestly, no. [insert random Simon Sinek motivational meme here]

2. What would we usually find in your fridge?

Some rosé, and berries of some description.

3. What is the first thing you think of when you hear the word ‘innovation’?

FREEDOM, closely followed by change

Career journey

Peter, many of the early career legal eagles who subscribe to The Legal Forecast are interested in how to pivot from strictly legal careers into other dimensions and disciplines.

4. What was the motivating factor for you to leave your role as a projects lawyer and become a strategist and innovator?

It was actually the other way around for me – after law school, I spent 6 years working as an organisational change consultant specialising in infrastructure/PPPs – I worked internationally (including three years in the Middle East), and obtained an Executive Masters in Complex Project Management. Only then did I return formally to the law, and worked as a projects lawyer for a few years in international firm – before being head-hunted by their Head of Strategy to work in legal ops; and I’ve been working in legal ops ever since.

5. Do you have any advice for law students and early career lawyers who may wish to follow in your footsteps?

Work for a few years as a lawyer, and be interested in how each legal matter is planned and implemented – get above just doing the legal work, and understand the process for how everything fits together – because once you start thinking in this way, you’ll start to see opportunities on how to improve those processes. You’ll begin to perceive legal work as a business and not just a vocation. And for those committed to becoming legal project managers, you’ll need to start developing your knowledge and expertise in project management and then change management – for starters, think about getting a diploma (or higher) in project management. Become involved with the Australian Institute of Project Management and/or get a PMI, PRINCE2, Agile or Lean certification.

Legal project management

6. We swear we already know this, Peter (not really)… but what is LPM  and why do so many modern law firms (including over half of the ‘Am Law 100’) employ legal project managers?

I’ll let you in on a secret – each legal matter is a project, and all lawyers are project managers. The only problem is, as lawyers we’re trained in how to be excellent legal technicians who understand the law, but we’re neve trained in how to be project managers. We’re never trained in the business of law – which is important, because delivering great legal advice is only one part of the picture: you also need to be able to deliver that legal advice within time and (increasingly) budget constraints. The term ‘LPM’ first started to appear in 2010, coinciding with pressures being placed onto the legal sector to deliver legal work within time and cost constraints (or what is called ‘delivering greater value’) – and since then, these pressures have only increased such that now most larger firms have developed (or are looking to develop) LPM competencies.

LPM adapts management techniques (from a wide variety of disciplines including project management, organisational design and change management – all of which are focused on improving the value/outputs/efficiency of projects/processes/organisations) to the legal profession, to help lawyers achieve their business goals. I’ve developed a more practical working definition – LPM is:
– a systematic approach
– for strategising, planning, tracking and reporting upon legal work
– within agreed constraints
– that involves teams
– and that also captures data and lessons learned in order to enhance future performance.

7. Should LPM be taught in law schools/during PLT and, if so, why?

Yes – good matter management practices are already an inherent part of our professional obligations as lawyers (as part of the Uniform law, and also reflected in our CPD requirements covering practice management and professional skills). LPM (and more broadly how real-world legal practices work) should be included at the very least as an elective, so that being a good ‘matter manager’ is recognised as part of what being a good lawyer means. In many respects current legal education runs counter to the real-world behaviours and situations that graduates find themselves in – ranging from delegation and task planning/prioritisation, to collaborating under pressure, following and tracking progress, and adhering to processes. Law students would be better placed to enter the market with an understanding about these situations and how to best respond.

8. What is the most significant change that you have assisted to bring about since you took up your position as Head of Legal Project Management at Gilbert + Tobin?

Well, the creation of the firm’s LPM function for starters – I started as the sole LPM, and now manage a team of five which services the entire firm.

9. What is the biggest mistake that law firms make when managing their legal work?

Easy – by thinking that lawyers are the best-placed people to know all the answers about everything forever, and by letting them getting away with badly managed legal work: too much emphasis can still be placed on delivering great legal advice, but without looking at the constraints – was the work profitable? are the team burned out? what’s the human cost?

10. Are law firms unique beasts? If so, what are the key peculiarities of LPM versus run-of-the-mill ‘project management’?

Yes – professional services are different:
Dedicated resources for project management: unlike in ‘hard hat, high-viz jacket’ construction project management where you have a team dedicated to updating a wide variety of project management plans (such as a schedule, a risk register, and an overall project plan), most legal teams don’t have the luxury of this type of support – which means that we have to simplify the amount of project management that is required.
Back-office processes and delegated authority: many ‘traditional project management plans (such as quality management and procurement) will generally be taken care of by a legal practice’s policies or back-office team.
• Risk profile for planning and re-work: for legal work that involves drafting documents, the cost of re-work (such as changing the wording in a clause as part of a negotiation) is far lower than the cost of re-work in construction (ie. knocking-down and re-building something).

Also, there is plenty of US-based academic research which shows that lawyers (as a generalisation) are sceptical and pessimistic, with a predisposition towards preferring autonomous work, having low trust, and a ‘ready, fire, aim’ approach – which shows (i) that we need to start addressing these issues in law school, and (ii) that there are unique challenges in getting law firms to adopt LPM. By comparison – implementing project management in an engineering company is easy, because everyone there already knows and accepts the benefits of project management. I’ve written a recent article on this topic: http://www.lbw2019us2.legalbusinesslibrary.com

11. What is the biggest commercial advantage that a law firm stands to gain by applying LPM?

There’s plenty of recent research on this (including from ILTA in 2015, and also the CLOC initiative’s LPM work stream):
• Reduced surprises for their clients, with increased clarity on objectives and progress
• Improved internal team performance and quality of life, with improved collaboration and reduced stress
• Better data on ‘what good looks like’, so that successful matters (however you choose to define that) can be replicated

Innovation

12. You may have seen that we were recently represented by our NSW President, Erika Ly, on the ABC News as part of a panel discussion about the rising tide of automation and its implications for the job market. How will automation have changed what it means to be a lawyer 10 years from now?

Well, the last time I appeared on the ABC was for Q&A, where I asked Joe Hockey a tricky question about infrastructure financing and national credit ratings. He entirely ducked my question #almostfamous.

Yes, automation will undoubtedly have an impact – there’s even a (somewhat sensationalist) article recently talking about the impact of AI on project management! (see below links). However from an LPM perspective, stakeholder management lies at the beating heart of project management, and in my view we are still very far from a bot empathising and working with people to provide the delivery of a large-scale project. Nonetheless, automation is very much process and data driven – both from a product development and ROI perspective, and I regard LPM as providing lawyers with an enabling set of competencies which means they are more aware of both process and data. We are helping build the core skills for the lawyers of tomorrow.
https://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2019-03-20-gartner-says-80-percent-of-today-s-project-management?
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wND9goxDVrY

Thank you for your time and insights, Peter!

Interview | Jennifer Harris (Clayton Utz)

Jennifer Harris has been a long-term supporter of TLF! Jennifer is a Special Counsel at Clayton Utz specialising in real estate, local government, urban renewal, property development and commercial property. Jennifer also dedicates her spare free time to mentoring junior solicitors and advocating for a healthier and more inclusive profession. Michael Bidwell (TLF) was delighted to pick Jennifer’s brain!

1) Why is mentoring important to you?

I found out early on that working life was full of happy and sad moments.  I discovered that things can quickly bring you to your knees and that I didn’t seem to have any coping skills.  I felt for a long time that I had to navigate through this all by myself and I didn’t know how to act at work during tough times.  

I wished I had somebody to talk to about what I was going through. Many times in my early career I nearly left the law. Eventually a friend put me in touch with a very experienced lawyer who had been through many things;  and she was the first of many people that have taken me under their wing and mentored me.

I felt such freedom to be honest and open and tell mentors my stories.  As I moved through different jobs in my career I started listening; and I always found people going through the same things that I had gone through. I discovered that there were people everywhere who needed a shoulder to cry on; a sounding board; someone to light the way.

I started talking to people and going straight to the truth; straight to the heart of what was happening to them and what had happened to me in my career. I realised that this support, this confidence, this commitment of time and honesty to others was making me happy and was healing me and helping me find my way in the law.

A whole new dimension to my career opened up when I realised what great insight and joy I got from being there for other lawyers who were dealing with the same challenges and fears that I was. I learnt that realising we were all in this together gave me hope and purpose.

I have seen time and time again how mentoring can change a mentee’s life. Mentoring connects me to new passions and people, it gives me constant and evolving insight into other people and myself.  It gives me an opportunity for connection and reflection.  I really see it as an honour and a privilege to have people I mentor put their trust in me and to share their vulnerability and to seek courage and growth together.  

I really believe we can make a difference in each other’s lives. Mentoring for me is about creating a safe space for other lawyers to see the hope and liberation that comes when they realise that vulnerability is courage.  Mentoring is really about walking each other home – getting where we need to go safely – with our hearts, minds, souls, grace, dignity, humour and creativity intact.  It is a way to put kindness and humanity first;  and we need more of that in the law.

 

2) Flipping the script, what are some of your greatest learnings from your mentees?

I could absolutely talk about this one all day.  I learn so much from my mentees – the best type of developmental mentoring is fluid so that it is rewarding for the mentor and the mentee.  I love getting to know people and I am curious about what makes people tick and, in particular, because I am a lawyer, I am really fascinated about other lawyers and what they want from their lives and careers. 

It is really important though, even when you are very curious and passionate about people to make sure that the mentoring conversations are more than just two friends chatting; and that is where the real learning kicks in. 

The mentees always drive the goals and the agenda for the relationship, so that way it is very bespoke. Every time I mentor someone I am learning about their goals, their lives, their passions, their expertise, their pain points, their challenges, their vulnerability and their strengths.

One thing that has always amazed me over the years is that the young lawyers that I am mentoring are phenomenal.  They don’t just want a career in law for the sake of it, they want to actually make a difference.  They want to have a well-rounded life – and career is just one part of that. A lot of them have side hustles and passion projects – they are fascinating and motivated people.

I also learn a lot about leadership when I’m mentoring –  when I hear about some of the challenges that my mentees are facing and the difficulties that they are having in the workplace – a lot of it stems from leadership. I learn about a lot things that don’t work in the leadership context – and I can really see how this can cause people to feel undervalued and disengaged. I always reflect on the experiences my mentees talk to me about and I make sure that I try not to do the things that make leaders less effective.

I have also learnt so much about diversity. Mentoring has taught me how important diversity is to make our workplaces and lives richer, more innovative, more collaborative, more humane, more progressive, more loving and more positive.  Over the years I have mentored people that have had really harrowing experiences, and have been treated appallingly because of their gender, culture or sexuality.  I am really happy to say now that it is changing.  The tide is turning and we are seeing a positive, important, powerful and necessary change which is pushing diversity, inclusion, gender equality and all sorts of other issues that are fundamental to the lived experience of lawyers as humans to the forefront.

I am really proud of this change because over the years I have seen so many people that have struggled and been treated so badly, and that is just fundamentally wrong at a human level, let alone a business level.

I feel rejuvenated, recharged and reinvigorated every time I work with a mentee because their goal setting is so inspiring; their hopes and dreams are so inspiring.  Their ability to be open and honest about tapping into different things that have bruised them and chipped their confidence along the way and really being accountable and listening to their intuition and to their vulnerabilities.  I am always learning so much about people.

Mentoring really sits beautifully with my practice as a transactional lawyer, I learn so much about dealing with people, understanding people  and the situations they are in, understanding different outcomes, and tipping points for pressure and all of that helps me understand my projects, transactions, clients, counter-parties and colleagues so much better.  Mentoring has literally made me a better human, a better mother, a better wife, a better sister, a better daughter and a better friend.  It has given a dimension to my life and career that has helped me hone in on my own passion and purpose, and reason for wanting to be a leader in our industry and for doing the type of work that I do in the community and development space.

When I look at all the different aspects of my personal life, career and mentoring it all just gels together so well –  and it gives me a really clear sense of who I am and what I have to offer and what value I can bring.  I can’t tell you how many times I feel so grateful for the opportunities that I have had to have really meaningful conversations with incredible people and to help them achieve their own goals. 

3) When you first started as a woman in law compared to now, what has changed ?

So much has changed since I started in Law.  I was admitted in December 1996 and my first job was working in a sole practice.  Often I would be the only woman in the room in meetings. In court attendances it was not uncommon at all for me to be the only woman.  It was very interesting though, when I decided to settle permanently in Real Estate that is actually quite a female dominated legal area and is one of the things that really attracted me to it because I could see people like myself.

Once  I had settled in Real Estate and really became part of that scene in Law I had lots of women around me – counterparties on my matters and colleagues; but what I didn’t have for a long time was lots of female partners.  It was only when I moved to Clayton Utz in 2010 that we had a predominantly female partnership in our Real Estate Group in New South Wales.  So that is a really important change, but don’t get me wrong,  there is still an enormous way to go in terms of female leadership more broadly.

One thing I can tell you though that has changed for the better is flexible working.  I have seen so many women who had gone before me struggle enormously with returning to work after their children were born, whether they returned in a part-time or full-time capacity the stigma and pressure was horrendous.

I have had the benefit of enjoying flexible work, both as a part-time employee and also now as an employee who works full-time. Being able to work from home has changed my own life and my experience as a parent.  When I compare how I feel about my life and my relationship with my children and my husband and my connection with my life as a whole, not just my career, I am having an infinitely more superior experience than women that have gone before me. 

The focus has really shifted from a culture of being in the office 24/7 to recognition now that it is the quality of your work – not the location that you do it from – has changed the game enormously, particularly for women.  But I am increasingly seeing our male lawyers are now taking advantage of remote working to be more present in their family lives.

I am also loving seeing younger lawyers who don’t necessarily have family commitments also embracing remote/flexible working to maintain personal relationships or to pursue their passions, be it playing sport, playing an instrument or art.  I think the new understanding, at a business level, of the importance of people being happy, holistically in their whole life and how much flexibility brings to that equation has changed the landscape.  I am really proud to say too that my firm is particularly good at flexibility and my Group in particular is really supportive of it.  This is just a phenomenal change.

One thing I have also seen is that the stigma around being a working parent has diminished.  Back in the day, say even 6-10 years ago, working mothers used to slink off at 5.00pm and hope that nobody looked at them and they felt marginalised, and less than, because they had these other commitments.  I am now seeing working parents embrace their family life and feel confident about speaking openly about their family, including with clients, and this just makes all the difference, removing the shame and stigma is vital because it is not fair. It is a full-time job being a working parent – and I am just talking about what it takes to raise a human being, when you throw into that mix a career as well it is such a complex emotional minefield. It is so rife with vulnerability, lack of confidence, fear and exhaustion – so it is imperative that businesses support their people in this lived experience. I know that not every working parent will agree with me on this though  – so we can never get complacent on this.

Another thing that has changed has been the recognition of the deplorable mental health statistics amongst the legal industry.  Lawyers are suffering from anxiety, depression, burnout and so many other mental health issues because of the inherent pressures of the job and also the constant juggle between professional and personal life.  Often these two worlds collide in a way that just destroys peoples’ mental health. 

I am really proud that as a profession it is becoming more and more essential to be mindful of each other’s mental health and to put in place systems to protect our lawyers’ mental wellness.  I am so pleased that we are shifting the dial and bringing conversations about our mental health to the forefront.  This is one of the most important changes that I have seen.

Also – I think it is so, so, so hopeful and positive that we also moving ahead on the diversity and inclusion front.  We are getting to the point where it is no longer acceptable just to give lip service to these very important concepts and cultural behaviours.  That has been a most illuminating and promising change, both on the LGBTI front and also, more particularly, on the gender inequality front.  We can never ever get complacent on this though; we can never ever accept that we have gone as far as we can go. There is enormous momentum now but we need to continue to build on this to ensure that our workplaces are safe and inclusive for everyone and that everyone is treated fairly and equally.

4) Who inspires you?

I am one of those people that is inspired by so much.  I am inspired by dreamers, doers, thinkers and believers … you know what, that is what really first drew me to my husband.  He is a dreamer and he is a doer and to this day he is one of the most inspiring people that I know.  He has been a stay-at-home father for the past nine years in a social and cultural landscape where that has been really hard to do.  He has supported me in my career and life so enormously.  Every single day he continues to inspire me, as do my children.  My children are pioneers and heroes every day of their lives; they are propelled by curiosity and they are absolutely the kindest and most compassionate young people. They are so inspiring; they give me so much hope for the future and they drive everything that I do.

Last year when I won the award for Mentor of the Year at the Lawyers Weekly Women in Law Awards, I had opportunity to say during my speech that I am really inspired by the early career lawyers coming through our industry at the moment.  I mentioned in particular, your wonderful self, Michael Bidwell, Sophie Tversky, Erika Ly, Kiarah Grace Kelly and Jerome Doraisamy. I am so inspired by these young people because none of you will accept the status quo and you are all embracing the potential for the future and you are all so passionate about social justice and making the world a better place.

I am also really inspired by artists, authors and anybody that tells a story and shares their vulnerability through art.  I am really inspired by people who live though appalling trauma and wake up every day.  I am inspired by people that tell the truth, people who know who they are and always behave consistently. I am also really inspired by people who keep growing; people who push past their comfort zone and do amazing things.  

I am utterly inspired by Clarissa Rayward; she has changed my life since I met her back in 2015 and she has changed the way that I live amongst my legal community and the way that I think about the practice of law.  I am inspired that she made a change in her own life and then made it her mission to help other people experience the same change. I am inspired that she sees a hope for the future in the legal industry and that she is allowing us all to have a safe place to explore it.  I am a member of her Club, and I am also doing some really intense work with her this year in a Mastermind program with 9 other amazing lawyers where I’m working on my own goals and dreams and, to be honest, I have never been so inspired or motivated.

5) If money was no object, where would you go?

If money was no object I would absolutely love to go and live overseas for a year and I would like to start with Italy. We would have to learn the language and also pretty much come off our low carb diet – but I think it would be an amazing experience.  My kids and I really love cooking and I have always thought that it would be so awesome to go and learn how to make traditional Italian food.  But you know what – if money were no object – I would love to go somewhere, probably not all by myself – I would have to take my husband and kids – but I would love to go somewhere absolutely beautiful and just write a book and take a whole year doing it and not have to worry about money.  That would be amazing.

6) What is your legal forecast? Where will the legal industry be in five years?

This is such a complex and multi-layered question; there are so many ways to look at it.  Because I am working in a law firm I look at it through the lens of the challenges that we will be facing.  The legal industry is changing and in the next five years I think we will see firms grappling more and more with the uncertainty and unpredictability that this will bring. 

There is going to be a real need for law firms to respond to these changes with great agility; and I think will bring with it a huge focus on leadership.  I think this is going to be really important as we work out ways to accommodate the new technological opportunities within our legal practices.  Some lawyers are afraid, for example, of AI because it is going to be taking jobs and changing everything that we do.  But I think the focus needs to be on the incredible opportunities that AI brings for firms to move their investment time away from process and to really focus on human skills. 

I am actually really excited. Decades ago I worked with a partner who was often critical of me – saying I was too kind, that I was too worried about other people’s problems, too worried about how other people feel and what it is like to walk in their shoes.  I read something by Richard Susskind once and he was saying that the future of law is going to need new types of lawyers who are trained in skills that are not able to be automated – and you know what Richard said those skills were – human intelligence, compassion, empathy and creativity.  Finally I found a time in the legal industry where empathy and compassion are going to be essential skills. Every single time I think about that I feel like ringing up that partner and saying “hey, have you read this – the legal industry is now really going to need people like me”!

For firms to inspire people to tap into those very humane skills, we are going to need leaders who are committed to working towards improving the mental health of our lawyers and weeding out counter-productive values that can drive people to feel stressed and burnt out.  What I love about it too is that it is going to take diversity of thought and experience for firms to be successful in this new landscape.  That can only be a good thing.

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.

Article | The Assistance and Access Act: Assisting or Impeding Australia’s Tech Industry?

This article is written by our South Australia President Barbara Vrettos and South Australia Executive Member Reid Honan!

The Federal Government has recently passed controversial legislation that may have broader impacts for Australia’s tech industry and professional services. The Legal Forecast believes in creating awareness of these potential issues to prevent the law stifling service delivery. 

Encryption affects all parties in the same way. Increases in encryption has combated criminal endeavours but also hindered police investigations. Police and other law enforcement agencies have intercepted masses of data only to be baffled by increasingly standard encryptions.

In response to this Australia recently passed a new piece of legislation, the “Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Act 2018”  or the AA Act. This legislation aims to address the use of encryption and require companies to build a work around.

This legislation addresses a very real problem. However, the practical implementation of, and compliance with, the legislation is problematic. This blog provides an overview of some key issues raised in the drafting of the legislation and also a perspective from Angus Murray co-founder and Director of The Legal Forecast as to the challenges we may see as this legislation is put into practice.

PART 1: Exploring the Legislation

The AA Act came into effect on the 8th of December 2018 and allows law enforcement agencies to issue a range of notices or requests requiring companies to modify their software and services to allow access to information that would not otherwise be accessible.

This legislation applies to “communication services providers,” a broad term practically capturing almost anyone providing services or products involving the internet. There are steep financial penalties for those who do not comply.

Despite 105 submissions from various entities and individuals the legislation was passed with no amendments. A few themes have emerged from the critique of the Act which are explored below.

1) Broad Powers Weakening Cybersecurity 

The legislation was approved with remarkable speed but encompasses many vague concepts. The current government has hinted as to how these should be interpreted but these suggestions have no legislative standing, opening the door to wide or narrow interpretations by future courts or governments.

Specifically, the definitions of “Systemic weakness” and “Systemic vulnerabilities” have come under critique. These terms are used to describe the limits of the Act, as notices delivered cannot expect companies to weaken their systems. Apple submits that “despite this encouraging language, the bill grants extraordinarily broad and vague powers that, the government may argue, allow them to force companies to build tools that ultimately weaken the security of their products.”

Additionally, if the encryption is tampered with to target a single individual the law’s ambition prevent the creation of systemic vulnerabilities may be short sighted. Even though the act focuses on targeted capabilities to identify individuals – it is a very real possibility that methods to decrypt data for certain circumstances may become a systemic vulnerability as bad actors use those same methods.

It is impossible to guarantee that malicious actors will not find a way to use these alternate means if they are built in to all systems. The Internet Engineering Task Force, a global body responsible for internet standards, echos this in stating that “any method used to compel an infrastructure provider to break encryption … creates a systemic weakness”.

2) Infringing Personal Rights 

The protection of human rights have also come under scrutiny. In the Australian Human Rights Commission’s submission a key concern was how the bill would “authorise intrusive and covert powers that could significantly limit an individual’s right to privacy and freedom of expression amongst other rights.”

The commission furthered that these infringements would not only be felt by persons of interest but the public at large due to the nature of the communication being intercepted.

3) Lack of Judicial Oversight

The AA Act borrows heavily from a recent piece of British legislation, with one key component missing: Judicial Oversight. Currently the legislation does not need to have judicial approval or a warrant in order to put in a legally binding request. These requests are made at the discretion of the investigating body, therefore challenging the separation of powers.

4) Stifling Secrecy Mandates

Developers all across the country are concerned due to the secrecy mandates on the requests. Currently the legislation forces the receiver of the request to either comply or face jail time. Should the receiver attempt to talk to anyone about the request, it is a minimum 5 year jail sentence. This is regardless of whether it was another employee, a reporter or a lawyer.

These secrecy mandates are especially difficult to maintain when working in software where multiple people oversee and review the code on a daily basis. Additionally, this stifles any legitimate conversation of legal or ethical concerns in complying with a notice.

5) Extraterritoriality and Global Impact

Another effect of this legislation is that Australian software products may be considered  ‘potentially compromised’. Meaning they can become unattractive to critical markets. Why would a company take the risk that the Australian Government has placed a ‘side door’ into the program when they can buy a different one instead? Due to the secrecy requirements, the company would also be unaware that they had a ‘side door’ in their product.

Technology service provider, Senetas, stated that this bill could lead to the potential “loss of trust in Australian cyber security R&D and products”  and that could lead to a “decline in the current value of exports”, and “the loss of jobs and technical expertise in this industry as companies look to relocate offshore.”

There is also concern that interacting with broader European countries could become an issue as the AA Act may stand in conflict with the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR).

PART 2: The ‘AA Act’ in Action 

Much speculation around how the enforcement of this legislation will occur in practice remains. We are lucky to have Angus Murray co-founder and Director of The Legal Forecast share his expertise in the area to forecast how this legislation may impact the legal profession.

1) What do you find most problematic about this legislation?

Firstly, I have deep concerns about the manner and speed of the introduction of the Telecommunications and Other Legislation Amendment (Assistance and Access) Bill 2018. This was an extremely complex piece of legislation that amends telecommunications and surveillance legislation and there was very little time for proper and fulsome consultation with industry and civil society. I gave evidence before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (“PJCIS”) on 19 October 2019 to this effect and the video recording of this evidence is located here. It is disappointing that the Assistance and Access Bill passed in December 2018 without amendment.

This Act has the real potential to alter this country and affect future generations. This includes those who are not yet aware of the serious impact that this Act presents to the fundamental rights that Australians ought to expect and enjoy and be able to enforce. In my view, the Act requires further consideration (noting that it remains before the PJCIS with final submissions being accepted by 22 February 2019). Most operatively, the Act requires greater judicial oversight, a reduction in scope and clearer reporting obligations.

2) How do you think the AA Act will impact legal practice? 

It is likely easiest to reference a joint submission that I co-authored that was made to the PJCIS to cover the full ambit of 38 recommendations made in relation to the Bill and that submission can be located here.

More generally, the Act creates extremely broad powers with almost no oversight and without any substantive justification. The possibility that such powers might be needed in future is not a proper basis for the making of law. The most profound potential impact on legal practice is the definition of “designated communications provider” pursuant to section 317C of the Telecommunications Act 1997 (“the Act”). This definition covers an extremely broad range of providers including websites pursuant to s. 317D(2) of the Act and would include law tech providers, law practice websites and practice management systems. The Act enables a Technical Assistance Notice, Technical Capability Notice and/or Technical Assistance Request to issue to a “designated communications provider” and this could fundamentally undermine confidence in the legal profession.

3) What changes would be necessary to ensure the legislation achieves its aims without compromising professional integrity and human rights?

I again recommend that proposals made in the above mentioned submission; however, the best safeguard would, in my view, be the introduction of enforceable Federal human rights legislation that includes the right to privacy and greater judicial oversight of the operation of the Assistance and Access amendments.

Conclusion

The Legal Forecast sees this act as raising a variety of concerns creating significant issues for many communication service providers. A broader review of the legislation will occur in April 2019 and it is our hope that many of these impacts will be considered to ensure that this legislation does not discourage technological development, innovation and the provision of professional services in Australia.

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.

Published on: Feb 28, 2019

Interview | Emma Heuston (Tracksuit Economy)

Emma Heuston is a flexible work guru, remote work expert, author and lawyer. Michael Bidwell was fortunate to receive some great insight into the infamous “work life balance”!

1) What is The Tracksuit Economy and why did you start it?

The Tracksuit Economy is my book and business name. I can only take credit for coining the phrase (with the help of my colleague Nicole Wilson) rather than inventing the movement.

It [‘the Tracksuit Economy’] describes any type of work that does not fit into the traditional 9 to 5 corporate world or falls outside the definition of “traditional work arrangements”. Examples of work that fall within the Tracksuit Economy are remote work (either work from home or co-working spaces), flexible work, freelancing etc.
I have been part of the Tracksuit Economy since 2014 when I began working for both Lexis Nexis as a precedent writer from home and LegalVision as a remote lawyer and subsequent Practice Leader (Partner Equivalent). The reason for me looking for flexible work was the fact that, as a Mum with a young child at that time, I found the traditional corporate style of work did not fit in with me and my family commitments. Rather than continue to make myself miserable by trying to fit into a corporate world that wasn’t flexible enough to accommodate me, I made like Gloria Steinem and thought, “why change myself to fit the world, when I can change the world to fit me?”

Fast forward to May 2018 and flexible work had only become more of a passion of mine due to the fact that I was working in a flexible and remote role and could see other parents and people wanting to work flexibly struggling with the same problems. It was against this that I released my book, The Tracksuit Economy: How to work productively and effectively from home” (link here)

My book details my experiences as a remote worker at LegalVision, including my experiences of working remotely in an industry (the legal industry) where it is not common, managing a team remotely and providing tips for others who also either want to work remotely or those that do and want to be more productive. I also spoke with 15 other remote and flexible workers and include their case studies in the book. The book is essentially about how we can do things differently and that you don’t need to be “seen to succeed” in law, provided you have appropriate benchmarks to measure performance in place and adequate technology.

2) As a Practice Leader at LegalVision Australia, what did your work day usually consist of? What does 2019 hold for you?

I have been a Practice Leader in the Leasing and Real Estate team at LegalVision for around 4 years, during which time my average day has not been terribly different to the usual lawyer’s day – lots of advices, reviews, drafting and conferences plus managing staff and working on projects. The main differences being that my conferences were via phone or video link and that my commute was down stairs at my house rather than the 45 minute commute each way I used to make in Sydney.

I also made sure I negotiated the ability to structure my day around my son’s school routine in my contract and work hours. This meant that I worked part time 3 or 4 days a week during school hours (which I called my “hours of power”) and though I was available during business hours outside of 9am – 3pm, it was more for emails and short jobs, rather than complex drafting etc. I have found this worked well for me.

However, in 2019, I am making a change. I am stepping down from my Practice Leader role to launch my employment consulting business which will help candidates to build business cases for flexible work arrangements (The Tracksuit Economy) and also help organisations onboard and retain engagement with remote employees (The Remote Economy). The Tracksuit Economy is up and running (link here) and the Remote Economy will be up and running by April. However, despite my steps toward entrepreneurship, I have much affection for LegalVision and will be staying on in a consultant role.

3) What would you say is essential to being a flexible work guru?

An understanding of the issues that employees and employers face is crucial. I am fortunate to have had experience in both facets as a remote Practice Leader who has also managed staff.

The other essential ingredient is the ability to be a voice for those who are struggling away at their desk, fighting the sobs back as they battle peak hour traffic to get their baby home to feed and bathe the baby, only to get up the next day (after a sleepless night) to do it all again. Things will only change if we speak up and show how much benefit there is to organisations and employees for a change in our system to occur.

After I published my book I hit the publicity circuit and managed to get on the TODAY show with Georgie Gardner and Mark McCrindle to discuss work / life balance and also the Daily Edition on Channel 7. The response has been so heartening and I love seeing that I can make a difference to the way both employees and employers think about work arrangements. In November 2018, I was honoured to receive the Lawyers Weekly Australian Women in Law Thought Leader of the Year Award 2018 for my work in the flexible work space. The recognition within the legal industry has been amazing as I see more Newlaw firms opening up and more flexible and remote work happening.

4) Who is someone that inspires you?

Brene’ Brown is an inspiration to me. She is authentic and that is so important in this day and age. The flexible work discussion I am part of is also about authenticity and about being vulnerable. Brene’s recent book, “Dare to Lead” shows how you can be a leader within a space like flexible work by finding your voice to speak up and say something different.

5) What is your legal forecast? Where will the legal industry be in five years?

At LegalVision I have been involved in tech projects such as automating documents and artificial intelligence (AI) first hand. The future is exciting and I see much more disruption in the industry over the next 5 years in this area. It is not necessarily bad news for lawyers in terms of job scarcity, but I believe it will require lawyers to broaden their experience (such as developing business management skills) to work alongside the technology developments.

6) What advice would you give to a law student or early career lawyer?

Be open to learning about many areas of law. Don’t pigeon hole yourself too early, the more knowledge the better. As an example, in my personal circumstances it saw me practice family law and litigation for 8 years before transitioning to corporate law and estate planning 10 years ago. Without a broad general base this transition would have been much harder for me.
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 | Reece Ramsden (Ramsden Lawyers)

From the Gold Coast to Sydney, Reece Ramsden shares his thoughts and experiences with our very own Michael Bidwell. Reece is a Partner at Ramsden Lawyers.

1) Why do you love being a lawyer?

To be honest with you, I never wanted to be a lawyer in the beginning. I had a far bigger passion for mental health and counselling disadvantaged youth. However, once I finished my studies in that field, I recall my brother telling me I would make a fantastic family lawyer as my other skills would come in handy. He was correct, they did and paired perfectly. I love being a lawyer (in particular, a family lawyer) due to that fact that I am able to represent so many people who genuinely need the representation so they are not walked all over and so they get an outcome they are legally entitled to. I am not the type of lawyer to straight away litigate, but I definitely can get passionate about reaching fair and amicable resolutions. I am also in a position where I offer a lot of clients (who are usually the weaker party in the relationship financially) an option where they can pay me at the end. This option gives some of my clients the ability to have representation when they do not have the means to hire a lawyer at the outset. From my experience in Legal Aid right through to being Partner in a private practice firm, I know going through a separation is one of the most emotional times in a person’s life, and knowing I can help people through that to become stronger and happier in the end is why I do it.

2) We understand you have just opened a Sydney office. What have been some of the challenges and rewards so far?

I would have to say the biggest challenge for me so far would be adjusting to the fast paced corporate lifestyle the Sydney CBD provides. It is also very obvious that to make it in a city like this, you must be very good at what you do as there is a lot of competition. Coming from the Gold Coast, the general pace of the city is much slower and relaxed. Furthermore, like any new business venture, building up a new client base down here will definitely keep me challenged and busy.

One of the biggest rewards for me is my personal life down here, I absolutely love Sydney as it is such a beautiful city with amazing restaurants, bars, shops, and natural scenery. Living in the eastern suburbs is a must to all new Sydneysiders haha. Although I think the fast paced Sydney lifestyle is a challenge, it is also a reward in the sense that I am meeting so many impressive professionals from all different industries. I believe centering myself around other professionals will keep me motivated to keep on succeeding as a lawyer. 

With the Sydney office in its infancy stage, I am sure I have a lot of challenges and rewards to come!

3) What has pushed you to practice all aspects of family law?

Although some family lawyers choose to practice very specific parts of family law, I love how absolutely diverse it is and it keeps me continually interested. Family law encompasses things such as property settlements, parenting disputes, private agreements, spousal / child support, domestic violence, grandparent rights, surrogacy and adoption. Each day I will be focusing on something different from this wide scope and you would be amazed at the different people I deal with through these different sub practice areas. 

In addition, with my tertiary background and experience in counselling, almost all of my meetings with new clients is a mixture of counselling and law. I love that my clients are able to feel comfortable enough with me to open up about some of their most private issues. 

4) You promote a focus on LGBTI+ clients. Why do you think this is important?

When dealing with any family law issue, sometimes clients can get a little bit nervous to see a lawyer knowing they are usually going to have to be open about their sexuality with them. Although practically every lawyer I know is supportive of all sexualities, there still remains some lawyers who may not necessarily know how to handle a situation professionally when a client has a family system / sexuality that falls within the LGBTI+ scope. I promote a completely non-judgemental confidential service where anyone can be themselves with me. In the last few years I have seen a rise in relationship breakdowns due to one party to the relationship changing sexuality and knowing my clients feel safe and comfortable to discuss this with me, makes me know I am doing the right thing as a progressive family lawyer. 

5) What are some ways you think Ramsden Lawyers really uses technology to its advantage?

As Ramsden Lawyers is only approximately 15 years old and the Managing Partner in his early 40’s, the firm utilises all new technology platforms possible.

Some examples are:

  • All sections are paperless;
  • All lawyers have surface pros for court and meetings;
  • We have payment portals online and automated billing processes;
  • The website uses portals to upload documents;
  • Our boardrooms are all set up with amazing video conferencing systems for interstate employees and clients;
  • We use the legal software ‘Practice Evolve’ which was designed uniquely for the firm over 6 months and it reduces the need for support staff with features such as auto brief compiling etc.;
  • All clients forms are filled out electronically prior to or at the appointment and all clients are provided iPad’s in reception;
  • Faxes are a thing of the past (lol);
  • We use cloud servers;
  • Our lawyers can all log in remotely to their desktop on any device and it will be as though they are at their work desk.

6) What is your legal forecast? Where will the legal industry be in 5 years?

I think in the future there may be a shift toward the development of automated online lawyers and / or seeing as it is a big ‘sharing economy’ these days, hiring a lawyer in your suburb through an app where the client and lawyer rate each other. Law is becoming more and more competitive every day so I know law firms are regularly trying to find ways to use technology to their advantage to be cost effective. Even the Family Courts are taking a proactive approach with technology, with almost all applications now filed online, and all divorces are now completed through an online portal. It will be interesting to see what becomes in the coming years.  

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 | Fiona McLay (Rankin Business Lawyers)

Fiona McLay was interviewed by our very own Michael Bidwell recently! Fiona is a Special Counsel at Rankin Business Lawyers.

1) Why do you love being a lawyer?

It gives me the privilege of being able to see up close an enormous spectrum of human endeavour and the personalities involved.   I find it interesting that, once a dispute has arisen,  I get to learn how all sorts of things work and to unravel what went wrong.  I get to help people who have been treated unfairly work out what their options are and help them navigate the best way to resolve it.  

2) We understand our good friend Clarissa Rayward’s Happy Lawyer Happy Life program has assisted you.  Please share more about this experience.

I came to the Happy Lawyer Happy Life club after finding the podcast.  On the podcast senior lawyers shared their diverse career paths and how they had managed long successful careers.  I had found that many of my friends and colleagues were a bit worn down and disillusioned by the challenges of legal practice and the tyranny of the billable hour.  It was really refreshing that the Club members were talking about positive changes they were using to manage the challenges. They were looking at businesses outside the legal industry and copying what worked there.  They were setting goals, working hard and hitting their targets.  It was fantastic to see all these different people running profitable legal practices in a sustainable way without being self centred or miserable.

3) What has pushed you to undertake further study in a Masters of Legal Business?

I believe that today, and in the future, successful lawyers must be more customer-centric and able to work collaboratively.  Other professional services have undergone enormous change as a result of digitalisation. I want to be a part of improving the way lawyers operate in a digital enabled world. I did some short courses with the Centre of Legal Innovation and was impressed by how practical the content was. It was really useful to meet people who were innovating legal practice.  Some of those people are involved with the MLB.  So I jumped at the chance to do a longer course with a similar practical approach.

4) As a lawyer who works remotely, what are some of the benefits and challenges?

The main benefit is definitely cutting out the daily peak hour commute – that instantly made me happier.  I can use that time to swim laps or have a morning walk.  I enjoy working paperless – it cuts out a lot of wasted admin.  I am able to meet my clients where ever it suits them without asking them to come into the city and pay for expensive parking.  I’ve been able to enjoy a change of scene while working including travelling interstate for a long weekend.

The challenge is to make the time to get to know the team member – it involves more conscious effort to reach out and have the casual conversations that are part of getting to know and trust your colleagues.  You need to make sure you get out of the house and talk to people.   You also have to be organised about logistics because you cannot just stick your head out of your office door to find help to meet a last minute deadline.  

I haven’t found any of those challenges a problem and I am really enjoying working remotely.

5) We are delighted to hear that this year you will marry Veronica after 11 years of being together.  What advice would you give to couples who are just starting out?

Make time to have the difficult conversations – otherwise bottled up disappointment or resentment can explode at some terrible time – when you are stuck in horrendous traffic on a stinking hot day or over dinner with friends – and it will be a thousand times harder to have a constructive discussion about what you need and expect from each other.

6) What is your legal forecast?  Where will the legal industry be in 5 years?

Lawyers will increasingly get more flexibility to chose how and where they work.  I think legal project management will be an integral part of lawyers delivering the level of service the client wants, on time and on budget.  I think we will see vastly improved online DIY legal products (targeted to a specific niche).  I think that lawyers will be able to extract valuable insights from BigData to improve the advice they provide to their clients.   

7) What advice would you give to law students and junior professionals?

I think that younger lawyers have got a much better handle on presenting information visually, building a personal profile online, working collaboratively and being open to adopting new technology or ways of working – all of that will be very useful as law undergoes digital transformation.

Understand your own strengths and look for opportunities to use them.  That is going to involve risking failure and rejection.   Repeatedly.  Having a good support squad is invaluable and groups like the Legal Forecast are a great place to start looking for your squad.  There is an offshoot of the Happy Lawyer Club for “Newbies to Law Land” which is wonderful  https://www.facebook.com/events/325427614732876/ .  By all means use social media to find like minded souls but really try to meet up IRL to help build lasting and meaningful connections.  We don’t need to have lots of friends but we do need to have good friends.

 

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.

TLF position paper – Overwork

For the first time in Australia, a law firm has been put under investigation by a government authority regarding the health and safety of its employees.

According to media coverage, the context of this investigation lies in the Royal Commission into Misconduct in the Banking Superannuation and Financial Services Industry, as many firms’ litigation teams went into overdrive doing work for clients that have been under investigation by the Commission.

As exceptional as the circumstances of the Royal Commission are, this episode points to a deeper truth that most lawyers are already aware of- that overwork is endemic to the profession. Studies over the past few years show that lawyers work longer overtime than professionals in any other field in Australia. This goes hand in hand with the reality that mental health issues are pervasive among the profession and fueled by the widespread belief that a willingness to work well beyond the standard 38-hour work week is necessary to excel. Attempts to alter this environment are often met with the “realist” response that one should prioritise the possibility of personal success over any principled attempts to challenge long-standing modes of legal practice.

The Legal Forecast believes that the legal profession should respond to ongoing challenges by developing smarter and better ways of practising law. Accordingly, it is our position that the time has come for the legal profession to overhaul its work practices to significantly reduce overwork in the profession. Such change is particularly important in 2018, when young lawyers need to be absorbing a range of skills and perspectives that will allow them to flexibly adapt to the changing conditions of legal practice the and challenges ahead, rather than absorbing arduous routines that leave them burnt out and drive them away from the profession.

The fact that this conversation has become about diagnosing and fixing negative mental health outcomes rather than about prevention or maintaining standards that allow employees to choose a positive work-life balance shows that the status quo is failing lawyers. It is especially failing young lawyers, who face competition for roles and therefore have less power to negotiate their working conditions. Yet the recent investigation shows that lawyers are speaking up about this issue.

It is true that our line of work poses particular challenges. Law firms will make significant commitments to serve the best interests of their clients and go to great lengths to uphold them in order to stay competitive. As such, firms are positioned to absorb risk from clients, such that lawyers must always be prepared to do unexpected amounts of work at short notice. Preparing for such upswings in work is made difficult by the significant time and money required to train new lawyers to do specialised work. And partners earn trust from clients through their ability to drive select teams of lawyers to produce high-quality work which they oversee from beginning to end.

In fact, there is no evidence that such challenges necessitate these unsafe practices. On the contrary, it is recognised within the profession that a sound mind is necessary to satisfactorily carry out the requirements of legal practice. Moreover, recent experience shows several strategies and drivers gradually creating work practices that can provide better outcomes both for lawyers and for clients. These include a move away from billable hours (which is currently being implemented by at least one top-tier law firm in Australia), the automation of various legal tasks, and integrating long-term thinking into practice management and recruitment.

This problem will require a nuanced solution. Patterns of overwork exist not only in law firms, but also in the bar, in-house practice and the judiciary. We envision that a cultural shift will need to occur, and with it, a revision of norms and standards regarding what is a reasonable working week and how much employment contracts, salaries and benefits should reflect the overwork employees are required to do.

Yet currently, there are no organisations in Australia with the mandate of safeguarding working conditions for legal professionals. It is therefore incumbent upon those who preside over the working conditions of lawyers to take charge of this mandate and rethink the modes of legal practice that are creating this problem.

The Legal Forecast sees the recent investigation of a law firm by an external government body as a wake-up-call that the profession cannot continue to take a business-as-usual approach to this situation, whether through expecting lawyers to make their own personal sacrifices or through continuing to promote a culture that justifies long hours. If left unaddressed, this current reality will lead to greater regulatory incursions into legal practice and a legitimacy crisis in the profession. Change needs to come from within.

Interview | Ugur Nedim (Sydney Criminal Lawyers)

Wearing it on the sleeve

Author: Edwin Montoya Zorrilla (TLF NSW)

Law firms generally take a highly guarded approach to any form of political expression. Beyond the occasional submission to a public inquiry, law firms will rarely put out political statements. From a commercial perspective, it makes sense to be judged by your ability to deliver results for clients rather than the views you hold, and to avoid alienating clients who might disagree. From an institutional perspective, this might be seen as a reflection of the impartiality courts purport to hold.

This does not mean that the interests of law firms are not aligned with political parties. Last year, the Australian Financial Review surveyed the donor disclosures published by the Australian Electoral Commission to find that several firms had made donations in the year 2015-16. Maurice Blackburn donating $49,000 to the Labor party was unsurprising; after all, this has been their policy for decades and is in line with their stated support of workers’ rights. There were some more surprising inclusions, namely Holding Redlich’s $92,700 courtship of the Labor party at several levels. Norton Rose Fulbright, in contrast, spend about $22,000 on donations to the Liberal party. More saliently, law firms throughout Australian history have been at the other end of the revolving door of career politicians- Malcolm Turnbull, Julie Bishop and Julia Gillard being the most recent and high-profile examples of this trend.

Big commercial firms do, after all, share the interests of their clients in financial and regulatory conditions that ensure a market full of investment, new contracts, and mergers and acquisitions, interests that are political insofar as such conditions generate winners and losers across society. One must only look at the divisions being exposed and created by the property bubble. However, it is also the formal role of firms to advocate on behalf of their clients without appealing to a particular agenda, but rather by formulating arguments that appeal to the interests of the legal system or regulatory consensus. In this environment, there are clear disincentives for lawyers to be seen as outspoken or closely associated with the agendas of certain interest groups.

Yet the status of opinion and discourse in society today is such that any claims to common values or rights, any media representations or even objective facts are heavily contested on ideological grounds. It is inevitable that some form of politics will erupt through any set of social relations. In the legal profession, what is known as “law firm politics” is never too far from politics in the broader sense. Recruitment practices are increasingly being evaluated on the basis of the levels of diversity they create. Progression through a law firm invokes questions of intergenerational politics, and in some instances, sexual politics. Billing practices invokes questions of access to justice and rights in the workplace. Increasing media exposure and outreach puts lawyers in the court of public opinion.

Much of the work of The Legal Forecast is about encouraging those entering or within the legal profession to be proactive, rather than reactive, about such questions. On a Monday afternoon, I entered the offices of Sydney Criminal Lawyers. After only one email expressing interest in speaking to someone from the company, I was asked if I would like to interview Ugur Nedim, the principal of the firm. This is a firm that entered my radar, like those of many of its clients, through social media. As Ugur told me, for the last fifteen years the company has maintained a strong online presence, and this has placed it in the middle of several important conversations. Criminal law is not my area, but it was my guess that the personal stakes and the range of cases lawyers deal with would generate broad discussions and a range of viewpoints. His interview, which he encouraged me to publish in full where possible, revealed much about what lawyers do and don’t openly discuss.

Could you please tell me a little bit about who you are and what makes you tick as a criminal defence lawyer?

I started back in 1998 as a criminal defence lawyer but before that I worked casually about five or six years as a clerk in a firm, once or twice a week, that had mainly criminal law but also some general practice. I quickly saw that I wanted to do crime so after I graduated I began looking for criminal law jobs and after some time I found a job in a specialised criminal office.

Working in criminal defence for the firm, I tried to get cases finished in a timely fashion. I was very keen and I worked very hard, very long hours. But after a while with the practice, I got the impression that it was more to do with the money rather than trying to get good results for people. I was pulled up by my principal when I had cases withdrawn because, of course, once the case gets dropped the firm doesn’t make any money from it and I think that’s a short-sighted view. If you want to have a practice that’s successful and you know does the right thing and gets a good reputation, you need to get the results done in a timely manner and for a price that’s reasonable rather than trying to drag cases from court date to court date and doing very little in between. Historically, criminal lawyers have been known to push cases to a defended hearing in the local or district court or a jury trial in a higher court. Some of these cases should never reach those stages. Lawyers should try to negotiate with the other side to have such cases withdrawn.

Soon, I started wanting to open my own place which was focused on client satisfaction, getting results and getting the cases finished in a timely manner, rather than just turning cases over and getting as much money as you can from people. So that was my focus from when we started as Nedim Lawyers- Criminal Defence Specialists to later, when it became Sydney Criminal Lawyers. In my view, a person runs a criminal law firm should be looking at the firm in the long term, that is, developing a good reputation- getting good referrals from people who are happy about the outcome in their cases. And that comes through doing high quality legal work, rather than focusing on billing, billing, billing.

Where I came from was a background of seeing from the inside how criminal law firms work and trying to do things a little differently. When I first created a website at the end of 2001 very few firms had websites back then and now all firms have websites. In 2004, I published fixed fees, which no other criminal law firm had done. Others in the profession, including my former boss, weren’t happy because I was putting out there a certain price for a certain type of job and they saw as undercutting others, whereas I saw it as financial transparency. If you’ve got a criminal law case, traditionally the lawyer would sit down with the client and try to suss out how much money they can pay and give an estimate accordingly.

Nowadays, other firms also publish fixed fees for certain areas of criminal law, and I think that’s a good thing. Today, we include many other things on our Sydney Criminal Law website including many blog posts every week and we also run a NSW courts website and a number of other websites to give information to members of the public. The goal is, in my view, sharing legal information, having people know that you are trustworthy law firm, having people come to your law firm and doing the best job you can in every single case that’s going to get you good reviews it’s going to get you a good reputation and it’s going to really make you feel good at the end of the day.

I want you to elaborate a bit more on other ways that criminal law practice may have changed since you started back in the early 90s, and also what hints law students should take from that if they’re interested in going into this profession.

I think it has changed with the advent of various websites, especially with Facebook, social media, Google reviews, thankfully, firms are becoming more client oriented rather than before. Where before, if a firm didn’t do a good job for a client, they may have a upset client who will speak badly of them to a few people, now anyone can get on to Facebook or Google and really have a voice. And I think that’s a very, very valuable and positive and good check on law firms.

It’s also changing the way that students enter the criminal law. I think it’s a good idea to do your research before you apply at a particular firm or particular firms. You can get an idea of how reputable the firm is and their internal billing systems just by doing Google searches, or even on seek by reading comments from former employees.

If you are just coming into the law you might find that if you do work in a general practice, the area that you are drawn to may be different from the area that you thought you would have been drawn to. So for example someone might think that they like criminal law and they find that family law gives them the chance to do the best for children or they might find they might like certain aspects of civil or criminal law or even conveyancing.

I think it’s important to get some initial exposure to different areas to see what you actually like in practice, rather than in theory through law school.

The Sydney Criminal Lawyers blog has recently had articles, on discrimination on the grounds of sexuality on the need for a treaty with indigenous people and the media ratchet regarding the Sudanese crime wave. In the past you’ve interviewed indigenous activist Gary Foley and you also interviewed formal High Court Judge Michael Kirby. What is the vision behind being vocal on these kinds of issues and why do you think such figures would say yes to getting interviewed by a criminal law firm?

That’s a good question. I think that the mainstream media sensationalises issues a lot of the time and ignores a lot of very important issues a lot of the time. You mentioned the so-called Sudanese crime wave. You don’t really see in the mainstream media much scrutiny on the reports about whether that is correct or not, whether it’s fact or fiction. And, you know, when you read The Daily Telegraph, Sydney Morning Herald, 7 and 9 News, and all you tend to see is a clip of some Sudanese-looking young people running around, then you wouldn’t see that it was perhaps a different nationality of people actually just running around or something. I think it’s important to have the statistics and the proper research put out there to the public. That’s what we’ve tried to do in terms of keeping a check on media sensationalism and hysteria which politicians often try to capitalized on for votes or popularity.

In terms of interviewing people- people like Michael Kirby and indigenous former magistrate Pat O’Shane have a great amount of experience and insight in the criminal justice system. I believe their views on the criminal justice system and on how society should operate generally should be out there and they should be out there verbatim, rather than in the form of extracts.

And in terms of doing these articles on matters which such as racism and sexism in the criminal justice system and so on, I think it’s important to set the record straight in that regard, rather than to just look at things that are on the mainstream media.

Have you ever directly or indirectly received some pushback on the kind of post the firm has made given that they have some political dimension?

We receive a hell of a lot of inbox messages and posts or comments on our posts with negative commentary from people who disagree with what we’re writing and that’s especially in terms of people from nationalist perspectives and people who believe what the mainstream media are saying. And that’s just part and parcel of being out there, we don’t expect everyone to agree with everything we’re saying. Especially some of the posts that we put out there exposing police corruption or misconduct or brutality will get a lot of people stating that they disagree with us and far worse than that.

My response has been- ‘the more that you swear at us, the more that you tell us that we can’t report on this sort of stuff, the more resolved we are to report on this sort of stuff.’ These types of feedback aren’t going to get us to stop doing what we’re doing. I always remember that quote, maybe from Gandhi that goes ‘First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win’ (interviewer’s note- this quote is often misattributed, and the earliest reported mention is from American labor union leader Nicholas Klein).

On the topic of fearlessness. Do you think that too many lawyers, especially junior lawyers, shy away from expressing their opinions on certain matters for fear of offending others in the profession?

I think that occurs throughout the profession, whether it’s junior lawyers or experienced lawyers. I know that lawyers have Facebook groups in which they express their opinions on certain issues but they won’t turn that into submissions or blogs on those issues.

This is probably more so with unior lawyers for fear of jeopardizing their career prospects. Yes, a lot of lawyers neglect to express how they feel on issues for fear of reprisals or negative feedback or offending people.

Do you think it’s important for people with strong opinions on certain matters to submit to public consultations? Do you see other ways?

Absolutely- there are a number of organizations who regularly submit on certain issues and I think that it’s very important that they do that and also that they publish what they’ve written to the public as well. Without those types of voices, parliament’s more likely to pass legislation which goes against the interests of certain groups. So I think it’s important to make those types of submissions. The concern that I have is we have two main political parties at the moment who share very similar views and are passing a lot of harmful legislation with bipartisan support. That comes through in our blogs.

I would hope that the people at the top the politicians will listen to those submissions more and act upon it more than they do. But these parties seem to agree on views that are not conducive to the protection of human rights. But even if a lot of these organisations feel like their submissions fall on deaf ears, they should put them out to the public, even mainstream media organisations, so that they can be heard. That’s what we try to do with the writers we have.

How important is diversity in a firm for producing a diversity of viewpoints?

Sydney Criminal Lawyers has a lot of gender and racial diversity. But it’s not only race, it’s also people with different levels of familiarity with Australian society, or other cultures. These people bring a lot of value to the firm.

The way that we speak with and get along with each other is how we hope other areas of the community could get along with each other. We get along with each other very well, whether it’s the admin, the lawyers or the writers, or the suppliers that we have, everyone gets along very well. And I think that not only does it enrich the firm to have people from different backgrounds, I think that it’s a rewarding experience to be within a practice that is so diverse who can talk to people not just about the law, but about the backgrounds about the insights into different areas of human behaviour based on their past experiences.

So what kind of reputation do you think criminal lawyers have among the broader populace? And to what extent is this influenced by the media?

Well clearly they don’t like us. All the movies show lawyers as greedy, as unethical, and generally as people who would do anything for their own purposes. I have been in the criminal law for a long period of time. Nothing can be further from the truth. I think that lawyers can be ethical in terms of how they conduct themselves within the courts and within general practice despite what I said about some law firms trying to a lot of money. I think that lawyers are ethical in terms of their obligations towards clients and towards the courts and I think that criminal lawyers aren’t generally greedy on an individual basis, although I think some firms are running their practice in a way that pressures lawyers and encourages greed. I think individual criminal Lawyers, for example, will meet their budgets because they have to meet their budgets or otherwise I’ll get in trouble but I think they are ethical towards the clients generally.

On the Sydney Criminal Lawyers blog there are a few articles on access to justice. Do you think there is an access to justice issue within the criminal law?

Definitely. Unlike in the United States where everyone has a right to legal representation in criminal cases in more serious criminal cases, and despite the fact that we have the case of Dietrich which essentially says that people who are charged with serious crimes in the District or Supreme Court need to be legally represented; despite all that, at a base level, especially at the local courts, there are a lot of people that are underrepresented because they do not have enough money to pay for a criminal lawyer and are ineligible for legal aid. So from between both of those ends, there’s a justice gap, there’s those 45,000 people or so per year who self-represent, according to the Law Council of Australia, because they can’t afford a criminal lawyer or a family lawyer. Often, they’re up against very well-funded professional prosecutorial teams and they might not even know the rules of evidence or how to present at the hearing. And that’s very unfair, and some might say ‘what the heck, I’m just going to plead guilty’. And that’s not justice. Because you can only get justice if you’re on a fair playing field.

Yes, in Australia, there is a significant problem in terms of access to justice. A lot of people are up against it.

 

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.