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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.

Interview | Stewart Rasmussen (KPMG Australia)

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

What interests you about the changing legal landscape?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How is client engagement changing in the legal industry?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Interview | Sam Flynn (Josef)

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

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

What is Josef? How does it work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What’s next for Josef?

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

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

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

 

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

Interview | Alex Lia (Lexicon Law)

Alex Lia is the Founder of Lexicon Law.  Established in 2014, Lexicon Law is a student-run legal services firm that offers summaries of subpoenaed documents from the Federal Circuit Court of Australia and the Family Court of Australia in Melbourne. Its services promote access to justice, as they are particularly useful to rural and regional lawyers who would otherwise be forced to send staff to Melbourne or pay lawyers in Melbourne to inspect the files. Alex Lia first noticed this problem working as a legal assistant in Ballarat.  One of our amazing Victorian Executive committee members, Bori Ahn, was delighted to chat to Alex.

What inspired you to found Lexicon Law?

I first noticed that there was a gap in the legal services industry after my first year of law school. I was 19 and had temporarily moved back to my hometown of Ballarat to work as a paralegal over the summer university break. I realised that many of the local firms and sole practitioners were sending their junior lawyers or administrative staff to Melbourne to inspect subpoenaed documents. Alternatively, they were paying Melbourne-based lawyers to inspect documents at considerable expense.

It occurred to me that this was a task that students are well equipped to do and it would make far more sense for Melbourne-based students to inspect the documents instead. It was this realisation that inspired me to found Lexicon Law, a student-run legal services firm that offers a time and cost-effective service to country lawyers. Since 2014, our dedicated paralegals have inspected subpoenaed documents for lawyers from every region in Victoria.

How did you manage studying the law and running a business?

Admittedly, this was a bit of a balancing act. Add volunteering, a few internships and a part time job as a researcher into the mix and you have yourself a real challenge! Of course, this dilemma isn’t unique to me. Most law students these days seem to juggle a number of different commitments alongside their studies. I found that being super duper organised, prioritising tasks and keeping on top of deadlines was key. Equally important was scheduling quality time to catch up with family and friends, getting outdoors and exercising, eating brunch and playing with my dog… balance is everything.

What’s a surprising lesson you learned from starting up Lexicon Law?

The most surprising lesson I learned from starting my own small business is that if you have a new and innovative solution to a problem, there will always be someone who thinks it’s a pretty average idea and if you listen to them, you probably won’t ever get anything done. Certainly, it’s important to acknowledge valid concerns and take on board constructive and meaningful advice. However, when someone is simply dismissive of your idea without offering suggestions for improvement, the best thing you can do is remain confident that you know you’re onto something.

How do you ensure the summaries are accurate, succinct, and pertinent?

We ensure that the inspection reports we produce are relevant and comprehensive by recruiting students with strong analytical stills and meticulous attention to detail. Also, the value of proof reading can never be underestimated.

What’s a key skill students and early career professionals should learn?

Enterprise skills. These are the kinds of skills that are often not taught at university, but rather are gained by pursuing creative ideas, seizing opportunities and being resourceful. Law firms and other businesses are increasingly looking to recruit young people with commercial awareness, proven problem solving capacity and a tendency to think strategically. These attributes do not necessarily have to have been displayed through an entrepreneurial endeavour; demonstrating enterprise skills within the workplace is equally as useful and attractive to future employers.

What are your recommendations to those who want to help improve access to justice in Victoria and in Australia?

There are many fantastic initiatives being led by students and young professionals that are making an impact in this area. A great example of innovative thinking in action is ANIKA, an online platform and not-for-profit created by a group of young lawyers who aspire to make legal advice more accessible whilst also advancing the education and social awareness of law students. Learning about and supporting initiatives such as this is a great first step towards improving access to justice in Australia. I am also a strong advocate for volunteering for your local community legal centre or a reputable charity that works with vulnerable community members.

Where to next for Lexicon Law?

Much of Lexicon Law’s appeal can be attributed to the fact that it is student owned and operated, and I hope to keep it that way. Given I am about to graduate from university and will be admitted as a lawyer in the not too distant future, there are some necessary (but exciting) changes in store in the coming months. Stay tuned!

 

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 | Andrew Mellett (Plexus)

As CEO of Plexus, Andrew Mellett is on a mission to transform the value of legal services.  Co-founding the company in 2011, he now leads a team of lawyers, technologists and engineers across five countries in building what has been described as a game-changer for legal operations.

Plexus launched Legal Gateway, the world’s first legal operating system, in 2016, and already it’s being used by in-house legal teams at over 200 of the world’s largest organisations including L’Oreal, Samsung, Woolworths, Spotify, General Mills, Coca Cola and General Motors.  Driving this growth is a fresh approach to the law coupled with the world’s most advanced legal technology.

Plexus has been profiled as a case study in the disruption of the professional services industry by HBR, INSEAD, ACU and RMIT, and Andrew’s thought leadership can often be found published in the AFR, Sydney Morning Herald, ALB, Lawyers Weekly and The Age.

Our remarkable Victorian President, Sophie Tversky, was fortunate to pick Andrew’s brain recently.

Why did you decide to found Plexus?

My co-founder and I believe that business, when done right, is a powerful lever to reshape and improve the world.  We saw an industry where both clients and lawyers were unhappy with the paradigm, and we believed there had to be a better way.

Plexus’ vision and mission is to “Create the Future of The Law” and your mission is to: “Transform the value of Legal’ for the benefit of our clients, our people, and the community.” What does this mean to you?

If you think about it, the law is the best mechanism we’ve found to guide society.  It provides certainty, access to justice, and is the connective tissue of value creation.  It’s also slow, unpredictable and incredibly expensive. We want to create a future where access to the value that ‘The Law’ provides is as easy, efficient, and reliable as turning on a tap.  And we want everyone to win from that.

What does being a lawyer mean in the 21st century?

‘The Law’ has profited for a long time from information arbitrage (i.e. “we know the law, and if you want to access that knowledge you need to pay us a premium and deal with a heap of eccentricities built into our model”).  Through a confluence of technological change, and deregulation, that information asymmetry is rapidly dissolving.  You can now Google a legal question and get a reasonable answer, or you can get onto our Legal Gateway platform and get a legal task done in 10% of the time it used to take, for a fraction of the cost.  This trend is only beginning too.

We see three major outcomes from this trend; some positive for lawyers and some negative:

  1. Many lawyers won’t choose (or be able) to evolve their skill sets rapidly enough to generate value in this new paradigm. This, when coupled with an oversupply of legal grads, will result in compression of salaries at the bottom end of the market.
  2. On the flip side, a huge amount of the boring routine work that used to drive dissatisfaction with legal careers, will be automated. Replacing many of these roles will be an enormous range of interesting new career paths. Each year in our business we create roles that previously didn’t exist in the Legal industry.  Examples include: Legal Consultant, Legal Knowledge Engineer, Customer Success Manager, project manager, along with a range of commercial roles that lawyers can be uniquely qualified for.   This will be an enormous net gain for those that remain in the industry.
  3. The legal professionals who will win are those who position themselves to benefit from the ‘tailwinds’ of this transformation. There will likely be a shortage of talent for the roles listed above, which will mean those who have the skills will benefit from the positive growth cycles of the transformation. Equally, although there will be fewer, there will still be some extraordinarily well paid ‘traditional lawyers’, however these lawyers are less likely to create value through ‘documentation’ and more likely to be rewarded for what we call ‘path finding’ – using their deep understanding of domains to solve complex problems for clients.

You conducted research last year that revealed over 3/4 of clients did not believe they got value for money from their legal service providers. How can this be improved?

If you look at it, what every customer wants is a solution to their problem that is ‘faster, better, and cheaper’.  To the frustration of their clients, law firms have traditionally suggested that they can only have one of those three.  Their ‘hourly rate’ charging model has incentivized behavior that over-indexes on quality to the utmost detriment of speed and cost, when in fact speed has the greatest correlation with customer satisfaction.  The result?  An industry average Net Promoter Score of 16%.

On the contrary, Jeff Besos has built one of the largest enterprises in the world with a simple strategy:  Faster, Better, Cheaper – and has dominated industries through successfully combining all three.

The answer to your question is two fold:

  1. As Charlie Munger says ‘show me an incentive and I will show you a behaviour’. Law firms need to shift their incentives to align with client outcomes. We have proved at Plexus that using value based pricing and measuring NPS on each matter transforms how you think about client success (as a result our NPS is five times higher than the industry).
  2. Ultimately, we believe that we are at the start of a wave of what Schumpeter called ‘creative destruction’. As clients recognize that there are better alternatives we will see growth in those organisations that are truly client centric, at the cost of intransigent incumbents.

Legal roles and titles are changing in this fast-moving legal landscape: what do you think are some of the new roles that will be created in the next 5-10 years?

The application of technology is going to drive a lot of this, hence there will be a huge amount of hybrid computer science/legal roles, and many more business/legal roles.  Some we are seeing are:

  • Legal Consultant
  • Legal Business Analyst
  • Legal Project Manager
  • Legal Support
  • Legal QA
  • Legal Knowledge Engineer
  • Along with Lawyers going into Sales, Marketing, Management etc.

Where do you see Plexus evolving as a business?

We have been at the vanguard of many of the largest transitions the industry has seen over the last seven years, and we hope to remain at the forefront in creating ‘The Future of The Law’.

We are investing aggressively in three spaces:

  • Thought our Legal Gateway business we are building technology enablers for lawyers and Legal Automation for business people. We have proven we can ‘put your best lawyer, on their best day, on every desktop in the enterprise, 24 hours a day’.
  • Through our wildly successful Promotion Wizard We are building out a range of products that we call ‘Legal Service as a Software’ that, although are legal services, technology does 90% of the heavy lifting, leaving our lawyers to serve their clients.
  • Through Plexus Engage we are continuing our push to provide a more flexible career options for lawyers, while providing more dynamic solutions for clients to bridge the capability and capacity gaps in their businesses., thus reducing unnecessary outsourcing.
  • Finally, in line with our ‘Everybody Wins’ business philosophy we have recently kicked off an initiative called Plexus Impact to take our technology and expertise and build free solutions that assist less privileged people in the community to address their legal needs. We hope, in time, that this social initiative will eclipse the impact Plexus has had on the legal industry.

What do you see as critical skills for new law graduates?

For a long time it was believed that success in the legal industry required zero technical expertise, though The Law as a monoline skillset is in the process of being disrupted.  Those who will succeed in the legal industry of the future will have lateral skill sets that they can apply to create value in unique ways.  I would advise law grads to combine law with business, engineering or computer science, and develop soft skills that cannot be replicated by technology.

How do you think the role of General Counsel will change?

General Counsels are different to their executive peers, as for the most parts that are lateral hires out of law firms.  While the CFO or Head of Marketing may have ‘moved in house’ from a consulting provider in their 20s, the GC often get’s parachuted in from a law firm after they make partner. The challenge of course is that the skills that are required to be a successful partner are incredibly different to those required to be an executive in a large enterprise.   Given this blind spot, many try to assemble an ‘inhouse law firm’ – ultimately failing the business.

Leading GCs in the future will borrow from the successful playbook used in other functions (Finance, HR, IT etc).  They will attempt to centralise, standardise and automate routine legal work into Legal Operations Hubs (much like financial shared service centers), and compress the cost and time of these activities.  They will then reallocate those resources to establish ‘Legal Business Partners’ who we call ‘pathfinders’.  They will be tasked with navigating complexity to generate competitive advantage for the organization.   This will then free the GC up to transition from ‘The Company Lawyer’ to a strategically important executive.

 

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

Review | NSW Young Lawyers Golden Gavel

Ravi Nayyar, member of TLF NSW, recently attended the New South Wales Young Lawyers Golden Gavel.  He has written this fantastic review!

18 May 2018 was what the emcee, and our learned friend, Emily ‘Victoria’ Aitken, described as ‘the legal profession’s morning of mornings’. The NSW Young Lawyers Golden Gavel, a sort of pilgrimage for lawyers who enjoy ten brave souls criticising our ‘beloved’ profession. All in the name of good fun. An institution likely as important as the law itself, and proudly running since 1993. The event comprised a terrific mixture of public speaking, stand-up comedy, and cold, hard, facts about the practice of law (well, sort of). It even closed with some wit from The Honourable Justice Fabian Gleeson of the NSW Court of Appeal, patron of NSW Young Lawyers, and a member of the judging panel.

I had the privilege of attending this event, which The Honourable Justice Margaret Beazley once described as ‘the Eurovision of the legal profession’, as a guest of The Legal Forecast. As a lover of stand-up comedy, particularly the self-deprecating kind, I had an awesome time. I loved the calm musing of the winner, Tom Sorrenson, about the multitasking mindfulness of the modern lawyer, and we in the audience were somehow horrified, and amused, during his story about using a phone headset while typing, and somehow operating a sandwich press (burning a limb in the process). Another highlight was the Runner-Up, and People’s Choice Award-winner, Joshua Clarke, who pulled at heartstrings when stressing his love of practising in the Sydney CBD.

The speech that struck me the most, however, was Mama Puna Monica Florence Miranda’s. She cheekily, but incisively, criticised the predicament of lawyers faced with unnecessary, poorly executed, innovation in our beloved profession. Her concluding line captured this quite well:

‘Innovation, we’re absolutely obsessed with it. Don’t ask how we can fix it, though. We’re too busy trying to figure out how we can stuff it up the next time’.

Indeed, this reflects the issue with the very concept of innovation in the legal profession being over-hyped. And polluted by this very hype. At times, it is not even properly evaluated but simply slapped on members of the profession. Such innovation can be criticised as a problem in search of a solution; serving little purpose. Indeed, the argument could be made that this parallels the issue of innovation being properly designed, but poorly implemented, given similar negative results. Proponents of such problematic innovation may label their critics as Luddites, yet refuse to acknowledge that they are arguably a good deal of the source of the problem.

Miranda’s speech gives great examples of such problematic innovation (let’s unimaginatively use this phrase). Firstly, it discusses the role of informal methods of communication among a lawyer, and their secretary, in helping, allegedly, raise the productivity of both parties. But it pointedly questions the value of using memes in actually creating value for clients when it does not really hold either party accountable for their work (or lack thereof) in a reasonable fashion. It probably only provides momentary comic relief from a mountain of work. Secondly, Miranda chides her firm’s rolling out an open-plan office design as another artifice to fool clients who crave their legal eagles to innovate. Indeed, that firm failed to consider the possibility of some employees failing to respect necessary etiquette, which can thus hurt employees’ productivity, as Miranda argued, if they are distracted by the raucous conversations of colleagues about their latest Tinder escapade. Thirdly, and by far the most striking example of problematic innovation, was the PEXA e-conveyancing system, which, according to its website, is ‘digitally transforming the property exchange experience’. Miranda cleverly paints a portrait of a regtech solution, which, though well-intentioned, can have unbelievably expensive consequences in its implementation, even if by a top-tier firm, which presumably would have some of the best IT infrastructure in the CBD. Her use of statistics especially drives the point home: ‘4 lawyers, 103 billable hours, 87 email exchanges, and $6, 500 worth of write-off, [and] we had completed our first PEXA settlement’.

But even then, dear reader, you would be asking me: ‘Why the polemic when reviewing a stand-up gig?’

Well, I say this, as a friend of The Legal Forecast: I champion innovation, not problematic innovation. I consider the latter to be oxymoronic, which is why it utterly riles me. Why should problematic innovation even be ‘innovation’? If we make the mistake of considering it so, then our efforts to (as TLF’s mission states) ‘advance legal practice through technology and innovation’ are at nought. If we fail to call out examples of problematic innovation of the nature as Miranda highlights, then we must ask ourselves whether we truly are ‘passionate about disruptive thinking and access to justice’; whether we truly are committed to driving substantive, valuable, change to this beloved profession of ours; to helping the legal fraternity deliver greater value to even more individuals through greater access to justice, and more efficient legal practice. Change that we can believe in (to paraphrase a certain Presidential candidate’s slogan).

Indeed, I feel it not a matter of ‘if’, or ‘when’, the phenomenon of innovation in our beloved profession comes up. After all, we have seen quite a few names – big, and small, domestic, and global – in the law adopt innovations like artificial intelligence, machine learning, natural language processing, and smart contracts, to drive the aforementioned change. We are also seeing the members of our profession investigate even more exciting innovation. These are delivering results, especially in effectively automating routine tasks, thus freeing up lawyers to apply their faculties to more complex work, which delivers greater value to clients, and the broader community. Dear reader, the practice of law is becoming more nimble, more tailored for the client, and more efficient. We have even heard about how key innovations, like artificial neural networks, will enhance the capability of human lawyers by helping them make decisions that are more data-driven, and thus contextually-appropriate. Hence, dear reader, I feel it not a matter of ‘if’, or ‘when’. But ‘how’.

In answering this question, we as a profession must carefully watch out for problematic innovations like those criticised by Miranda, and nip this toxic species in the bud. Otherwise, we jeopardise the integrity of our #legaltech, and #newlaw, movement, which, I stress, is delivering tremendous value. Our wonderful movement must not be dismissed as a gimmick whose work is apparently not worth the paper it tends not to be printed on. We must be vigilant about the risk of problematic innovations corrupting our message. When we stand in our teams to discuss the next big thing, freshly sketched out on the whiteboard in front of us, we must (to borrow one of Sorrenson’s ideas) take a deep breath, reflect, and then ask ourselves the following:

How does this help make the practice of law more efficient, and/or drive access to justice?

Is this even necessary?

If we ask ourselves these questions while standing at that whiteboard, we would be sure to champion true innovation. We would be sure to avoid, as Miranda argues, ’trying to figure out how we can stuff it up the next time’.

Hence, we would truly, as The Legal Forecast seeks to do, leverage our creativity,  our entrepreneurialism, to effect change for the better in the practice of law.

To translate our correctly-held belief – that ‘technology has an important role to play in legal practice, and access to justice’ – into concrete action.

 

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

Interview | Bhaven Shah (Presolv360)

Bhaven Shah is the Co-Founder of Presolv360, which is India’s first homegrown cloud-based dispute management platform capable of preventing needless litigation, protecting people and businesses from adversities of disputes and resolving them through time-tested collaborative dispute resolution mechanisms. A Chartered Accountant and an alumnus of the prestigious Government Law College in Mumbai, India, Bhaven has had varied experience before judicial and quasi-judicial authorities including the Supreme Court of India, High Courts of Rajasthan and Bombay, and the erstwhile insolvency boards. He previously worked with KPMG in their M&A and tax litigation practice, R. K. Bothra & Co. and Ernst & Young in their tax and assurance practices, respectively.  We are very grateful that Michael Bidwell (TLF) had the opportunity to receive detailed answers to our pressing questions!

As India’s first dispute management platform, where did you get the inspiration to create Presolv360?

Thank you for this question because I love talking about it. In fact, I believe every entrepreneur has a reason, a story about where it all began. This is mine… Law came to me by legacy. In India, the mid-80s and 90s witnessed unprecedented changes – businesses expanded but so did complexities, opportunities increased but so did opportunistic individuals. The economy was growing but values were rapidly eroding. From property-grabbing to non-payment of dues, from trespassing to cheques bouncing, it became a usual occurrence for many of us. Practices and professions became sophisticated, but law and procedures remained unchanged.

In a heavily-litigated personal matter, a Supreme Court Judge (now retired) said to me in open court “Son, your father started this case and your child will have to conclude it.” And these wise words came after 29 years (read 45% of the lifespan of an average Indian) of fighting tooth and nail in Indian courts. The harsh reality is that legal cases in India last a life-time and have a propensity to wipe out all your resources, and I faced this first hand. I didn’t want to suffer in the future, I didn’t want others to suffer, ever, and so, it was time that India and her citizens were offered a solution that changed the way they insulated themselves from disputes and litigation. Something that was quick, economical, convenient and effective. With this in mind, Presolv360 was born.

On your website, you note a few mentors and advisors in addition to your founding team. What role do these mentors and advisors play in developing Presolv360?

Just as children are nurtured and guided by their parents, when it comes to a business, our mentors and advisors are the cornerstone of many important decisions. They are our anchors and often lead us back on track when we go astray. Mr. Ashok Barat is the former Managing Director and CEO, Forbes and Company Ltd, a publicly listed entity in India. He is currently on the Board of several listed companies and is passionate about making mediation the primary form of dispute resolution. Ms. Tanu Mehta is a practicing counsel, mediator and conciliator recognized by the Bombay High Court and is an MA in Conflict Resolution & Mediation from Tel Aviv University, Israel. Ms. Rajani Iyer has been designated a senior counsel by the Bombay High Court and is a mediator with over 4 decades of experience in dispute resolution.

While we are armed with the force of youth, enthusiasm and ideas, our mentors bring unparalleled experience, a balanced approach and advise that covers strategic, business and operational aspects. Basically, they justify the 360 in Presolv360.

You include several sample agreements on your website including employment, joint ventures, non-disclosure, website development, loan and will just to name a few! What made you decide to allow users to download and use them for free?  How do you protect your intellectual property by allowing free access to these documents?

Personal, and even professional and business relationships in India are primarily trust-based. It is obvious that it’s only those you trust that have the power to breach it. That’s why we encourage the ‘habit of codifying’ i.e. putting on paper what has been agreed upon. This is the foremost exercise that’ll help prevent needless litigation. We understand that majority people have accessibility and affordability issues when it comes to sound and proficient advice, and it is in order to circumvent this problem that we provide professionally drafted agreements free of cost. While we intend to increase the database to include more agreements, we have identified these as key areas vulnerable to disputes.

That being said, trust is yet the most important factor of any relationship. We have come to realise that India’s internet citizens are maturing and honing responsibility like never before. While providing leeway to our mature and responsible users, we mandate, log and document acceptance of our terms of use for the morally and ethically challenged ones. Any unauthorized use or distribution of the documents and materials available on the website would result into a breach of contract and would consequently be liable to action under Indian laws.

What were the initial challenges and rewards for you, Namita and Aman leaving your traditional corporate jobs to create Presolv360? Would you change anything if you could go back and do it again?

A corporate job is like sitting in an airplane with the seatbelt buckled, whereas the entrepreneurial path is like jumping from that airplane and learning how to build a parachute along the way!

Namita, Aman and I knew what was at stake, but what made us jump anyway was the desire of finding a solution apt for a country like India, with its myriad of cultures, traditions, beliefs and functioning mechanisms. While treading on an unknown path, it was challenging to up the awareness of people in the dispute management space. In fact, it is these very challenges that contributed towards shaping the entire structure of Presolv360, as much as it has contributed towards shaping us as individuals. It is rewarding going to bed each night, that we’ve utilized the day in starting a revolution, however small, and are progressing towards our vision of a dispute-free future.

We believe that we are at the right place – ‘India’, at the right time – ‘now’, and doing the right thing – ‘Presolv360’. Even if we could go back, we’d do the exact same thing all over again, because that is exactly what has got us thus far and is what will continue to take us further.

In the making of Presolv360, give us some ‘behind the scenes’ insights. What is your value proposition?

Disputes are inevitable and are inherent to the nature of humans. So, we re-imagined, re-engineered and radically improved the ‘approach’ to dispute management. After an extensive research and study, ranging from India’s village system to international diplomacy, from traditional dispute redressal machineries to sophisticated global practices, it was time to understand contemporary challenges. We undertook an ‘Appeal for Change’ survey where we interviewed over a thousand people from different walks of life to understand all the facets of disputes. It is on this robust foundation that we built and designed the Presolv360 platform.

Presolv360 is a unique dispute management platform that blends technology, human expertise and innovation to provide effective dispute prevention solutions, collaborative dispute resolution mechanisms, fast-track and cost-effective alternatives to courts and protection from uncertain outcomes and adversities. This makes Presolv360 the first of its kind across the globe!

I always ask people to ponder over three simple questions and they understand the problems we address:

  1. Would you like to enjoy a life free from disputes, litigation and courts?
  2. Do you want to secure yourself to ensure nobody drags you to court?
  3. If you have a dispute, would you not like to resolve it quickly, reasonably and efficiently?

I greatly appreciate your ‘Presolv for All’ Project where you charge a very nominal fee to those who are financially disadvantaged. It is remarkable to see start-ups working with and for the community.  What pushed you to start up this Project and are there any success stories you would like to share?

In reality, it was a success story that led us to undertake the ‘Presolv for All’ Project. A success for me, a success for Presolv360, a success for every stakeholder and a success for humanity. A poor lady had lost her husband in a tragic motor accident but unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of her tragedy. What followed were years of torturous litigation where she had to re-live the death of the bread-winner on one hand, and, on the other, raise three young children, repay debts and work to keep her family fed.

There was negligible progress for several years and going by precedents, it would be at least another decade before she would receive any relief from the courts. After our involvement, an amicable settlement was arrived at. Within 30 days, she received the compensation. With tears in her eyes, she said “You saved me. Thank you!”. The feeling of contentment engulfed us and at that moment, we decided to undertake this initiative, so we, as a community, can enjoy a litigation-free future.

I see you are currently located in Mumbai. Where would you love to expand to if the opportunity arises?

India is going through a crisis. Everyday 40,000+ cases are filed in India courts and approximately 67% disputants do not even attempt an alternative before litigating. India expends US$ 12 billion every year on court hearings and loss of business. This translates to 0.77% of India’s GDP and shockingly, this figure is without accounting for professional fees. While it takes an average of 13 years for the final disposal of a civil case, it is estimated that by the year 2025, there will be 61.9 million pending cases and at the current rate of filing of new cases against the rate of disposal, it will take 587 years to clear this backlog. The opportunity in India itself is magnanimous.

While we are based in Mumbai, our operations extend to the whole of India and this is possible because of our integrated tech platform that is accessible from desktops, laptops or mobile devices to ensures affordability, convenience, efficiency and effectiveness. The beneficiaries of this platform are unrestricted, be it individuals, businesses, institutions or even governments. Going forward, we aim to make Presolv360 not just an alternative mechanism to resolve disputes, but the most appropriate mechanism to manage disputes across the globe.

Does the government have any role to play? Do they support such innovative initiatives?

The Indian government under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi has undertaken path-breaking initiatives such as ‘Aadhaar’ (providing unique identification to 1.3 billion Indians), improving the ‘Ease of Doing Business’, ‘Digital India’, tackling logjam in courts and bettering the business and investment climate of the country. While, I believe that India is in extremely capable hands, it is also important to understand that, for India to tackle this grave problem, a concerted partnership is required between all stakeholders – potential and existing disputants, governments, judiciary, professionals and facilitators like us. This will ensure that only those matters worthy of the courts attention and judicial resources will find a place on the docket, while the remaining are dealt with in a systematic, civilized and optimal manner. This way, courts can dispense justice, governments can govern, businesses can flourish, and the citizens can enjoy a stress-free life.

This government has been an enabler and a key contributor to the budding entrepreneurial spirit in India. In fact, Presolv360 is privileged to be recognised by the Ministry of Law and Justice, Government of India, and listed on the website of the Department of Justice. Besides, Presolv360 has also been recognised under the Start Up scheme of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry.

We have seen a lot of discussion in Australia this year regarding artificial intelligence. What have been some of the ‘hot topics’ in India?

Artificial intelligence has become a worldwide phenomenon. ‘Virtual legal assistants’, or legal research tools, a derivative of artificial intelligence, has gained tremendous prominence and is expected to replace some of the legal population. ‘Smart contracts’ is another area garnering attention, while ‘blockchain in contract management’ is picking up momentum too.

What is your ‘legal forecast’ for the next few years?

A shift is imminent, a shift from a curative mindset to a preventive one. This means you will be able to pre-empt problematic relationships, manipulate data to predict toxicity levels and determine a reliable outcome in case a dispute arises. All this at a click of a button. The world will be a fertile ground for pragmatism and a battle ground for opportunism.

If you could give one piece of advice to a law student or early career professional, what would it be?

Unbuckle the seatbelt, step out of your comfort zone, and jump from the airplane – there’ll be troubled weather along the way, but the view and the experience will make it worthwhile!

 

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

Interview | Komal Gupta (Cyril Armachand Mangaldas)

Komal Gupta is the Head of Artifical Intelligence & Innovation at Cyril Armachand Mangaldas in New Delhi, India.  We are very grateful that Milan Gandhi (TLF) had the opportunity to gain insight from Komal with her extensive experience.

Komal, do you have a quote you live your life by or think of often?

Everything happens for a reason – live it, love it and learn from it?

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

I have changed my mind about taking risks in life – about taking the path less trodden and moving out of my comfort zone.  I had a great career at Integreon and another LPO job was the obvious way to go.  I instead decided to shake myself up and use my experience in driving innovation at CAM.  Every bit of my previous experience from people and client management, service delivery and business development has helped me understand the firm, its culture and business and I am proud of my unusual decision.  In fact, my decision has now shown an alternate career path to many.

Legal innovation in India

What are three defining characteristics of the legal sector in India vis-à-vis your experience of other jurisdictions?

  • Pricing pressures are more acute
  • Traditionally law firms have not incurred much capex
  • Tech investments are relatively low

Are there unique challenges or opportunities when it comes to innovating legal services in India?

We’ve only begun talking about innovation, technology, processes in India.  It’s a clean slate – one can start from anywhere he likes.  I see many more opportunities than challenges in the journey of innovation – there is an opportunity to educate, to develop, to explore, to experiment, to implement, to be the first one and to be the industry leader. Resistance and discomfort are a given for any change in life but when you have evidence of success – proof of concept – our lawyers slowly start embracing and enjoying the change.  It is a slow journey but I am confident that we will get there sooner than other jurisdictions did.

Are there any myths or misapprehensions about the Indian legal sector that you would correct?

A popular myth is that the Indian legal sector is still Dickensian and old fashioned.  It is already very modern and advanced.  By way of example, I think the Indian legal sector is decades ahead of China.

What does innovation mean to Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas?

Innovation is in our DNA.  The idea of opening a law firm 100 years ago in India was an innovation in itself.  Early campus hiring, professional development trainings to produce the finest lawyers for a just world, adopting latest technology are all signs of innovation since the inception.  Innovation is very dear to our Managing Partner and the entire firm is aligned with his drive to innovate in the practice and business of law.

How did you come to be the head of Artificial Intelligence & Innovation at Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas?

CAM subscribed to Kira in Jan ’17 to use AI in their due diligences to improve efficiencies and accuracy.  My background of a lawyer skilled in people, process and technology was a perfect fit to execute Kira.  While Kira was the starting point, I saw an excellent opportunity to use my skills and experience from my prior jobs in transforming the legal business – in innovating – in becoming a part of the success story of the best law firm in India.  I am now part of broader innovation function of which Kira is just a part.

What does your role entail?

My role is very interesting – there are no boundaries and no set rules. In 2017, I was focussed on getting Kira up and running which I am proud to say I have achieved beyond my own expectations – it has become popular in very less time.  My team has done a great job in training it and now producing live results with accuracy.  While we started off with using Kira for our General Corporate practice only, we now have Capital Markets, Real Estate, Pharma and Financing teams use us regularly.

Currently, I am focusing on exploring new legal technologies, introducing global best practices across the firm, making the practice less people dependent and more process dependent and leading / facilitating various innovation projects.  One of the most exciting project for me this year is the launch of the CAM incubator to help young entrepreneurs develop a useful product for the lawyers and get it right the first time.  During product demos, I have found that the products are developed around the developer’s imagination of what will help a lawyer than the actual know how.   The CAM incubator will support them with the practicalities.  Some more interesting ideas are around using technology in enhancing our evidence management and drafting.

What is the project in the last 12 months that has excited you the most and why?

Training Kira and implementing it has been the most exciting and challenging in the last year.  Training the tool to understand our style of drafting was the toughest task which we slowly accomplished.  Then was the challenge of execution – of selling the tool internally and of teaching the practice teams on how to work seamlessly with the AI & Innovation team which is a process driven team.  We conducted multiple training sessions for the Partners and Associates explaining them how the tool works and in what areas of their practice can they use the technology.  Some brave Partners volunteered to be the first ones and soon the success story spread.  We now have an average of two matters running simultaneously at any given time and repeat clients is a treat we enjoy!

How is Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas taking advantage of artificial intelligence?

We are using AI in due diligence, contract review, legal research and IP.  We believe in efficiencies for ourselves and our clients and wherever we can get assistance from technology, we embrace it in our day to day practice.

The future of lawyering in India

One of The Legal Forecast’s themes this year is ‘the future of law is human’ – do you agree or disagree (and why)?

I think it will be a combination of man and machine which it is even now.  The scope of work for the machine will likely increase.

What is your legal forecast i.e. how will lawyering change in India over the next 10 or so years?

We will have fewer but excellent quality lawyers.  Technology will no longer be an option but a mandate.  Hourly billing will be replaced with transparent fixed cost.  We will move away from paper.  Clients will be driving innovation and pricing.  Work life balance will be far more important for our millennials and we will have flexible working hours, home offices etc. i.e. smarter ways of working.

Do you believe legal innovation has a role to play in advancing access to justice in India, and if so, how?

Absolutely.  Innovation brings efficiencies with smarter tools, processes and resources, accuracy and speed – this will directly reduce the lifecycle of any transaction.    We have been complaining long enough of delayed justice – innovation in how we practice law and smart lawyering will be the solution.

Do you have any tips for early career professionals who may want to follow in your footsteps to secure leadership roles at the coalface of innovation in practice?

Be proud of your decision to take the path less travelled. Studying law does not always mean practicing law – for professionals in the Innovation space, it means empowering the practice and business of law.  Challenges will come in the form of resistance, opposition, how to continually innovate and encourage the innovation culture.  Stay determined and focused on your role and KPIs – success will follow.

 

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

From post-it notes to reality: Race to the Future

Written by Sophie Tversky, TLF Victoria President

On 4 May, The Legal Forecast Victoria held a world first: Race To The Future. It was a metaphorical race, a ‘legal sprint of the mind,’ a 12-hour action-packed day, comprising five challenges taking place around Melbourne CBD. Each challenge reflected a different area of change in the legal industry: client-centred AI, e-discovery, mental health & wellbeing, access to justice, and legal education & careers.

The day began bright and early with a launch at Thomson Reuters – teams were formed, each provided with an Innovation Pack, containing helpful resources and props to guide teams throughout the day…. including lollies to keep their energy levels up! Each team was mentored by representatives of law, technology and professional service firms: Gilbert + Tobin, Janders Dean, Herbert Smith Freehills, Piper Alderman, Allens, Neota Logic, Hive Legal and Law Squared.

The starting line, teams at the start of the day

Teams delved into reforming the legal education system, uncovering ways of improving mental health resources and structural support in the court system, designing an AI-platform to assist a client with environmental approval compliance, proposing technological competency standards, and coming up with solutions to assist access to justice in rural and remote areas.

Teams had the option of completing two further bonus challenges: to rewrite and transform a verbose contractual provision into plain English making it accessible to the general public and building what the future of law would look like, using the resources and utensils in their Innovation Pack.

Teams competing challenges

Teams then further developed one challenge outcome to pitch to judges at a final Presentation Evening & Legal Fair. Teams were assessed throughout the day and on the night on their creativity & design, critical thinking, originality & innovation, collaboration and presentation & engagement.

The Presentation Evening and Legal Fair

We are so grateful to our wonderful final judging panel: Jodie Baker (Founder and CEO of Xakia Technologies, Deputy Chair of ALTA, Co-Chair to College of Law’s Centre for Legal Innovation), Claire Vines (Head of Technology of lexvoco) and Katie Miller (Executive Director of Victoria Legal Aid and author of the report, ‘Disruption, Innovation and Change: The Future of the Legal Profession’). They engaged with teams and interacted with their creations.


Final judging panel: Jodie Baker, Katie Miller and Claire Vines

Katie Miller, Executive Director of Victoria Legal Aid said:

“Fantastic event. I was struck by the number of complex issues woven into the solutions designed by the students. It showed a depth of critical, yet productive, thinking and the strength to be gained by combining that with a playful mindset.”

Our incredible keynote, Jeanette Cheah from The Hacker Exchange inspired everyone in the room, encouraging the audience to continue to be courageous: “your companies and communities in the future need it’ and to “use your social capital, they’ll advocate for you in meetings and they’ll give you feedback.” Jeannette encouraged participants to use this experience as a starting pad, to further develop ideas.

Keynote speaker: Jeanette Cheah

Then… *drumroll* the winners were announced: with Team Fancy Pens (Team Purple), mentored by Piper Alderman, as the winning team. They won the Race to the Future trophy and the team will co-author articles to be published by Thomson Reuters.


Winning Purple Team (Team Fancy Pens)

Team Justice League (Team White), mentored by Gilbert + Tobin, won the Best Performing Team in the Access To Justice Challenge Prize. They received credit vouchers towards a workshop/course at General Assembly.

Winning team of the A2J Prize, White Team (Team Justice League)

Cristabel Gekas received the GlobalX Prize for Innovation, Leadership & Systems Thinking, and was awarded an internship at GlobalX.

Cristabel Gekas receiving her award from COO of GlobalX, David Hobley

The Why

Race To The Future aimed to shake up the Hackathon, focus on innovation as process and bring a sense of play to the legal industry. RTTF sought to celebrate doing things differently, focus on both tech and non-tech solutions and delve into the rationale for choice of mode/mechanism for solving problems. This encouraged critical thinking about problem(s) and resolution(s).

Culture and environment are key to creating spaces that permit ideas (even crazy ones) to thrive. Our approach was that you can pare down a crazy idea but you can’t build one up! We wanted to create a space where “YES AND..” and “WHAT IF?’  were the default mindsets.


The Feedback

“Race To The Future is an awesome way to meet like-minded law students and legal professionals who are all interested in improving the legal industry through innovation and technology. The day was fun, challenging and entirely practical. I wish law school had these days built into the curriculum!”

“Absolutely loved it! Fantastic day, learnt a lot, met a lot of great people, both fellow students and the mentors. Couldn’t recommend the experience more…”

“It was absolutely wonderful. I didn’t know what to expect, but it exceeded any expectation I could have had… I can speak for my entire team in saying we all had an incredible time…”

“Race To The Future is one of the most enriching and innovative playgrounds for law students who aspire to incorporate technology, creativity and innovation in their future careers”

“I loved being part of this event. I was particularly impressed that the event challenged students (and mentors) to not only think about the law and the legal industry in a different way but also provided an opportunity for students gain new skills, like project planning and process mapping. It provided a terrific opportunity to connect with like-minded legal professionals at a variety of different stages of their careers. If this is what the future of law looks like – I am excited.”

Presentations

Team Green  (Green Lanterns) – Mentored by Janders Dean:

Team Green Lanterns focused on educating youth in rural, remote and regional communities about the legal system and their rights through educational tools such as comic books, online animation, videos and a ‘Law on Wheels’ van.

Team Navy Blue (Deep Blue) – Mentored by Neota Logic:

Team Deep Blue explored changes at law school to prepare lawyers for their future careers and integrating mental health resources into the curriculum. This was to be rolled out to the profession at large by establishing a network of support resources facilitated by technology.

Team Pink – Mentored by Allens:

Team Pink focussed on client-centred AI and used the concept of machine learning to assist clients navigate statutory requirements of environmental protection. Using a decision tree, their prototype could be extended to wider applications – such as building and planning permits.

Team Black- Mentored by Law Squared:

Team Black presented the ‘Montessori Legal Academy’ – a total revamp of the Bachelor of Laws program that integrated technology into the curriculum with the aim of exposing students to a high level of practical assignments and technology.

Team Purple (Team Fancy Pens) – Mentored by Piper Alderman:

Team Fancy Pens developed and proposed standards for legal tech competency and open source standards for legal documents, to be implemented under the Supreme Court Practice Note GEN 5 Technology in Civil Litigation. These standards would support the use of a range of technologies including VR interfacing and beyond.

Team White (Team Justice League) – Mentored by Gilbert + Tobin:

Team White presented their “Court Companion”, an app for first time users of the court system to make the process as non-confronting and comfortable as possible, specifically targeting rural areas.

Team Sky Blue – Mentored by Herbert Smith Freehills:

Team Sky Blue designed an artificial solution platform to assist the construction industry with regulatory compliance and potential legal fees associated with the building process and environmental impact statements.

Team Yellow (Team Buzz Squad) – Mentored by Hive Legal:

Team Yellow focussed on the issue of stigma around mental health in the legal industry and facilitating networks of support for judges, lawyers and clients, including but not limited to compulsory debriefings and post-proceeding support for clients.

Thank you

A big thank you to our major sponsors GlobalX, Thomson Reuters and Dazychain for your generous support and mentorship throughout the day.

Thank you to College of Law and General Assembly for being our wonderful venue sponsors.

Thank you to Thomson Reuters, General Assembly and GlobalX for generously providing students with further opportunities to grow in their professional development through your prizes.

Thank you to the team mentors from Gilbert + Tobin, Janders Dean, Herbert Smith Freehills, Piper Alderman, Allens, Neota Logic, Hive Legal and Law Squared for giving up your day to guide students.

Thank you to the team of volunteers and National TLF board members who came down to be part of this event.

Other media:

Blog post by Lauren Solomonson (Team Black member): https://dlssgeelong.wordpress.com/2018/05/09/race-to-the-future-bringing-technology-alive-for-law-students/

Twitter channel: https://twitter.com/legal_forecast?lang=en

Photos (with more to be added): https://www.facebook.com/pg/thelegalforecast/photos/?ref=page_internal