Interview | Matthew Farrington (Juno Legal)
Michael (TLF) recently caught up with Matthew Farrington, Lawyer and Legal Technologist at Juno Legal. Juno provides streamlined in-house counsel at great value. They can work in your office alongside your existing legal team, provide an in-house legal function as seconded sole counsel or support your business remotely.
We would love to hear about your background and how you eventually became connected to Juno.
I’ve always been a bit of a geek (I cut my teeth on a Commodore 64 and Amiga 500), but somehow ended up a lawyer. As a lawyer, I’ve worked in private practice, for a hedge fund, and in government. My legal practice has included ICT contracting, commercial law, public law, financial regulation, and derivatives, securities and other financial instruments. But I think I found my true calling when I shifted into more of a practice management or legal consultant role, focussing on designing and implementing systems to help lawyers work more efficiently and effectively.
I’m also a parent to two children. I was a senior associate in private practice when my wife (who is also a lawyer) and I decided that it would be best for our family for me to take some time off and be a full-time parent. I’ve never done anything that was so wonderful and so exasperating in equal measure! But it was certainly a change to go from negotiating ISDA Master Agreements to negotiating whose turn it was to turn the pages in the story we were reading. Clients at least don’t need you to wipe their noses (mostly).
After a few years of parenting, I went back to work part time, mainly on a contracting basis. It was during this time that I met Helen Mackay, who started Juno Legal. Helen and I share a lot of views about the future of the legal profession, the role of lawyers (especially in-house lawyers), and the need for flexible and fulfilling working arrangements. When the opportunity to work with Helen came up, I leapt at the chance.
What do you see your key responsibilities to be as a Legal Technologist for Juno?
Fundamentally, showing lawyers better ways of working. This might be ways of better identifying and managing legal risk, work flow and practice management, or how to demonstrate value.
A particular focus of mine is what I call the information cycle. At a very basic level, as lawyers we use our knowledge to generate documents. The documents form the basis of records. And the records inform our future knowledge. Law is essentially a knowledge industry – it’s what we know that sets us apart from non-lawyers. But lawyers aren’t particularly good at managing the knowledge we’ve already got. A key part of my role is working with in-house legal teams and private practices to implement systems and processes to harness that knowledge to allow lawyers to access and build on that knowledge. I like the joke “where is the best place to hide anything on the internet?” “Page 2 of the Google search results.” Law is just the same. I hate spending unnecessary time tracking down a previous bit of advice, or worse, recreating something that already exists but couldn’t be found! A good knowledge management system is key to solving this particular problem.
I strongly believe in the power of technology to effect positive changes in legal practices. But not all changes need to be technological. I think some of my best results have come from streamlining or optimising certain processes, which can be as simple as a basic flow chart or step-by-step guide.
What are some of the challenges and opportunities you and your colleagues have experienced being in-house counsel on demand?
The role of in-house counsel varies massively from business to business. Some in-house lawyers are key strategic advisers, others are managers of legal teams, while still others are leading technical experts in their areas of law. Each business is also unique. The legal requirements of a major business with a large in-house team are very different to a smaller or start-up company that may only have a part-time legal resource. Both are different again to an entity in the public sector. And with all those differences, the role and expectations of in-house lawyers vary too.
Going in to one of these organisations as a flexible legal resource, and getting up to speed with the particular requirements of that organisation and its legal team can be challenging but you get better at being adaptable. But it’s also one of the best parts of the job, which is massively varied and always interesting! Being a good lawyer is critical but you need to have other skills to be a great in-house lawyer so we focus on being commercial, pragmatic and having sound judgement.
How would you define or describe NewLaw?
I think of NewLaw as any way of providing legal services other than via the traditional private practice-billable unit model. NewLaw covers a range of disciplines, from artificial intelligence, to technology assisted review and document construction, to alternative service models and fee structures. To me, NewLaw isn’t about replacing lawyers with artificial intelligence; it’s about providing smarter tools and better ways of working to lawyers to help them do their jobs more efficiently, more effectively, and more enjoyably.
Most point to NewLaw starting in the 1990s or 2000s with the early stages of document automation and the beginnings of flexible legal resource providers. But I think you can look further back, to the 1970s and the beginnings of the in-house revolution as the real origin of “NewLaw”. The rise of the general counsel as key strategic players in their organisations has fundamentally altered the way law is practised, and I think for the better. It is in-house counsel that are driving the changes to the way the business of law is carried out, and therefore really began the NewLaw revolution.
We note you donate to charities at the completion of each project or assignment to give opportunities to Kiwi families – what have been some of your favourite causes to support?
Each of our lawyers chooses a New Zealand charity whose mission they feel connected to. For me, I would like to support a charity that focuses on technology education for children, something I’m particularly keen to encourage. We currently support Outward Bound and Nga Tangata Microfinance. Outward Bound exists to “create better people, better communities and a better world”. Through various courses people, business professionals and young adults learn to grasp every opportunity thrown their way. Nga Tangata Microfinance is a great charity that aims to build a more just and equitable society in Aotearoa New Zealand by providing small, safe and fair loans to low income families.
Is there anything particular about lawyers that you believe holds back legal innovation?
I think the biggest single problem is just not starting. Lawyers are typically excellent problem solvers. If we see a legal problem, it’s usually the next best thing to impossible for us not to try and solve it. But when it comes to problems that aren’t strictly “legal issues” – including the ways we work and the tools we use to work – we often don’t know where or how to start. Many of us are so busy with the legal problems in front of us right now, we don’t have time to think about how we can mitigate the issues before they hit our desks with panicked cries of “this is urgent”.
Lawyers don’t need to know three coding languages and to have successfully Kickstarted a new app to be legal innovators. We don’t need a week of dedicated time set aside to brainstorm a new and better way of working. If you see a problem with the way you work, and think you’ve got a better way of doing it, try and do something to effect positive change for your business, your firm or your client. This doesn’t have to be a technology solution; as I mentioned above, some of the best results can come from something as simple as a basic flow chart or step-by-step guide.
And if your solution is technological and you need your IT department’s help, don’t be afraid if you don’t speak tech. I’ve championed the use of the user story as a means for lawyers to bridge the gap between legal requirements and technology solutions. Technology solutions also don’t have to be expensive. Sometimes a change to a configuration of an existing system is all you need.
What is your favourite quote?
Officially, “the best way to predict the future is to create it yourself”. It’s usually attributed to Abraham Lincoln but I came to it via Peter Diamandis, the founder of the X Prize Foundation. I think this is great advice, and the story of Peter and the X Prize Foundation is a fascinating one with lots of insights into the power of doing things differently. For those that are interested, Julian Guthrie’s How to Build a Spaceship is a fascinating read.
But I have to admit, pretty much any of the classic quotes from the Simpsons will have me in stitches.
What advice would you give to students or young lawyers who are interested in legal technology?
Disruption is coming. The job you do as a lawyer at the end of your career will be nothing like the job you do at the start of your career. Read about disruption. Read about the future of the legal profession. If you only read one thing, read this post by Shelly Palmer (spoiler warning: it is going to tell you to read other things).
We really appreciate the flexibility you offer to your employees – are there any opportunities available?
If you are an experienced in-house counsel, we are always happy to discuss your career plans and potential opportunities. Creating more flexible pathways for lawyers is a key driver for us whether through Juno or through us connecting lawyers into other opportunities and networks.
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 email@example.com