Interview | Tomoyuki Hachigo (sprintlaw)
sprintlaw is a new type of law firm that operates completely online and on a fixed-fee basis. They are on a mission to make quality legal services faster, simpler and more affordable for small business owners and entrepreneurs. Tomoyuki Hachigo is the co-founder and lawyer at sprintlaw. Recently, Milan was fortunate to interview Tomo!
I’m not a really big quotes kind of person, but there are a few concepts I do live by. One of them is this concept of “daydream”, which is also one of our core values at sprintlaw. The basic idea is that all innovation starts from unstructured thoughts, from daydreaming.
This is particularly important in an age where everyone is measured against how productive they are. Instead, I’m a big believer in creativity and the idea that from time to time you have to take a step back and reflect on the bigger picture.
One that comes to mind is how I used to think you can achieve everything through hard work and by satisfying some pre-defined set of criteria. But I’ve realised that just because you work hard, it doesn’t meant that things will just be handed to you and you’ve really got to work smart and carve out your own destiny if you want to succeed.
And this is a fairly common way of thinking in the law because we’re trained to be that way. Starting all the way from getting a high ATAR score to get into law school, maintaining good grades throughout uni, collecting extra curricular activities for your CV, getting that first “law job”, and so on. Then you see this translate to attitudes in the workplace as well, where people who have ticked all these boxes then complain about not getting a raise or promotion. But in reality there are many other factors at play, often those that are not entirely fair. And so you can’t always rely on the system delivering for you, and instead you have to take initiative and be creative to make things happen.
Trying to innovate while being restricted by the rules of an old profession that hasn’t yet adapted to the 21st century. In order to build a legal service delivery model that is convenient, online and customer-centric, we do things differently. But at every step along the way, we have encountered some law society rule that prohibits us from designing the perfect solution.
Of course, many of the ethical rules are there for good reason and to protect the integrity of the profession. However, the regulations (and the supporting software solutions) seem to be built for the old way of doing things – where lawyers work in offices, meet clients face-to-face, and charge by the hour to unquestioning clients.
That being said, the good news is that Australia’s legal business regulations are actually more liberal than many other jurisdictions, and there’s a lot we do at sprintlaw that wouldn’t be possible overseas.
One thing I definitely appreciate in hindsight is how a top-tier law firm is full of super intelligent people. Not sure if I “miss” that, but being surrounded by such people on a daily basis was a unique experience.
I also couldn’t be doing what I’m doing now without the training I received at the BigLaw firm. And that’s part of the problem because I don’t think it is sustainable for traditional law firms to keep training up junior talent. This is why I want sprintlaw to eventually be a place that also equips the next generation of lawyers with the tools and mindset required in the future.
It’s usually the simple things – having a shareholders agreement, registering a trademark, employment issues, writing up a contract, and so on. With all of these, the main issue is that they don’t get the advice early on before things get problematic. Small businesses often try to just wing it and only see a lawyer in crisis situations – and it’s usually too late to deal with things then. Businesses often sign up to a bad deal, or end up in disputes that could have been avoided, because they just didn’t have the right conversations early on in their business dealings. A lot of the time, the real value in seeing a lawyer is just to go through the process of fleshing out potential issues and risks when making business decisions.
Following from the previous answer, the real problem is that this market doesn’t see the value in seeing a lawyer. And I don’t blame them when the status quo lawyers are so expensive, overly complicated and time consuming. Lawyers also tend to be very out of step with how consumers, especially the younger generations, nowadays prefer to transact online and through smartphones.
That’s why we focus on making it easy to consume legal services, by improving user experience and designing the entire business around the customer. From the client’s perspective, the sprintlaw experience is very quick and easy – make an online enquiry, get a fixed-fee quote, connect with one of our lawyers, and problem solved! To make this simple 4-step process happen, we’ve put in a lot of thought to the tech infrastructure and business processes to make this as efficient and seamless as possible. Coupling this with the latest legal technology to help our lawyers be smarter and more efficient, we’re able to provide quality legal output at the fraction of the cost.
Read Richard Susskind’s books. Be aware of the changing landscape and be open to learning new skills. Technology will certainly play a huge part, but that doesn’t mean that it’s all about tech skills. In fact, I think it’s more than ever important to think about traditional human skills like intuition and creativity.
Of all the technologies that have been hyped up in recent years (e.g. AI, machine learning, big data, blockchain, etc), there’s one specific idea in Richard Susskind’s book that I’ve always been drawn to. It’s this idea of “Embedded Legal Knowledge” whereby the law would be embedded within society’s systems and processes. The example he gives is a car that doesn’t drive if the driver’s blood alcohol level exceeds the limit, instead of the status quo which requires the driver to know and interpret the law (though, we may not have drivers anymore in 10-15 years, but you get the idea).
In such a world, the role of lawyers would obviously radically shift, from specialists who react to certain situations, to some sort of an architect of social infrastructure. 10-15 years is a very long time in tech and my prediction is that there will be so many aspects of the world that would be unrecognisable from today’s perspective.
Before getting excited about the future though, a more immediate development would be to bring lawyers up to speed with 2017! I find it crazy how much grunt work there still is at law firms, even though there are already tools out there to automate so much of the work lawyers don’t want to do. I think there’ll be an increasing trend for lawyers to focus only on things that machines can’t do. For the legal market, this means that the top end will probably continue business as usual but under a leaner and more tech-enabled outfit. The commoditised end of the market will also continue to develop with new offerings reaching underserved markets. The consensus seems to be that the middle is in trouble, and I wouldn’t be surprised if this was the case in 10-15 years time.
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