‘The human aspect of the practice of law is key’

‘The human aspect of the practice of law is key’

20 October 2021 By Lauren Croft
practice of law

The practice of law will continue to change over the coming years, with innovation and technology key trends to be aware of. Despite this, human interactions will remain paramount, said NRF’s digital transformation head.

Nick Abrahams is the global co-leader of digital transformation at Norton Rose Fulbright and co-founder of the online legal platform LawPath.

As part of the NSW Law Society FLIP Conference this year, Mr Abrahams delivered the closing keynote speech: The Breakthrough Lawyer: Turning the uncertainty and disruption into an opportunity. He said that to thrive in present times, individuality and bravery is key.

“Everyone’s experience is not the same, and there is zero point in going along with what the crowd says because the way that you interact with the crowd and with your environment will be very different,” he said.

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“We are all very much individuals, and it’s important to think about: what does your practice look like? How do you fit within the greater business and legal and judicial community? And that is how you can figure out how to be the breakthrough lawyer. I do think that there’s tremendous cause for optimism.”

Along with his optimism for the future of the legal industry, Mr Abrahams said that despite numerous claims over the last two decades, the idea that machines are going to come and take lawyers’ jobs in the future is “just not true” when speaking about the future of law.

“I’m a great believer in what we offer to the greater society as lawyers, but also the opportunities; the commercial and career opportunities as lawyers are still very strong.

“They’ve been saying that the technology is coming for the last 20 years and that we will get displaced by the machines. I fully expected to be able to automate the legal service [at LawPath], but frankly, it is incredibly difficult. What we do is actually, oddly, very bespoke,” he said.

“The human aspect of the practice of law is key.”

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However, Mr Abrahams added that moving forward, lawyers and firms need to think about what value proposition they can offer within current markets and be able to adapt and change it if necessary.

“The proposition around disruption theory, which is this concept that technology and improvements in processes and so forth will disrupt industries, what it says is that the commodity work will be the first to go and then everyone will compete for the complex work. And that may well be where we end up,” he said.

“But we’ve definitely got threats coming from technology, and threats from the big four, who are doing a wonderful job addressing client needs, law companies and also obviously the rise of in-house lawyers.”

One way for firms to increase their value proposition is to focus increasingly on innovation. In terms of working in this space, Mr Abrahams’ advice was to start by creating something small first and build on it to test whether the product or service generates interest in your target market or not.

He added that diversity within innovation teams is also important – whilst LawPath recently completed a “solid” capital raise, the business was in trouble three years ago and fought to turn a profit, which Mr Abrahams related back to the business being “stale”.

The $7.5 million raise saw a number of new investors back the company, including the Gonski family, Justin Ryan, chairman of Adore Beauty, Barry and Darren Smorgon’s Sandbar Investments, and Tony Faure, chair of both oOh! Media and Readytech. US-based investors, including director of LegalZoom, Khai Ha, and founding partner at Kobe Bryant’s VC fund Bryant Stibel, Gonzalo Troncoso have also contributed to the raise.

“We looked around the senior leadership team, who were men in their mid-40s or older. And we figured out a way to survive: we reduced the team to four people and gave the keys to the business to two 28-year-olds. And they did a wonderful job of re-energising that business – in three months, they had doubled revenue. And we hadn’t moved it in six months,” Mr Abrahams said.  

“It’s now a much more wonderfully diverse – in all senses – workforce. So, I’m a big believer that whether it’s age, gender, race, that bringing in diversity is critical.”

In addition to having a diverse team, Mr Abraham added that lawyers need to embrace innovation and legal tech overall in order to survive post-pandemic.

“Do be brave, embrace the technology – I am very positive about the opportunities for lawyers, and we can all really succeed and continue to help business and the world as we have done,” he concluded.

‘The human aspect of the practice of law is key’
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