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Why I left the big end of town for a start-up

Prue Burns – a former national law firm partner and banking transformation leader – spoke with Lawyers Weekly about what led her to move to a legaltech business.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 24 August 2021 NewLaw
Why I left the big end of town for a start-up
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Prue Burns was recently appointed as the new head of legal and operations at Josef, with the start-up’s chief executive and co-founder Tom Dreyfus calling her the sort of leader “that start-ups usually only dream of hiring”.

In conversation with Lawyers Weekly, Ms Burns said that “after years of breaking each day into six-minute billable units”, she had become adamant about being able to work in smarter ways, ensuring efficiency both for herself and those around her.

“I was seeking a role where value is measured more by scalable output than time input,” she surmised.


“I get a great deal of satisfaction from learning new things and working with people who have expertise in fields I know little about. Moving into a start-up provides a unique opportunity to work in a small and aligned team, each of whom brings a different perspective and knowledge base which is enthusiastically shared.”

Rethinking one’s path in the pandemic

“Throughout my career, it has been important to me that my work is underpinned by purpose,” Ms Burns said.

In accepting her new role, she said she was drawn to the idea of being able to help in-house teams and firm practice groups think about how best to automate and solve client problems faster, so as to improve the ways that they work, and – most importantly – value their outputs.

“At Josef, there is also a clear willingness to try new things and a culture of open and transparent communication. The team is fast to suggest and adopt new and better ways of doing things, both internally and for our customers. This approach encourages innovation, efficiency and a team that feels heard and valued,” she proclaimed.

We are living in a time, she reflected, that has caused and enabled deep thinking about all aspects of life.

“Simply slowing down and having fewer places to be, whether for work or in our personal lives has meant, for me, less time commuting, less time at school sport and birthday parties on the weekend and more time cooking, growing vegetables, reading and delving deeper into what I value and what I can offer,” she said.

“When I started out in law, I was drawn to environmental law because I felt I could multiply my individual efforts to protect the environment if I had the privilege of advising others and advocating on environmental issues in court. When I moved into the corporate world, I found a role where I could play a part in facilitating improvements in the technology and processes employed by one of our largest financial institutions to detect, mitigate and report on financial crime, the impacts of which are suffered by some of the most vulnerable people across the globe.”

With the shift to remote working and the imperative to rely on digital communication, Ms Burns went on, she found “greater opportunities” to connect, albeit virtually, with a wider network of people.

“The majority of people who face a legal problem around the world don’t get legal assistance. And for those who do, most are dissatisfied with the service they get,” she said.

“Having the time and space to think deeply about what is important to me out of my career and where I can add the most value, has enabled me to re-route my path with clarity, purpose and confidence.”

Challenges and opportunities for legaltech

One of the biggest challenges facing adoption of technology within the legal sector, Ms Burns identified, is a reticence among more senior lawyers.

“I have heard many lawyers say that they’re not ‘techie’ and they think adopting new systems or platforms requires a certain kind of savviness before they start to see the benefits,” she mused.

With low and no-code options, lawyers are empowered to make the technology work for them, so they can get on with applying the legal concepts and logic flows to produce an automated solution to solve their client’s problems.

“For in-house teams, opportunities to adopt legal tech can be faced with operational challenges such as lengthy procurement processes and finding opportunities to demo to decision-makers who are often time poor and hard to reach.”

“Building strong networks, really clear and easy to understand business cases and supporting documentation as well as simple and short demos will all help to alleviate some of these challenges.”

This all said, she pointed out, legaltech start-ups in Australia are in the midst of a “really exciting time”, in the wake of increasing openness to adoption of technology for the sake of efficiency and automation of legal service delivery that can be “repetitive and time-consuming”, thereby allowing legal professionals to undertake work that is more complex, nuanced and challenging, Ms Burns surmised.

“I also believe that by adopting legal technology, firms and in-house corporate teams can drive efficiencies, and firms may be able to work towards changing the way in which they charge for their services,” she submitted.

“I really love that this is an area where, in many cases, the student becomes the teacher. Legal-tech is an incredibly empowering thing for younger lawyers and law students to bring to their organisations to drive meaningful and valuable change by teaching their (perhaps less ‘techie’) mentors and colleagues how legal problems can be solved differently.”

Looking ahead

When asked what she is most excited about with her new vocational direction, Ms Burns said she is eager to be part of the Australian start-up ecosystem and have the opportunity to work with leaders whose platform, she posited, “has the potential to make a real difference to the way in-house teams and law firms deliver legal services”.

“We’re already seeing that legaltech can make the experience of receiving legal services less complex, stressful and time-consuming for clients, and the experience of providing legal services more rewarding for lawyers,” she concluded.

“I’m very excited to be a part of delivering these compounding benefits for the legal industry.”

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