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‘True legal innovation’ is client-centric

In order to overcome roadblocks to innovation, lawyers need to not only adjust their mindset, but also their working practices, according to the new president of ALTA.

user iconLauren Croft 06 January 2023 NewLaw
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Fionn Bowd is the chief executive of Bowd and Karen Finch is the founder and CEO of Legally Yours, in addition to being the newest president of the Australian Legal Technology Association (ALTA).

Speaking on a recent episode of Legal Lightbulbs produced in partnership with Bowd, the pair discussed some of the barriers to innovation and whether lawyers can achieve true innovation or are stuck in traditional working practices.

From Ms Bowd’s perspective, this is an important conversation for lawyers and legal professionals to be having as she often sees a “real worry and self-perception” that lawyers only know how to be lawyers — something which can potentially be a roadblock to innovation.


“It’s not just a mindset. There’s lots to it. But I just think that what I want for people, what I want for lawyers is a sense of freedom in decisions that they’re making in their sense of self, in their lives really. So, talking about innovation, talking about new ideas, talking about taking risks is really important,” she said.

“Sometimes it’s also about giving ourselves permission to not do everything, but it is also about following passions, following dreams, learning where to look about the different ways that we might be able to do things, when I just have a lot more faith in lawyers and sometimes lawyers have in them themselves.”

In terms of the legal profession continually — and increasingly — embracing innovation, Ms Finch emphasised that “you can’t be what you can’t see”.

“I think there’s a real misunderstanding in the legal profession about legal tech and legal innovation. So, I know a lot of law firms and a lot of lawyers seem to think that if I implement a piece of legal technology, I’m legally innovative. And that’s only just one aspect of legal innovation.

“Legal technology absolutely can be at the forefront, but when you are being legally innovative, what you are actually truly trying to accomplish is a benefit to your client. So, it might also, as a side benefit, make you more efficient as a firm or streamline your processes internally. But if there is no real benefit to your client, whether it be through your price or whether it be through your efficiency, or it’s not client-centric in its result, then I would actually say your innovation, you’re just trying to be innovative. You’re talking the innovation game (sic). It’s not that true legal innovation,” she explained.

“But what I know is — and with the lawyers that we have as part of our community and these incredible sole practitioners and micro boutique firms that form our Legally Yours network — is that when lawyers start to innovate, when they truly innovate and they start to build these incredible client-centric firms, the freedom that they achieve from those is just beyond words. It was described by one lawyer who has been a family lawyer for over 20 years. She re-fell in love with being a family lawyer again. And that’s the true freedom when you can actually overcome some of these traditional barriers and mindsets that you can gain in your legal practice.”

Whilst Ms Bowd is optimistic that the profession is going to be able to adapt to future conditions that require innovation, there are a number of firms with a particularly resistant culture.

“I see it in things like the way that people and firms and partners think about their staff. Things like how matters are resourced, the kinds of hours that people are expected to do, [and] the kind of sacrifices that they’re expected to make. I do want to be positive, but I also want to recognise that the traditional mindset of doing things the way we’ve always done them, structuring teams, structuring client relationships, delivering services the way we’ve always delivered them, probably fee structures in some cases as well are genuinely going to doom and already have,” she added.

“There were a number of practices that closed over the pandemic because they couldn’t manage with the filing. They had everything in hard copies and there was no time for them to convert things electronically with the lockdown, particularly in Melbourne. It was reported back to me that there were so many firms who were still using only paper filing. There is a negative risk or there’s a danger here that can’t be ignored while we also talk about the positives.

And in order to be truly innovative, Ms Finch said that it’s important to start with open conversations in order to break thought processes down and actually “understand the process in order to get a handle on innovation in legal practice”.

“We need to bring this into the general kind of conversations that we are having as a profession. One of the really great things, as tragic as COVID-19 has been for so many people around the world, I think in legal, what it really enabled and what it forced lawyers to do, which a lot of them didn’t want to, was actually really think about innovation.

“They might not have specifically termed it in that framework, but there was a moment and a pause whereby everyone in the profession had to go, ‘Is my delivery service not all working?’ And can it work within this new world that we find ourselves, where we aren’t able to rely upon the traditional structures of face-to-face meetings or clients travelling to see us face-to-face or being in an office surrounded by my filing cabinets,” she added.

“So even when you dial it back to that, all of a sudden, you’ve got everyone in the profession. Partners write down to your paralegals going, ‘How do we innovate?’ I think it’s just so incredibly important because my hope is now that we actually, through COVID-19, have realised that we can innovate; we just picked that up more and more and more. But again, it’s recognising the barriers to that mindset, but how we can overcome them.”

The transcript of this podcast episode was slightly edited for publishing purposes. To listen to the full conversation with Fionn Bowd and Karen Finch, click below:

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