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The ‘resistance’ to innovation within the profession

Building structures from scratch to increase innovation and efficiency is key for firms to overcome traditional working practices, this pair argued.

user iconLauren Croft 13 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 how traditional working practices can be a barrier to innovation within the profession — and what needs to change moving forward.

Whilst the pair also spoke about lawyers being unable to perceive themselves as innovative and having a lack of understanding about what true innovation is in a legal context, both Ms Bowd and Ms Finch deduced that certain firm cultures need to drastically shift from traditional models.


This conversation comes after a number of firm partners across the country echoed their concerns for the emerging generation of lawyers, who have missed crucial learning opportunities by working remotely.

However, Ms Finch said that now, at least 80 per cent of business calls are run virtually — and that junior lawyers should be able to sit in virtually, which she said is “just as valuable” as in-person learning.

“I think a lot of this comes down to the fact that a lot of our creativity on reimagining the law firm, the virtual law firm or the virtual kind of new wave of what law firms will look like and how we do this training, we just haven’t had the discussion about it.

“There’s probably a resistance because I get it. It’s easier to rely on what we’ve always done forever in a day because that’s what we know. But if we can get creative, if we can get, dare I say, innovative when we are looking at the ways that we are training these junior lawyers coming through, there’s no need for everyone to always be in the same physical space,” she explained.

“It does come with a caveat; however, I do think that there is a place where you need to have some face-to-face, but the face-to-face is framed differently. So, it’s not necessarily about the work, it’s not necessarily about the training, but it’s about building relationships with each other. And that I think still needs to be interwoven in. And I think that’s important for junior lawyers to be networking and building relationships within the firm to help that culture of the firm. But do I think that it’s a barrier for lawyer training? Absolutely not.”

Ms Bowd echoed a similar sentiment — and said that many lawyers now see their clients via Zoom to save time.

“Even when clients are in the same city, they’re not meeting with the firms anymore. Now, I know the partners what their response would be to this idea of having somebody sitting, a junior sitting. When a junior is sitting on a phone call, the client doesn’t know they’re there,” she said.

“So, the partner puts them on speakerphone in the way that it was for me. The partner puts them on speakerphone. The junior is sitting there taking notes, and the client doesn’t know they’re there. That’s if you’re not going to build the time and so that you don’t need to introduce them, they’re there to learn, they’re there to listen.”

And whilst this was the norm pre-pandemic, Ms Bowd said it’s likely not to be very common moving forward, with more firms likely to mandate one or two days in the office rather than full time.

“Now, the problem here is I understand where the partners are coming from, 100 per cent. But the problem is you cannot wind the clock back. Talk to anybody, go into the office, there’s nobody there. The partner might be there, but if they’re in meetings all day, not physical ones that they’re out of the office, they’re in court, they’re doing things that you can’t join, they’re on matters that have nothing to do with you, you make the effort of going into the office and being there, but you get any payout for that because there’s no one else there,” she added.

“No other juniors, no other seniors, no one’s there. So the idea of just saying all the juniors have got to come in or they’ve got to come in three days, it’s actually a structural issue that needs to be looked at from a holistic perspective.

“I cannot tell you how many people come to me because of their work conditions, because they’ve been made to come in three days a week, because they’re forced to have that kind of presenteeism or sort of mid pandemic when the employers weren’t being clear about what their requirements would be and they were making noises about three days in the office and four days in the office.”

To combat this, Ms Bowd said firms need to start building their structures from scratch in order to decipher what hybrid models work for them and their employees.

“Nevermind how they were before. Work out what really matters; when it’s about learning, when it’s about collaboration, and then work out how else it can be delivered. I do agree that having things like you can have junior lawyers on the Zoom meeting, you can also have them on the phone listening in,” she said.

“We could have someone who you can’t see on the screen right now listening to this conversation. They’d be able to hear everything. You can’t just go back to how it was, but there are ways of achieving the same kinds of things with a bit of effort and a bit of thought.”

Moreover, so much time in a traditional firm has been wasted and “physically present with no value in it”, according to Ms Finch, who said that firms now need to focus on being purposeful and valuable — and offering training to match.

“I see the lawyers who have left traditional law firms who want to start up their own firms or want to join these progressive micro boutique firms that are delivering legal services differently,” she said.

“And when they start to reimagine what their services can be and how they can build these firms, that freedom and creativity is just incredible because they start looking at, well, what is that technology I can use? Who is the client that I want to deliver these to? And, like you said, they’re most likely on a digital platform because that’s the way everyone else is doing business. I think these firms need to understand the market has moved, their clients have moved, and they need to shift with it, or perhaps maybe they are doomed.”

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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