BLAKE DAWSON has reopened for business in 2008 with an administrative overhaul of one practice group. A new offshoot of its business has been launched to focus solely on technology and innovation.
The legal technology team’s Salt online products business will now operate under the banner of a dedicated technology subsidiary company Blake Dawson Technology Pty Ltd.
Julian Fenwick will take up the CEO position of the new entity. He was previously national business development manager with the legal technology team, a part of the intellectual property, competition and technology group (IPCT).
“Blake Dawson Technology Pty Ltd is a wholly-owned subsidiary of the firm, it’s still fully integrated. We still sit within the main firm, and we are all spread out through different offices across the main firm,” Fenwick said.
“We work closely with our lawyers to ensure that the Salt training content is legally up to date and relevant to the client's business. The company’s task is finding new and innovative ways of using technology to deliver those services to clients who might be better served by technology rather than face-to-face engagement.”
Fenwick explained that the restructure will not affect the day-to-day operations of the group. It had been in the works for some time, with an application lodged with ASIC on 11 January last year to update the pre-existing company name, BDW Technology Pty Ltd.
Part of the motivation for the restructure was the departure of partner Elizabeth Broderick, who left to take on the high-profile role of federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner.
“Liz [Broderick] used to head up the legal technology team, and [her departure] is why we are restructuring now. But these things take a bit of time,” Fenwick said.
The key product in the dedicated technology group’s suite is Salt Enterprise, an online legal compliance training program which services more than 100,000 end users. Now in its fourth incarnation, Salt will provide plain language legal training, regardless of jurisdiction, thanks to the new multilingual functionality launched last week.
Salt instructs employees about their obligations in areas such as workplace relations, trade practices, privacy and anti- money laundering. Currently, there are about 15 major topics of law on offer in Australia and a similar number in New Zealand, with new courses under development for Asia and South Africa.
Blakes’ approach to delivering client services is termed “client-facing technology” by group member senior associate Kate Booth, who is based in the firm’s Melbourne office. Booth has overseen the Salt course content development process for some years, and expanded upon the firm’s approach to developing new legal technology services.
“We have an external supplier [IT company Emerging Systems] who can provide us with really deep expertise on particular areas,” Booth said. “But a lot of the architecting of the business needs assessment that’s all done internally. We very much own that part of the process, we drive the product road map and how it’s developed, but we buy-in special expertise if and when we need it.”
Performance measurement in the technology sector is a new challenge for professional services providers. Client subscription rates for Salt 4.0 will be a key measurement of its success. “It’s not like an advice-based service, in that it’s subscription-based. We have different costs and different lengths of investment time,” Fenwick said. “If we invest a million dollars in technology today we may not get full payback within 12 months, whereas if we hired five new senior associates we’d probably expect them to have covered their salary in a year or so.”
Fenwick hopes his team’s strong track record will translate into positive numbers for the fledgling subsidiary.
“The business is already profitable and has been for a number of years. It’s reliant on clients who resubscribe year after year or take on new products, and also the expanding nature of the client base,” Fenwick said. “Our strength is in the level of service and relationships we develop with our clients. Obviously our business itself has to be profitable, and that’s a really key concern, if you’re not profitable you don’t survive.”
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