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How the digital age is changing #auslaw

In a speech delivered last week, Law Society of NSW president Juliana Warner detailed what she sees as being the primary changes underway in Australia’s legal profession, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

user iconJerome Doraisamy 29 April 2021 SME Law
Juliana Warner
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In the face of extraordinary circumstances in the past 12 or so months, the legal profession continues to rise to the occasion, Juliana Warner proclaimed in remarks at the FLIP Regional Roadshow – Parramatta event.

“Lawyers are finding new ways to deliver their services, while staying true to their time-honoured commitments – to court and client; to the rule of law; and to the checks and balances inherent in a modern, democratic society,” she said.

“In 2020 the legal profession in NSW delivered a masterclass in change leadership, responding to the crisis of COVID-19 with agility, innovation, and resolve.”

 
 

The effect of the global pandemic, Ms Warner surmised, has been to accelerate trends already underway, including but not limited to the potential for tech and innovation to increase access to justice, the mainstreaming of flexible working, the rise of online proceedings and dispute resolution, and changing needs and expectations from clients.

The changes being experienced in this digital age, she noted, can be broadly listed under four categories, she said.

Pricing

There remains, Ms Warner mused, a “great unmet need” for legal services across the country. To help meet this need, she said, lawyers have begun innovating how they charge clients for services rendered.

Options include, she listed, “including offering limited scope (or unbundled) legal services. This involves breaking a legal matter down into discreet tasks. Lawyers then provide representation on one or some of these tasks,” she said.

Unbundling has emerged as an “attractive” avenue for commercial matters, in the wake of evolving client expectations and technologies, Ms Warner reflected.

“For a fixed fee and with technology accessible through a law firm’s website, clients can create contracts, such as leases, employment agreements or wills, and then bring in a lawyer for review or further advice,” she said.

She also pointed to the rise of subscription services, and singled out LegalVision and Sprintlaw for their packages.

“For an upfront annual fee, members receive on-demand phone consults, free legal documents, discounts on fixed-fee packages and partner offers. Both organisations seek to capitalise on the 2.2 million business operating in Australia; 94 per cent of which are too small to have a legal department or in-house lawyer,” she detailed.

“To reach these businesses, they offer financial certainty and predictability, while fostering operational efficiency.”

Technology and collaboration

The number of legal technologies available in the marketplace, Ms Warner continued, has “exploded” in recent years. Moreover, their market share has increased, spurred on by cheaper and more powerful computers, cloud software, portable devices, more reliable internet, and changes to consumer behaviour.

She noted operators such as PEXA, Josef, Legaler and Atticus as being among those aiding with tasks like document automation, analytics, e-discovery, compliance processes, case management, chatbots, and research.

Further, she added, “there is considerable optimism that legal technologies can help increase access to justice”.

As a result of this, Ms Warner posited, technology is helping not only how lawyers work, but also whom they work with.

“The digital era is facilitating all sorts of new partnerships and collaborations,” she said, pointing to the LawTech Hub, created by Lander & Rogers and YBF Ventures, as well as PwC’s partnership with LawVu.

However, perhaps the most vivid expression of new collaborations, Ms Warner stated, is the rise of multidisciplinary partnerships, such as Merlehan Group.

“The venture was inspired (in part) by Adam Merlehan’s postgraduate business studies and experience working in-house with large global clients as part of a commercial team. In these contexts, collaborating with stakeholders outside of the law was key to success,” she explained.

“Merlehan Group’s clients are responsible for delivering some of the largest infrastructure, energy and development projects throughout Australia. To assist them, the firm offers not only legal support, but business strategy advice and specialist projects expertise.”

Communication

New digital tools have also, Ms Warner said, transformed the way lawyers communicate with their clients, their colleagues and the wider community.

“The relatively seamless transition to working from home arrangements in March and April of last year wouldn’t have been possible without the widespread adoption of digital tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom and social media apps,” she noted.

“These tools – particularly video conferencing – have allowed some firms to offer their services completely online. Parallel with this development is the rise of social media as a marketing and communication tool.”