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The Innovators: Renee Knake

08 March 2019

LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

Renee Knake holds the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at the Royal Melbourne Institute for Technology University and is Professor of Law and Director of Outcomes and Assessments at the University of Houston Law Centre.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

Legal innovation means developing ways to make law more accessible for those who need it, whether on the street corner or in the corner office. It also means ethical innovation. Lawyers have a special obligation to ensure that innovations in the delivery of legal services are ethical, not only complying with professional obligations but also protecting clients from harm.

What role does technology play in innovation?

Renee Knake

Technology plays an important role in legal innovation, both in the development of new tools to make law more accessible and affordable, but also in showing the way toward innovation through investment, trial/error, user-centric design, etc. Technology alone, however, is not itself true innovation, unless it becomes adopted and disseminated.

What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?

Better, faster, cheaper, more-for-less – the pressures facing all sectors certainly also pertain to legal services. But, a unique pressure for those delivering legal services is adoption, whether it be convincing lawyers or their clients to try new tools or methods. Lawyers, by nature, are often risk-adverse and clients may not understand the value of legal services. So, this creates an extra hurdle or added layer of pressures for those who want to innovate in the legal services space.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?

I believe we will increasingly see more focus on the needs of clients, whether corporations, government bodies, or individuals, as well as stronger efforts aimed at better understanding the lived-experience for those who need legal help. Even as technology changes the tools legal services providers use, one-on-one human interaction will remain centrally important.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought to you?

My work in legal innovation has brought a number of opportunities. It has expanded career opportunities for students of mine, for example as legal solutions architects/designers or innovation counsel, jobs in the profession that did not exist when I was a student at the University of Chicago Law School 20 years ago. From 2014-16, I had the privilege of serving as a Reporter for the American Bar Association Commission on the Future of Legal Services, which led to the creation of the ABA’s Centre on Innovation. And, currently I hold the Fulbright Distinguished Chair in Entrepreneurship and Innovation at Royal Melbourne Institute for Technology University, a six-month fellowship through the Australian-American Fulbright Commission. In this capacity, I am building upon my prior research to better understand the role of entrepreneurship and innovation in the delivery of legal services globally.

What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?

Look beyond one’s own profession or discipline for inspiration. My essay “Cultivating Learners Who Will Invent the Future of Law Practice: Some Thoughts on Educating Entrepreneurial and Innovative Lawyers”, which, while written for legal educators, offers insights for anyone who wants to think differently about how we approach the delivery of legal services.

Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?

In the United States this is an ethical obligation for lawyers; American Bar Association Model Rule 1.1, governing competence, requires keeping abreast with changes in relevant technology. But even more significant, for legal professionals around the globe, learning about innovation and leveraging technology is essential to best serving our clients.


Renee Knake is one of the speakers at LawFest 2019, at the Cordis Hotel in Auckland on 21 March.

Last updated on the 8th March 2019