By Andrew King
LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.
Tell us about yourself
I am a barrister practising in commercial litigation at Richmond Chambers in Auckland. I was admitted to the bar in 1998, worked in Sydney and London from 2000 to 2004, and commenced practice as a barrister sole in Auckland in 2010. Law is just one of many passions – I love boating, fishing, skiing, tramping, and mountain biking, preferably with my family.
What does legal innovation mean to you?
Developing new ways of accessing and synthesising legal knowledge and process. Challenging orthodox approaches to the development of the law that has historically been constrained by limited access to legal knowledge and know-how. Finding ways to engage with and respond to more sophisticated queries from clients.
What role does technology play in innovation?
Technology, being a scientific solution to a practical problem, has always enabled innovation. The change that we are witnessing today lies in the scale and ambition of our expectations. We now demand that science delivers us answers not just to practical problems – such as how to put a rocket into space – but to assist us with assessing and judging human behaviours, such as likely jury reactions, or synthesising a complex pattern of share trades to demonstrate market manipulation.
What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?
Mooers’ Law tells us that information will be accessed and used in direct proportion to how easy it is to obtain. Historically, the law has not been accessible. Buried in bound volumes in member-only libraries or law firms, or in proprietary document management systems, the public have had no option but to consult with lawyers if they wanted to understand their legal rights and obligations.
That paradigm has changed. Access to legal information today has never been so easy. Paradoxically, however, making sense of the law has never been so hard. Clients routinely dump vast tracts of electronic information on their lawyer for review, much of it difficult to extract and understand without significant contextual background. Against the rise of “big data”, lawyers now have unprecedented access to legal materials, such as online statutes, commentary, and case law, from a multitude of jurisdictions. Clients routinely email their lawyer with the results of online searches for cases that might assist their own position.
The courts have responded to this increased complexity by insisting that lawyers reduce the size of submissions, streamline discovery, eliminate irrelevant evidence, and reduce authorities bundles to only the most relevant cases. The hope is that this will somehow make litigation cheaper or easier, as the material ultimately presented to the court is diminished.
That in turn puts huge pressure on counsel to make difficult judgement calls as to what is in or out, and to ensure that the claim is put forward in the most focused and best possible way. The enormity of this task cannot be overstated, both in terms of the workload and the difficulty of the decisions that must be made.
Once these trends are coupled with increasingly demanding and sophisticated clients, it is readily apparent that practice at the bar is not for the faint-hearted! While technology can assist to a degree with streamlining and automating some of the processes, ultimately counsel need to have the experience, wisdom and most importantly courage to make difficult judgement calls at every step of the litigation process, to reduce the number of documents and legal authorities, and produce a coherent – and justiciable – package for the courts to consider and rule on. That task is well beyond the capabilities of the average lay litigant.
What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?
The market will continue to consolidate and concentrate as high volume, low value work (such as debt recovery) migrates to online platforms with automated processing. Time-consuming and routine tasks, such as discovery, will be out-sourced. Automated processes will allow documents to be sifted for relevance.
Conversely, there will be increasing demands on senior counsel to advise on difficult judgement calls at each stage of the process, such as “what is relevant?”, “what should we look for?”, “what areas of law should we research?”, and “what should our evidence address?”
The role of the senior advocate and adviser will accordingly become even more relevant and critical.
What opportunities has legal innovation brought to you?
The ability to offer creative, independent solutions that take a “pick and mix” approach to the suite of collaborative and analytical tools available in the market. I find mind-mapping programmes invaluable for devising a strategy and framework for the legal theory of the case. The traditional file-sharing apps such as Dropbox are now being supplanted by more collaborative and adaptable programs such as Teams and Slack that integrate readily with video calling and allow bespoke, client-focused teams to be constructed for specific projects. This provides a very flexible, dynamic, client-focused way to work, and it also enables a degree of co-operation and – dare I say it – collaboration with your opponent that traditional adversarial models eschew.
What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?
Accepting that innovation requires some co-operation and goodwill. Challenging conventional wisdom. And in the words of Sir Peter Blake, always asking "But how does this make the boat go faster?"
Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?
Because we cannot survive without it. Both the courts and our clients expect us to synthesise huge volumes of data and legal research into punchy, focused claims. That task is simply not possible without learning how to automate and streamline some of the traditional legal processes, such as discovery, and then using innovative technology to make sense of that data and present it in a compelling way. If we cannot master this skillset, we will lose relevance, and our clients will ultimately be forced to look elsewhere for solutions.