LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.
Tell us about yourself?
In 1996, my family moved from Taipei to a farm in Rotorua with 100+ horses. The family business involved bringing groups of international students from China, Taiwan & Singapore to experience NZ from attending local schools, visiting tourism sites to learning how to brush a horse. I moved up to Auckland to study biomedical science and business administration. This led onto my private equity experience working to assess the investability of early-stage companies, particularly those with technologies in medical and life sciences. This led me to starting JH LAW, a law firm created on the back of 10 years learning from the most incredible leaders in NZ’s private equity, biotech industry, founders, inventors, entrepreneurs & lawyers. Capital raising & commercial conveyancing are key areas that the firm is dedicated to supporting businesses with.
What challenges are organisations facing in how they deliver legal services?
I think that organisations are having to manage changes in client expectations on what legal service looks like. I see these expectations stemming from more people working remotely, greater use of social media and the ease of access to legal precedents and information via Google.
How have you adapted how you work?
I meet a lot of my clients via Zoom, even the older generations who I found were more hesitant about the idea of Zoom but grew to enjoy it with use. Even before lockdown, I would travel to clients to meet them at their offices where this has been well received. JH LAW also has accounts with Instagram, Facebook and LinkedIn. These are key platforms that sit alongside my delivery of legal services and help me to build and maintain market presence. Particularly, where I am currently a sole practitioner and the idea of reaching many via relatively low-cost platforms is very appealing to me. I also dabble with vlogging or video blogging on YouTube. This is my way of addressing the increasing number of people who are googling precedent contracts and legal information. I figured that if this is what clients want to see, then I need to provide them my take as an alternative choice to consider.
Are there any opportunities that you have found in how you have changed how you work out of the challenges of COVID-19?
Given that Zoom is now readily used, I see no need to limit one's legal services to the city you live in. I also try to leverage the power of social media to engage with potential and existing clients. It is an emphasis that law has always been a relationship of trust and confidence between client and lawyer. Social media allows clients to see the more personal side of their lawyers, from a safe distance too.
How can legal tech help you innovate?
I use the cloud practice management software Actionstep. This system allows me to do everything from time recording, file noting to trust account management on the go. For instance, a client might have a question about their matter while I’m walking the dogs and I’ll be able to readily check (WIFI permitting) their file on my phone to find an answer.
Sometimes I do hear from people (probably more often than I should) that they don’t really understand the agreements that they’re signing. While this does emphasise the level of trust and confidence those individuals have in their lawyers, I’d feel more comfortable if we spent more time educating and discussing the contracts with clients. I have no doubt that innovations in legal tech will grow to provide clients better access to their advisors. In particular, I love showing clients how they can use their shareholders agreement (or other governance agreements) over time for their business as a “living document” and not just pull it out when there’s a dispute amongst stakeholders. This is where searchable PDF formats of contracts are practical if you want it to be user-friendly for the client.
What are some of your practical tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?
Eat well, sleep & exercise. I know everyone knows this, but since I started JH LAW I’ve achieved more of each of these 3 things and I feel so much more alert! Have a constant desire to learn. I have 3 degrees but still enjoy learning new and improved ways to do business everyday. If innovation feels right, just jump in and engage.
What changes do you see in how legal services are delivered in the future?
I think that legal services will become faster (and in a lot of places it appears they already are). For instance, when a client wants a copy of a signed resolution/deed/contract they’ll want it on the spot and not have to wait (or pay) for a person in the office to locate and forward this to them. In a nutshell, I think clients are seeking better direct access to their lawyers. Where they are becoming less willing to go through their secretaries or juniors. It is possible that there will be growth in legal app development. For instance, an Uber for lawyers or some sort of dedicated platform where clients can readily make appointments to video chat with principals.
Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?
It is important to simply to keep up with our clients. Last year, around $2.7B was spent by NZ businesses to explore new markets, develop service delivery via digital means and/or enhancing local manufacturing (Stats NZ). People want solutions to grow fast & reach customers first. So it makes sense if these innovators want like-minded lawyers on their team too.