Profile: Jeremy Sutton, Barrister and Mediator
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 senior family lawyer based in Auckland. I primarily focus on complex relationship property matters where there are businesses or trusts involved. I am also a mediator, family and civil legal aid provider and a lawyer for child.
I first started my career in Tauranga before spending a few years working in London. After I returned to New Zealand I was based in South Auckland and then moved into the city.
What challenges are organisations facing in how they deliver legal services?
Some practitioners never say no to clients, even when they do not have the capacity to offer them the best service. No one wins in that situation. The lawyer is drowning under an unmanageable number of files and the client feels their matter is not getting the attention it deserves.
How have you adapted how you work?
I used to have two offices and employed a lot of staff but found that it overcomplicated the work and stretched me too thin. I scaled my practice back completely so that I now only employ one barrister, a graduate and a pa who works remotely.
My philosophy is now less is more. I have fewer clients so that I can provide more of my attention to each and resolve their dispute as efficiently as possible. I focus attracting a high-quality client, rather than high quantity.
I moved to do solely fixed fees about a year or two ago. I no longer time record. This has been a great time saver for me and provides certainty for my clients and for me. It sets expectations at the beginning of the relationship. It also ensures we remain resolution focused.
Is there anything you would do differently if you were starting over?
I would have operated my barrister practice more simply from the start. I would have scheduled at least one client-free day on a Friday. That would have allowed me time to progress files uninterrupted. I would have set stronger boundaries and not taken home work.
Are there any opportunities that you have found in how you have changed how you work out of the chaos of COVID-19?
I now have a home office and I enjoy working from home a couple of days a week. My staff also have at least one day at home. It has been great for us. Covid showed us being in the office isn’t a necessity, although it is sometimes nice to be all together on some days.
Covid also forced everyone to reassess their reliance on paper. Our office is trying to go completely paperless. We have made big strides in that area but still have a way to go.
During the first lockdown I ran a couple of webinars for lawyers on how to adapt to working from home and how to progress their cases despite Covid. These were met with a great reaction, so I identified there was a need for lawyers to support each other and share more about the way we work. I founded an online community for lawyers called Ako Legal Platform to respond to this need. It has been great to connect with other lawyers around the country and discuss the challenges we face and highlight tech tools that can improve the way we work.
How can legal tech help you innovate?
Technology allows us to connect with others whenever and wherever. It enables collaboration which our profession so desperately needs to do more of.
There are so many opportunities to use technology to make your work more efficient or automate admin tasks. This means more time can be spent on legal thinking and innovation.
What are some of your practical tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?
Don’t be afraid to try something and have it not work out. There is usually a learning curve involved for new systems or tech but give it your best go and set a date to reassess. If it’s not working out, ditch it and try something else. It is not a waste of time if it helps you on the path to finding the right tool.
Small and incremental change is still progress. Look for where you feel you are wasting the most amount of time in your day and start making small changes there. A couple of extra minutes in your day start adding up quickly.
What changes do you see in how legal services are delivered in the future?
Less paper and more collaboration.
Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?
Technology has the power to remove access to justice barriers for clients. They can connect with lawyers, even if they live remotely. Technology can make lawyers more efficient and then potentially more affordable (if billing based on time).
It can also lighten the load for us, allowing us to have more time out of work or connecting with others in the profession.