New Zealand Law Society - Question the status quo from every angle: Suzie Sneddon, Founder & Director, Base Law

Question the status quo from every angle: Suzie Sneddon, Founder & Director, Base Law

Question the status quo from every angle: Suzie Sneddon, Founder & Director, Base Law

Andrew King continues his series talking to legal innovators. This week Suzie Sneddon explains how the Base Law’s non-hierarchical model gives them more control over their billing, types of work and their schedule - working remotely and flexibly.

Tell us about yourself?

I am the founder and director of Base Law, a new type of legal model in the private client space.  Base Law focuses on providing better service and value to clients but also, and most importantly, provides a new and better way for senior private client lawyers to practice.

I began my legal career in 2003 in a commercial law team at a top-tier firm. But my desire to help individuals resulted in me specialising in private client legal work.

My sister, together with her young family, suffered a helicopter accident in 2015.  This was the catalyst for a new focus and passion for me - making base fundamental legal documents more accessible and affordable to all New Zealanders.

I worked with a SaaS (software as a service) company, developing online wills and enduring power of attorney documents. But the risks of DIY legal documents, when not combined with the right professional legal advice, quickly became apparent.

Concurrently becoming a mother prompted me to question the status quo of the traditional legal model and to seek a new way to practice law. One which would give me more flexibility, greater returns and better outcomes in both work and life.

My focus changed to empowering and enabling senior lawyers by offering a different legal model, one which would not only make fundamental legal services more accessible and affordable to clients but would also give other fellow senior solicitors the opportunity to reach their full potential (both professionally and personally) by enabling them to practice law differently too.

What challenges are organisations facing in how they deliver legal services?

I think clients are seeking better direct access to their lawyers. Corporate structures are falling away, and clients see gatekeepers and support staff as barriers.

We are moving along the continuum towards a paperless workplace, reducing the need for floor space and through new technologies, reducing the need for as many admin staff and juniors.

The pressure to deliver more value within fixed fees is heightening the need for efficiency, automation, and lower overheads. My feedback is that clients no longer want the bells and whistles of a fancy law firm office, an intimidating lawyer in a suit, and a receptionist bringing them coffee.  They simply want a legal solution and a relationship with their legal professional.

There is an increasing demand for flexibility - both for clients and lawyers alike – as to when, where and how they provide and receive legal services.

How have you adapted how you work?

I established a new legal model to address these challenges. Most senior lawyers are highly self-motivated and can get significant legal work accomplished, provided they are free to determine how, when and where they do it. A flexible working philosophy, coupled with strategic use of technology, is central to Base Law’s model.

The Base Law model is non-hierarchical and requires each Base Lawyer (senior solicitors contracted to provide legal services) to be qualified to practice on their own account. The model gives Base Lawyers significantly more control over their billing, types of work and clients they engage and their schedule - working remotely and flexibly. We adopt or develop processes which better serve our clients, but also the needs of our lawyers.

The client feedback to this way of working is extremely positive. For a senior legal professional to be able to visit clients at home (including in the weekend or after work), meet them at their workplace or over a videocall, removes any barriers which may be preventing a client from actioning their core legal documents. By working remotely (without offices), sharing infrastructure and resources, and using legal technology to assist, Base Lawyers have lower overheads and are more cost effective.

How can legal tech help you innovate?

The literal meaning of ‘innovate’ is to make change. I see technology as enabling and supporting change.

The Base Law model uses an array of technological platforms.  Without legal tech our model would not be possible.

I believe technology will continue to have a large part to play in legal innovation. However, I also believe that while lawyers should use every tool at their disposal to provide better client service (including automated technologies in many cases), the service provider should be a person whenever possible. This is particularly evident in the private client space, where clients are looking for empathy, assurance and confidence – not found in technology but in their legal professional.

How challenges do you see for legal tech?

In the past, the lawyers could focus on providing legal advice, and the IT experts could set up our computers and digital voice recorders, without particularly requiring any understanding of what the other was trying to achieve.

Now the objectives are much more integrated (e.g. designing and using software to achieve a particular legal task), posing the challenge of finding people with multi-disciplinary expertise, or working collaboratively and communicating more effectively across those disciplines.  

To do this successfully, people need to be open to change, listen effectively and adopt a problem-solving attitude rather than simply sticking with the status quo as a matter of convenience or change-resistance.

Lawyers are generally risk-averse and time poor, so overcoming this type of barrier is difficult.

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

I think people worry that innovation must be huge, transformative, and technology-based to count. However, in addition to technology changing the way law is practised, the expectations of lawyers and clients and the way we prefer to work are also evolving. Question the status quo from every angle – from the processes and structure, down to the culture. Just because it’s always been done a certain way, doesn’t mean it’s the only way - or the best way.

Legal innovation should not only be focused on how to deliver better value, outcomes and services to clients – it should also be about delivering more flexibility, value and better work life balance to lawyers.

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