New Zealand Law Society - Turning a bright idea into reality: three legal services innovators

Turning a bright idea into reality: three legal services innovators

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What if you have an idea for a product, process or system which will improve the way in which lawyers do their work or connect with clients? LawTalk asked three New Zealand-based legal services innovators how they got started, what barriers there were, and what they celebrate most with their achievement.

Ted Jordan

Ted Jordan
Ted Jordan

Founder and CEO of Actionstep, Cloud-based legal software

Established in 2004, Actionstep now has offices in New Zealand, the United Kingdom, the United States and Canada and also does substantial business in Australia.

What were the drivers behind you setting up your current business?

I moved to New Zealand in the late 1990s, after working in one of the successes in the US. I’d specialised in enterprise management software, defining and automating processes.

When I dealt with local lawyers, I was struck by the sheer volume of manual processes. I could see how managing detail and admin sucked time away from billable work. I realised there was an opportunity for my software skills to help lawyers get back to their core business.

At the same time, it was obvious to me that cloud-based software was the gold-standard for the future. It allows smaller firms to get access to the tools that only the big firms had previously been able to afford.

In 2004 the result was Actionstep. A cloud-based legal software solution that simplifies and automates much of the manual processing and time-consuming administration within law firms.

Actionstep has enjoyed global success because it solves a fundamental problem lawyers have as a business. While they have a solid framework for solving legal problems, they rarely have the same checks and balances to manage an effective business. Actionstep gives them that framework, so they can run their firm efficiently and professionally.

What barriers, if any, do you see to innovation in New Zealand’s legal services industry?

New Zealand’s lawyers are more pro-technology than many countries, but there are some things holding them back.

First is nervousness around cloud-based systems. But the alternative to storing client information in the cloud is storing it in the office. In fact, the risks of physical damage or loss are far harder to control, and backups are a partial recovery at best. Cloud storage is cheaper, simpler, more reliable and far more secure.

The second issue is managing reluctance to change. Implementing a new practice management system is a big project. It changes the way you get things done, while still getting those things done. It’s like changing cars while driving down the motorway. It’s human nature to put things in the too hard basket, but it’s a bit like toothache. Putting it off just extends the pain.

As Brian Logue noted: “If you’re too busy to build good systems, then you’ll always be too busy.”

But the short-term pain is worth it. You increase efficiency, and thus profitability. You bill more work, in less time, with the same resources. You create clear best-practice processes that are easy to follow and release your valuable people from “administrivia”.

What achievement in your business makes you most proud?

I’m very proud of all our achievements over the past 14 years, but a few things stand out.

One is customer satisfaction. Our retention rate is around 98%. That’s amazing. Talking to clients, it’s so rewarding to hear how thrilled they are with the software.

There’s certainly a sense of satisfaction that comes from expanding a local business onto the global stage. Opening our offices in London and the United States is another milestone that I’m proud of.

The aftermath of the Christchurch earthquake was another moment for us. A huge number of firms in the CBD were locked down. But our Actionstep customers could continue working from different locations immediately.

But probably the thing that gives me the most satisfaction is our impact on the performance of New Zealand legal practices. The reality of business is that the boss gets paid last. Our software helps transform a law practice into an efficient and profitable business. It’s a great feeling to be part of that success.

Anton Smith

Anton Smith
Anton Smith

CEO and founder of Consensus, Online legal marketplace

Consensus ( allows registered users to post legal jobs online for which lawyers can submit fixed-fee proposals.

What were the drivers behind you setting up your current business?

For Kiwis, whānau, businesses and charities, it’s pretty hard to understand what to expect when they contact a lawyer. Even the most experienced clients often don’t know what they need – because they’re not lawyers.

It’s this information asymmetry which has helped the legal profession to grow for centuries. It creates and infuses power in the supplier, not the consumer. That power now sustains a $3 billion a year industry in Aotearoa alone which, frankly, is huge. Our nation’s great winemaking industry, by comparison, rakes in just $2.2 billion a year.

Clients’ lack of power makes the industry inaccessible and, unfortunately, frightening. Imagine if we solved that problem. If we did, we might help lawyers justify business and individuals spending more on their advice over time, not less. What would it take to do that? Plus, it’s no wonder the UN has a Sustainable Development Goal devoted to access to justice.

Banking, food, transport, property: these industries are spending significant resource on user experience (UX) and making it easier for consumers to find providers and use their services. I particularly admire Ben Lynch’s Jude (, a startup which is working towards exciting, customer-centric open banking solutions.

It’s this customer-centricity that lights my fire, and my co-founders and I launched Consensus because we want to experiment with and apply this kind of thinking – what you might call ‘empowerment thinking’ – to the way we buy and sell ‘legal stuff’.

What barriers, if any, do you see to innovation in New Zealand’s legal services industry?

Anxiety (about what change means) and fear (of the unknown) stand in the way of high performance and new methods. By comparison, lack of client knowledge and poor UX are opportunities.

Anxiety and fear aren’t insurmountable, but I will say this: you need to be an optimist to innovate.

I disagree with the generalised and cynical view that lawyers are pessimists. We might be paid to analyse risk, but that doesn’t mean we apply that to our business, our practice or our way of life. But we must be more optimistic about innovation.

I celebrate and revel in the honest, upfront conversations I have had with a few members of this profession who have been willing to tell me they think I am wasting my time with Consensus. I appreciate their honesty, not only because it’s ‘wood for the fire’, but also because it’s real. It tells me either we haven’t communicated what we’re doing well enough (ie, constructive feedback we can work with) or we’re yet to solve their problem (ie, an opportunity to delve into their current challenges).

Leonie Freeman, entrepreneurial thinker and one of the original founders of what is now, spent three years in the late 90s having the door slammed in her face by real estate businesses up and down Aotearoa. Kiwis will never shop for property online, they told her. Look how very wrong they were. And there are success stories in our industry that have already found traction, look at the fantastic ethos and initiative of Juno Legal, for example.

What achievement in your business makes you most proud?

Solving problems, plain and simple.

The business of law needs to be easier for clients and lawyers. There are plenty of problems that we can solve under the BHAG (Bold, Hairy, Audacious Goal) of “EASY”; our challenge is picking the right ones.

Consensus helped a startup focused on revolutionising the kiwifruit industry find a lawyer to assist with their pilot programme. The client (at the time based in Australia) got excellent service from a Canterbury lawyer who they probably would not have found without us. And they got all of that for a fixed price. I’m proud of that.

That’s just the beginning, though. The next problem is how we can deliver a ‘client for life’; keep an eye out for the solutions we’re concocting.

If you asked, “What future achievements would make you the most proud?” I’d say:

  • To have helped 1,000 lawyers make the engagement process as easy as buying an Air New Zealand flight, regardless of whether this is the client’s first time or their 50th.

As a customer, I know what I expect when I buy a plane ticket, what I have to do when I get to the airport, and that being served an inflight beverage is good service. Meaning, I’ll keep going back.

  • To have convinced every law firm in the country to start using some form of empowering #legaltech.

It feels like we, as an industry, are quite happy perpetuating the information asymmetry I refer to as if it’s our superpower. It’s actually our greatest weakness. Let’s be rid of it.

If you agree, I encourage you to get stuck in – the enlightened firms taking a chance on Consensus and other solutions and being a part of these conversations are the ones leading the charge.

Lindsey Haagh

Lindsey Haagh
Lindsey Haagh

Managing Director and founder, AllProcure, Group purchasing facility

AllProcure offers a range of products and services for New Zealand law firms. Group purchasing power means better terms, pricing and service from the providers.

What were the drivers behind you setting up your current business?

I have managed two very different law firms and assisted both from their early set-up days. I chat with other practice managers as often as I can and we always have much to talk about. It can be a lonely role as the manager of a firm and it’s good to bounce ideas around and benchmark with others.

The vast majority of firms in New Zealand are small to medium in size and we find that many of us spend a great deal of time researching, comparing, evaluating and implementing products, services, suppliers and best practice in our firms. It’s a challenge to be a superhero of knowledge of all, from software to telecoms to recruitment to PI insurance to internet provision. It makes common sense to effectively centralise these functions and AllProcure exists to allow firms to get on with their core business of providing excellent client service and legal advice.

What barriers, if any, do you see to innovation in New Zealand’s legal services industry?

It’s tough in a busy practice to stop and contemplate strategy and planning for a future that we all struggle to imagine. We’re being bombarded with the message to embrace technology and drive innovation in our firms but how does one evaluate what’s fit for purpose and prioritise the order in which new concepts are implemented?

If you open any law industry publication or LinkedIn or attend an industry conference today, the message to wake up and get with the programme can be overwhelming. Being labelled dinosaurs and academics who believe they are exempt from the effects of the changing world around them can have the understandable effect of turning our partners, lawyers and managers off the subject of innovation entirely.

AllProcure aims to simplify law firms’ journeys through this tremendously exciting yet challenging time of change and provide resources and information to ease the load. Our kaupapa at AllProcure is that we achieve so much more by combining resources for better buying, better relationships, better business and better communities. Just as geese are much more efficient flying as a flock, fish shoal to feed, wolves keep the old and young safe by trekking in formation, so are law firms better off as a group.

What achievement in your business makes you most proud?

AllFund is our recently developed fourth quarter that rounds off what we can achieve as a group with our contributions to better communities. AllFund allows each member firm, each partner supplier and AllProcure itself to give back to projects in their communities that they identify with and feel strongly about.

Most lawyers started their career with noble aspirations and many are lucky enough to fulfill those on a daily basis while some may work in areas of law that don’t align as much with their social conscience so AllFund is a way that we all get to give back a percentage of our time and turnover.

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