New Zealand Law Society - The Innovators: Sophie Gladwell and Sally Scovell

The Innovators: Sophie Gladwell and Sally Scovell

Directors | Scovell & Co

LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

Tell us about yourself

We are co-founders of Scovell & Co, New Zealand’s first law firm specialising in workplace investigations and reviews. Workplace investigations generally involve complaints relating to bullying, harassment or inappropriate conduct in the workplace. We also conduct cultural reviews into teams and workplaces.

We began our careers in large commercial law firms, then took time off to start families, before founding Scovell & Co. We are both passionate about the work we do within organisations – ensuring that these processes are run fairly and transparently for all involved. Fortuitously, we have been able to set up the firm so it works with our family lives as well.

What does legal innovation mean to you?

The legal market is always evolving to meet our clients’ developing requirements. In our case, we identified a need in New Zealand for legal professionals specialising in independent workplace investigations.

Sophie Gladwell and Sally Scovell
Sophie Gladwell (L) and Sally Scovell (R)

These types of investigations are not new. Previously, workplace investigations were generally conducted either in-house or by the client’s external employment lawyers. However, in recent years it has been increasingly recognised that engaging external independent investigators helps ensure the requirements of natural justice and procedural fairness are met.

A flexible working philosophy, coupled with strategic use of technology, is central to our business. We both have three young children – Sally has three girls and Sophie three boys. We were drawn together by a common philosophy – that we could get the legal work done, provided we were free to determine when and where we did it.

In practice, we conduct interviews on-site at the client’s offices, in instructing firm’s offices or – as is more common these days – over Zoom. Our model means we have significantly more control over our own schedules.

What role does technology play in innovation?

In our view, technology facilitates innovation. It has been an essential tool in building the business from the ground up and allowing us to run the firm the way we do. We are completely dependent on technology for everything from paperless file management to connecting the team.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought to you?

Having identified an opportunity to specialise in this emerging market, we could set up the firm to meet both our needs and those of our clients. By working remotely and flexibly, we have been able to return to full-time hours while remaining hands-on parents. It remains a constant juggle – and often means working evenings and weekends – but it’s a model we both prefer while our children are young.

It also benefits our clients. We work remotely and use legal contractors to assist us, meaning we have lower overheads and are more cost effective.

During lockdown, we were able to seamlessly adapt to a completely remote model by moving all our investigation interviews to Zoom. Aside from having children spontaneously interrupting our interviews, not a lot has changed from a business perspective.

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

Innovation for us has been born out of a problem we sought to solve. Having identified a need in New Zealand, the first step for us was to find out how this was being addressed in overseas jurisdictions. We then reached out to our network to ‘test the waters’ and understand if we were on the right track. The feedback was positive so we continued from there. We encourage all lawyers to keep an eye on what is happening overseas to see if it can be adapted for the New Zealand market.

Post Covid, what impact do you see in how legal services will be delivered?

Our hope is that firms have realised that lawyers can work remotely while still working productively and collaboratively. We have always felt lawyers are well suited to remote work as we record our time – so it’s easy to track the work that’s being done and when.

Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?

In our line of work, we gain valuable insight into how New Zealand’s organisations are operating – and across the board, innovation and technology is embraced. It is essential that we do the same to ensure we can connect and work seamlessly with these organisations as our clients.

Andrew King is the organiser of LawFest, which is running a virtual and OnDemand event ‘LawFestLive’ on 5 August 2020.

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