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Maria Sopoaga, Solicitor, Auckland Council

07 February 2020 - By Andrew King

Tell us about yourself?

I’ve been fortunate to have fallen into this world of tech and innovation so early on in my legal career. I’ve always been somewhat inclined to think about how things could be done differently, more efficiently and more collaboratively. It wasn’t until the Young Legalpreneurs scholarship opportunity with the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) came up earlier this year that I realised how innovation and tech could really drive positive change. I am by no means an expert, but I come to the legal profession with fresh eyes and a new perspective, and that’s really what I think innovation and tech are all about.

Maria Sopoaga

What does legal innovation mean to you?

For me, legal innovation is fundamentally about being open to change. It’s about understanding that improvement is a continuous, iterative process, and not a destination. We work in a notoriously conservative profession, and it’s becoming clearer and clearer that much of what we do and the way we work is unsustainable. Innovation speaks to our ability as both individuals and as an entire community to accept that there are areas in which we could do better, that this is okay as long as we are willing to try new solutions, and importantly, that failure is part of the process, and not a reason to give up.

What role does technology play in innovation?

Technology can be a fantastic tool in supporting and enabling innovation; one need only look at something like automation to see how tech can increase efficiency exponentially. In the same vein, technology can provide as much hindrance as it can support if implemented improperly, or particularly where organisations are required to make best use of outdated legacy systems. A huge learning for me has been understanding that innovation and tech are not the same thing. I’ve found that there are many in our profession that also confuse the terms, marred by their own experiences with poor technology and systems, and apply the same hesitancy and suspicion toward innovation and design. For me, we need to get the innovation part right before looking to buy/create/apply tech solutions.

What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?

Clients continue to demand more for less from their legal service providers. The growth of in-house capability shows that clients are wanting legal services even more quickly and for less money. On the other hand, the legal profession has been asked to take better care of its people, with mental health and wellbeing a huge priority across a multitude of sectors and industries. I believe when done properly, innovation and tech can be a huge leveller in this space, maximising the capability of existing individuals while also increasing the efficiency of legal systems and services.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?

With AI taking over much of the low-level work of law firms and organisations, younger members of the profession will need to leave university with better legal expertise and strategic skill right off the bat. On the flip side, this requires buy-in from law firms, willing to allow younger legal professionals greater influence and input into higher level work, particularly given clients continue to demand better legal services at a lower cost.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought to you?

Aside from the CLI scholarship opportunity and the amazing connections I’ve been able to make – both of which I am incredibly grateful for – legal innovation has opened my eyes to the endless possibilities for legal services. The law can be isolating and discouraging for many who might not fit in the stereotypical idea of what a lawyer should be. Legal innovation has taught me that thinking differently is something to be valued, and puts me and others like me, on the forefront of change.

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

Just start! It sounds easy enough, but most people who may be thinking about alternative ways of doing things don’t realise that they’re thinking innovatively. There are so many free resources online for those who may be new at things like innovation and tech so look for them next time you’re perusing Google or LinkedIn.

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

Without overstating the fact – because it would be irresponsible not to. You wouldn’t use a pen and paper to draft pages and pages of written submissions (or at least I hope not), so it makes no sense not to learn about what’s next in innovation and technology. Whether you like it or not, change is already here, so might as well look into now.


Andrew King is the organiser of LawFest, an annual legal technology event which will be held at the Cordis Auckland on 18 March.

Last updated on the 7th February 2020