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The Innovators: Anton Smith, CEO, Consensus New Zealand

09 November 2018

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

What does legal innovation mean to you?

It means listening to lawyers and their customers and solving problems. Clients are often in the position where there’s no question they need legal assistance but, frankly, if they could avoid it they probably would. So what can or should we as an industry be doing to make the interaction easier and simpler? That’s what legal innovation should be all about, in my opinion.

Anton Smith

What role does technology play in innovation?

User experience is everything and user-centred innovation demands the smart use of technology. Those who will succeed in #legaltech will only do so if they add value, and they’ll do it by making consuming and providing legal advice easier, better and less daunting.

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

Clients will always put pressure on price, especially if they don’t appreciate the value lawyers provide. It’s something which can be hard to convey, but it’s essential and creates competitive advantage for those who get it right. However, no one is interested in a race to the bottom with price, so what’s your differentiator as a lawyer if not price? To me, it’s who you are. At a certain point, most lawyers have the experience to answer the majority of client questions in their field, so the client will be loyal to you if they feel a connection to you. How do you build and maintain that connection in an increasingly digital playing field? That’s the big question and, I think, the cause of great pressure to come.

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

How legal advice is packaged, conveyed and paid for will change for the better. How legal advice is produced is also evolving through software, making many tasks previously done by junior lawyers and law clerks redundant. That presents a separate and major challenge for our profession’s growth and longevity and demands grappling with.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought you?

The chance to meet and work with some of the smartest brains and forward-thinking professionals Aotearoa has to offer. It’s also been a way to dig deep into the frustrations those we live to serve as lawyers have about our profession. There is a literal abundance of problems to solve.

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

Develop a hypothesis - your guess about what your users or customers want - and then test it continuously. Honestly, it’s about running experiments. You have to not only be open to being wrong, you have to expect it. What you try is never going to be perfect, and that’s freeing. You have to be in it for the long haul and constantly strive for perfection

I think fear of failure is a big problem for all of us working in this industry. The best lawyers I’ve encountered or worked for are the ones who recognise they won’t always have all the answers straight away and, equally, that those working for them offer different perspectives that can deliver nuggets of gold. We have to be more open to the opportunities failure and different perspectives present.

As more lawyers adopt this innovative mindset, we will see the transformation of the industry that our stakeholders are crying out for.

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

The lawyers and firms with longevity will be the ones with competitive advantage, gained through leveraging the right technologies. That doesn’t necessarily mean AI or chatbots, although I appreciate software will become increasingly of interest. I mean using even very simple technologies to build a profile online.

The old approach of firms being comprised of ‘grinders’ (lawyers who prefer to ‘do the doing’) and ‘rainmakers’ (the legal salespeople) is already over. You can be a ‘grinder’ who doesn’t enjoy the business development side of private practice and still use technology to market your brand.

Legal professionals need to convey who they are and why they’re the best at what they do in a professional and appealing way, and they can actually do that at minimal cost. It’s an exciting call to action for our industry and one I’m thrilled to be exploring.


Andrew King andrew@lawfest.nz is organiser of LawFest 2019, which will be held in Auckland on 21 March 2019. Anton Smith will be one of the speakers at the event www.lawfest.nz

Last updated on the 9th November 2018