Review | The Legal Innovation and Tech Fest

Sophie Tversky is a fifth year Arts/Law student at Monash University and the Victorian President of The Legal Forecast (TLF). Sophie recently attended The Legal Innovation and Tech Fest with Adrian Agius and Erika Ly (NSW TLF representatives). Read on for Sophie’s thoughts on the event with insights from Steve Tyndall (NextLegal) and Ann-Maree David (College of Law). This post was originally posted on The Legal Forecast blog

(L-R): Adrian Agius, Erika Ly and Sophie Tversky
(L-R): Adrian Agius, Erika Ly and Sophie Tversky

The Legal Innovation and Tech Fest took place in Sydney from 30 April – 2 May, bringing together almost 400 representatives from legal and tech industries. Now in its second year, the conference is a collaboration between the International Legal Technology Association and The Eventful Group, and provides a conversation platform for discussion of technological and innovation best practices from a range of in-house counsel, lawyers, CIO/CTOs and innovation and strategy leaders. Now more than ever, change is business as usual.

For Steve Tyndall (Managing Director, NextLegal), the importance of this conference lay in exploring  “new approaches to legal services and shifting client expectations.” Knowing what the push factors of disruption are is an interesting topic in itself, however for Ann-Maree David (CEO/Executive Director Qld, The College of Law), understanding that clients are a central driver for transformation is key to innovating with purpose.

For me, one of the highlights was Michael McQueen’s (Trend Forecaster and Business Strategist) opening keynote discussing the importance of “digging the well before you get thirsty”. Strategy, he says, is crucial rather than responding to disruption in an ad-hoc, survival– mode manner. This concept of thinking beyond the immediate and considering unconventional competition is evident in the emergence of virtual law firms, legal review and drafting platforms such as jeugene and chatbots such as “Do Not Pay”, which has helped overturn 160,000 parking tickets with a 64-70% success rate.

The tension arising in this context is: how do law firms stay ahead of the game and plan for the future?

The closing keynote presented by Dr Amantha Imber (Founder, Inventium) on cultivating innovation – another highlight –  explained that collaboration and going wide are crucial, as firms must draw on other knowledge and not be limited by industry silos.  She provided practical advice on how organisations can minimise risks but benefit from experimenting.  Ironically, a working definition of innovation was only provided at the end of the first day. This highlights the difficulty: innovation has become a buzz word and thankfully Dr Imber unravelled its meaning by providing concrete steps to its application.

From very early on, the speakers demonstrated that, as per Steve Tyndall,  “disruption and innovation are no longer just relevant to those seeking alternative or futuristic approaches.”

Sam Nickless’  (COO, Gilbert + Tobin) presentation crushed the myth that we need to show pictures of robots in AI articles to draw attention to the topic. He urged us to stop the hype around AI and understand that practical implementation needs to start at the bottom with basic automation systems and then build up to learning-based task automation/cognitive automation systems.

Law firms need to find a balance between fitting AI to meet business needs and experimentation for technological growth. On a similar note, Shaun Temby (Partner, Maddocks), discussed programmes facilitating innovation at his firm, stating that innovation wasn’t for everyone, however you had to start somewhere.

Similarly, Fiona McLeod SC (President, Law Council of Australia) considered the ethical and legal implications of the world we are moving into with driverless cars and how modern court proceedings will be influenced by digital witnesses and technologies such as FitBits. Rein Graat (General Counsel, Asia-Pacific, ING Bank) and Mick Sheehy (General Counsel- Finance, Technology, Innovation & Strategy, Telstra) in separate presentations, discussed practical ways to structurally create innovative cultures.

The conference is an important forum, however there are still improvements to be made in future, so that it can fulfil its role as a hub of best practice and embrace the new era of the legal industry.

1. Wide-scale, structural implementation of technology

NSW President of The Legal Forecast, Adrian Agius, notes that while discussion regarding individual technological implementations provided insight, there was a lack of focus on using technology as a core function rather than a side support.  He suggests that presentations should take holistic approaches as well as focusing on details.

2. Best Practices from Other Disciplines

Dr Amantha Imber and Janet Verden (Customer Experience Transformer), in separate presentations, both emphasised the importance of ‘going wide’ and looking at other industries to inform practices. In my opinion, this was largely absent from the conference. I would like to see greater drawing upon non-legal best practices.

3. Innovation Is Not Just Tech

Tech is often equated with innovation. This is understandable as most of the leading disruptors are tech-based. Nevertheless, these terms should not be confused. Tech is playing a crucial role in the transformation of law firms with AI, legal project management systems, e-discovery and analytic tools.  However, an equal focus on innovation, particularly in programs implemented to encourage innovative thinking, structural and service changes within law firms, should also be showcased.

Taking this further, Ann-Maree David said: “there was generalised chatter in some sessions about roadblocks to innovative thinking within law firms but none I attended dealt with the inherent biases operating in management teams….which ultimately prevent innovation.”

4. Those Absent from the Room

Despite there being 14 female speakers, the absence of women in the large majority of panel discussions was a problem. Cultural and intergenerational diversity was also lacking. This was also noted by Ann-Maree David, who was concerned about the gender imbalance at most sessions. Gaining a holistic view of issues pertaining to the legal industry by including greater diversity is crucial to the strength and validity of any discussion.

At the beginning of the conference, Michael McQueen talked about the millennial mindset, both good and bad. He highlighted that “fresh eyes” and seeing Gen Y’s ideas as a gift and not a threat, are core elements for legal innovation (and innovation at large).  I think that the disruption of the legal industry provides a perfect opportunity to bring together senior knowledge and “fresh eyes”, to better service clients.  Therefore, let’s involve Gen Y in these discussions regarding how they want to be mentored and how they see the development/improvement of the legal industry, in future conferences.

The Legal Innovation and Tech Fest was a great platform for the legal community to come together and discuss ways forward, learn from each other and strategise future processes.  It allowed assumptions regarding innovation and technology to be uncovered and created frank conversations regarding the practicalities of innovation. The conference has immense value and TLF looks forward to seeing it evolve and grow each year.

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