Christine Lloyd* Building law lists is an entire industry, but the problem with generating a list of ‘innovative law firms’ is made more difficult because there are few euphemisms more abused by law firm profiles than the word ‘innovative’.
Yet the coronavirus pandemic will unquestionably change the practice of law forever, with one of the major changes being the removal of the more traditional lawyer’s fear of technology.
All of which makes the choosing of innovative law firms, attempted for the second year by New Zealand Lawyer Magazine, more difficult with all its emphais on what ‘innovative’ firms do alongside their innovation: customer-centric work, ‘onboarding’ systems and of course ‘agile teams’. So much gobbedygook, but so little meaning in real, innovation terms.
The ‘Innovative Law Firm’ entries is more a ‘legal tech list’ of what firms are doing in this space, focused heavily on document management and work processing software, rather than seriously identifying genuinely innovative firms who place people – both clients and staff – first and foremost.
Zoom has already shown that online consulting is a no-brainer in terms of client meetings, even in normal times, while the pandemic has also indicated to law firms that they can advance their moves towards remote working and simultaniously reduce their physical footprint and their overheads. That is if you like, enforced innovation.
UK legal technology journalist Joanna Goodman expressed the situation well recently in The Law Society Gazette when she said that the COVID-19 crisis has “reframed legal services,” and in the course of that, “technology has become a lifeline.”
And US tech law writer Robert Ambrogi (left) wrote that “the pandemic has dramatized, in ways no studies or committees ever could, the fundamental shortcomings of the legal system as it was. A rigidly structured guild system of courts and services delivery, designed by lawyers for lawyers as their exclusive domain, is not up to meeting the challenges of a world that demands agility and flexibility in services delivery. This had already been becoming clearer to many, but there can now be no going back.”
The Innovation NZ Law List
Firms for some reasons missing from the 17 firms on the 2020 list however included Dentons Kensington Swan, which as part of the largest global law firm can hardly be said to be lacking in innovation technology,
with its NextLawLabs global platform and other tech developments, as well as Potter IP and smaller ‘agile’ outfits like Juno Legal, with innovative in-house legal services and virtual law firm pioineers Evolution Lawyers.
The list is more enamoured of apps and developments, compiled by a technologiest, rather than the more holistic approach required of innovation providing better services to its staff and its clients.
The 2020 nominees include –
Anderson Lloyd – focusing on a portion of revenue on tech enhancements and automation, as well having progressive policies towards gender, work-life balance and flexible working arrangements.
Cavell Leitch – strong emphasis on slashing paper use by increasing digital use and developing agile teams that are mobilised to work remotely, as well as working to deliver for its millenials and ‘Gen Z’ staff with its “shadow board” providing younger firm members a chance to
Chapman Tripp – developed its Zeren tech business in document automation, compliance and related issues. Also heavily involved in major innovation deals like the $700 million sale of ANZ’s ONePath to Cigna Corp.
DLA Piper – Launched its global ‘Change Council’ last year wit a focus on digital services with three kiwi representatives on the Council. Locally it is also working on tech solutions to aid document review and management using an interactive contracting platform.
MinterEllisonRuddWatts – the firm has developed three legal tech products with its McCarthyFinch, MERW client portal and Safetrac. The most interesting perhaps is the McCarthyFinch AI tool which last year released its author DOCS product for contract drafting.
Simpson Grierson – the big law firm worked last year with a UK legal tech firm to develop machine-learning applications to streamline lease documents and other tools, as well as launching its MatterWork tool to permit firms to manage files better and weith greater transparency. It also released its Online Visual Law Library to provide greater visibility to legal advice.
Tompkins Wake – the firm developed a legal automation platform to build bots to permit greater service of legal advice, as well as introducing its AI software to complete a ‘legal needs’ asssessment before meeting clients.
Among the smaller NZ law firms making the list were –
First Law, which has remote-working staffers and shared office space in Christchurch and Queenstown;
iCLAW Culliney in Waikato, Juno Legal which has grown significantly in the four main centres using its flexible, tech- and client-centric business model;
K3 Legal, part of the multi-disciplinary K3 Group with as strong Asian
component to its offering; LOD, the ‘disruptive’ business model with over 200 lawyers and related professionals and using an agilie business model;
Duncan King Law – the Auckland firm that has automated ‘mundane and administrative’ tasks, in particular in relation to anti-money laundering tasks;
Morris Legal – Using its Apple and MS-based teams to work remotely and collaboratives;
Norling Law has spent considerable money and time since its 2015 origins to develop significant online resources including video and podcasts for clients, an area often overlooked by the ‘app-heavy’ developments of many firms;
Simmonds Stewart – a genuine legal disrupter that has continued to grow with a focus on content and digital marketing and a strong online presence and consultation tools;
WRMK, the Northland-based firm was an early adopter of digital technology with online management systems and also has a subsidiary PageZero to support other regional firms with effective online workflow systems and remote trust accounting.
*Chritine Lloyd is a LawFuel writer and freelance writer focused on lifestyle, technology and business issues.
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