NewLaw is the new thing in the law ‘gig economy’ and more firms are beginning to make their mark in how technology is being used to provide legal services.
And New Zealand firms – many of them new – are beginning to embrace the technology to deliver legal services and build their businesses.
In the United States the Altman Weil’s Law Firms in Transition Report 2017 looked at survey results from 386 law firms, half of which were the top 350 in the country, and found over one-third had shifted work to contract lawyers in order to increase profitability. Of those, almost 60 per cent reported “a significant improvement in profitability”.
The move is happening more slowly here, but it is happening nonetheless.
In Australia there are a variety of on-demand lawyers, including operatioins like LOD (Berwin Leighton Paisner), Vario (Pinsent Masons), Peerpoint (Allen & Overy), Orbit (Corrs), KWMConnexion, MinterEllison Flex, and Lexvoco (McInnes Wilson Lawyers).
Among the new law pioneers locally, we’ve outlined seven lawyers and firms of all stripes who have worked with technology and are using it to deliver their services more efficiently.
1. Complete Online Dispute Resolution – How the Former Solicitor-General is Creating His own Access to Justice Tool Online
When Michael Heron QC left his role as Solicitor General, it was to do more than simply return to the bar from whence he came.
The former Russell McVeagh and Minters partner had other plans, including a firm desire to increase the ability for ordinary people to seek resolution to disputes quickly, simply and inexpensively.
It has, by his own admission, been a long and expensive road to set up CODR, the online dispute resolution service, but it is not a road he has regretted taking.parties
Based on the premise that the applicants can use their own lawyers to guide them through the dispute process, but access experts online who have expertise in the areas that are disputed, CODR streamlines the system to reduce costs – with its first major success demonstrating that very point.
2. Evolution Lawyers – Cloud-Based and Apps for Lawyers
Evolution Lawyers are an Auckland-based, but actually a cloud-based law firm providing services in the property, commercial and company law arena.
Founded by lawyers Thomas Bloy and Tamina Cunningham-Adams, the duo also founded the legal software business CataLex and their GoodCompanies software, which ensures company documentation is up-to-date and compliant with the law, as well other software designed to provide legislation-searches and other applications.
Evolution Lawyers uses the owner-built software to provide legal services remotely, permitting the use of software that can provide faster and more efficient service, but also to help retrieve to the law profession some of the work previously lost to accountants.
With aspirations to ‘do a Xero’, the lawyer-entrepreneurs are working fast and hard in the cloud-based space they occupy, seeking offshore markets for the products they’ve introduced in New Zealand.
3. Legal Beagle – Pioneering Online Law
Created with flair and a degree of chutzpah by Taranaki lawyer-turned-tech entrepreneur Claudia King, Legal Beagle set the stage for the law tech transformation in New Zealand, operating its online law service since 2012.
Taranaki lawyer Claudia King’s Legal Beagle has established itself as a legal offering in the property, refinancing, family trust arena. Launched in 2012 it provides Skype and electronic interface for clients nationally.
Marketed through social media branding efforts, webinars and elsewhere, the firm works from traditional offices at Dennis King Law, but provides the ability to handle work electronically should the client prefer to operate that way.
Although principally a family law practice, Ebborn Law has also been a self-described ‘disrupter’ to the legal marketplace, working with Fairway Resolution Services to provide a fast, online system to achieve just outcomes for clients working within the family law system.
As with other legal services such as OnlineLawyers.nz, Ebborn Law has been early to providing online legal services using home-workers via their online platform.
Using VLaw, a proprietary process designed to provide faster and easier access to legal help, the firm is working to not only use the technology to provide easier access to legal help but to also reduce costs for refuges and others who would normally be required to accompany clients to the firm.
The idea is to also provide the ability for all participants in the system to better collaborate and work on cases or applications without unnecessary delays as well as being faster and less expensive.
Australian-based Lexvoco was set up in 2015 before moving across the Tasman the following year under the leadership here of Australian lawyer Stephen Mullins who had worked in the Australian office before being asked to set up in New Zealand.
The business model here is to provide on-call legal services that better suit the requirements of some businesses.
It has expanded with offices across six offices. Backed by Australian firm McInnes Wilson Lawyers, it uses more experienced lawyers (five years) who have worked in-house. The firm provides specialist assistance for in-house legal teams not only in New Zealand, but in several jurisdictions including in Japan where the company has recently expanded.
Last year, lexvoco was third on Australasian Lawyer’s Fast Firms list, after posting 750% in revenue growth and 500% in partnership growth.
6. Avid Legal
Bruno Bordignon and Murray Whyte, the co-founders of Avid Legal, have taken a highly proactive approach to the use of technology in their Wellington-based commercial law practice.
Apart from taking a flexible approach to fee structures, including taking equity in some start-ups, the firm has developed an ‘Avid Bench’ application providing outsourced lawyers with project work as and when required in the same way as virtual law firms.
And early adopter of law tech tools such as Gene Turner’s LawHawk legal documentation tool, Avid Legal is shaping the way law firms can operate using flexible work practices and the best that technology can offer.
7. Wakefield Lawyers: Hunting New Technology
Lachie Griffin has driven Wakefield Law’s move into technology, taking baby steps with its online wills and continuing to push the tech boundaries.
The firm was the first to sign up to LawVu, the Cloud-based law tech support firm that permits a transparent law management process for firms handling specific work and projects and uses LawHawk and other technology to boost its delivery of legal services and efficiencies.
The Wellington-based firm is an example of what a small practice can do to embrace innovation and the delivery of legal services online, using the technology currently available locally.