An Innovation Mindset Taking Hold in the Legal Industry Says ALPMA

22 August 2017

An innovation mindset is finally starting to take hold in the legal industry, delivering significant benefits for firms, their customers and for the broader legal sector, according to the Australasian Legal Practice Management Association (ALPMA).

“After years of talk about how change is the ‘new normal’ and plenty of research to support the fact that the way clients buy, use and view legal services is transforming, we are pleased to see evidence that law firms are actively embracing innovation,” ALPMA President and CEO of Sladen Legal, Andrew Barnes said, citing a significant leap in the quality and breadth of projects nominated for the 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards.

Mr Whit Lee, Executive Director - Strategy & Legal Software Solutions at LexisNexis Asia Pacific, and one of the judges of the Awards concurred with this assessment.

“There seems to have been a step-change in the legal industry’s approach to innovation this year, with many firms putting forward transformative projects that revamped the way their firms did business and went well beyond simply tinkering around the edges,” he said.

“We are also seeing an increased appetite for substantive innovation across our legal customer base,” he said.

The finalists for the 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards are Proximity, Mills Oakley, Legal Economy and Bannermans Lawyers.

“Developing an innovation mindset requires firms to allow staff time to just think, to experiment with doing things differently and a willingness to fail—which can be the antithesis of how firms have traditionally operated—yet a growing number of firms are successfully embracing this challenge,” Mr Barnes said.

Mr Barnes points to 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Award finalist, Proximity as an example of what an innovation mindset looks like in action.

Proximity has transformed the way it delivers legal advice for these projects, developing an innovative Procurement-as-a-Service (PaaS) delivery model that provides a bundle of key procurement support services on a subscription basis (including but not limited to legal advice) required by organisations and under a trusted partnership with Proximity. Proximity’s PaaS goes beyond services and includes licensing to Optix, a specialist procurement analytics tool developed by Proximity.

“By working closely with clients, we can provide more comprehensive support compared to traditional ad-hoc or individual matter engagement,” Proximity Business Manager and Principal Advisor,” Simon Blake said.

“This approach allows us to deliver greater consistency in the client’s approach to procurement, while providing onsite services also significantly reduces our overheads and allows for more cost-effective services to clients.”

“Proximity PaaS demonstrates to clients that lawyers are capable of doing more than just legal work,” he said.

2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Award finalist, Mills Oakley has taken their commitment to innovation in the legal sector one step further, establishing an Innovation Accelerator to provide innovators in the legal industry, regardless of background or business experience, to access the necessary support to commercialise their ideas.

“Mills Oakley has always believed that innovation should be a meritocracy of ideas, but we could not see enough evidence that innovative start-ups were getting a substantive hearing in the market,” Mills Oakley CEO, Mr John Nerurker said.

“Traditional methods of innovation within the legal profession were restrictive—firms either developed their own technology or partnered with another established organisation—they did not typically solicit ideas from outside their immediate circle of employees or contacts,” he said.

“For the entrepreneur, success was dependent on access to influential individuals and capital, being employed in an organisation which happened to be conducive to the particular ideas championed by the entrepreneur and on the entrepreneur being capable of developing and pitching their own business plan,” Mills Oakley Partner, Daren Curry explained.

“By creating and funding an accelerator, Mills Oakley created a game changer that has enabled entrepreneurs, regardless of background or business experience, to access the necessary support to commercialise their ideas,” he said.

2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Award finalist, Legal Economy is a great example of legal entrepreneurship with the potential to change the industry, Mr Barnes said. The brainchild of Victorian barrister Michael Symons, Legal Economy is a new digital platform enabling solicitors to engage with barristers directly via tender process.

Legal Economy provides an opportunity for solicitors to access a different and potentially wider pool of barristers to accept their briefs, and for more barristers to view and bid for work that they would otherwise not see.

“Finding a barrister to advise or appear for a particular matter can be time consuming and there is a tendency for solicitors to return to the same pool of barristers they have historically briefed out of habit.”

“Unconscious bias around expectations of traditional male figures in court work may also be influencing briefing decisions,” he said.

Following the release of the Law Council of Australia’s equitable briefing policy last year, a national target has been set for women barristers to be briefed in at least 30 per cent of all matters, and be paid 30 per cent of all brief fees by 2020.

“Our vision is that Legal Economy will improve access to justice, see more barristers in Court more often and also help address equity issues experienced by female barristers,” Mr Symons said.

Another great example of an innovation delivering significant benefit to the firm, their customers and the broader industry is 2017 Award finalist Bannermans Lawyers, Mr Barnes said.

2017 Award finalist, Bannerman Lawyers’ Compliance Pack (BCP) project helped NSW strata managers to cope with the biggest changes the industry has faced in over 30 years.

“Rather than waiting for strata managers to come to the firm for advice on new legislation, instead we ‘batted in front of the wicket’ and took the reforms to the industry before the issues arose, providing practical, hands-on advice, delivered via annual subscription, on how to comply with the new legislation in easy to use on-line bites,” Principal, Mr David Bannerman, said.

“The real commercial value of the BCP to the firm was that it strengthened our position as the leading strata law firm,” he said.

“An added bonus was the sense of ownership of the project by staff members and an exciting team work vibe and a keenness to be involved in future innovative projects.”

“The Compliance Pack’s strong adoption by strata managers has improved the standard of compliance with new legislation of both agents and their client owners’ corporations, and will no-doubt have a ripple effect beyond our customers.”

2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards

Established in 2013, the ALPMA Thought Leadership Awards recognise innovative projects undertaken by Australasian law firms in response to the changing legal landscape.

The 2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Award winners will be announced at the Gala Dinner at the 2017 ALPMA Summit on Thursday 14 September at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The Awards were judged by an industry panel including Terri Motorshead, Director of the Centre for Legal Innovation at the College of Law, Shelley Dunstone, Principal Legal Circles and ALPMA Life Member; Shirley Hamel, Director of Operations, Cornwall Stodart and ALPMA Life Member and Whit Lee, Executive Director of Strategy & Customer Research, LexisNexis Asia Pacific.

Previous winners include Maddocks, LegalVision, Hive Legal and Anderssen Lawyers.

2017 ALPMA/LexisNexis Thought Leadership Awards winners are now awarded.

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The Australasian Legal Practice Management Association, (ALPMA), is the peak body representing managers and lawyers with a legal practice management role.  ALPMA provides an authoritative voice on issues relevant to legal practice management.  Members of ALPMA provide professional management services to legal practices in areas of financial management, strategic management, technology, human resources, facilities and operational management, marketing and information services and technology.