Movers And Shakers With LegalTech #1

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Andrew Simmonds, the evil lawyer

In this series we ask lawyers and others in the legal industry what their law firms are doing with legal technology. We caught up with Andrew Simmonds, partner at technology law firm Simmonds Stewart, who leads the development and promotion of his firm’s free legal document templates which have disrupted New Zealand’s legal industry.

Whether Andrew knows it or not, he is far from being an evil lawyer as his memorable Twitter username suggests. Andrew is the sort of lawyer who does far more than lawyering for his clients – he thoughtfully uses his contacts to make invaluable introductions and connect people in a way that can change the course of a business’ journey.

Andrew is a savvy corporate and commercial lawyer who specialises in working with tech companies on commercial, capital raising and M & A strategy. He co-founded Simmonds Stewart in 2006.

Andrew tells of his views on automation and how his law firm is using technology to plan for growth.

What do you say to people who think automation will put lawyers out of work?

Technology has been putting people out of work since the invention of the wheel.  Like it or not, automation technologies, including artificial intelligence, will supplant some of the labour intensive work that lawyers currently make money from. However, it also presents an opportunity for lawyers to provide services to clients more efficiently, potentially increasing overall revenues rather than decreasing them. For example, most commercial contracts entered into by companies are not reviewed by lawyers, because it is not cost effective to do so.

With the help of technology, law firms may be able to service this massive “unlawyered” segment of the economy. Think about how accountants have been disrupted by electronic calculators, accounting software, and soon by electronic tax filing – yet the accountancy profession gets bigger and (seemingly) more profitable every decade. That is the challenge lawyers need to set themselves.

What advice do you have for lawyers to help them stay ahead of the wave of change coming to our industry?

Learn as much as you can about digital marketing and the delivery of services over the internet. Read about future technologies, particular in legal tech but also in AI.  Find out as much as you can about emerging trends in back office technologies for lawyers (like the options for moving to cloud based productivity tools and SaaS practice management solutions).  Allocate a budget to trialling one or more technologies in this space – accept it is going to be painful but do it any way in the interests of upskilling.

How is Simmonds Stewart using technology to plan for growth?

Digital marketing is central to our growth plans. We have increased our number of active clients by at least 50% per year over the last 5 years, and this is largely down to our digital marketing strategy. Next on our list is increasing the automation of client onboarding and service delivery, including delivery of some basic legal products via automation (such as our template non-disclosure agreement which we’ve automated with Automio). Finally, we’ve been investing the adoption of a SaaS back office platform.  Some things we’ve done have worked better than others, and some projects (particularly moving to the cloud) have been frustrating and expensive. However, we think we are well positioned to support our growth ambitions and to respond to emerging competition such as online, non-lawyer service providers like Dragon Law.

How do you think more tech-savvy lawyers can convince less tech-savvy partners in firms to invest in automation and other tech?

It is possible to trial a bunch of technologies without breaking your firm’s piggy bank. It isn’t necessary to invest in blue sky projects like Minter Ellison Rudd Watts’ AI adventure (and I don’t think NZ law firms have the environment or resources to win at that game). Instead, I’d focus on getting a few small projects going that stand to offer some benefits to your firm, but which don’t risk your current business or put a strain on your liquidity. If it works, build from there. If it doesn’t evaluate why and try something new once you’ve licked your wounds.

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