Last month we launched the Transforming with Legal Tech Podcast and explored innovation in Hong Kong. In the latest edition, two boutique Australian-based law firms reveal how they have found client (and work-life balance) success in operating nimbly.
The concept of ‘nimble’ is well-known to Charlotte Saunders, UX Researcher, who was involved with developing the new user experience for Westlaw, the smart legal research tool. For the duration of the project, Charlotte and her team ran user testing to hear feedback at every stage of the development process. New Westlaw today fits seamlessly into the day-to-day of legal practice, enabling its users to proceed with agility.
Three design partners joined Charlotte for this episode, including Danny King, Owner and Director at Danny King Legal. Danny is joined by Mark Wilson and Albert Cheung, who are Principal and Co-Founder and Associate at W Advisers respectively. Play the podcast for a deep-dive on how firms such as W Advisers and Danny King Legal achieve better outcomes for their clients with a nimble approach.
Podcast show notes
The nimble model
Coincidently, W Advisers and Danny King Legal entered the legal market in 2011, at a time when both founders identified the market’s appetite for relationship-driven legal advice.
Every start-up story is different, so what was it like for Mark? In Mark’s experience, back in 2011, there were a lot of corporate organisations and high net worth individuals looking to get more value out of the law. Mark’s legal guidance offered this, so his clients followed W Advisers and haven’t looked back since.
“I've had the good fortune to act for a lot of high net worth clients, and like large corporates, it's built on trust. But it's also built on the confidence that you're getting the right answer. In order to do that you obviously need experience and you need good tools to make sure you're getting the right answer every time,” said Mark.
Danny gained experience in the large law space before leaving to be a sole practitioner. While large law wasn’t the right environment for her, Danny experienced these early days as a bit of a launch pad.
“I started with a laptop on my couch…I'm very grateful for all the people that were there to support me emotionally because that was probably the hardest bit,” she recalled.
Danny treats every single client as precious, and during the podcast, she reminded our listeners that your ability to build dedicated relationships can make or break your business. But to be successful and compete commercially, you also need to be nimble. As Danny said:
“For me being nimble means we've got the right amount of people to do the right amount of work, and we're maximising our opportunity to make money without overworking our people or under servicing our clients.”
Driving innovation in mid-sized firms
You may hear of large law prioritising innovation, but boutique firms like Danny King Legal also values legal tech and continuous improvement.
“If something is getting in the way of us leaving at five o'clock, which is our ultimate goal every single day, then we're going to try and find a tech solution to cut through that…we aim to match the perfect level of resourcing with our service outputs and minimise waste,” Danny said.
Over at W Advisers. The firm is big on utilising technology to serve clients efficiently and with precision.
“Everyone in our business enjoys working on complex problems, but also enjoys cutting through. We look for assistance from our technology to cut through - cut through to the answer, cut through to the result, cut through the process and get to the end for the client as quickly as we can,” said Mark.
During the podcast, Albert also described how he and his colleagues benefitted from Mark’s commitment to innovation as a way to drive flexibility at the firm.
“Mark’s made the decision to invest in new hardware for the firm’s staff, so that we're able to actually utilise the hardware more efficiently and flexibly...including for staff who might require flexibility more than others,” said Albert.
Benefitting from the dividends of technology
If Mark could speak to his younger lawyer self today, he’d advise him to work smarter, not necessarily for longer hours.
“I think at large firms, there's an element of face time that you need to maintain. We try to dispense with that. We even try to kick people out of the office, to make sure that they're getting a work life balance that's increasingly important across all industries.”
As Mark invests in legal technology for W Advisers, he wants his employees to share the benefits of burdens lifted from the administration associated with the job, through flexible working.
“We all need to benefit from the technology dividend that our society is getting. It shouldn't only be of benefit to some people.”
So while you can’t always control when a client needs something, whether it is a court deadline or deal being done, you can monitor your staff to ensure they are not being overworked. For example, in a recent scenario, Mark noticed that an employee was not working flexibly, so Mark sent him on a day off.
Flexibility is a big selling point for lawyers who go to work at Danny King Legal. Quite ‘selfishly’, as she puts it, Danny created a work-life balance that enabled her to put her kids to bed and leave by 5pm should she want to.
“If I can do it, I’ve got to make sure that everybody else can do it frequently as well. It's part of the pitch of why you would come to a firm like mine instead of following a different kind of path. We prioritise different things,” said Danny.
“I also have a body of amazing Junior lawyers, paralegals, and people that are much younger with a finger to the digital pulse. And they tend to understand a lot more about these things than I do. And so we've got a bit of a culture of continuous improvement, that chips away at the common barriers that we come up against.”
AI and machine learning
When it comes to artificial intelligence, Mark has always been a skeptic. However, he now believes that AI is here to prove us wrong. Does this mean that the robots will take over the lawyers? In Mark’s view the answer is no, but that “lawyers will need to distinguish themselves by being the knowledge masters for unusual or bespoke situations.”
Danny King Legal specialises in employment law, which is a unique practice area in some respects. As Danny said, clients need human emotions to help them with the situation they are in. The solicitors at Danny King Legal need to carefully consider a range of factors in advising their clients. There is no algorithm for this type of service.
“I think as a service industry, it’s about providing humans with the connection and support that they need, when they are going through some really tough situations in life. That's what we're there for. That's our special sauce!” said Danny.
Mark could relate to this, citing a recent encounter with a client who was facing court examinations for a company that failed. For a good five minutes the client was sobbing on the phone.
“AI will never be able to assist in helping her [the client] overcome this [agony of losing a business]…Our role is not just to run through the rules or even just apply the rules. It's to help people,” Mark said.
Feedback on new Westlaw design partnership
Danny King, Owner and Director, Danny King Legal
This was such a great opportunity for us as a firm to get stuck in with a company like Thomson Reuters and meet more people. For us, it’s all about building community and relationships. We're chuffed to have been included!
Mark Wilson, Principal and Co-Founder, W Advisers
As boutiques, we've got Thomson Reuters’ whole team standing behind our efforts to get to know the law, which is ever more complex, ever more difficult to navigate, with various areas of law becoming more interdependent.
To be listened to, and as Albert said, for the product to develop in response to our expressed needs, and the flexibility that we've been seeking, we were really grateful that you've taken the time to hear us and to be responsive.
We are really excited to see how that will mean that we will be able to practice with more confidence, knowing we've got the right result quickly. It's terrific...For us, it's a great step forward for us in our practice.
Albert Cheung, Associate, W Advisers
I really appreciated how, [during the design process] I could actually see changes in the product that was being developed based on what I had to contribute, or feedback that I was giving to the design team. I think that the product that I'm now seeing versus the product that I saw a year ago has significantly improved. And I've actually really enjoyed working with less law throughout this process!