How Technology will Direct the Future for Boutique Lawyers

Lawyers may be accused of living in the past but across conference tables and networking sessions at the recent Lawyers Weekly Boutique Law Summit in Sydney, delegates were abuzz about how to take on the future.  

However, for those who will succeed in this quest, it’s an exclusive club. Those who deny or resist change, will be assigned to the past. In his powerful presentation “Leading the charge: The future of law and legal services”, Dominic Thurbon, Partner at Ernst & Young, cited Kodak’s denial and Sony’s resistance to change as classic examples of what not to follow. The challenge, he implored, is to adapt to and leverage change, and ultimately direct your future. And lead the charge! 

But if your weapons are archaic, the future for that charge is in peril. “If you don’t embrace technology, then you will be left behind,” warns Nancy Youssef, Founder, mentor and author from Classic Finance, and a panellist at the Summit. “You won’t be able to compete, and you will not be able to deliver on your value proposition.” 

The bright news is that in the last six years, Australian firms have heeded that warning with investment in legal tech growing by 10.8% on average from the financial year of 2015 to 2020, a Peer Monitor figure highlighted by Thomson Reuters’ James Jarvis, Vice President – Legal Solutions in his address “Digital Legal Practice in 2021”. This is coupled with an average increase in the demand for legal services of 4.8% over the same period, a shiny number when compared with the flat and, in some years, negative growth in the US.

Quoting Thomson Reuters’ new Westlaw customer, Mark Wilson, Founder & Partner of W Advisers, James captured the essence of how to succeed in this tough post-pandemic landscape, “The only businesses that survive and thrive are businesses committed to innovation.” 

Save time while you grow your business

So, where to start? For many boutique lawyers the concern expressed at the Summit was how to rise to the challenge of innovation through automation without the resources of the big firms.  

“If you have a boutique law firm and you’ve got staff who are stretched, where is their time better spent? Is it on the work that technology can do for a subscription?” 

– Nancy Youssef, Founder, mentor and author from Classic Finance, and a panellist at the Summit. 

“Or is their time better spent on doing things that are actually growing their business and providing better customer outcomes?”  

But not everyone can afford to create their own technology platform or have the tech know-how to service it. They’re not software engineers they’re lawyers, one delegate remarked. 

So Thomson Reuters’ software engineers have built the new Westlaw for lawyers. All the primary law, cases and legislation are now in one place, making searches more than seven times faster. ​James explains: “This means that for every 100 searches you run, you save one hour of time.” 

Better advice with competitive edge 

For Michael Solari, Director of boutique law firm Solari & Stock in Sydney, using the new Westlaw to research an issue for a client about tree roots damaging pipes, saved him at least an hour to an hour and a half. “I can just type in my question in plain English and I get all of this material, including the most recent cases, commentary and references,” he explained at the Summit. “I had all of the information I wanted virtually instantaneously and then, after spending around 15 minutes reading the materials, I had the answers I needed. It was fantastic. I didn’t expect it to be that quick. And it is just so concise.” 

Before adopting the new technology, Michael would go to various resources, search through materials from each source and read through numerous cases to find the most recent case on point. “Using the new Westlaw I had it all at my fingertips with one search enquiry.” 

The time saved has meant his lawyers spend more time in dealing with the clients. “They’re also able to give better advice and we can compete with bigger firms. We can market it that way, we can say we’ve got the most up-to-date research available to us.  

“The new Westlaw fills the gap we had, in that our library and research resources are also now electronic and accessible anywhere, even while our lawyers are seeing clients remotely, in barrister’s conferences or in Court. It has enabled our business to go to the next level in providing legal services and advice to our clients.” 

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The Lawyers Weekly Boutique Law Summit took place on Friday 26 March 2021 at the Four Seasons in Sydney with over 100 people attending in person and another 150 attending online. There were two prize draws for the physical and virtual attendees to win a six-month subscription to the New Westlaw and Practical Law for up to five users.  

Congratulations to our winners: Alicia Elliott from Holmes Donnelly & Co from the physical event and HL Gan from FGL Lawyers from the virtual event!  

Virginia Ginnane is an author, lawyer and writer, working for more than 20 years for international publishers in the UK, US and Australia. Her articles have appeared in The Lawyer, Legal Week, Legal Business, The Guardian, The Sydney Morning Herald and Hello! magazine among many other publications. She was London correspondent for Time Inc’s Who Weekly and Life magazine, and also feature writer at Australian Associated Press in Sydney. Virginia has worked at Thomson Reuters as Commissioning Editor, Tax Writer and is currently Marketing Content Specialist, Thought Leadership in Asia and Emerging Markets.

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