Chair & Partner – Dentons, New Zealand
1. How has the Covid-19 crisis affected the way you work as a lawyer?
Covid-19 effectively became a ‘proof of concept’ of our belief that we could work effectively and efficiently remotely. Living in New Zealand, and being familiar with the impacts of natural disasters, our business continuity planning had assumed that at some point, a significant portion of our business might one day need to work remotely for an extended period of time. We certainly weren’t expecting it to be tested across the whole business. We had tested our systems with a simulated earthquake that removed access to our Wellington office. The lessons learned from that process meant that we were able to very seamlessly get up and running, in a matter of hours, when the alert levels shifted in New Zealand.
One of the key positives has been proving that that operating model can function effectively and in a sustained way. That has opened up possibilities for us to consider new ways of working that fit the needs of our team, and our clients, better. In many ways, the experience increased the connectedness of our teams, as we worked very hard to ensure that our people engaged with each other in structured ways, to replace the face-to-face contact we would normally have with each other and with clients, and to find solutions to the unique challenges that Covid-19 has presented.
2. Will you and your firm continue to use flexible and agile working in future?
We had developed flexible and remote working policies and approach pre-Covid, and we will continue to build on that in the future. We see it as essential to meeting the needs of clients, supporting our employees to manage their various commitments, and also an essential part of ensuring that we are able to attract, retain and develop high quality people.
We are just now looking to the implications that these new styles of working might have on our physical working space. We are in the process of a staff engagement exercise to understand how people expect to work, and want to work, in the future. Physical presence will always be a key part of a profession like the law.
3. How have you employed legal tech during the crisis?
Our technology capability, both in New Zealand and through Dentons globally, has been a key part of our ability to continue to provide seamless support to clients during this period. We have had access to a variety of tools and systems to continue to work as if we were physically in the office. Sometimes the number of tools has itself been the challenge – I am occasionally mystified as to what programme is ‘ringing’ on my laptop – it is Teams? or is it Zoom? Maybe its Bluejeans?
4. How do you see the advancement of legal tech affecting the legal industry in the next 10 years?
We expect the Covid-19 experience to be an accelerator of change in legal tech. We have proven that we can work in a flexible and agile way, and clients will continue to demand that we use those skills to better meet their needs. The traditional ‘arm’s length’ legal advisor role was already receding in favour of collaborative advisers working with our clients. Working from ‘home’ will increasingly be ‘working remotely’, as our teams spend more time with clients, in their businesses. Legal tech will need to continue to develop to keep up, providing better tools to collaborate and share ideas.
The pace of technological change in the law was one of our key drivers in joining Dentons earlier this year – before Covid-19 was even a thing – it provides us with access to real scale in our technology investment, meaning that developments that are out of reach of our domestic competitors are well within our grasp.
5. Name one key thing that will be different in the legal profession in 10 years time.
The commerciality of our people and advice. We think it is our point of difference now, and we see it as the future of legal advice. Clients want lawyers who understand that they are solving business problems, not law school exams. They want advice they can use, in language that they can apply, and that comes from an practical and pragmatic understanding of their business needs.