9 November 2020
Smarter Law: a graduate’s journey
By Jonathon Brooking, Law Graduate
My first year out of university hasn’t been what I expected. While the global pandemic is a major factor, that’s not the entire reason my grad year has been unpredictable.
Over the past few months, I have rotated through Legal Operations at Hall & Wilcox – an experience that will help shape my legal career.
Others in my graduate cohort have been drafting correspondence, researching points of law and preparing for (virtual) Court. In this time, I have had the chance to learn how to use about a dozen programs to make life easier for our legal teams and to enhance the services we provide to clients.
The journey begins
Like many people, I was caught off guard by the rapid impact of COVID-19 earlier this year. I started in the Commercial Dispute Resolution (CDR) team, and had been in the office for a week before we were working from home.
I still remember the Melbourne graduates’ plan to go to an AFL match together, as one of our cohort had recently moved down from Brisbane (very unlucky timing Ben!). This, and many other plans were quickly shut down at the start of lockdown.
The move to working from home was my first practical experience of Hall & Wilcox’s emphasis on flexible working and technology. Before the pandemic, many of the firm’s lawyers were already working flexibly. After the office closed, I was set up with all the equipment needed to effectively work from home within two days.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in CDR, even though a vast majority of it was virtual. I learned from highly experienced practitioners and worked on a diverse range of interesting matters. From a Smarter Law angle, I had my first experience with e-Discovery and document automation.
When it came time to choose my second rotation, I embraced an opportunity I probably wouldn’t have considered a year ago. I put my innovative goggles on and tried my hand at Legal Operations.
Legal Ops 101: more than just tech
I still remember my first meeting with Peter Campbell (Client Solutions Director), where he discussed the things I’d be involved in. He gave me an overview of the work I’d do which included creating client portals, helping to deploy matter management platforms and even building an app!
Starting out, I had limited knowledge of how the Legal Operations/Client Solutions team operated. In our first team meeting, I was surprised to find that the legal technology we use is a carefully balanced blend of off the shelf systems with some specific technology from in-house developers. I also learned that the technology is only part of the story. Setting it up properly and getting people to use it well are real challenges.
For the bulk of my rotation, I was to be a ‘Legal Analyst’, which included meeting relevant parties, creating flowcharts and ensuring solutions were ready for the developers to actualise. A smaller part would be to have a go at being a developer, which required a very different skill set to what I possessed.
At this point I should probably come clean that I’m no IT guru. My only above average IT skill was using Excel (an ability to use basic formulas – I know, pretty impressive). I’d had no coding training and had never attempted a Legal Technology subject at university.
There was a lot to look forward to and I was up for the challenge.
Smarter Law in action
I’d describe my first few weeks in the team as dynamic. There was a great deal to learn and many concepts to grasp. While my legal research and drafting proficiency mattered little, my communication and collaboration skills were invaluable.
One of the greatest aspects of the rotation was working with people across the firm. Within the first week I’d met with teams in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth about developing matter management platforms. It was great to see the firm’s national commitment to innovation and to be involved with projects that will save countless hours of repetitive work.
During COVID-19, we noticed an acceleration in demand from clients for digital solutions. One way I assisted teams across the firm was by creating data rooms which provided the easy exchange of information between lawyers, clients and external parties.
Think of the data rooms as you would regular cloud storage providers (Google Drive, OneDrive, Dropbox etc), but specialised. I quickly realised the customisation and security options that our sites provided, and after training, felt comfortable setting them up without supervision.
One of the most exciting experiences of the rotation was building an app which allows lawyers and insurers to quickly assess recovery potential. Building an app is a lot like trying to solve a complex puzzle. It’s challenging. Sometimes you may become frustrated when the pieces don’t fit, but it’s immensely satisfying after it all comes together.
On the Legal Analyst side of things, being part of the innovative process is something I enjoyed. It became quickly clear that most solutions I worked on came from individuals within the firm. Helping people build on their ideas was one of the most memorable aspects of Legal Operations.
Continuing the journey
Experiencing Legal Operations for four months was an amazing experience, and one I will look back on fondly. I now possess a greater understanding of the resources that are available, and can better service clients as a result.
I found Legal Operations and general legal work similar in many ways. As with facing a legal dilemma, it was important to establish the underlying problem before thinking of a solution that would resolve it. Time management was also essential, as balancing several ongoing projects was akin to having a full plate of legal matters.
While I might not be building apps on a day-to-day basis in the future, I’m confident that many of the ‘soft skills’ I used in my rotation such as communication, problem solving and teamwork leave me well-placed moving forward.
The greatest benefit from my experiences is that I’ve acquired knowledge of the technology, solutions and options available to enhance the work of my future team. I’ve always believed in the idea that it’s better to work smarter rather than harder, and I can now more easily identify which processes can be improved to benefit both lawyers and clients.
Using technology in the legal industry is set to grow exponentially. Firms that evolve will be well placed to take advantage of the opportunities that arise.
I’m grateful that I had the opportunity to rotate through Legal Operations. I look forward to emphasising Smarter Law as I continue my journey.