We talk about the rapid change happening in the legal industry today as being game-changing, disruptive and unprecedented. But is it?

What’s really changed?

The way we deliver services – sure. We can now collaborate with clients through online portals providing access to drafts, templates and financial data whenever and wherever required. That’s definitely changed from the days of snail mail and couriers delivering a plethora of paper.

How we draft documents – yep. That’s also changed. Using smart coding to automate we can now tick a few boxes, enter some key data and at the press of a button our first draft appears before us (or the client) ready for review.

How we find information has also changed. With eDiscovery software and machine learning technology like Kira and RAVN now flooding the market, lawyers can enjoy spending less time looking for information, with more time to do what they’ve been trained to – analyse and apply their critical judgement to the issues at hand.

So what’s changed, and if “everyone” is now doing all those things, is it really innovative?

I guess you could say we can now do things faster and arguably more accurately having reduced an element of human error improving time and cost efficiencies. However, I can’t help but ponder on the notion the changes in legal over the last few years, somewhat pail into insignificance when you recall what other industries have been doing for years.

Off the top of my head…

  • Online retailers have been delivering a 24/7 customer service on the internet for more than a decade
  • The device you’re reading this on has been automating things for years – think of spellcheck on your PCs and autocorrect on your smartphone. Essentially that’s just machine learning automating how you spell (annoying though it may be at times!)
  • Searching through electronic data using algorithms has been around since the 90s – remember Archie, excite and AltaVista all came before Yahoo in 1994, Google in 1996, and Ask Jeeves in 1997.

Don’t get me wrong, the changes happening in law are desperately needed, and so very long overdue. However, these changes are primarily focused on the business of law: doing things better, faster, more efficiently. Mostly to maintain shrinking margins as clients also become increasingly savvy in the procurement of their legal advice (read: no longer willing to pay for unnecessary “effort”).

My prediction: we haven’t seen the real evolution and innovation in law yet. I wonder how the practice of law will evolve?

Watch this space…


Alison Laird always wanted to be an astronaut, but somehow ended up in the legal industry without being a lawyer. Fast forward 14 years and she specialises in helping the legal profession create a new ‘normal’ to deliver faster, better, and more efficient services combining people, process and technology.

She is the Director of innovation consultancy Laird Innovations – a management consultancy demystifying innovation and improving operational efficiency for law firms, in-house corporate counsel and professional services. In addition to her day job, she is a member of the Centre for Legal Innovation Advisory Board and a Teaching Fellow at Australia’s College of Law on innovation for the Master of Legal Business course and was the Inaugural Chair of the Chief Innovation Officers Forum.

MBA qualified, she has worked in a range of legal strategy and change management roles in Dubai, London, Brisbane and Melbourne in global law firms and consulting companies.