Interview: Clarissa Rayward

Clarissa Rayward is a family lawyer, wife and mum who is passionate about relationships, people and family. Clarissa is the Director of Brisbane Family Law Centre, a boutique Family Law practice.

Clarissa uses her industry knowledge and skill to change the way Australian families experience divorce and separation.  She is known as ‘The Happy Family Lawyer’ as she believes that your divorce can be a part of your marriage you can look back on with pride. She is the author of the successful ‘Happy Family Lawyer’ blog, providing weekly commentary and tips on issues relating to divorce and the book ‘Splitsville- How to separate stay out of Court and stay friends’.

During 2016 Clarissa has published her second book- ‘Happy Lawyer Happy Life- How to be happy in law and in life’ for lawyers looking for better ways to practice law after launching a successful podcast by the same name.  Clarissa has now turned her attention to addressing the high rates of depression and anxiety amongst lawyers by opening a positive dialogue on how lawyers can find happiness in their careers.

When did you know that you wanted to be a lawyer?

I was a year or so into an interior design degree and was not enjoying it- I wanted to study something that was far removed from the ‘creative’ world as I felt a career in the creative arts was going to be hard work and I wanted to just enjoy my passion for creativity in my own time and not make it a job or a chore.  I took some time out from University and started doing a lot of reading- that led me to a few books about lawyers and I became more and more interested in the role of a lawyer so headed back to University the following year to do my law degree.

What attracts you most to the profession of law?

The capacity to help others through what is often one of the most difficult moments in their lives- I am a divorce lawyer and feel very privileged to have the chance to work with people at such challenging and personal moments.

What are your passions outside of the law?

Hanging out with my family, dancing, coffee and chocolate!  I love anything creative so I tend to do a lot of writing now but still find myself with a paint brush in hand every once in a while.

If you had your time again, would you choose to practice in law? If not, what else would you choose to do?

I ask myself this question a lot and the answer does depend on the type of day I am having!  Honestly I am not sure knowing what I know now that I would practice law in the traditional sense if I had my time again, but I do think a law degree is such a helpful ‘in’ to so many great career pathways.  I do love business and running a law firm so I sense I would still find myself running a business of some sort whether I had completed my law degree or not.

If you could only give one bit of advice to new lawyers, what would it be?

You are a person first and a lawyer second- never forget that.  A career in the law can at times become all consuming and the ‘higher’ you go in the law ladder the more your career will pull you away from the things that perhaps truly matter in life- family, friends and relationships.  Remembering that being a lawyer is just one part of you and being clear about what really matters will make those hard decisions easier.  And my second tip (because 1 is never enough) would be that this career is a marathon not a sprint and to remember to slow down and enjoy the ride as you just never really know what great opportunities tomorrow will bring.

What makes a lawyer a great lawyer?

A great lawyer in my mind is intelligent and has a solid grasp on legal concepts but more importantly has empathy and understanding.  I think a great lawyer is also naturally curious and not judgmental.

How do you balance life and work?

I don’t think of ‘balance’ anymore but have adopted the phrase ‘integration’ that a lawyer friend of mind coined.  Working for myself offers advantages and disadvantages.   I have found it better to just let work and life flow into each other without being too worried about having a clear structure.  However I am very careful to be focused on home when I am with my family and friends or work if that is what I am doing- I find it most difficult when I am trying to do both at the same time.

What is your best tip for maintaining sanity in the law?

Be honest and real with yourself.  We need to look for the positives, not the challenges and there are so many wonderful positives of being part of such a privileged profession.  Any career will have its challenges.  If you look after your health, find a positive workplace and enjoy your life and passions outside of your work I think you really can be a mostly happy lawyer.

What are your hopes for our profession?

That we can find better ways to work together and support each other to ensure longevity of our profession.  Here in Australia the statistics around mental health challenges for lawyers are very high (1 in 3 lawyers likely to experience depression or anxiety in their careers) and so I think we as a group of colleagues can do more for each other to minimise the drivers of ill health and unhappiness.

 

The New Leaf

By Georgia Briggs

georgiaBriggsEvery so often in life, things just don’t work out. Call it karma or fate, or as my Aunty refers to it “sometimes life is just s**t, and it applied to so many things!” but unfortunately you’re stuck with it, and it’s how you manage it that really matters (character building I believe it’s more positively known as).

If you’ve been following my column (thanks!) then you’ll note that quite a few of my last ‘life not going my way’ moments have knocked me for 6. While I’m not going to sit here and tell you that I’m feeling much better about those in the individual sense (I’m not, the Dream Job called and gave me the feedback I requested yesterday and the wound reopened tenfold), I’m here to tell you what I did to take a little bit of control again.

Most post law students would find that there is a big hole left which use to be filled with endless amounts of study. Once you finish you initially fill that hole with activities such as seeing friends, sleeping, working or just rolling around on the floor of your house going “I can do this because I don’t have to study anymore!” However after a while, you really think “gosh, what do I do with my time now?” I believe the technical term is you realise you’re a little bit ‘bored’. Oh, and if this doesn’t sound like you, give it time…

Well, I, being the person not willing to roll any longer, applied for my Masters. SURPRISE!

It’s a Masters of Teaching. DOUBLE SURPRISE!

I have been volunteering at a local primary school for some time, and, as my friend put it to me when I told her about the Masters, “those kids got to you”. I’ve always had a bit of an interest in teaching, I did year 10 work experience in teaching (and journalism… next academic venture to resurface?) but didn’t pursue it after being sucked whole-heartedly into Law in years 11 and 12 Legal Studies.

Now it’s back, and I’m learning about something that is so not law it’s almost funny! While there’s plenty of academic research to be had, I’m being asked (keep in mind it’s my first assignment, in my first class in my first semester) to make a ‘multimodal artefact’ about what kind of teacher I want to be. It can be “a powerpoint slide, a rap, a collage, a video, a short essay, a role play etc”. Hell yeah! While it is hard work to be in a degree again, and the concept of “oh right, I can’t put this off” is starting to finally hit me, I couldn’t be happier that I’ve taken a complete left turn into something I’ve always been interested in but never taken a chance on.

It helps knowing that if it all feels too much I can always stop, but it feels so, so, so right to have gone in this direction, and now the legal job hunt punching me in the face the last month or so, doesn’t feel quite as bad. I urge you to do the same, but with anything that you’ve thought “hmm, I’d like to do this” but never gotten around to. I can’t actual explain the relief of taking the chance on this and having it work so well (even if it is only the first few weeks), and having it inadvertently balance much of my other turmoil with regard to post law school life and the job hunt.

Use your new free time to do something totally awesome and different! New language, juggling, landscape architecture. Rolling on the floor isn’t going to be interesting forever, especially not for smart people like yourselves!

P.S I immediately bought a stamp that says “well done” with a happy bee on it. 😀 It’s necessary – I’m a teacher! (well sort of)

Interview: Patrick Street

There are many fantastic people out there connected with the law and all their stories are unique and interesting. Recently I had the pleasure of interviewing Mr. Patrick Street who, I believe, fits well into the above category. His legal career stretches over 40 years starting as a young man working as a Clerk in the Victorian Magistrates Court working, striving and finally achieving the other role on that side of the bench… Deputy Chief Magistrate.

Patrick became a Victorian Clerk of Courts in 1958. “I was in Courts throughout the Melbourne area until 1981 when I was appointed as a Magistrate.” In 1995 he was appointed a Deputy Chief Magistrate of Victoria where he remained until he retired from the bench in 1999.  “In 1999 I thought that’s 40 years in the Court’s branch, that’s enough!”

While being a ‘Clerk of Courts’ Patrick studied law part time at Melbourne University, “I wanted to get onto the bench as a Magistrate.” He graduated from Melbourne University with an LLB in 1976 and a Diploma in Criminology in 1980 and in 1976 was admitted to practise as a Barrister and Solicitor of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Unlike most of today’s law students, lawyers and even judges, Patrick’s journey was unique as he jumped straight from Clerk to Magistrate. “I didn’t particularly want to leave the job and become a solicitor or a lawyer, I wanted to get on the bench. I’ve been in the courts a lot being a clerk of courts, so it meant I was facing the lawyers and barristers, and I did the same thing when I was on the bench, I faced the lawyers. So I’ve never been in Court where I’ve faced the Magistrate. I can’t really say if I would have enjoyed being a lawyer, because I’ve never done it.”

Alas, for all those whose minds are currently whirring about the possibility of skipping the bar table and going straight to the bench, times have changed. “Clerks aren’t really eligible to be a Magistrate [nowadays]. In the mid 1980’s it changed so that you had to be appointed from either a Barrister or a Solicitor. Back in the day you had a seniority list and once you became eligible to be a Magistrate it was a matter of seniority of when you got on the bench.”

“What happened at the time I got on was that there were 4 vacancies and four Clerks of Courts including me applied for the jobs and we were then interviewed by the relevant authorities and then we were appointed to the bench. So it didn’t really involve any Law Institute or the Bar Council or anything like that.”

Since his retirement Patrick has been involved in quite a few publications, that have allowed a convergence of his passions. “I’ve been doing the monthly crossword for the Law Institute of Victoria, we call it ‘Letters of the Law’. That’s involved a lot of work producing those every month since 2000”.

Patrick was appointed President of the Australian Crossword Club in 1992 (and is still in that position) and since 2000 he has edited and published the Club’s monthly magazine Crozworld. The Club’s website is: http://www.crosswordclub.org/

“I also produced the Victorian Magistrates Court Annual Report for ten years and was the editor of the Magistrates Information Bulletin from 1995-1999 (29 issues). I was the co-author of The Health Act Victoria produced by the Law Book Co in 1983. And from a personal Magistrate’s perspective, I produced the first 12 copies of The Magistrates Journal (1983-86) when I was the Secretary of the Victorian Magistrates Association.” As you can see, Patrick is a very busy and dedicated man!
For the last 12 years Patrick has also been producing the bi-monthly newsletter of the Silver Society of Australia. “So I’ve been interested in collecting sterling silver tableware. So that’s 3 publications. But the time I have spent on the Magistrates Cases that has taken an enormous amount of work.”

Magistrates Cases

For those who have not heard of Magistrates Cases, it is a wonderful website and resource for (particularly Victorian) practitioners, law students and yes, as the name suggests, Magistrates. In essence, the website has access to over 2500 specialised case reports, in electronic format, mainly from the Supreme Court of Victoria in relation to the Magistrates’ Court’s jurisdiction in Victoria. Now THAT is a handy website!

“The Supreme Court of Victoria used to send its judgements down to Magstrates if they thought that the judgement might be relevant. I started doing them in 1983, I’d been on the bench for 2 years and the Chief Magistrate at the time said ‘I want you to start doing that‘. I got these cases and would go through them and ended up putting them in the publications.”

“There’s usually about 4-5 cases that go out in each one of these parts. I still do about 10-12 of these parts every year.  It’s definitely not a summary. I include the whole case and catchwords to give you a bit of an idea of what the case is about. I usually do a few sentences to background the case and then I put my neck on the block and say “this is what the Judge held”. That’s the hard bit, what is this case all about and what did the Judge mean?” Patrick laughs that he’s “only” done it more than 2500 times now. “it must be a world record!”

“About 10 years ago or so, I started my Magistrates Cases website where I’ve uploaded every relevant case to Magistrates Cases (http://www.magistratescases.com.au/) from 1969. Every case that has been published as a Magistrates Cases has been uploaded, there are more than 2500. Even cases before I started doing it.  The ones that were edited by other Magistrates didn’t have the detail I’ve always done and quite often didn’t say what the case stood for, I would fix it and upload it.”

So why did Patrick take over the role and importantly, allow online access? “I want Magistrates to be totally informed and kept up to date with the latest cases from the Supreme Court because if a case in the Magistrates Court is similar to one in the Supreme Court then the Magistrates are bound to follow what the Supreme Court has decided.”

“All Magistrates have access to the cases and I send spare copies of the printed version to the Magistrates Court in the City and the Broadmeadows Court. When I was on the Bench this didn’t happen and I must say, it’s handy that any magistrate or barrister can access the case in court!”

Patrick has also written a large number of articles not only about historical matters of the Court but also for the assistance of the magistrates which can be accessed through the Legal History section of the website. “The article on drink/driving goes more than 300 pages and probably is the most detailed article of decided cases in relation to that topic. The Magistrates Cases covers virtually all cases on drink/driving in Victoria since 1969.”

 

A few Questions for Patrick Street

Do you have any single moment, case or event that has defined your legal career?

“A decision I made in 1994, the Defence Counsel thought I had acted in an improper manner. That case went before one of the Supreme Court judges who completely went along with my decision. So I was very happy with that. It gives you a bit more confidence when you have a Supreme Court judge upholding your decision. So I enjoyed that.”

If you could give one piece of advice to new people in the legal profession, what would it be?

“Well in my opinion a lawyer is the most important person in Court. I loved to have a lawyer appearing for a defendant than a defendant appearing on their own. I’ve always been very impressed with the quality of the submissions that have been made to me over the years. Lawyers are the most important part of the Magistrates Court.”

What makes a good lawyer?

“I always liked the lawyer if they were making relevant and helpful submissions, but if the lawyer got offside with the magistrate or said things that were a bit insulting or unhelpful, to me that never did any good for the decision that was finally made. So for me, if the lawyer can be courteous at all times but be extensive with their knowledge of the law and the case involved, to me that’s the best, the lawyer who was doing the right thing.”

Is the reality of being a judge anything like people imagine it?

“I’m afraid not, it’s hard work! The trouble with the Magistrates Court is that there is so much work there every day and what it means is that you are in a position where you must complete the work that’s been listed today, because it can’t be put on tomorrow, because there’s a heap of cases tomorrow, and in fact there’s a heap of cases every day for the next three months! So if you can’t finish the hearing today, then that’s going to cause a real problem.”

“I felt that I had to make decisions properly and as efficiently as I could to make sure that people weren’t going to be put off for 3 or 6 months. To make sure I finished the particular case on a particular day, it was very difficult to make sure that happened.”

 

At just over 74 years of age, Patrick is still editing Magistrates Cases as well as his many other publications. For access to Magistrates Case, follow this link: http://www.magistratescases.com.au/

There is Only One Version of Your Story

oneversion

By Bernadette Healy

It is entirely possible that even amidst your busy work life – while trying to make an impression on those that matter – striving to stand out, and hoping to be chosen for greater things – that you could also be wondering about where you find yourself now, in the world of work.  You might be wondering about the purpose of your role; the meaningfulness of your assigned tasks; the degree to which the project is worthwhile and even the merits of the company,  workplace or even industry sector within which you find yourself.

You might ask your younger self, for example your 18 or 19 year old self, what do you think of where I am now?  Have I sold out my ideals?  Is this worth all the hype that was created back then around the possibility of securing one of these coveted roles?  Have I missed out on a time of just trying different things? Of working only to enable travel to the next place? Of experiencing my days largely unaware of the time?  Ought I to be pursuing that other idea that used to occupy me?

Yes it is quite possible and even probable that you can be working in an effective and committed way while actively wondering about all those other options. Yes you can even be being celebrated by others for the way you are doing your job while internally experiencing profound questioning of that very same role.  You may even be wondering more generally about what larger purpose your work should be addressing.

A sense of purposefulness is not static.  A sense of purposefulness can at times elude us.  The clear purposefulness that we felt just a few short months ago in the very same place can start to shift and morph into an in-between place, a place of not where we once were, but clearly not the next thing either.  This can be both unexpected and quite confusing.  Also it can sometimes be a bit sad as we long for the time when either we were so busy getting to that job, that we didn’t think about the what of it, or we might be longing for the time when we were so thrilled to get that job and then so preoccupied learning how to be in it, that there was no room for anything else.  The sadness can be for the loss of innocence; the shift in your way of experiencing yourself in relation to the world of work compared to an earlier, less conscious time.

Unless you are overdue for a major life review (e.g. 20+ years of a working life with little or no active reflection to date), the good and bad news is that you don’t have to change anything just because you are having doubts and questions and ‘what if’ kinds of thoughts.

You have a number of options.

  • You can keep doing what you are doing
  • You can keep doing what you are doing and resolve to notice but not act upon questioning thoughts
  • You can keep doing what you are doing, notice your questioning thoughts and resolve to pay regular attention to them
  • You can keep doing what you are doing, notice and note the questioning thoughts and then review, for example, 3 months from now with a view to identifying recurring themes and ideas
  • You can start acting in your head as if you are going to make a change and think through all the possible options, do some research, make lists of pros and cons – (this needs to be done seriously for it to be useful)
  • You can do the above and then leave it for a few months – trusting that after you have spent appropriate time, energy and conscious thought on this complex cognitive task that factoring in an incubation period will generate a number of novel solutions (please see this earlier post for discussion and reference for non-conscious cognitions)
  • You can gather information from people who know about the options you are considering[i]
  • You can be on the lookout for projects or opportunities to experience more about other interests and ideas (perhaps at work but also including in your own time; volunteering; classes; workshops; going to different places; creating opportunities for new experiences)
  • You can keep doing your job and your life and reflecting and weighing up options while being aware of the fact that you have many unanswered questions – the next ‘just right for this moment’ thing will become clear if you can be patient and open to hearing yourself above the noise of everything else.

 

[i] but always weigh up others’ judgements carefully.  The most important source of information about your future direction is you and your felt sense of what is and is not a good fit with the person you know yourself to be.

A Few Interview Secrets

By Georgia Briggs

georgiaBriggsAs we move further along the path to our Dream Job, or even just, A Solicitor Job, all of us have experienced different things in interviews which we now know can make or break the impression you make on your potential employers. I have a couple today, and if you have any, I encourage you to share them to assist us all, come on, we’re all friends here.

“Do you have any questions for us?”

Yes, YES, dear god yes! When I was younger, if I believed they had already covered all my questions, logical ones, such as what will the work be like, what is my role, what are my hours, what is my pay, then no, I don’t have anything more to ask, it’s already been answered through the interview. WRONG.

Turns out (and yes, all you smarties are probably going, ‘well yeah, dar”, well not “dar”, because I didn’t know once upon a time which means someone else doesn’t) that you should, nay MUST, ask a question, even if you genuinely are content with the information you’ve received. Ask one about the company, better ask three, about the work environment, about the establishment of the position and whether there is room for promotion down the track. You. Must. Ask.

It is also important, that in preparation for this, because now you all know, that you think of a few potential questions beforehand. I’m not going to be the one to tell you to prepare endlessly for an interview. I know some who do and some who don’t, but we all spend a few minutes waiting to fall asleep at night, or cutting it a little close, waiting for them to come and walk us into the interview room, thinking about what you might answer to questions, what they might ask you. Prepare your questions BEFOREHAND, then you look super smart and interested (yay!).

How you answer your questions

I was recently told at the end of an interview, in a kind way, that I should have answered all the questions using the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result). I’d never heard of it, and while they didn’t mind “as much” because they were only looking for “a temporary person” if I ever went for another job in this sector then I should answer using the STAR method or I would “definitely not get the job”.

While I am pleased to have been told now, as she said “how would you know if no one has ever told you that it’s a specific requirement”, it’s very disconcerting to hear at the end of an interview you think went okay, but I thank her for telling me anyway.

I pass this previously completely unknown information onto you, the people, so that you may better utilise your interview skills for problem questions then I did.

Question: Tell me about a time where you….

Situation: Set the back story -what was happening at the time.

Task: What was the issue that came up?

Action: What did you to do solve said issue?

Result: Did it work?

Take a few moments before answering their questions (it feels like a horrendously awkward silence, but it’s really not) to organise your answer so it comes out clean and crisp.

If this method all seems a bit much and to me it did a little, just give it a bit more thought, an extra two seconds (one is too short, and three is too many) before you answer your question.

Do you have any tips or secrets to interviews you think new lawyers would like to know? Share the benefit of your wisdom with us by leaving a comment.

The Chaser (TV series)

chas_licciardello_30_april_2007_2

Legally trained Chas Licciardello of The Chaser

 

By Maille Halloran

The satirical news writers and television stars of The Chaser are perhaps best known for erring on the wrong side of the law. A knowledge of legal rights might come in handy when planning stunts such as the notorious APEC security breach. Fortunately, Chaser members Dominic Knight, Julian Morrow, Chas Licciardello and Craig Reucassel were all graduates of the Sydney Law School. Journalism graduate and fellow member Chris Taylor even worked as a court reporter for two years before joining The Chaser team.

Consumer affairs television series The Checkout, starring Julian Morrow and Craig Reucassel, showcases something not unlike legal advocacy. Viewers are reminded of their rights as consumers and product claims and guarantees are tested. The show itself has not been immune to legal controversy. The ABC faces legal action over The Checkout segments on A2 milk and Swisse vitamins.

Chaser member Dominic Knight is the least recognised of the group, writing rather than presenting on most Chaser programs. In 2009, Knight published a novel, Disco Boy, about a disenchanted law graduate.

So, it turns out I was wrong… bound to happen I suppose.

By Georgia Briggs

georgiaBriggsA few weeks ago I wrote a piece, including some very sound advice I like to think, as to what happens when you go to an interview, and it goes terribly. This was loosely (lies, very tightly) based on a job interview I had recently. It was for a nice job, which would tide me over until I found more permanent work, and they were on the same level as me in that regard, happy to have me for a short period, in non-solicitor work, until I found something better suited. Mutual use and understanding of the role. Well, despite the fact that I thought I tanked the interview more than I could have ever imagined, I got the job! WHAT?? I almost fell off my chair when the employer called me and said “we want to offer you the position”. I couldn’t wipe the look of bewilderment off my face, lucky it wasn’t a video call! I had honestly cried my little eyes out for a brief 30 minutes (ish) afterwards at how poorly the interview had gone, apparently, it hadn’t gone that poorly at all!

The lesson here is, you never really know what other people are thinking until they tell you. So keep an open mind towards yourself and the future and never put all your eggs into a basket before knowing for sure.

Tech Disruption and the Future Role of Lawyers (part 3)

futurama-robot-lawyer

By Phoebe Churches

This is the third post in a series on this topic. If you missed the first two, you can catch up on the first one here and part 2 here. This post looks at

SkyNet, Tech Singularity and the End of Lawyers

“I don’t blame you,” said Marvin and counted five hundred and ninety-seven thousand million sheep before falling asleep again a second later.[1]

So far this discussion has focused on the contracting role of lawyers, and the indications that this contraction will continue apace. Now I want to look at how close this event horizon might be. There are differing views on the immediacy of impacts of automation and technological change on the legal sector. From one side, a headline screams ‘Robots replacing lawyers a ‘near certainty’,[2] and a Deloitte Insight report claims ‘that 39% of jobs (114,000) in the legal sector stand to be automated in the longer term as the profession feels the impact of more “radical changes”’.[3]

On the other side experts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology tell us that ‘[a]utomation is advancing, but we are still far from the day when machines can do complex physical and mental tasks that are easily and cheaply done by humans’.[4] Similarly, an attendee at the CodeX Future Law Conference at Stanford Law School in May this year recounts much discussion teasing out the difference between ‘what’s real and what’s marketing buzz in artificial intelligence’.[5] A quick survey of Twitter dialogue hash tagged #futurelaw discloses general agreement that the role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) for the foreseeable future will be to assist lawyers rather than replace them. There is some consensus that ‘the notion of the robot attorney is pretty much hype and we still have a long way to go to realize the potential of a fully AI attorney’.[6]

The Tech Paradox

One of the paradoxes of technology is that “simplification complicates”, that is, the more technology you throw at the problem in order to simplify it, the more complex it actually becomes.[7]

While automating transactional processes and other areas of simple decision making has already been a particularly effective tech intervention, complex decision-making processes are still not especially well suited to automation.[8] Moreover, some claims about technology really need to be properly put to the proof. For example, the facial analysis software which can purportedly pick criminals and terrorists by their visage sounds a bit too much like phrenology for comfort.[9] Similarly, apparently accurate predictions can prove to be a fluke. The potential for complex systems to rely on the wrong data is a stark reminder of the shortcomings of current AI. One anecdote which provides a good example is the AI system designed to detect the difference between dogs and wolves. After ‘training’ the system, it had a hit rate of close to 100%. Unfortunately, the system was simply detecting the presence of snow as a common element in all of the wolf photos, where the dog pictures featured none.[10] There are also troubling possibilities brought about by operator error and/or bugs introduced during coding of systems. These are not trivial concerns in the context of legal processes, and it may be a long wait for ‘the arrival of ultra-reliable and verifiably crash-proof code … a holy grail in the development of increasingly complex systems’.[11]

Ultimately though, these issues are about the rate of progress, rather than the inevitability of change. The writing on the wall is clear. Humans are no match for machine intelligence and efficiency in an enormous range of tasks. For example in the 80s and 90s, a large chemical company ran work done by its in-house legal staff through new data-mining software and found a human accuracy rate of only 60%. That is a lot of money spent on salaries for outcomes only ‘slightly better than a coin toss’.[12] It is indisputable that data-driven models can help make better legal decisions; yet, for the moment at least, and ‘for the appropriate tasks, the age of quantitative legal prediction is a mixture of humans and machines working together to outperform either working in isolation. The equation is simple: Humans + Machines > Humans or Machines’.[13]

The Regulatory Challenge

There is another factor limiting the speed of development in the sector: the full impact of rapid technological development continues to be throttled by slow regulatory change. Current regulatory barriers compromise services to consumers on both ends of the spectrum – on one end, entry barriers have created the monopoly which has facilitated a false market in legal services, and has limited competition from outside the sector which might otherwise weed out slapdash or underperforming firms. On the other end of the continuum, services in the unregulated space can enter the market unimpeded, providing all manner of products and services to unwary consumers with relative impunity.

While America is yet to reform its regulatory framework which enacts substantial barriers to entry and practise, the UK and to a lesser extent Australia have undertaken reforms to allow alternative business structures (ABSs). However, these reforms will need to go further as technology increasingly pushes the existing boundaries of regulation.[14] The Legal Services Board and the Solicitor’s Regulation Authority in the UK are actively promoting extensive regulatory reform to accommodate increased segmentation in the legal services market.[15] In Australia, incorporated legal practice and multi-disciplinary partnerships have been permitted for some time, however these models are still tightly confined by the regulatory framework.

The need to tread a careful line between freeing up the sector to embrace change, and protecting clients and society generally accounts in part for the sluggish rate of change to regulation. Witness the story of Justin Wyrick Jr who, in 2000 became the most asked for legal expert on AskMeHelpDesk.com. ‘Justin’, as it turns out, was in fact Markus Arnold, a 15-year-old secondary student who had never opened a law book in his life.[16] Mr Arnold was not prosecuted, to the American Bar Association’s abject horror, however his efforts are a pretty clear indication that consumers need some protection. Free online services are not currently regulated by consumer laws, so minimally we need some accreditation based regulation as assurance so the community can have some faith in what its (not) paying for.

At the other end of the spectrum, regulation unnecessarily interferes with potential improvements to the accessibility of the legal system. For example, in the US State of Florida, Rosemary Furman assisted people wanting a divorce by preparing and filing the necessary legal forms for $50.[17]  Ms Furman had previously done this work as a legal secretary under the supervision of an attorney who charged $300 to complete the same work. She thought the cost of filing for divorce was unconscionable, particularly for women unable to afford to leave violent relationships. [18] Unfortunately Furman was a victim of her own success, because her business attracted the attention of the Florida regulators who sentenced her to 120 days in gaol for her efforts. It was only by intervention of the Governor that she did not actually serve time.

Ultimately in the context of a disaggregated sector, regulators need to find ways to protect the interests of clients, but without erecting unnecessary barriers to entry, and constricting innovation. This has not proven a problem for the legal work increasingly undertaken by accountants and conveyancers. It is difficult to see why there is any barrier (other than the self-interest of lawyers themselves) to employing the same flexibility to encompass the increased segmentation of the legal sector. Mayson makes the case for ‘maintaining sector-specific regulation, rather than leaving legal services to be covered only by general consumer and competition protection’.[19] Where the stakes are particularly high for clients, such as ‘the potential for irreversible loss, misuse of clients’ funds, or abuse of a privileged relationship’,[20] there needs to be specific consumer protection, above and beyond the current regime. One way or another, regulators must recognise that the unbundling of legal work has at once opened up opportunities to address unmet legal need, and a potential space for the uninitiated and unannointed to wreak havoc.

Previously: The Contracting Role of Lawyers | Next Time: The New Frontier


[1] Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1982).

[2] Miklos Bolza, ‘Robots replacing lawyers a “near certainty”’ (22 Feb 2016) Australasian Lawyer.

[3] Deloitte, ‘Developing Legal Talent: stepping into the future law firm’, Insight Report (February 2016).

[4] Timothy Aeppel, ‘Be Calm, Robots Aren’t About to Take Your Job, MIT Economist Says’ The Wall Street Journal (25 February 2015).

[5] Miguel Willis, ‘Robot Lawyers: Kill Law Jobs or Augment Expertise?’ (24 May 2016) The Innovative Law Student .

[6] Ibid.

[7] Frank McKenna, ‘In the zone: Is technology helping or hindering lawyers’ decision making?’ (September 2013) LexisNexis Australia Discussion Paper.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Debra Cassens Weiss, ‘Company claims its technology can pick out criminals by facial analysis’ American Bar Association Journal (24 May 2016).

[10] Ibid.

[11] International Legal Technology Association, ‘Legal Technology Future Horizons – Strategic Imperatives for the Law Firm of the Future’ (Report, 2014).

[12] Bregman, above n 18, 12.

[13] Daniel Martin Katz, ‘Quantitative Legal Prediction—Or—How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Start Preparing for The Data-Driven Future of the Legal Services Industry’ (2013) 62 Emory Law Journal 909, 929.

[14] Steven Mark &Tahlia Gordon, ‘Innovations in Regulation—Responding to a Changing Legal Services Market; (2009) 22 The Georgetown Journal of Legal Ethics 501.

[15] See e.g. Legal Services Board, A blueprint for reforming legal services regulation (September 2013); and Solicitors Regulation Authority, SRA Regulatory Reform Programme Improving Regulation: proportionate and targeted measures (April 2015).

[16] Clifford Winston, Robert W. Crandall and Vikram Maheshri, First Thing We Do, Let’s Deregulate All The Lawyers (2011).

[17] George C. Leef, ‘The Case for a Free Market in Legal Services’(October, 1998) Policy Analysis No. 322 – the CATO Institute, 1, 2.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Stephen Mayson, ‘Beyond the Legal Services Act’ (27 July 2015).

[20] Ibid.