After eight years in the technology industry, Hilary Goodier was nervous about getting back to the law.

Positions at firms like IBM, Accenture, Infosys and NTT Data had allowed her to immerse herself in innovation, and tech trends such as analytics and artificial intelligence were radically transforming forward-looking industries as they reposition for the future.

And then there was law – a traditionally conservative, lumbering beast of an industry that has only recently been moving to transform itself to take advantage of cutting-edge technology.

“The legal industry is being disrupted from without rather than from within,” Goodier told Information Age ahead of a 25 September open admission ACS NSW presentation.

A former law partner who knew her way around the industry, Goodier was worried inertia could compromise the innovative momentum she had enjoyed being part of in the tech sector.

Hilary Goodier

“I didn’t know whether I would be able to find another job that combined my love of the commercial and operational side of technology companies, with my background in law.”

But she did find such a position – and recently marked six months as director of the Alternative Legal Services (ALS) practice within global law firm Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF).

A brief for transformation

The position – in which Goodier supervises 110 Australian staff that form part of a 350-strong global team – is a significant role that has seen her shepherding the transformation of a ‘Big Law’ organisation into a technologically-savvy, engaged innovator.

“There is technology out there that can deliver significant savings if firms and in-house teams are prepared to make the investments,” she explained. “We have a bit of a start-up feel, and that presents some real opportunities to have that kind of start-up vibe and culture – but within the framework of a firm like HSF.”

New technologies offer tempting promise in transforming and automating well-worn legal processes such as contract review: a recent shootout by Israeli AI firm Lawgeex, for example, found AI was more accurate than the average lawyer during routine contract reviews.

AI’s ability to meaningfully automate routine tasks has made it a key pillar of LegalTech innovation that has been attracting tech-industry investment at a furious pace.

“Automation is a really big area and can deliver significant efficiency and cost savings,” Goodier said. “We are still very much at the beginning of what AI is capable of.”

Technologies such as blockchain are also emerging as transformative for a sector where governance and attetability are core functions.

HSF is, for example, a key partner of IBM and CSIRO’s Data61 arm in creating the Australian National Blockchain project that will offer a blockchain-based framework for contract enforcement.

“One of the really great things about blockchain is that it’s going to cover a lot of core areas from automation to analytics to AI,” Goodier said. “The capabilities of a smart contracting system are just so vast.”

The lawyer’s mandate

With so much technology hitting the market, law firms will have no choice but to embrace it – and quickly.

This, Goodier said, will force firms to adjust their expectations and resource allocation – and it will force lawyers to get on the front foot when it comes to embracing disruptive technologies.

“Technology is one of the new hot skills in law,” she explained, “and it’s something we need to be hiring for. If lawyers don’t get their heads around the technology, they’re quickly going to find that their skills are outdated.”

Yet lawyers are only part of Big Law’s technology transformation: fully a third of the ALS unit’s staff, for one, have no legal training but provide technological capabilities to support those who do.

“I enjoy spending time with the technical guys and engineers, Goodier said, “and understanding the detail of what it is that they’re doing.”

“But this is not actually an innovation play, or a disruption play: this is a transformation exercise. And transformation within an industry as big and traditional as Big Law requires courage, requires money, and requires the will to change.”

Hilary Goodier and colleague Melanie Ryan will be presenting on the tech-driven transformation of Big Law on Thursday, 27 September at the ACS Innovation Hub in Sydney. Click here for information and to register.