The Innovators: David Hepburn, President, Actionstep

Legal Tech Hub

18 September 2020

LawFest organiser Andrew King continues a series of interviews with key legal professionals with their innovation and technology stories.

Tell us about yourself
It has been an amazing 25 years since getting my Chemical Engineering degree in the UK. I’ve found myself on operations as a young officer in the British Army, figuring out how technology can deliver better patient care in places like Vietnam, Turkey and the USA – building high performing teams and businesses along the way. Leading our team at Actionstep is the culmination of so many parts of my journey.

What does legal innovation mean to you?
Legal innovation should always be about how to deliver better value, outcomes or services to clients. But many lawyers aren’t sure where to start. When firms are willing to challenge the status quo to bring quality and service issues into the light – and then commit to solving them – we see real legal innovation.

The area where we are seeing most innovation is where firms realise that the future of their firm means less reliance on the ‘human glue’ in their service delivery and processes. Whether that’s to work out the fat in their business processes or to free up lawyers to do higher value work – the outcome is often the same – a better experience for their clients.

These firms are moving the goal posts for everyone else.

What role does technology play in innovation?
Technology is often the enabler for firms to fulfil their innovation goals. We have a saying at Actionstep that “changing software is easy, changing process is not”. When firms want to change the way they do things, they need systems to support behavioural change.

The right technology systematises innovation into better processes so everyone gets on-board – suddenly they have a consistent “new way”. Baking their process, their innovation and their IP into their systems.

What pressures are organisations facing in the delivery of legal services?
Law firms are facing pressures from every angle – competitive pressure from more innovative firms or from alternative legal service providers. The pressure to deliver more within fixed fees – heightening the need for efficiency and automation. The commoditization of some areas of law puts pressure on firms to refocus on higher value activities that might not be everyone’s comfort zone. The demand from clients to be kept informed in a world of immediacy. The need to find and keep good talent – again, something technology can help with as younger talent typically demand technology that reflects the collaboration, automation and tracking tools they are used to in their personal lives.

What developments do you see in how legal services are delivered?
We are seeing the rise of ‘data driven lawyers’. This has been accelerated through COVID as people have had to rely more on electronic records rather than face to face updates. Legal teams now realise that inconsistencies and gaps in data lead to mistakes on documents, incomplete files and skewed reporting – all things easily solved by discipline around data capture.

When legal teams focus on really good data, they spend less time getting lost in documents and drafting and more time delivering great legal services to their clients.

We also see that immediacy and access are more important than ever for firm clients. Clients expect access to their lawyers directly. Corporate structures are falling away and clients see gate-keepers and support staff as barriers.

What opportunities has legal innovation brought to you?
15 years ago our Founder saw an opportunity to get ahead of the wave of law firm innovation. Actionstep was the first fully cloud based legal tech provider and still remains the most configurable and flexible – so legal innovation is really the cornerstone Actionstep is built on.

The reason we have such a configurable product is to allow firms to run their firm, their way – to enable legal innovation – because there is no one size fits all when it comes to law firm technology.

What are some of your tips to start innovating or developing an innovative mindset?
Innovation can seem quite daunting. To develop an innovation mindset, you start with just one thing. Because incremental step-changes lead to transformation. How do you pick? Listen to your clients – what are they telling you to improve? What process or activity is fundamental to that? Pick that. Try another way. Replicate and iterate. Trying to change everything at once leads to frustration and failure.

Get the best out of the tools you already have. Explore ways to use them more fully or in different ways.

Listen to what younger lawyers are doing. They should be your eyes and ears for how technology will change your practice in future.

Post Covid, what impact do you see in how legal services will be delivered?
Two things I think people have learned from COVID – firstly, clients remember the lawyers who called them up and asked them what they needed, rather than trying to sell to them. I think lawyers learned a lot about the value of being close to their clients and that will be a key focus of service delivery going forward – less about production & more about advice.

Second, I see lawyers, paralegals, practice managers and everyone else embrace self-sufficiency. Doing more yourself does not mean taking away someone else’s job, it simply means you aren’t reliant on other humans to get the information you need, the process to work or the document triple checked. People had to upskill during COVID and can now use those skills to their advantage.

Why is it important for legal professionals to continue to learn about legal innovation and leveraging technology?
Because if they don’t continue to innovate, they will get left behind. Our core belief at Actionstep is that lawyers are Awesome. The reason we believe that is not because of how good they are at document turnaround or their legal knowledge – it’s the impact they have at key milestones in our business and personal lives. Lawyers need to be able to get their heads out of the admin and repetitive tasks that so much legal work has turned into. Technology facilitates that – it takes care of the data accuracy, the document production, the matter management and client processing – so that lawyers can focus on advisory, interpretation, breaking new ground on legal matters and doing great work for their clients.

Andrew King is the founder of Legal Innovate (https://legalinnovate.nz/). He helps lawyers and organisations successfully innovate through leveraging technology to help improve the way they deliver legal services Legal Innovate includes LawFest (https://www.lawfest.nz/), LegalTechHub (https://legaltech.nz/) and E-Discovery Consulting (https://www.e-discovery.co.nz/).

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