Quddus Pourshafie has dedicated himself to “moving the needle in the Legal Industry through FutureLab.Legal, a rare institution that bridges the gap between all stakeholders in the Legal Industry to learn and generate solutions.” I spoke with him about his background, his work, and his thoughts on the future of the practice of law.
Tell me a little about how you got started within the legal innovation space and your work on FutureLab.Legal.
My journey in the legal innovation started coming out of law school. I was presented with an abrupt reality of the inner workings of the way law firms and the legal industry operated. The assumptions carried about the business of law and “the path to partnership” expectations, along with a general apathy and lack of curiosity from the people I spoke with (including my peers) led me to try and better understand this system I was becoming a part of. This journey took a year or so and from there many questions were left unchallenged, or answered with “it’s always been like this”. Other cultural truths or traditions were not really explained but certainly felt, for example gender imbalance, power dynamics, seniority complexes and elitist inner circles which were often predominantly of a single race. However, because I was driven by curiosity and a passion that things can be better – I found that there were also many great things happening or about to happen in this industry as tradition started to give way to new ways of approaching the work of law. Interestingly, I also found that whenever a group of stakeholders would gather from different pillars of the legal industry (i’ve split them into: LSPs/Market, Institutions/Universities, Regulators/Government, Legaltech) they would handball a lot of the issues to each other, each waiting for the other to make a move. Within those interactions and the many conversations I had among the different stakeholders I found gaps that ultimately I wanted to fill. This is where FutureLab.Legal became a concept, a place where all the stakeholders can come to find solutions and pivot into the future of law. This broad vision gave me the necessary agility to be part of many conversations and useful to many projects, all of which continues to give me insight into where things may be going.
Tell me a little about your Future Framework for Legal Practice. What is it? Why do you think it is needed?
The Future Framework for Legal Practice is a means to educate lawyers, helping them understand, prepare and build a future-facing firm.
One application is as a conceptual framework, something that allows a reader to conceptually understand how technology might fit into one or more areas of their practice of law to begin practically compartmentalising and applying readily available technology to their firm.
Another application is the way the framework elicits a type of systems thinking approach to transformation and agility in the direction the leaders of the firm takes, both in terms of what their main type of workload may be, what other industries they will closer align to and service.
The FFLP is needed predominantly because every great piece of tech or innovation that comes about will necessarily tout its own horn. On a grand scale, this is great for the fundamental changes in the legal industry, but for the managing partner it doesn’t solve the issue of how that piece of technology fits in with everything else. This issue is exacerbated when multiple potential technologies that service different processes of the firm are being considered.
Essentially, legaltech was initially built to service niche areas of the traditional partnership model. However, over time legaltech has matured to a point where it considers other models of operation entirely. In that void there is no framework which helps make sense of the exponential growth and maturation of legaltech and how legaltech fits into a business model for Legal Services now and in the future. This is the rationale for the FFLP and why it exists.
What is the legal innovation environment like in Australia? How would you compare/contrast it to other jurisdictions like the UK, Canada, and the USA?
The Legal Innovation environment in Australia is promising. We have a strong contingent of Legaltech companies that have grown over the past 5 years, with more accelerated growth in the last few. The formation of the Australia Legal Tech Association (ALTA) who’s founders have since collaborated to establish similar associations across the globe are testament to the forward looking entrepreneurs who are moving with conviction in the space. The sentiment of the Australian buying market however is generally more conservative. As a nation we are strong second movers in adoption. The goal for all innovation is to win the hearts of our lawyers and law firms, we certainly have some momentum in doing that in Australia, however the means by which we achieve this seems largely connected to innovative people coming out and either building NewLaw firms or new technologies. The conservative pressure does often create diamonds and encourages impactful developments to rise to the top. We also do not have as much VC money circulating, I personally know a few colleagues who have taken their ideas to overseas because of better fiscal opportunities, not to mention more permissive/supportive regulations. In Australia we have to do more with less whether its fiscal, client market size or client posture. Having said that, in my experience the Legal Industry globally is generally risk-averse. There is much to be lost by those who are at the top of a failing model/system and much to be gained by those who are looking for better ways of doing things as the tide shifts.
Globally, the largest gap is in education. New tech is being built, but a SaaS companies job is not to be a bridge between the knowledge and understanding of the buyer more than it is to develop a stellar product. Sales by themselves often do not convince, and certainly do not equip the buyer with a broader understanding of why such a product (and others) should be used. Lots of conversations are held, and things are discussed (on social media for example) but there are few companies or individuals who have made it their work to bridge the gap through education, something I am passionate about and one of the pillars of FutureLab.Legal.
In your eyes, how does innovating within the legal space connect with the use of technology?
Technology, as far as it has become widely accessible and affordable, is purely a means to automate what was originally archaic manual labour. It drives efficiency and potentially extends the ratio of lawyers to caseloads. Essentially it frees up time that was spent doing something that can now be done by machine. Innovation is about re-imagining the work of law knowing that technology can deal with processes and work that would have previously been done manually. It is about reflecting on what it is to be a lawyer and to serve humans and from that viewpoint beginning to build the experience you would want for yourself, the people you work with and your clients. Part of that experience is digital, but importantly most of it is a human centered experience. Technology is a means to return to better human-centered service.
Where do you see things going over the next 3-5 years?
Several significant changes:
One, strong growth in new law (something which already has progressed beyond its initial definition) in a way that new money prefers to deal with future-facing law firms that are proactive and bring many conveniences to the client aside from efficient, transparent, value based service.
Two, entry into the world of legal by tech giants and some type of ubiquity or mass adoption of platforms that have been either developed by tech giants or grown from law companies who continue to win.
Three, a fall in the sentiment and eventually usage of “top-tier” firms that fail to ultimately provide valuable service compared to newcomers. Legal Ops was born partially from financial crises and a need to make legal departments more efficient, with obvious spillover effects to the private firms that serviced in-house. The change in sentiment with another financial crisis, alongside the completely different way the law is viewed and imagined by younger generations such as mine will present a severe disconnect with the current titans, no matter the marketing efforts. In a world where companies can be too big to fail – it is symptomatic of the current law giants that they are too big to win (unable to adapt to change).
Finally, a need for Legal Education that isn’t serviced necessarily by the University complex. Education and Transformation is something that many lawyers young and old will need as the environment shifts. It will be a sub-industry as it grows and matures. It is the purpose of FutureLab.Legal.