President of the North & North-West Law Society, Natalie Scanlon, expressed cautious optimism about technology’s ability to connect people where recruitment and retention is an ongoing issue. 25 Ms Scanlon observed that her region covers approximately 600 km and includes 160 lawyers. To be sure, as the roll-out of the National Broadband Network begins to be felt, regional and rural Australia will be less constrained by geography. However, professional networks and businesses will need to optimise the opportunities presented by digital technology to make the tyranny of distance truly obsolete. 26 INNOVATING – OR JUST AUTOMATING? When considering the nature of the effects of technology it can be helpful to bear in mind a distinction that is commonly drawn between automating and innovating. Sometimes expressed as the difference between sustaining or disruptive applications, 27 the basic idea is that the impact of technology can be more or less profound. An example of technology that is merely sustaining might be the optimisation of a work process via automation; that is, completing work faster without otherwise altering the basic structure of the original process. Certainly, this kind of change can be highly significant: automation can produce vastly improved business practices. It can result in better client engagement, driving down costs (and placing pressure on competitors). In contrast, though, technology can also be used to achieve work outcomes by departing from usual processes and adopting entirely new methods. When IBM’s Watson won Jeopardy! in 2011, the computer and the human contestants were not playing the game in the same way. At the risk of oversimplifying, Watson’s approach was not based on human judgment and experience, it depended on finding word associations and calculating probabilities from a huge data set of content (correlation and frequency) at a rapid pace (known as “brute force processing”) 28 . (On p 42 we discuss the strengths and limitations of artificial intelligence in more detail.) As Brynjolfsson and McAfee point out, at some point a difference in quantity can become a difference in quality, so that the difference between automation and “pure” innovation may be best thought of as a continuum, not a dichotomy. 29
She soon realised it was her virtual – not physical – presence that mattered most to her stakeholders and team. Armed with this insight, Ms Chapman teamed up with her computer scientist husband to create a new law firm, LAWyal. Based on the software the couple developed, the virtual firm now acts for a wide range of clients, large and small, in a range of locations. Ms Chapman works from home or visits clients at their mutual convenience.
Leonie Chapman, Principal Lawyer and Director, LAWyal Solicitors
The flip Commission heard testimony about many such inspiring projects. Some of the highlights included the online divorce service established by Lyn Lucas in Newcastle; the pioneering firm lawlab, co- founded by Richard Bootle, based in capital cities but headquartered in Nyngan, in rural New South Wales; Hive Legal, Redenbach Legal, and more. New and emerging technologies also have the potential to bridge some of the “access to justice gap” that is felt most keenly by disadvantaged people. For instance, those technologies can make it easier for people in rural, regional and remote areas to contact a lawyer. On the other hand, there are risks that these technologies – some of which are still in relatively early stages of development – could be deployed to give access to a lesser standard of justice for disadvantaged people. For example, while the growth in the use of videolink technology can mitigate the problems of geography, lawyer-client conversations on matters of great sensitivity or complexity are often more effectively had face to face. Lawyers in the legal assistance sector report problems in ensuring that such technology is available in a way that allows them to provide the standard of legal service needed by their clients.
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