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VLSB+C: Holding on to silver linings

VLSB+C: Holding on to silver linings

By Fiona McLeay

Practice & Procedure Practice Management 

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Let’s make innovation business as usual.

Snapshot
  • COVID-19 has forced us to adapt and innovate. 
  • We need to hold onto the benefits of this innovation.
  • Contact innovation@lsbc.vic.gov.au.

When I announced our priorities for 2020 at the LIV state of the profession conference last year I talked about the need to embrace new technologies and the advantages they can bring in efficiency, cost and access to justice. None of us knew then how crucial technology was going to be in the year ahead, not just to become better at what we do but to do anything at all. 

How the profession has adapted and innovated

Many in the legal profession have shown commendable levels of adaptability and the willingness to innovate quickly in the face of a challenging situation. We hear a lot about digital disruption in law and COVID-19 could prove to be the ultimate disruptor, propelling many aspects of legal practice into the digital age. 

The requirement to work remotely during the stage 4 lockdown in Melbourne has helped many lawyers realise they can change in quick, iterative ways using common software and platforms – innovation doesn’t have to be completely transformational and expensive. 

While a small number of lawyers have been exploring technological innovation for some time, historically, many of us haven’t innovated because we could get by doing what we already do. 

As lawyers, we are a cautious bunch. We like to get things 100 per cent right the first time and tend to be anxious about experimenting and tweaking things as we go along. Unfortunately, COVID-19 was upon us all very rapidly and did not give us the opportunity to adapt slowly. It forced our hand. 

In recent months, we’ve seen the myriad face to face interactions that usually characterise legal practice replaced by the virtual – from supervision of junior lawyers through to online witnessing of documents and even, in some instances, court and tribunal advocacy. Legal appointments can increasingly be booked online and attended by video instead of in person. Some law firms are presenting a range of online legal services for common legal problems, particularly in areas like employment law. 

How can we ensure we hold on to these benefits? 

While it has had a significant impact on the livelihoods of Victorian lawyers, there is no doubt the pandemic and resulting lockdowns have also presented an opportunity for lawyers to embrace innovation and digital technology to service clients better.

For people who are living with disabilities, for example, travelling in order to attend appointments can be exhausting, or signing documents physically difficult. Moving these tasks online can open up greater options. Face-to-face alternatives are still necessary, particularly for those who find dealing with technology a challenge, and for ensuring vulnerable people are not being exploited.

People living in rural and regional communities can also benefit from reduced expense and time cost of either themselves or their lawyers travelling to metropolitan Melbourne or other centres for in-person court hearings. This also provides more choice as to which lawyer they engage as they are no longer bound by geography.

We should hold on to these silver linings and embed our new daily practices into the future. But perhaps even more important, we should hold onto the experimental mindset of starting before we’re ready and improving as we go along. 

How the VLSB+C supports innovation

We are here to help you to do things differently and to be open to emerging issues and ideas, and supportive of new ways of thinking, especially now. As the regulator, we want to understand and discuss any regulatory barriers to innovation, allowing you to provide helpful, cost-effective and accessible services. 

Last year, we launched our innovation inbox, so that we can hear your ideas for new ways of doing business, let you know whether the regulation permits your proposed business model, and what issues you might need to address. If you have an idea for a new way of doing business, please contact us at innovation@lsbc.vic.gov.au.

We should feel proud of the many ways we have individually and collectively adapted, and look to 2021 as a time to accelerate our innovation, be agile and fundamentally reimagine what legal services could look like. ■


Fiona McLeay is Victorian Legal Services Board CEO and Commissioner.

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