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What a year it has been for big thinking in the Victorian legal profession.  For all the predictions of doom and gloom, there have been some great moments. Here are our top five.

5. Richard Susskind came to town

NewLaw poster boy Professor Richard Susskind delivered the Sir Zelman Cowen Centre Centenary Oration at Victoria University in May.  He was far cheerier and more optimistic than his books, and the focus on the night was very much on what lawyers could do to remain relevant and increase access to justice.

He had some great suggestions, particularly his idea for triaged online dispute resolution processes for high volume, low value disputes to ensure that judges are only involved in deciding the most complex of cases.

But perhaps what was even more heartening was who turned out to see him.  The establishment and then some. Judges from all State and Federal Courts, academics from the major universities, partners from the top-tier firms, key members of the Bar and the legal media, and more. And they were listening too...

4. Neota Logic’s partnership with the University of Melbourne

Two of the biggest pressures on today’s lawyers are how to use finite legal aid resources to help more people and how to train our new lawyers so they can adapt to the changing professional landscape.

So how exciting that Neota Logic allowed Melbourne Uni students to have free access to its gorgeous drag-and-drop expert system platform so they could learn how to use it and develop applications that will assist the community sector provide more people with access to justice?

In a one-semester course, which is co-sponsored by Slater + Gordon, students (who don’t need any prior technical training) partner with non-profit organisations to build apps that can conduct legal analysis, provide tailored guidance, automate business processes and generate documents.  The students then compete for the right to have their ideas developed.

Here’s hoping that students will take these skills out into the community legal sector more broadly and we will be seeing far more artificial intelligence based projects funded by the Legal Services Board and Victoria Law Foundation in future years, rather than one-off workshops and publications with the limited reach that they entail.

3. Wigs no more

In perhaps the bravest move of all, Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren ended the tradition of judges wearing wigs with counsel pressured to follow suit.

The jury’s out as to whether it achieves the aim of creating a level-playing field for self-represented litigants or whether it is fair to deprive advocates of the trappings that remind litigants that they appear as officers of the court.

But in terms of a symbolic gesture that the Court, or at least the Chief Justice, is committed to continued adaptation and innovation, you couldn’t ask for more. And, again, this matters.  For the court to have the moral authority it requires, it needs to be recognised as an institution that reflects the values of society as a whole.

This includes understanding how social media works and having a social media presence of its own, particularly where doing so can contribute to open justice.

And, we reckon, it also includes not wearing horse-hair wigs when declaring the law of the land. Haters gonna hate, but we’re with the Chief Justice on this one.

2. The reign of LIV Immediate Past President, Katie Miller

Law societies and public service lawyers, sadly, are not traditionally known for innovation.  Yet Katie Miller, Immediate Past President of the Law Institute of Victoria and now Innovation Counsel at the Victorian Government Solicitor’s Office set out to change that.

As Immediate Past President of the LIV, recognising that most Victorian lawyers feel completely lost about what to do regarding the challenges facing the profession, she wrote the ‘Disruption, Innovation and Change’ report, which surveys some of the world’s best legal innovators and extracts lessons for Victorian lawyers.  In nine weeks, we think Katie came up with more sustainable and achievable suggestions for how lawyers and law societies can adapt to the new world order than the whole Productivity Commission did in nine months.  The report is full of practical and doable steps that lawyers can take in their own practices, starting from the very small (set up systems for each of your processes) and graduating to guidance on how a non-coding lawyer could create an app prototype guiding clients through an intake questionnaire.

Changing the mindset about legal innovation of the Victorian legal profession is no small task. But this is what is needed if legal practice is still going to be viable in ten years’ time. If you accept that lawyers make society a better place, by allowing for everyone to be equal before the law, then what Katie has done with the LIV, in an attempt to help the profession as a whole to adapt and survive, is powerful stuff.

But there’s more. Upon returning to the VGSO in 2016, she created the role of Innovation Counsel, where she is provoking conversations across the Victorian public service on how to improve the efficiency and quality of government legal services. For institutions like the public service, real change only occurs if there is buy-in from all levels.  So Katie’s approach – of educating people about the tools available, be it artificial intelligence to standardised systems and processes, and then brainstorming with departmental decision-makers about how these could be best used within their respective portfolios – respects the way that changes take place in government and means that developments will be appropriate and sustainable.

Encouraging the public service to innovate in its acquisition of legal services benefits the whole of society.  The better legal advice that government can obtain for its finite legal budget, the better and fairer decisions it will make.  The less money that is spent on lawyers, the more that is spent on schools and hospitals.  All to society’s benefit.

What a woman.  Trumped only by…

1. Doughboys Doughnuts

Peanut butter doughnuts.

Dark chocolate ganache and toasted marshmallow doughnuts.

Lime curd, toasted meringue and lime-spiked pie crumb doughnuts.

With Small Batch coffee. In the legal precinct.

You had us at hello.

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