A legal revolution

An interview with Petra Stirling, Head Of Legal Capability & Transformation, Gilbert + Tobin

Petra Sterling

In the minds of many, the practice of law is the industry people would not traditionally associate with innovation and cutting-edge technology. A number of law firms can trace their origins to the 19th century, and the profession still adheres to traditions and processes that have remained relatively unchanged for hundreds of years.

In many respects, however, this is the perfect foundation for new, innovative thinking and disruptive opportunities, and one Australian firm in particular is seizing the power of information technology to revolutionise the delivery of legal services.

Gilbert + Tobin’s business and brand is built on innovation. One of the founding tenant partners at International Towers, the firm is recognised as the most innovative in Australia and the Asia-Pacific, and is pioneering disruptive ideas to modernise the law. Helping to lead the charge is Petra Stirling, the firm’s dynamic head of Legal Capability & Transformation, who is progressively adopting a company-wide fluency in computer coding and artificial intelligence - from graduates to partners - in order to reshape the way law is practiced and delivered for decades to come.

Tell us about your journey. How did you come to be working in the area of legal innovation?

I have a background as a practising lawyer, people and development specialist and in the early days of my career worked with legal technology and legal R&D. Two years ago I was seconded by Gilbert + Tobin to head up a transformation unit – developing our innovation program and introducing project management, process efficiency and design to the firm.

As part of the Gilbert + Tobin innovation team I lead exploration projects across a broad spectrum from legal prediction to the future of work, with a big focus on building the legal talent of the future.

Legal innovation is a large field – everything from document automation to moon shots such as the development of legal artificial intelligence and legal prediction models. This year my team and I are assessing and forecasting long term future trends for the law and technology and innovations and designing the firm’s future.

Until recently the practice of law itself had remained relatively unchanged for decades. Why has information technology become the new frontier for the legal profession?

Technology, data and AI have become the new frontier for all professions, and for many of the clients we serve.   For G+T, law is a digital business, not only because technology and automation drive efficiency and faster turn around but because our clients are increasingly digital businesses, with data as key assets, AI systems in place and sophisticated technology architecture.

I see this not so much as a new frontier but in fact a second wave of technology impacting on legal practice, following 15 years plus of electronic discovery and forensic analysis supporting litigation and investigation work.

The pace of change now is incredible, where many aspects of legal practice are ripe for automation and AI opportunities.

How is the ‘techno-legal’ approach disrupting the traditional approach to law advisory?

Our technolegals are a team of STEM and law students who offer a diverse range of technology and design skills, coding, data science and business analysis.  They work as part of our client innovation program, along with our Capability and Transformation team and our Legal Service Innovation team.

Our client engagements can be as specialised as assisting in the selection of technology for legal efficiency or business risk management, through to consulting on the future of work for legal teams, which we know from experience will be multi-disciplinary and digital first – so our teams include designers, coders, techies, legal project managers, learning specialists and knowledge experts.

Why do you believe highly specialised skills such as coding will be mandatory knowledge for the next generation of lawyers?

It is now broadly understood that coding is the new literacy and data is the new oil. This is no different in a legal business than it is for our clients. We are invested in developing legal talent who are ready for the future of digital business.

This includes teaching our existing lawyers how to code and design technology – not so they will be full stack developers but so they can remain at the forefront of technology adoption, applying their innovative skills and digital fluency in everything they do.

This also means we invest in law students – through our sponsorship of UNSW’s first program on developing legal applications, our sponsorship of the UNSW and USyd law hackathons this year and our developing relationship with innovative institutions like University of Western Sydney.

Does learning to code have any additional benefits (in terms of training the mind how to think differently)?

In order to train AI systems to think like lawyers and efficiently produce high quality legal reviews in the future, we also need to develop a new AI-style capacity for logic and reasoning in our legal teams, underpinned by strong technical capability in data analytics and data science, AI.

How is Gilbert + Tobin fostering a culture of legal innovation?

Innovation is part of our DNA, and we bring innovative thinking to everything we do, whether that is looking for client solutions or designing agile processes in our operations.  Lawyers and our tech and innovation specialists receive firm-wide recognition of product ownership, sport the t-shirt from our latest hackathon, design or g+t<i> event, are named as an inventor on our patent applications, and – particularly our lawyers – record their innovation and development time along with their billable hours.

We also sponsor study, run coding and product design training and send teams to international and national hackathons. 

How are you using technology to enhance the client experience?

We run hackathons, design jams and deep consultation on solution design, partnering with our clients to explore technology solutions, select products and assist with implementation planning. Clients help pilot our products and bring ideas to us to develop into new tools.

For example, in a 6 month innovation partnership between our team and Boral Legal we designed a range of solutions for document and practice management, culminating in the adoption of a new-to-market SaaS document management system.

Our clients report that the multi-disciplinary approach to law and technology has become very important to them, and we love seeing them succeed with their innovation programs.

“It is now broadly understood that coding is the new literacy and data is the new oil. This is no different in a legal business. Technology, data and AI have become the new frontier for all professions, and for many of the clients we serve.   For G+T, law is a digital business, both because technology and automation drives efficiency and faster turn around but because our clients are increasingly digital businesses, with data as key assets, AI systems in place and sophisticated technology architecture.”
Petra Stirling

“Disruptive innovation can hurt, if you are not the one doing the disrupting.”
Clay Christensen

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Feeding diversity, sustainability, and community

Interview: Ian McKenzie, KPMG Head Chef

Since the beginning of time and the earliest of civilisations, food has brought people together. The preparation and sharing of meals – whether it be around a tribal campfire in the remote outback or a boardroom table in the heart of the city - provides a profound opportunity for people to bond and connect, share stories, debate ideas and to defuse differences.

Food service is also an opportunity to embrace wellbeing, celebrate diversity and champion sustainability, and few know this better than professional services firm KPMG. With commercial kitchen facilities at Barangaroo that would rival those of any international five-star hotel, the organisation takes meal preparation and food service very seriously indeed.

“As an organisation, we believe KPMG is a reflection of the general community itself,” says Ransdale Dinger, National Client Experience Team Leader, KPMG. “We are an international company, which means our people are incredibly diverse, as are our clients. However, we feel some things are universal – great hospitality and service, celebration of community, and the provision of nourishment, and our goal is to use thesethings to bring all people together.”

With a team of approximately 2,500 in Sydney, and just over 7,000 nationally, the KPMG community is a mirror of modern Australia, and the organisation relishes its role as a responsible corporate citizen in every aspect of its operations. One of those is in the preparation and service of meals to its teams and clients. On any given week, the kitchens within its Barangaroo office at International Towers, Tower Three, prepare an average of 500 fine-dining lunches and dinners, cater to hundreds more for breakfasts and casual meals, bake thousands of muffins, and deliver an endless supply of fruit and beverages.

“The sheer volume of food we prepare each week means we have a genuine opportunity to make a difference to not only our own community at KPMG, but the greater community too,” says Ian McKenzie, Head Chef. “We work very closely with our community of farmers and growers, not only so that we can source the very best, seasonal produce, but also to minimise waste and food miles. We adhere to a paddock-to-plate and nose-to-tail ethos, which helps us to deliver an experience that is as sustainable as possible, and that is also very much focussed on the health and nutrition of everyone we serve.”

Currently, around 80 per cent of all waste from the KPMG kitchens is recycled or repurposed. An achievement like this doesn’t happen by accident. By taking control of the supply process – for instance, sourcing sustainably grown, whole fish and preparing them in-house, using the bones to make stocks for soups and other dishes, Ian and his team have been able to dramatically reduce the amount of food waste, as well as the organisation’s environmental footprint. A Waste Management Induction process, hosted by Lendlease and International Towers management, also provided valuable insights into how the industry-leading, recycling and repurposing facilities within the Towers work, enabling all involved with food preparation at KPMG to work together toward a common mission, and introduce processes to ensure they were working as sustainably as possible. This includes a highly disciplined approach to recycling, as well as other initiatives, such as supporting National Recycling Week, promoting multiple-use coffee cups, and working with organisations such as food rescue charity OzHarvest to distribute surplus meals.

Ian, who has cooked for CEOs, dignitaries and royalty all over the world (he was once the chef on the Royal Yacht and cooked for Lady Diana), also understands his unique position to influence the wellbeing of the community he serves. “The way people eat has changed, and continues to evolve,” he says. “People are much more conscious of the role of diet in their overall health, so we try to support that – and even drive that – through our kitchen. For example, we’ve replaced many of the biscuits we used to bake as team snacks with fresh fruit and nuts; we’re serving less carbohydrates, making cold-pressed juices and we recently established a close relationship with Bell & Brio from within our Barangaroo community to make our bread, using pure ingredients and amazing, whole grains. We even adopted a cow from the dairy in the Camden Valley that supplies our milk. The milk is bottled at the farm and delivered straight to us and, on a clear day, we can even see the dairy farm from our office at International Towers. It doesn’t get more local than that.”

Community responsibility at KPMG isn’t confined to the dining table. Outside the kitchens, the organisation has a robust program of events and initiatives, and uses every opportunity to engage with its own community to support a range of causes, from distributing white ribbons to its service teams in support of ‘White Ribbon Day’; purple neck ties for ‘Wear It Purple Day’; and hoodies in support of NAIDOC Week, to even decorating the coffees they serve with icons relating to national causes and community initiatives to raise awareness and start conversations.

“It’s all about experience,” says Ransdale. “If we can improve the life of a single person through our actions, then everything we do is worthwhile. If we can improve the lives of all in our community and beyond, then we have achieved something incredibly special.”

Disrupting the market

Interview: Rosie Kennedy, CEO, OnMarket

OnMarket is a unique, crowdfunding and venture advisory business that is helping democratise finance for investors and bring new, early-stage funding to startups and small, scalable businesses. The company recently completed its 100th IPO and introduced the world’s first App for crowdfunding IPOs, and was one of the first to receive the new crowd-sourced funding licenses in January 2018.

We spoke to Rosie Kennedy about how her traditional finance background led her to help build the OnMarket business.

As a professional, and now an entrepreneur, you have a wonderful mix of experience across traditional finance, financial governance and disruptive fintech. What are the highlights?

I began my career in the money market, then ran the government bond trading desk for what is now UBS.

My next major role was heading up business development at ASX, where my focus was on trying to allow retail investors to invest in fixed interest securities, or debt securities, because Australian investors are traditionally very equity-focused.

I went on to work at ASIC in the area that supervises exchanges. I also helped simplify the prospectus regime for debt issuers – again hoping to free up the debt market so retail investors had an opportunity to participate.

Then you met your co-founder at OnMarket, Ben Bucknell, who was trying to do something very similar in the equity market?

Yes. My passion came from being intimately involved in the bond market, and seeing the importance of diversification of portfolios. It was clearly apparent that retail investors were not being given the same opportunities to diversify their portfolios as institutions. Ben had the same vision in the equity market.

Initially we licensed our intellectual property to ASX, to build ASX BookBuild. This system was built within ASX’strading platform and was a tech-driven solution to improve the pricing on equity issuance by listed companies and improve participation for investors.

As this was a B2B model, we really needed some firms in the big end of town to grasp the opportunities arising out of digital disruption in financial markets. But remember, when we were launching ASX BookBuild, it was before the word ‘fintech’ was in common usage. The reality was that there were a lot of powerful, vested interests in the existing process, and it was not easy to get support for an innovative new approach.

Ironically, that lack of support drove us to develop OnMarket, which is a B2C service on desktop and in the App Store. It’s simple, and a far cry from what we were originally doing, but it seems to solve a real problem for investors (by giving them access to discounted IPOs) and companies (by providing a cost effective way of reaching investors).

What companies do you think stand out in the crowd-financing area?

We’ve had a few firsts. We closed Australia’s first equity crowdfunding offer, Revvies, in March 2018. And we’ve completed the largest crowdfunding deal in the world in terms of the number of investors. The company is called DC Power. They got 15,000 investors, and previously the largest number of investors globally was about 6,200.

One of our more interesting offers is The Cup eXchange (TCX) – which is a sustainable, coffee cup business which is solving the disposable cup conundrum. This offer opened in November 2018, and the minimum raise was covered in the first seven days.

It’s a subscription model where consumers are given two cups and they exchange those cups via scanning. Each cup has an identifier, and they scan the cups for credits. Once the coffee is finished, you pop the cup back to that particular café, or to another participating café.

That cup can be used by any participating café, and it never finds its way to landfill because if the coffee cup is ever damaged – which is unlikely because it’s made in a durable way that is very sturdy – it’s crushed down and made into another one.

It’s on trial in Sydney and Barangaroo, and in Melbourne as well. And they are the first-to-market with this product – there is no reason it can’t go global.

Does a crowdfunding raise also help with marketing and awareness of a business?

Definitely. The smaller companies can also use this process to engage their whole stakeholder chain – from employees, to the suppliers and the customers who really embrace the product and engage with the whole process – it’s a nice way of tying all the stakeholders in. For example, we completed a successful crowdraising for PT Blink – a technology company that is revolutionising the construction process. The key benefit for that group was getting referrals from customers. People saw their story whether they invested or not. As a result, large building companies got in touch with PT Blink to use the product.

You expanded your business to Tower Two at International Towers in 2018. You were previously based in Bligh St in Sydney’s CBD, what was behind the move?

We were looking to scale our business – and the tenant model at International Towers was beautifully configured for that kind of progressive growth.

Also, OnMarket is very much in the innovation business and the incredible strength of the innovation community at International Towers was a big attraction for us. We were drawn to the powerful community of enterprise and growth companies and the partnership approach International Towers takes with its tenants.

I think it’s a great benefit that we’re able to work together in such a collaborative environment, especially on our floor. As an example, with The Cup eXchange I spoke to fellow tenant partners, the Green Building Council Australia about relevant contacts in the sustainability area. They connected me with a terrific person at one of the large accounting firms, who has since put us in touch with a facilities manager, and as a result they’re about to sign a large partnership deal.

...which in an enterprise world is very fast-tracked?

Unbelievably. That all happened in 3.5 weeks. That’s a classic example of the working environment, but also of the collaborative nature of the people here. It’s certainly early days, but the camaraderie we’ve already experienced is fantastic.