Nick Abrahams is a digital disruptor and global futurist, but even he couldn’t have anticipated the ramifications of the greatest disruption of all–a global pandemic.
COVID-19 has accelerated the rate at which the profession has adapted to technological change, with the digital world thrust into the spotlight. QLS Proctor spoke to Nick Abrahams to find out his predictions for the future of tech and how the legal industry can keep pace.
True to his whimsical nature, Nick’s legal pathway was not linear, but the twists and turns along the way has exposed him to a variety of industries, informing the services and value he offers today.
Who is Nick Abrahams?
After undertaking his law degree at the University of Queensland, Nick Abrahams pursued a legal career in both Sydney and Japan before acting on, what he amusingly calls, “a deep personality flaw” to become a Hollywood Executive. Nick went to the University of Southern California to pursue his studies in film, leading him into a role as Creative Executive for Warner Brothers and as COO of Spike Network at the height of the dot com boom. But, after enduring the repercussions of the market crash, Nick found himself reverting back to his legal roots.
“As my equity in that business was going south, my interest in the law was rekindled–at a roughly similar rate as the need to feed my children–so I left the world of technology and came back to Law,” said Nick.
“At that time I was focused on how technology could change the way we practice… and I had unfinished business with the Internet. That came to a head about seven years ago when, separate from my role [as Global Head of Technology and Innovation] at Norton Rose Fulbright, I was allowed to start my own legal technology business… LawPath [which now has] over 180,000 users.”
As the Global Head of Technology and Innovation at Norton Rose Fulbright and the Co-Founder of LawPath, Nick has well and truly paved the way for tech advancement within a legal context.
Global futurism and digital disruption
Described by some as a “global futurist”, Nick attributes his moniker to the natural growth that tech and data have seen within the legal sector, but it wasn’t always this way. The past few years especially have seen accelerated growth in digital offerings to support legal practice, something, for which, Nick is incredibly thankful.
“I started in data about 18 years ago, and that was not the most exciting area–I can assure you… Certainly, if you went to a dinner party you wouldn’t introduce yourself as a data lawyer. Whereas now, data and privacy have become massive, as has cyber.
“I [just] love technology. I love the opportunity that technology brings us where if we engage with it, it can make us great at what we do and the services we offer our clients,” Nick said.
The disruption of technology can also be a useful driver when it comes to implementing cultural change within business as well. Nick notes that this has proven to be the case when considering the pandemic’s impact on flexible working arrangements.
“Australia had always regarded the phrase working from home as a candid way of saying, I’m going to the beach. There was a lot of distrust that people would actually not be productive and, what we’ve seen is that people are are extraordinarily productive when they are working from their home environment.
“[This] wouldn’t have been possible three years ago. In terms of Zoom and Teams being as good as they are and, frankly with nbn.
“We’re in a profession that is plagued by mental health issues, and I am hopeful that this new way of working will give lawyers a bit more control over their lives. I think it’s all been incredibly important,” Nick said.
Pandemic panic: The ultimate disruptor
In the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were winners and losers. The winners, it seems, were the businesses that managed to pivot and prove their worth by demonstrating their value during rapidly changing times.
The legal industry, arguably, was one of the industries that managed to keep afloat with a contributor to its success being the profession’s ability to embrace tech advancements in order to maintain its relevance.
Nick says that the complexity of our roles as lawyers played an integral role in the industry’s resilience.
“Technology has largely left us alone [as lawyers] in terms of really disrupting our revenue models… The level of complexity at which we operate has meant that it has been difficult for machines to actually come in and disrupt us.
“I’m a firm believer that lawyers will not have their jobs completely taken away by artificial intelligence… The world is getting very complex, and as lawyers, we thrive on complexity… So I’m very optimistic,” said Nick.
Lawyers have demonstrated their value by providing valuable guidance during unprecedented times. But Nick stresses that when it comes to innovation, we shouldn’t be complacent.
“My counsel to people within my firm, and those that I talk to is that we have to embrace technology. We can’t just sit on the sidelines because it will definitely challenge our business model… If we embrace it, then the opportunities are quite substantial,” said Nick.
Show no fear: Embracing technology in your practice
At his core, Nick is a firm believer that tech within the legal workplace should not be confined by the definition of “legal tech”. By his own definition, good tech can improve business functionality within any workplace–legal or not.
“I think [practitioners] need to be just a little bit cautious about legal tech per se… Do you need a specific company that does legal chatbot, or do you use another organization that does chatbot or build them yourself?”
Having developed the world’s first privacy chatbot, Nick is somewhat of an expert when it comes to solving business problems through tech. He emphasises that the “constructive anxiety” surrounding innovation should not deter practitioners from including it in their business model.
“If you spend the time to embrace technology–and you don’t have to be a programmer–then the opportunities are significant,” said Nick.
Optimizing your firm’s functionality through tech is a fantastic option for firms of any size.
“When technology steamrolls over you, as they say, you are either part of the steam roller or part of the road–and you want to be part of the steam roller,” said Nick.
Understanding how to optimise the use of programs such as Office 365 within small practices is an excellent way for regional and city practitioners alike to improve their client services through tech.
“You should only ever invest in technology where you can see genuine ROI,” Nick said.
And where does he think that technology exists at the moment? He narrows it down to content management, customer relationship management, time costing (to assess your cost of resource) and matter analysis (to assess profitability).
“Spend on the technology that makes you a proper business–like every other business,” said Nick.
Cyber threats in the time of COVID and beyond
In terms of the future of tech, cyber threats have been, and continue to be, the greatest challenge facing companies today. This threat is further prevalent for firms across the country, with their databases full of personal and sensitive client information. Add the complexity of COVID and you’ve got a very real problem.
“A business called CrowdStrike came out with a study of the top 200 Australian companies in 2020 and 67% had been hit by a ransomware attack… Interestingly, 33% of those companies paid the ransom with the average being 1.5 million,” Nick said.
Especially for smaller firms, it is not a question of whether a cyber threat will occur but when, and Nick emphasises that practitioners should ensure they are protected from cyber risks.
“If you aren’t spending money on very good security software and have done training with staff then you are tap dancing in a minefield because it will happen,” said Nick.
You can catch Nick Abrahams on Friday 19 March for his session Shaping your skills: The breakthrough lawyer at QLS Symposium 2021.
For more information on the Symposium program, head to symposium.qls.com.au.