Peter is an experienced commercial and dispute resolution lawyer focused on advising and acting for Australian and international corporate clients in the key areas including Intellectual Property, Mergers and Acquisitions and Commercial Litigation. He is the Principal and Founder of Peer Legal and have begun the journey of establishing a new kind of law firm by offering aligned pricing and operate a paperless practice – with (almost) all documents executed online.
Asia Law Network took the opportunity to hear more about what Peter thinks of the legal techsphere thus far and what skills do lawyers need to hone in order to remain relevant in the industry.
Thank you for speaking with us Peter, please share with us what made you choose to be a lawyer and what drives you today?
I chose law because it seemed to be the best career fit for my attributes and wants. That has turned out to be a good call in both respects. These days, I am driven by trying to mold my practice and my businesses to my values and ways of wanting to work rather than having my and my team’s values and ways of wanting to work dictated by our practices and businesses.
Wow, that sounds revolutionary – what would you say is the most challenging aspect of your job?
I would say is staying focused and refrain from stretching my bandwidth too thinly.
What legal issue or area do you think will become more important in the future?
Personally, I think it would be attributing corporate responsibility and even liability for unsustainable practices, in particular as regards corporations’ contribution to environmental problems such as global warming.
If you were to compare the legal landscape in the past versus the present – what do you think has changed the most?
Buyers now have a lot more choices and power, in large part because there are a lot more options but also because buyers have become more willing to be creative/innovative in how they buy legal services and what they require of their service providers.
What do you think is the biggest change that technology has brought to the legal industry in Australia?
Technology has rendered unnecessary much of the mundane and mind-numbing work performed in previous decades by junior lawyers and paralegals.
Where do you see technology working for lawyers?
I see technology reducing overheads and allowing opportunities for passive and recurrent revenue streams.
How has the attitude been towards adopting technology in the legal industry in Australia?
From the anecdotal evidence I have seen, I would say there are lots of good intentions (but some who are only interested in the optics) but little in the way of genuine uptake of innovative and new legal technology, other than where the economics of the technology are a no-brainer and the transition to using the technology are relatively easy: eg e-discovery or online data room offerings. Adopting innovations and new technologies can be a hard process that requires genuine buy-in and commitment to change at many different levels of a firm, as well as tolerance of the potential short term pain involved in the process. The bigger the firm, the harder this can get. Additionally, because most of the buyers of legaltech are lawyers of a less technologically literate generation and are, regardless, often laypeople with very unsophisticated understandings of how technology works (even though they may employ many people who are not), it can be very hard for legal tech vendors to get their value proposition across. Ultimately, the market will dictate the terms and if NewLaw firms capture new markets and more market share (meaning both the client and the lawyer markets), more traditional firms will be economically forced to adapt.
What skills do you feel that lawyers should hone to remain relevant?
The starting point is that a lawyer should determine what their own strengths are and how those strengths can be best deployed into what they do and/or find the pathway that best allows that deployment. Also, whatever happens, lawyers should not forget to hone the core skills of lawyering: know the law; know how to apply the law to your circumstances; know how to identify and/or analyse a problem/risk; know how to research the law you don’t know; know how to draft; know how to form an argument; know how to put yourself in your opponent’s shoes; know how to communicate well; know how to foresee future outcomes.
Additionally and increasingly, the value that lawyers will provide to their clients will not just be their expert knowledge of the law or their skills as an advocate/adviser but also the relationships and perspectives that they can bring to their clients through their accumulated experiences and networks. A more client-centred approach will also be essential to providing that value effectively. So, an understanding of human psychology and how people can be influenced by the views of others is invaluable. Also, properly understanding what your clients do, which might involve acquiring some technical knowledge about a client’s product or service, is similarly important to delivering. Therefore, ideally choose your specialty or industry by your areas of interest.
You recently attended the Insider Guide to Legal in Singapore event, what are some of the similarities or differences you feel both the Singapore and Australian legal industry face?
The similarities are far greater than the differences because most of the challenges are global ones. Some common problems are competition from non-legal service providers; attracting and retaining quality lawyers; adapting to the changing way clients operate and their consequential changing needs; adapting to the expectations of staff regarding their workplace environment and practices; transitioning from pricing input to pricing output.
Differences would appear to be those based on the economic, geographic and some cultural differences. Singapore sits as a hub within South East Asia and has a shortage of lawyers. The inbound pull of work is strong. Australia is isolated geographically and is driven economically by several core critical industries, such as mining and agriculture. There is an over-supply of lawyers. There is more outbound and internal work than inbound, especially when compared with many Asian economies. The regulation of the legal sectors would appear to be fundamentally different: Singapore is a nation state with one regulatory body. Australia is a federation of states that requires input from multiple state and federal bodies as regards regulatory reform. As and when regulatory reform is required in order to allow more innovation and in order to head off competition from outside the sector, Singapore is potentially in a much better place to reform and adapt more quickly. However, Australia would appear to be a little further down the path in terms of innovation and the maturity of its legal tech sector and the technology offerings available to law firms. But, both jurisdictions are a long way behind places like the United States.
This article does not constitute legal advice or a legal opinion on any matter discussed and, accordingly, it should not be relied upon. It should not be regarded as a comprehensive statement of the law and practice in this area. If you require any advice or information, please speak to practicing lawyer in your jurisdiction. No individual who is a member, partner, shareholder or consultant of, in or to any constituent part of Interstellar Group Pte. Ltd. accepts or assumes responsibility, or has any liability, to any person in respect of this article.