Interview | Stewart Rasmussen (KPMG Australia)
Stewart Rasmussen is the Director of Legal Technology for KPMG Australia. As KPMG leaps and bounds into the practice of law, Stewart is responsible for ensuring their adoption of technology is both industry leading and a point of differentiation. Our Victorian President, Sophie Tversky, was fortunate to ask Stewart some great questions.
What interests you about the changing legal landscape?
Exactly that: the changes. But more specifically the sheer amount of passion I see coming out of the people creating the solutions, including start-ups. Many of these people are driven by an immense sense of purpose which is contagious.
In your discussions about the rise of the legal engineer, you mention the importance of opening up the communication lines in relation to technology and lawyers. What are key elements of ensuring lawyers and technologists are on the same page and what challenges have you seen?
The key is actually in the getting the correct skill set for this role. Don’t put a techie alone in a room with a lawyer (that has got to be the start of a joke, right?). Instead, ensure that you are employing people with great communication and problem solving skills. Lawyers will discuss their area of legal practice, so the challenge lies in actively listening and not being afraid to ask questions.
But it’s hard to find someone who knows enough about the legal industry to ask the right questions, and who also has a solid tech foundation to translate a legal process into a technology solution. Universities have only recently recognised this obvious skills shortage and are taking action to address it, and in some cases there are even brand-new “legal professional” degrees emerging, so I predict this won’t be a challenge for long.
What excites you about your role as Director of Legal Technology at KPMG Australia?
Having access to some of the industry’s smartest people all under the one roof. Honestly, the place is a boiling pot of amazing people with very varying skillsets. I, like much of the general public I suspect, had no idea that KPMG was involved in so many areas of business that actually have nothing to do with Tax. So tapping into those people and the diversity of knowledge will be the single most influential aspect to KPMG’s success in the legal industry.
If you could choose two learnings from other industries which could be applied to the legal industry, what would they be?
I think the most inspirational industries for me are Agriculture (Agtech) and Regulatory (Regtech). The emergence of technology applied within the agricultural industry has given birth to so many inspirational stories and proves just how powerful a sense of purpose can be. I grew up in rural northern Tasmania, and many of our family friends were farmers. I remember just how hard those families worked to perform the simplest of tasks, such as turning the irrigation systems on and off, or the constant fence repairs needed. In recent years, I have watched some amazing companies go from strength to strength, not because they found a way to make money faster than their competitors, but because they started out by wanting to make a meaningful impact.
In contrast, Regtech is a fast-growing sector which is very closely aligned to Legaltech in my view. Looking at the ways in which regulation, and by proxy, compliance, is being “demystified” by the use of great technology solutions is a constant reminder for me that not everything can/should have a technology layer applied to it - i.e. if it’s not easily replicable, then the best solution might be simply picking up the phone and talking to your client (imagine that!).
How is client engagement changing in the legal industry?
I think it’s slowly improving, but not fast enough. In fact it’s this very thing that has paved the way for NewLaw/alternative legal providers as they are able to start out by first focusing on their customer service model and working back from there. The rise of “middle office” functions within law firms such as Legal Project Management and Legal Service Design, is evidence that firms are starting to invest in improving their service delivery model to include a more customer service-oriented approach. However, and I hate to parrot the experts who continue to say this year over year, the billable hour is still king, and without a significant shift away from this, I fear that the best laid plans will struggle to make a real impact.
If you could bust one myth about innovation in the legal profession, what would it be?
Innovation is not always about technology! I realise it may sound obvious to some, but if you are to believe all the media hype coming out by research companies, or your everyday social medial influencer (you know who you are), you would be forgiven for thinking that technology is the golden gun. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways technology can, and will, have a profound effect on the legal profession. But spending all of your time and effort trying to develop the next “Uber for Legal” is a high-risk strategy and you may first want to innovate within your team. Create new ways of problem solving, introduce better ways of communicating with your clients, or even look to introduce the concept of a legal service SLA. By starting there, the technology play will often become obvious.
Collaboration is a theme that keeps on coming up in the legal innovation discussion. Throughout your career, what have been key elements of successful intergenerational workplace collaboration?
Wow, great question! I’m not sure I have the answers but here are a few observations. Open plan offices break down hierarchies. When I was starting out, I never found the CEO to be a scary person. OK, I didn’t really know what to say to him in the lift, but I was raised to treat all people as equal. However, many people do find it hard to approach senior staff members, especially if they have to go up and knock on their office door. I think removing the walls (literally) between graduate lawyer and managing partner (and everyone in between) sends a clear message that we are all part of the same team, and no member of that team is more important than the other.
My other observation is that the Millennial generation is so much more confident than we ever were. You ask most young people today if they have an idea to improve a process or deliver a better product and I almost guarantee that you will get a response. They have an amazing entrepreneurial mindset, and if I had one piece of advice for any Baby Boomer looking for ways to improve their business, it would be to start by asking the “kid” sitting a few desks down from them.
What is your legal forecast? How do you see the legal world in 10-15 years?
Pretty much the same as it is now. Just more efficient and more accessible. Potentially more fragmented by virtue of the rise in online legal service providers, but that’s a conversation best had over a bottle of wine.
Do you have any top tips for law students and graduates?
Think about spending your first few years out of university in a role that allows you to interface, or work with, the legal service teams within a firm. That may be the technology and innovation department, the project management team or the business development team, for example. You have plenty of time to go and become a lawyer, but developing your customer service skills early, will surely benefit you later.
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