Interview with Demetrio Zema, founder of Australia’s “most innovative law firm”

Interview with Demetrio Zema, founder of Australia’s “most innovative law firm”

In the world of legal tech and innovation, people often write about the future. They write about the next big thing or how we have to prepare for coming change. So, for the first of Josef’s series of interviews with experts in the legal tech and innovation world, we thought we’d speak to someone who has already done it. We sat down with Demetrio Zema, lawyer and wunderkind founder of Law Squared, Australia’s “most innovative law firm,” to find out what it looks like from the other side.

Let’s go back to the start. Where did you come up with the idea for Law Squared?

Three years ago, I finished up as a litigation lawyer. I was disenchanted. It wasn’t the firm so much. There were great opportunities there. But I just didn’t love being a lawyer in that environment. It was time-based. It was competitive. I decided that I had to create something different, or leave law altogether.

So, I went on a holiday to Bali and spent four weeks planning what “something different” would look like. There wasn’t much to go on at the time. In the last three years, so much has changed in the legal innovation/NewLaw space. Back then, there were only 1 or 2 other firms advocating for a new way of running a law firm. At the end of those four weeks, I had developed a business model, produced some content and returned to Australia to launch Law Squared without a website, just an email address and a co-working space to call home.

In just a few short years, Law Squared has grown to employ over 20 staff, has an illustrious client list and has been described as Australia’s most “innovative law firm”. What does that label mean to you?

It is recognition of the way that Law Squared’s business model challenges the traditional law firm business model. And I don’t mean just tech. I mean a better and different way of interacting with clients and engaging staff. We treat it as a business rather than a law firm.

What does that mean, to “treat it as a business rather than a law firm”?

For example, we don’t time record. We focus on outcomes rather than profit. We focus on lawyer engagement: lawyers who feel valued and respected want to thrive and challenge the status quo.

That in turn leads to a more positive client engagement. This allows our lawyers to be more autonomous, unconstrained by time. In a traditional law firm, our day is measured by the time that we bill rather than outcome we achieve.

Having created “something different”, what does the future of the legal industry look like to you?

The future of the legal industry looks much brighter than it did in the past. There has been a generational shift in the delivery of legal services and in the management of law firms. It presents an exciting opportunity. For example, there is more emphasis these days on the way that people work and their engagement with clients. The idea of outcome first is being pushed in many firms, even big ones.

Tech is also going to play a huge role. There is a fear among some in the legal industry of AI and the replacement of lawyers. But I don’t believe that’s what’s going to happen. Instead, tech just enables us to be better lawyers. It lets us focus on client engagement, rather than the delivery of the service or the advice as such.

One thing that does concern me is the number of legal graduates. There is an oversupply, and this needs to be managed somehow. One part of the solution, though, is technology. Technology has created new jobs in the legal industry that until recently didn’t exist. Law Squared, for example, has three legal project officers, which is a job that didn’t even exist 5 years ago.

That is music to our ears! One of the best parts of our job is working with law schools to teach law students the skills they’ll need for the future of the legal industry. For those who don’t know, what is a legal project officer?

A legal project officer is a different take on the traditional paralegal but overlayed with technological skills. They help develop and implement different technologies in the business. Our legal project officers helps us to develop Cubed by Law Squared [discussed further below], including the tech, the narrative, the visuals, the document management system and metric reporting.

Josef and Law Squared have been friends for a while now. What is Josef to you?

Josef is one of those legal tech businesses that actually solves a problem. It is thought out and considered. It’s differentiated in that it’s not purely automation. But at its automation level, it is cleaner, clearer and better than other solutions on the market.

Josef is designed to empower any lawyer to easily use legal tech in their practice. Does this align with your vision of the lawyer of the future? What does a day in that lawyer’s life look like?

Absolutely. Josef gives lawyers the time to focus on the more meaningful things, allowing them to interact in a more meaningful way with their clients. Because of this, the future lawyer needs to be tech savvy and to understand and embrace technology.

Just take remote working as an example; you can only do that when you leverage technology. Law Squared is run on a fully cloud-based system. This isn’t revolutionary, but it is very powerful. It lets us work from wherever in the world without an issue.

That’s such a good way of putting it. A tech-enabled lawyer has the space to be more emotionally intelligent.

Exactly!

In the same way, we designed Josef to enable lawyers to develop new ways of providing legal services. You recently built Cubed, which is similarly a new way of interfacing with clients. Can you tell us about that experience?

Cubed by Law Squared is a tech product designed for early stage start-ups. We identified that though start-ups have similar needs and wants, there was no online solution that offered tailored legal documents other than purely online services. At Cubed by Law Squared, we offer an advisory piece in addition to the tech piece. It is ostensibly a tech solution, but with a lawyer at both ends of that. It is very different to other products in that way.

And what did you learn from building Cubed by Law Squared?

It was a big learning experience because it was the first tech product we’d ever built. It takes longer than you think it’s going to. It’s not necessarily expensive, but you need to make a proper investment of time and money. There are things that you need to consider that you know nothing about. For example, I didn’t think about how the different tech applications would speak to one another before we got started.

Overall, though, it was a great experience. We worked with other stakeholders, learned about different technologies, bots, websites and code. And we got to build a great team around it.

How did you come up with the idea of Cubed by Law Squared?

I had a very clear vision of what it was meant to be. Cubed by Law Squared serves a purpose. It wasn’t just a “tech” product. I didn’t want to build “tech” just for the sake of it.

I noticed that there was a cost barrier to dealing with early-stage start-up clients. And I asked myself: What is the best way to solve that? The answer: reduce lawyers’ time spent on that transaction. Because there is not a lot of difference across the legal needs of different early-stage start-ups, we identified that as an area where automation could save a lot of time.

And what has been the value of Cubed by Law Squared to your business?

It has had tremendous value. Over 350 startups have come through Cubed since it was launched. There is an obvious financial benefit, in that we’re now able to service an end of the market that we originally priced ourselves out of. From a branding perspective, Cubed by Law Squared has given us a really clear position in the marketplace that allows us to clearly split how we service start-ups versus the clients of Law Squared. Cubed by Law Squared has also given us the ability to generate further business for Law Squared, for example by helping us to develop a relationship with universities through their incubator and accelerator programs.

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