Australia’s large, traditional law firms have only recently begun to get serious about innovating, and there remain concerns it’s not enough. See how Hive Legal is determined to be different.

As one of the original disruptors of Australia’s legal profession, Hive Legal has made a name for itself by continuously thinking outside the box and pushing boundaries.

At a time when many are wondering how to futureproof a profession that’s losing out to increased competition and automation, that’s clearly a good thing.

Working on your own terms

So, what makes Hive Legal different from a traditional law firm?

To begin with, it’s a self-described ‘virtual law firm’. That means their office is paperless and employees can work anywhere, any time as long as clients’ needs are met. All employees work from a cloud platform, enabling them to connect to each other and their clients when it suits.

Another big differentiator is they have no timesheets. Instead, the firm use ‘value pricing’, working with clients upfront to agree on the value of work being done.

Increased collaboration

Mitzi Gilligan, Principal and one of the firm’s founders, says Hive Legal’s approach has been an unqualified success. “Our approach makes the way the clients work with us more collaborative,” she notes. “They’re much more inclined to bring up things earlier and to make us a component of their team because they’re not worried about the clock ticking all the time.”

Ultimately, it’s a matter of “happy clients, happy team; happy team, happy clients”, Gilligan says.

“It’s a much more rewarding way to work for us because you feel closer to your clients and you feel like you can be more effective.”

“There’s no disincentive to be efficient,” she points out. “There’s no disincentive to be innovative.”

Free of time-recording constraints and budgets, individuals can put their spare efforts into thinking big instead.

Progressive innovators

Continuous innovation is a must in the legal industry, even for a progressive firm like Hive Legal. That doesn’t faze Associate Principal Melissa Lyon, however. As an individual finalist for the 2018 LexisNexis Janders Dean Legal Innovation Index, and the third member of the Centre for Legal Innovation’s distinguished fellowship program, she thrives on it, helping to make change at Hive Legal a constant.

“Part of being agile and doing things differently is that we’re constantly on the move and looking for what we need to do next to continue our journey. It’s not just a ‘set and forget’.”

Lyon has been helping drive their innovation program, including its HiveThinkp initiative, which uses design thinking to identify, design and implement ways to improve clients’ experience of receiving legal services.

For Lyon, it’s all about empathy, collaboration and experimentation – genuinely understanding what the client wants, what the end-user requires, and building a model around that. This isn’t so different from Hive Legal’s original concept, Lyon notes.

However, she can already point to examples of how HiveThinkp has changed the way the firm does things. For one, they now offer clients flexible outsourced legal services. Branded as Hive Legal GC+, it means they provide a service akin to an in-house team for those clients who don’t have a legal team already. And for those clients who do have legal team, Hive acts as an extension of that team.

The idea came from discussions with clients who had small, in-house resources. “We spoke to them about what their actual needs were from an external firm.”

Hive Legal is further developing revenue streams by offering consulting services, helping clients with their own development processes – a favourite of Lyon’s. She describes a business that needed help with its handling of medical records. Using HiveThinkp, the firm worked with the client to develop a better process of managing this sensitive private information.

Hive Legal’s work on a visual privacy policy also pushes boundaries, Lyon says. Dumping the usual written document, the firm has collaborated with digital agency August to create an animated version of a policy, to show how information is collected and stored and what people’s rights are.

Lyon says it’s an example of how Hive Legal is responding to what the end-user wants or needs.

What it takes to adapt

For Gilligan, Hive Legal will continue to evolve and adapt, due largely to its inherent agility.

It’s something the bigger law firms might struggle with, however. Until a couple of years ago, she notes, innovation was more talk than action among the traditional law firms. “One of the reasons I left big law to participate in setting up Hive Legal was because I didn’t believe they would effectively change by working within their current structures. And I still think that presents a significant challenge to them.”

Nevertheless, there are positive signs of change and innovation now apparent in the legal sector, which Gilligan welcomes. “We’re definitely still a disruptor. But we’re really pleased to see the increase in the number of firms doing different things.”

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