By James Penn

When we think digital, we don't always think legal.

But while self-driving cars, virtual reality gaming, and high tech drones dominate the technological discourse, NZ's legal players are quietly going about the business of digitising an industry that to date has remained relatively similar to its ancient Athenian roots.

"I think all companies and firms need to consider themselves technology companies," says Nick Wells, chief executive partner at Chapman Tripp. "Technology is defining the way we do business and the way we live and work."


"Our clients have to work in new ways - and fast," explains Wells. "That means we do too."

At one end of the spectrum this involves shifts such as migrating document management to the cloud and utilising digital communication services to keep clients informed. These operate to increase the efficiency of existing tasks.

But increasingly, artificial intelligence is making work previously done by human lawyers redundant. "Concepts previously considered futuristic - from automation to artificial intelligence - are firmly in the present," says Wells.

Sector optimists see this not as a displacement process, but more about freeing up lawyers to spend their time on more sophisticated tasks.

"Staff time on commodity and lower value work will be reduced giving staff the opportunity to be involved in work which requires greater skills and personal interaction," explains Cathy Quinn, former chair of MinterEllisonRussWatts. "For example, when I started in law 32 years ago as a law clerk we were given the job of delivering documents around town. Our law clerks don't spend their days doing this any more. They are involved in more stimulating work. The same thing will happen."

MinterEllison has formed a joint venture with Goat Ventures to explore the potential legal applications of artificial intelligence. Their $2 million co-investment in the JV represents a significant commitment by the firm and an acknowledgement of the value of partnering with outside parties on such innovations.

Quinn says it is progressing well. "We are looking at both business-business products and business to consumer products and are in discussions with interested parties.

The Herald's Mood of the Boardroom 2017 Election Survey attracted participation from 118 respondents. The results were debated this morning by shadow finance spokesman Grant Robertson and National's Finance Minister Steven Joyce.