The Simpson Grierson business transformation manager started her career in New Zealand at Bell Gully and then moved to London to become an associate at Allen & Overy. She then became an advisor in the firm’s business improvement unit, before becoming part of the founding members of A&O’s digital team.
She also founded Living Lawyers, a consultancy focused on helping law firms enhance legal service delivery to boost client value, efficiency, profitability, and lawyer wellbeing.
Last year confirmed to her that while being agile as a firm is important, it’s equally crucial to keep in mind that a whole industry won’t change overnight, Ferguson says. In this interview, she also explains why it’s imperative for firms to tackle new technology and the changing business of law with the right mindset.
What made you choose a career in law?
Studying law was actually a last-minute switch for me. I was enrolled to do a communications degree, as I had started doing television and event production work as a part-time job during my last year at school and really enjoyed it. It was over the summer break, just before university started, that I decided that I was more interested in law and the role it plays in business and society and wanted to explore that instead.
To be honest, for the majority of my time at law school, I was not convinced I wanted to practice in large firms. But I have now worked in three and feel lucky to have had such experience.
What do you love most about your job?
As we all know, like most industries, the legal sector is going through a period of unprecedented change. Navigating this can be quite overwhelming, but equally, I like that this is providing a powerful catalyst for law firms and legal teams to develop new mindsets and skills.
I love helping others to better understand the challenges we are facing, and more importantly, how we move forward and take advantage of the opportunities that can come from embracing new ways of working, improving processes and leveraging technology.
What is going on at the firm? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?
We have a great program of strategic projects already underway for 2018. There are two areas in particular that I am really excited about.
The first one is focused on new ways of using data in order to gather insights and make life easier for our clients and our people.
The second is focused on helping our clients increase their understanding of key trends in the legal sector, improving processes and leveraging technology. In-house teams have lots of competing pressures so we want to help them out as much as possible.
What was your proudest accomplishment in 2017?
I am really passionate about the health and wellbeing of lawyers. I was proud to present at the 2017 Janders Dean Legal Horizons conference in Sydney and publicly share my views on ways to drive innovation and profitability in a way that encourages engagement and wellbeing.
I also really enjoyed working with our health and safety advisory team to create online products that help clients to better manage their health and safety obligations.
What should the profession and law firms focus more on?
There is a lot of buzz around artificial intelligence. Although there is no doubt that it will play a significant role in shaping the future of legal services, I equally think it is important that we take a step back and work on ensuring we have the right mindsets and skills in place before we focus on technology.
We need to remember that significant benefits can be gained from non-tech improvements. We need to have a mindset that supports challenging the status quo and constantly learning. We also need to focus on skills such as data analytics, process improvement and design thinking. These areas will all help us better leverage technology when we do apply it.
What’s the biggest lesson you learned in the past year and what advice can you give to fellow lawyers about it?
2017 confirmed to me that change and transformation is both a fast and a slow game. You need constant action on things and learn in order to move forward, while also accepting that fundamental change takes time.
What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?
I believe that supporting new mindsets and skills is extremely important. There are pockets of inertia in the legal sector that we need to encourage to break. Moving from a more traditional approach to more open and adaptive ways of working is crucial.
What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?
Working more closely with our clients and our people to take advantage of the opportunities that come from exploring and trying new ways of working and delivering services.
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Caroline Ferguson has come to specialise in change. After all, her career has been full of transformation.