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Do lawyers need to start thinking differently?

The legal system is, arguably, stuck in a different era. Think of studying to become a lawyer and you probably picture grappling with hefty tomes in the library and trying to unpack complex legislation written in old-fashioned, convoluted language. This common perception of the legal system as conservative or out-of-touch becomes especially problematic when you consider that lawyers are meant to help real people tackle real-life problems in society.

So what’s the problem? Is it that the people becoming lawyers are conservative in nature, or that they prefer to take a rigid approach to life? Not at all – if Elle Woods in Legally Blonde taught us anything, it’s that the legal system is open to being modernised! It seems more likely that when people start working in an industry that’s traditionally known to be slow-moving and dominated by precedent, they accept that as the norm.

But Dr Claudio Bozzi, a practising commercial barrister and lecturer in Deakin’s Faculty of Business and Law, is hoping to change that mindset. Also the co-editor of the Deakin Law Review, it is his explicit aim is to foster new ways of thinking in his students. He is passionate about creating a new wave of ‘relevant lawyers, lawyers who can solve tomorrow’s problems’ to encourage his students to develop a more innovative mindset to tackle technological changes.

The impact of technology

We’re living in an increasingly technology-driven world, where automated systems send out email newsletters and computers can read text contracts. The legal profession is not immune to the influence of technology. In fact, lawyers were early adopters of e-filing, e-discovery tools and video conferencing for hearings. However, the misconception that technology is inadequate in relation to commercial law has prevented many legal firms from using it to innovate and transform core areas of practice.

According to Dr Bozzi, the lack of innovation in this area is a shame. With the right perspective, such lawyers will be able to see the potential of technology to help them better serve clients, rather than simply presuming that the needs, legal issues and ‘grey areas’ that concerned businesses a decade ago haven’t changed.

'You have to be daring – you just have to have a go ... [otherwise] opportunities will pass you by.'

Dr Claudio Bozzi,
Faculty of Business and Law, Deakin University

The rise of start-up culture

One area where this is particularly apparent is in the entrepreneurial start-up and freelance economy. Dr Bozzi founded the Deakin Venture Law Clinic, which offers free legal advice to entrepreneurs and start-ups. It’s staffed entirely by law students, who benefit from hands-on commercial experience, and gain invaluable insight into how new thinking may be applied to emerging technologies and their emerging markets, often being legislated for the very first time.

Through the Venture Clinic, Dr Bozzi and his students are building collaborations and connections with innovative thinkers. ‘We’ve dealt with a lot of tech companies that are doing amazing things. It’s always interesting, seeing different entrants into this unregulated space, finding new ways of dealing with old problems,’ Dr Bozzi says.

It’s all about being willing and ready to approach old or established problems in new ways, and create original ways of doing things. Dr Bozzi says this approach celebrates individualism and helps students seek out alternative viewpoints.

‘They’re shown how to think, not just what to think,’ he explains. ‘Very few law schools offer clinical education at all and it’s a missed opportunity. Not many are exploring these non-traditional forms of legal education around commercial application, setting up new businesses, and working with very early stage start-ups.’

A brave new model

So what’s in store for the future of legislation, and the convergence of law and technology?

‘Technology’s demanding our attention, whether it’s AI or just the sheer volume of data that can be collected,’ Dr Bozzi says. ‘All the problems that are going to be thrown up, all the potential responses that the law’s going to need to have – will it respond to them in the right way? Is the law going to be prohibitive and inhibitory? Or is it going to be a facilitator of positive change?’

The need to look beyond the accepted wisdoms of law school teaching methods and find new ways both to teach and to practise law has never been more essential. Dr Bozzi believes Deakin’s young age makes it the ideal place for breaking new ground.

‘We have an opportunity because we’re a young institution to do things the right way. Not the same way: the right way,’ he says. ‘You don’t get that opportunity more than once. You have to be daring – you just have to have a go.’ Otherwise, he warns, ‘opportunities will pass you by.’

Want to tackle real-life challenges with commercial clients while you study? Consider studying commercial law at Deakin. 

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