JWS: Digitally transforming the legal industry

JWS: Digitally transforming the legal industry

Johnson Winter and Slattery (JWS) is an independent national Australian law firm with over 60 partners based across five offices in Australia. JWS advises major Australian and international corporations, investment funds and other clients on challenging transactions and disputes in Australia. “We create value through legal and commercial analysis, pragmatism, the effective application of technology, project management and a collaborative work style,” says Ross Forgione, Chief Information Officer at JWS, who has over 30 years’ experience in information technology engineering.

JWS’ vision is to be a leader in the legal industry, producing high-quality legal work for Australia and its sophisticated commercial clients. Since its founding in 1993, Forgione highlights that JWS’ systems have evolved organically with built up and built out layers. During his time at the firm, Forgione has worked to evolve and modernise the firm’s layered systems through iterative transformation over time, creating a strong foundation for its operations and producing a system that JWS can leverage and extract benefits from.

Driving meaningful change is a primary challenge for Forgione, who highlights that JWS is continuously looking at its internal processes to find ways to deliver more value to its clients. Forgione also outlines that while JWS provides Australian legal advice, it has clients, both domestic and foreign, that conduct business globally. Therefore, part of Forgione's job is to ensure any current or future technology implemented by the firm can support and is compliant with international best practice. “Our goal is to identify opportunities to be as efficient as possible,” says Forgione. “We collect analytical information from the data we ingest, generate or export to identify how our process are performing internally and externally.” JWS has established key partnerships with Microsoft, VMware and Pure Storage to further assist unlocking the potential value we can derive from these data. “We have worked very closely with VMware and Microsoft, maintaining a strong relationship with both organisations. Their strategic paths help us understand what we need to be thinking about now for the future.”

Forgione has recently attended a number of international legal technology conferences focused on driving change that will improve the delivery of services to clients and create a better working environment for the firm’s people. The conferences also gave Forgione the opportunity to discuss common challenges, potential goals and opportunities with his peers in the industry, in particular involving artificial intelligence (AI). “I don’t think I've been to a conference in the last three years where AI hasn't dominated the agenda,” says Forgione. “We are currently investigating how we can use AI and other machine learning based software tools and services  to enhance the value of our data and improve the ways in which we service our clients.” Although Forgione acknowledges that “AI will – for some industries – make the world a better place”, in terms of the legal industry, he sees the application of AI broadening over time with current applications limited to specific tasks. An area Forgione has seen AI benefit the legal industry is bulk contract review, removing the need for lawyers to review large amounts of information. 

Other areas of innovative technology that Forgione and his team are looking into include leveraging Big Data. “We’ve got over 25 years of data which we are now mining and analysing in our innovation incubator to develop useful insights to assist legal practitioners when making decisions.” 

JWS is currently working with Pure Storage building our data warehousing platform. “We hold large volumes of data at JWS, and if our platform is not able to deliver the performance and reliability we need, it may take too long to receive actionable results, which isn’t practical for a commercial organisation.”

Forgione, however, does explain that the implementation of technology needs to be carefully considered. Although there are significant benefits of new technology, there are challenges to be mindful of too. “As a business you need to identify where the opportunities lie and assess them. If it makes commercial sense to proceed with a technology driven initiative - then proceed,” he says. “But, if you can be effective without having to apply new technology, and you can accomplish a very quick resolution with existing technology or people that will stay in place and continue to serve its purpose, then take that route.”

When implementing new technologies firms such as JWS need to consider the following areas: 

  • Is the technology easily implemented and rolled out to the end users (be they lawyers or other employees in the organisation).  Are the costs associated with the new technology, including in relation to its purchase, the training required to use it and the costs of the inevitable disruption caused by most changes in workflow going to deliver an appropriate level of return once the technology is used in the business? 

  • What impact, if any, might new technology have in relation to the security of our client’s information and the integrity of our systems?  To the extent that new vulnerabilities might arise, what steps can we take to remedy or mitigate these risks?

  • Can the new technology be widely used so that the new benefits can be enjoyed at scale?

  • What impact will the new technology have on the performance of our existing systems and infrastructure – is this manageable?

When it comes to data protection and cybersecurity, JWS ensures it covers all its bases. The firm not only utilises encryption technology, penetration testing, response plans and real-time monitoring, but also conducts specific security awareness education programs for its staff members in addition to carrying out training courses and demonstrations.

Reflecting on the firm’s development, Forgione believes the firm’s biggest success has been how quickly JWS has been able to adapt and embrace new technology in order to introduce innovations to best serve clients. Forgione believes that networking, attending conferences and the firm’s passionate people who experiment both within the firm’s innovation incubator and in the provision of services to the firm’s clients, is what drives JWS’ ability to stay ahead of fast evolving technology.  JWS expects to be among the most innovative providers of legal services in the Australian market for a good many years to come.

Ross Forgione