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Claudia King, CEO and co-founder of Automio | From lawyer to legal tech entrepreneur

Claudia King, CEO and co-founder of Automio, won the individual award in the LexisNexis Janders Dean Legal Innovation Index 2017. She says being clear about her mission has helped guide her career from lawyer to legal tech entrepreneur and find success. Here, she tells us about that path and provides her insights about the future of law and tech.

Crowd & Co: Can you tell us a little about what you do?

Claudia King: I am the CEO of the legal tech company Automio. With Automio, lawyers use lawyer bots to serve clients online. Our lawyer bots interview clients and create instant, customised output including advice, contracts and legal documents. We also have a Smart Document Marketplace where lawyers can create new revenue streams by selling their lawyer bots to other lawyers who want to use them, and to sell contracts and other documents to clients.  

I was a lawyer for 11 years and stopped practising law in July 2017 when I sold my firm to go “all in” with Automio.

C&Co: Can you explain what a “lawyer bot” is?

CK: A lawyer bot is software that does automated tasks usually carried out by lawyers. Lawyers can use lawyer bots to do lawyers’ work and provide a better client experience by letting clients serve themselves online. A great way to get started using lawyer bots is creating a lawyer bot to interview clients for you and then creating instant, customised advice, documents and contracts.

C&Co: How have other lawyers reacted to your business? Do you think that lawyers, generally, are starting to better embrace technology?

CK: We’ve had a really positive response from Australian lawyers, and New Zealand lawyers are starting to react more positively to Automio too. We’ve been in the market for 6 months now and attitudes to technology have already changed so much in that time. We’re getting a lot of firms approaching us now as they’re super excited about our lawyer bots, and we’re getting pretty good at identifying firms that are actually innovative (and don’t just say they are!) so that we can make sure we’re having conversations with the right firms that are excited by our technology. We still run into “clockblockers”, as we like to call them, who are lawyers that still believe change is futile. This is frustrating, and I feel really worried for these lawyers and the people they employ.

C&Co: What have been the key milestones along your career path to date?

CK: Throughout my career to date I’ve always been clear about my mission, which is to make legal help affordable and accessible for everyone. This has driven my decision-making and is the reason for achieving most of my milestones.

I started my career as a tax consultant at KPMG in 2006 and was admitted to the bar in 2007. After a few years there I started working with my father at his law firm Dennis King Law and became a partner there at 26 years old. In 2011 we launched Legal Beagle, New Zealand’s first online legal service. This was my first tech baby, and kicked off the Automio journey. I wanted to sell self-service, customisable legal documents from the Legal Beagle website, but couldn’t find any software that did this. I was also sick of all the document drudgery at my firm – boring, low-value, repeat work is so painful and not what I want to spend my precious time on earth doing. So, we decided to create Automio to automate repeat, this type of work and let lawyers serve their clients online without all the development expense that I had to spend getting Legal Beagle set up.

Automio opened its beta in 2016 and launched Automio in June 2017. The last couple of years have been tricky because my business partner and Dad got terminally ill with cancer in December 2015 and died in March 2016. So, I’m super proud of what we’ve achieved despite this setback.

C&Co: What are the things that have been critical in growing your career?

CK: There are a few things. As I mentioned, I’ve had a clear vision from early on in my career to make legal help affordable and accessible for everyone. This has given me focus throughout my career. Life is busy and unless you know what your mission in life is, it is difficult to know what opportunities to say yes to.

I always had the freedom to try new things in our law firm, like new technology, marketing strategies and pricing as some examples. This gave me the opportunity to experiment, which has shown me how much you learn from failure. Some things worked well while other things didn’t. If something didn’t work well we didn’t get down about it, we took our learnings and tried something else.

I’m also not afraid to make big, game-changing moves, like selling my law firm and going all in with a legal tech startup.

Having a supportive husband also helps. I’ve got 2 kids aged 3 and 1, and my husband is at home with them. This means that when I’m at work I can completely focus. My husband has also supported my big, game-changing moves which I know can’t have been easy.

C&Co: What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve received?

CK: Stop waiting and start creating.

C&Co: Our recent women of law future profession survey indicated that half of respondents think client expectations will be the biggest challenge in the future for lawyers. How do you think client expectations have changed over the last few years? How do you expect them to change in the next few years?

CKClients are increasingly expecting more for less, but this isn’t legal-industry specific. I think clients are frustrated with many law firms because they are completely out of touch with what their clients want.  Instead of complaining about client demands, lawyers need to accept that clients want to be heard. Lawyers need to start transforming their businesses and create strategy around giving clients positive experiences. These client-centric strategies will help decide which technologies lawyers will use.

Lawyers will also need to pass on the benefits of technology and innovation to their clients – clients are so sick of seeing law firms talk about how innovative they are but not seeing any proof of this, like better pricing and client experience.  Law firms need to become more agile and lawyers need to be more entrepreneurial and seek new skills outside of the law in order to serve clients well.

NewLaw businesses will cause a lot more tension in the legal market over the next couple of years. More lawyers will gain tech skills to meet client demands by using the tech available to them to create tech solutions for clients to meet their legal needs. Firms will have designated teams of lawyers whose sole role is to create customised tech solutions for clients.

C&Co: What do you think will be the biggest challenge in the future for lawyers?

CKThe biggest challenge for law firms in the near future is to improve leadership and decision-making processes. Many law firms are not run like proper businesses, and are not led by people with an inspiring vision for the future that is communicated to everyone in the firm. Decisions by firms are slow and often based on emotion and fear, rather than well thought out and researched business strategies. Partners and Practice Managers often don’t understand what new technologies do and how these technologies support the firm’s strategy (if they even have a business strategy), and are holding firms back. Firms need to create leadership teams with the right people who can inspire and facilitate innovation, and create agile decision-making processes so they can make better decisions faster.

C&Co: What do you think will be the biggest opportunity in the future for those in the legal profession?

To use technology to create legal businesses that make them and their clients happy. Lawyers are already using technology to turn their legal expertise into products (document shops, subscription sites, online courses etc) that they can sell online and create new and relatively passive revenue streams. This can ease stress as lawyers don’t have to constantly exchange time for money, and lawyers can have more time to do the things they love. This approach can help lawyers to become thought leaders which creates all kinds of opportunities.

C&Co: What’s one piece of technology that’s changing the way you work for the better?

Apart from Automio, I’d say it is Zapier. 


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