During her career, Natalia Crnomarkovic, Oceania Law Technology Leader, Director at EY has always enjoyed a mix of law and technology. Over the years though, the emphasis has shifted from law to technology.
Here she talks about this shift, her career challenges and achievements and her views on the future delivery of legal services.
Crowd & Co: You started off your career in traditional legal roles in private practice and in-house before making a move into knowledge management and technology. Can you tell me about this career shift?
Natalia Crnomarkovic: In the first stage of my career I was a technology, intellectual property and telco lawyer. I had an amazing experience at my first law firm, Gilbert+Tobin. I worked with amazing lawyers – it’s a very technology-focused firm and very open to providing opportunities for lawyers at all levels. As a junior lawyer I was awarded the G+T scholarship and participated in the Harvard Negotiation Project. I delivered workshops in technology issue at various conferences and developed a methodology for review of technology contracts. I was given many opportunities to be creative and develop my skills.
From Gilbert+Tobin I then went to several in-house roles and that was instrumental in helping me understand issues from a client's perspective. I was legal counsel for Asia Pacific for an ERP provider and travelled extensively throughout Asia. I was general counsel for an electronic commerce start-up company.
So, the first stage in my career was applying my skills and developing my skillset as a senior lawyer. Then I made a significant shift by moving into knowledge management. By that stage, I had experience as both a provider and the purchaser of legal services and had developed my own techniques to deliver my services as efficiently as possible. I understood the importance of good precedents and organisation. I felt these were areas where many of my colleagues could certainly enhance the way that they were working.
When I saw an opportunity to join King Wood Mallesons in a practice support knowledge management role, I thought that would be really interesting. Knowledge management is at the intersection between technology and legal practice and I could bring my skills and experience as a practising lawyer to help other lawyers work more efficiently and use technology in the best way. It addressed my passion and the gap I could see with inefficient processes. The other reason that I think is really important to mention is that I felt that in this role it would give me more flexibility as a mother. At that time I had my first child. I now have three young boys.
C&Co: Congratluations on just starting a new role as Director at EY? Can you tell us about the new role?
NC: Innovation plays a central part of EY's growth strategy and they take a very client centric approach to everything they do. My role is to help develop and deliver new legal solutions across Australia and New Zealand. My role sits within the law team at EY, collaborating closely with Tax Technology and Transformation to deliver integrated solutions. I'm super excited about this opportunity.
C&Co: What's been the biggest challenge in your career?
NC: The biggest challenge, certainly in the second phase of my career in knowledge management and legal tech, has been challenging the conventional mindset of law firms. The traditional model of law firms is one based on selling time and the business model is based on that. The change, the unstoppable change that's occurring now in the market, means lawyers need to think a lot more creatively about how they can deliver legal services.
C&Co: Do you have any tips for challenging the traditional law firm mindset and working towards a successful future in law?
NC: To be successful, lawyers must focus on the client experience and embrace proven methodologies, such as design thinking where the focus is on what the issues are and what the frustrations are for clients they're dealing with. It’s not just by asking questions but also by observation and interaction that lawyers will be able to provide amazing service delivery and legal services to clients.
Anything lawyers can do to deliver more quickly and to a better quality, in a way that is focused on the business problem, will be successful. It's also very important for lawyers, where appropriate, to draw in expertise from other disciplines. This is much talked about, the fact that law firms in the future will integrate data analysts, data engineers, pricing specialists, knowledge managers, solutions architect, business developers, business development and marketing specialists and HR personnel in the right way to deliver better offerings to clients.
C&Co: What stands out as a career highlight?
NC: One of my most significant experiences in my career was leading document automation within the Telstra legal team. I worked with an inspirational woman, Jenny Owen, who was really ahead of her time. At a time when document automation was not used extensively in corporate in-house teams, Jenny put forward a successful business case to imbed document automation within the legal process and she asked me to lead that project.
I rolled up my sleeves and even did some coding. I did an Information Systems major as part of my Commerce degree and used my coding skills from my uni days to automate documents. It's something I felt very proud of. I was open to learning and the positive impact on the business was significant.
Through automating various documents and workflow, such as some complex procurement service agreements, we were able to improve efficiency in creating legal documents and also the quality and consistency of documents. There was a major shift in my thinking as a result and I started to focus my career very strongly, from that point on, on legal technology.
C&Co: There's been lots of change within the legal profession but there are still significant gaps and issues that particularly affect women. What do you think needs to change to help improve the experience of female lawyers?
NC: Legal firms are doing great things in relation to flexibility and moving away from the billable hour business model. I think that's very powerful to give opportunities for leadership for women lawyers.
Role modelling is very important - role modelling by successful women lawyers who are open about the challenges they've faced in their career. Being given opportunities for leadership—especially being given a seat at the table in divisions to do with new technologies and new ways of working —is very beneficial for the new generation of women coming through the ranks.
Technology also has a significant role to play in improving the experience of female lawyers. At EY, we’ve closed our gender pay gap to 0.4% through tools which enable real-time tracking and targeting of the gender pay gap in our organisation.
It’s also wonderful to see that innovation committees and workplaces are committed to diversity, and that absolutely needs to be the case.
Natalia believes, "lawyers who embrace and understand how they can use technology to augment their services are the ones that will be successful in the future".
Here are some practical tips from Natalia on using technology to get ahead:
- Look beyond being a lawyer and reach out and attend meetups in relation to technology and industry development (Natalia attends blockchain meetups outside of work)
- Use social media, especially LinkedIn to gain powerful insights and join in discussions about technology (“it’s here to stay” says Natalia, and is an area where “embracing change and changing one's mindset is really important”).