We speak to the CEO of Heavy Chef's legal partner Whipping The Cat, Graeme Wilson. 2017 has been a big year for Graeme, with significant growth, client acquisition and multiple prestigious awards under his belt. The legal profession is changing rapidly, so we reached out to Graeme to find out how one of the oldest, most venerable professions is being disrupted.
Graeme, in light of Heavy Chef's seminal Blockchain event earlier this year, where Simon Dingle was quoted as saying "if you know anyone studying law, tell them to get a side-project in computer science" - what is your view on the future of legal services? Do you believe the profession is seeing a sea-change over the next decade?
In 2008 Prof. Richard Susskind published the book "The End of Lawyers". It's core message to lawyers was "re-skill or die". The book received widespread acclaim. It also received its fair share of criticism from sceptics and naysayers. They claimed that the legal profession is a necessary specialist service that has survived in current form for centuries and that lawyers possess unique skills needed to analyze, interpret and advise based on a multiplicity of data and information sources. That sounds very much like AI to me! I am not sure whether lawyers will need computer science skills. What I am sure of is that "just knowing the law" will not be a sufficient skill to succeed in the new legal services market.
One of the key secrets to success is giving people what they want rather than saying “this is the way it’s always been done”.
Graeme, congratulations on winning the "Best Small Firm Of The Year" award for 2017. In a world where lawyers are often seen as sharks, what is that Whipping The Cat is doing right, and how are you innovating in a sector that is not known for much innovation?
Much of the practice of law is based on precedent. When I founded Whipping the Cat, I disregarded precedent. I did my homework on what people wanted when looking for legal services. The themes were simple – good value for money, price certainty, accessibility and knowledge, in the sense of helping them find solutions. Everything that we do is driven by trying to fulfil these needs. It’s not exactly cutting-edge innovation... we don’t have an app. We use tech as an enabler. In short, I think one of the key secrets to our success is giving people what they want rather than saying “this is the way it’s always been done”.
"Make sure that you have the right agreements in place right from the outset."
At Heavy Chef, we regularly feature startup entrepreneurs who are disrupting, innovation, creating and building amazing new things. What advice do you have to young starry-eyed entreps with regards to protecting themselves from a legal standpoint? - how seriously do they need to look after their patents, trademarks and intellectual property?
IP is often a touchy subject for startups. Some entreps think they are on to the next big thing and want to guard it with secrecy. The reality is that a mere idea has very little commercial value. You need to get to market. Almost without fail the startup entrepreneurs featured by Heavy Chef advise the audience to “get to market”. I agree with this advice. IP protection is important and Whipping The Cat helps many companies with strategy and IP protection as part of future proofing their business. Part of this process is making sure that you have the right agreements in place right from the outset. These may be the company incorporation documents, shareholders agreement, funding agreements or agreements with the people that write your code or provide you with a service. Starting a business is hard enough, you don’t want to be blindsided by some unexpected legal issue.
"Young lawyers should not fear technology and AI, they should hone their EQ and collaborate with the machines."
Conversely, what advice do you have for young lawyers coming into the workplace in 2018?
Unfortunately, law schools - and most law firms - are still preparing young lawyers to practice law. The future of law is about legal service delivery. Young lawyers should be exploring opportunities with “alternative legal service providers” like Whipping the Cat, software companies, legal process outsourcers, and banks and insurers that are now providing legal services. They should forget about the practice of law and focus on the delivery of law. Picking up on the theme of Richard Mulholland’s recent Heavy Chef talk about the 4th industrial revolution, young lawyers should not fear technology and AI, they should hone their EQ and collaborate with the machines.
Which small businesses are you excited about in the South African, or African, space?
I confess to being biased on this question. The business that excites me the most is Whipping the Cat! Beyond this I do not need to look further than some of our clients. ThisIsMe has made huge strides and I believe it has enormous international potential. Singular Systems has some amazing products and services and I expect good things will come out of their over the counter (OTC) share platform and recently launched Equity Express Security Exchange.
Thank you Graeme! And thank you for your ongoing support of Heavy Chef. We look forward to watching Whipping The Cat continue to disrupt, challenge and ultimately grow the legal sector in South Africa.