For Laura Keily, capitalising on technology makes the legal system more accessible
Access to justice has long been and continues to be a significant motivator for Laura Keily. The barrister, who has been practising law for over 20 years, was driven to find a solution to the problem of lengthy, expensive, and complex judicial processes she had observed throughout her tenure in the profession.
“Since entering the legal industry in 1998, I’ve seen the legal system become increasingly inaccessible for many people and businesses across Australia due to overburdened courts, high costs, and lengthy and archaic processes,” Keily tells Australasian Lawyer. “In my view, access to justice that cannot be afforded is not access to justice at all, so I sought to make a difference.”
She points out that for a small business, dispute resolution can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, which “at times is much more than the value of the dispute itself and can be incredibly detrimental to business relationships.” Thus, she looked to generate “amicable and cost-effective” channels for the resolution of disputes and complaints that also eased the pressure on the court system.
Keily, who comes from what she describes as “a blue-chip corporate background to the bar,” quickly identified technology as a solution. She broke into the legaltech space with the launch of Immediation, an online dispute resolution platform, in 2017.
“I knew technology and a new way of thinking could transform access to justice, and the rise of COVID-19 in 2020 only validated this as courthouses shuttered, forcing 100% of disputes to be resolved via online means almost overnight,” she says. “I’ve also witnessed the growth and proliferation of technology across all aspects of life, and the potential it has in bringing greater efficiency and accessibility to how we practice law.”
In the four years since she founded Immediation, Keily, who also serves as the company’s managing director, has seen the company expand throughout Australia and New Zealand, providing crucial support for different aspects of the legal profession during a challenging period.
“In four years, we’ve made incredible strides forward. We’ve helped reduce the financial and psychological repercussions of the dispute resolution process and ensured that cases could continue to be heard during lockdown including in the Federal Court of Australia and the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal,” she says. “We have also created a system to facilitate compromise and early deal-making within the virtual space, supporting national bodies including Sport NZ, the Ministry of Justice and the NZ Domain Commission to enable affordable dispute resolution in housing, sports and domain names sectors.”
For Keily, the response of the traditionally change-averse legal profession to the restrictions imposed due to COVID-19 confirmed that rapid digital adoption was possible in a time of need.
“As virtual justice becomes normalised, law firms will need to adapt and take up purpose-built technologies quickly to ensure they are serving clients efficiently in a remote or hybrid workforce,” she explains. “I believe alternative dispute resolution systems will also become increasingly important as more disputes and claims are raised and resolved outside of the court system.”
Keily believes the pandemic is also set to change the way international arbitration works.
“Globally, the locking of borders has presented a transformational opportunity for the international arbitration industry. With members historically jetting to neutral locations – like Hong Kong or Singapore – to resolve matters, the adoption of online dispute resolution tools will mean we are increasingly able to better manage international disputes without the hindrance of being located away from the action,” she says.
Keily adds that a greater reliance on resolving disputes online will benefit the environment as well by limiting the need for travel.
“Increasingly, I am focussed on the sustainability impact as well: helping to reduce the carbon burden associated with international dispute resolution,” she explains. “If we can consolidate the use of sophisticated online dispute resolution platforms that do the job properly, we can capitalise on the rapid advances made during the pandemic to capture the long-term benefit for the legal industry, clients and the environment.”
Thus, despite the uncertainty COVID-19 has created in the world, Keily believes that it has aided in altering the legal industry’s perception of innovation.
“I am proud of the impact we have made and remain committed to delivering greater capacity, capability and accessibility to the profession,” she says. “Society and our relationship with technology is fast-changing and the industry’s survival depends on our readiness to adopt new ways of working.”
Expanding Immediation’s business has consumed much of Keily’s time in recent years, but she is ready to take back some personal time.
“My aim is to find more balance over the next 12 months or so as that transition of the company beyond ‘startup’ to ‘scale up’ takes place,” she says. “I have in recent times started to squeeze back in some of the artistic pursuits I enjoy outside work, including joining the Royal Melbourne Philharmonic Choir this year, so I am making progress!”