W+K special counsel: ‘We need to find ways to harness AI in legal practice’

Nick Martin talks how people are not always in control of their work destiny

W+K special counsel: ‘We need to find ways to harness AI in legal practice’

In his own words, Nick Martin is “a nerd”. The Wotton + Kearney (W+K) special counsel loves the process of drafting contract terms and legal advice, and he has always been a “words guy” who loves the nuances of language.

He made the jump to W+K’s cyber and tech practice late last year, and he has hit the ground running. AI is an “obvious challenge” to the legal profession, he believes, but the aim is to embrace it rather than to fear it.

In this December 2023 interview, Martin touches on helping a Southeast Asian country to develop a draft cybersecurity law, striking the balance between serving clients and protecting lawyers’ health, and the brilliant mind games played by Othello villain Iago.

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What made you choose a career in law, and what's your favourite part of the job?

I’ve always been a “words guy” rather than a “numbers guy” and law appealed to me because of the focus on language, the nuances and differences you can get with tiny changes in the arrangements of words, and the need to analyse, interpret and understand complex material.

Unsurprisingly, my favourite part of the job is drafting, either contract terms or legal advices. I know. I’m a nerd.

What is going on at the organisation? Are there any new programs and initiatives that you’re particularly interested in?

We are really excited to be building our “front-end” cyber advisory practice. We’ll be providing the whole gamut of  cyber, privacy, data + technology legal risk and legal advisory services. The idea is to help organisations to proactively manage their privacy, data and technology risks and cyber incident readiness so that they can optimise compliance and limit exposure and liability if they’re unlucky enough to suffer a cyber incident or data breach.

What has been your proudest accomplishment in the last year or so?

In May 2023, I spent some time working with an Australian Government initiative partnering with Southeast Asia to drive sustainable, inclusive, and resilient growth through quality infrastructure in assisting a Southeast Asian country with the development of its draft cybersecurity law. The team and I travelled there and spent a week or so sharing knowledge and giving our insights into the Australian landscape and providing comments and input on the draft law. It felt great to be able to make a difference and further the cybersecurity cause for the benefit of another nation.

What should the profession focus more on?

I believe we have a way to go in striking a balance between professionalism, client demands and delivering a quality service, whilst protecting lawyers’ health (physical and mental) and avoiding burnout. I think young lawyers nowadays, in the post-Covid world, are more aware of the risks associated with overwork but we do need to remember that we are not always in control of our destiny, work-wise, and very often clients do have to come first. It’s a really tricky problem to solve and it’s up to every one of us in the industry to figure out what works for us to meet both client and personal needs.

What are the challenges you expect in your practice, and in the business of law in general, going forward? What challenges are particularly pressing in the country’s legal industry?

I think the obvious challenge is AI, and understanding not to fear it but to embrace it. I think every law firm will need to determine how best to use its resources when many simple functions, processes or tasks are likely to be moved from the human to the machine. We need to find ways to harness AI in legal practice to develop a better and more efficient service to clients whilst ensuring that our teams are valuably utilised.

What are you looking forward to the most in the coming year?

In terms of my practice area, it will be extremely interesting to see how the government sets the wheels in motion to achieve the objectives set out in the Australian Cyber Security Strategy 2023-2030 which was released in mid-November 2023. The vision outlined in it is certainly compelling and if there is sufficient will, funding and buy-in, the six ‘shields’ should go a long way to vastly improving cyber security for Australia, benefitting business and boosting the economy.

On a personal note, a ski trip to Japan with my family leaving on Christmas Day!

If you had to defend a fictional antagonist/villain in court, who would you pick, and why?

It would have to be Iago from Shakespeare’s masterpiece, Othello. Sure, his twisted bitterness does lead to rather a lot of bad outcomes, but his plans wouldn’t have worked without the insane jealousy of the play’s hero warrior. The mind games he plays with such success are devilishly clever and whilst his motives aren’t crystal clear, no one likes being passed over for promotion!

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