Lawfest 2021

By Andrew King, Founder of Legal Innovate


In late March, 280 legal professionals from across Aotearoa gathered in person in Auckland for the premier legal innovation and technology event on the New Zealand calendar.


Like so many events globally, LawFest had considerable disruption and challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic to run the event in person. However, in Aotearoa we have been fortunate to be able to bring together again the legal and technology community to celebrate, collaborate, network and learn about legal innovation – and all in person.


The last year has reinforced why we need to innovate and leverage technology – LawFest 21 demonstrated how we can go about this! The event was once again a must for anyone interested in driving efficiency in their organisation.


Key Highlights of LawFest


The one-day event was a great opportunity to hear from leaders and change-makers in the innovation space. The programme provided something for everyone, from those new to technology, to those currently at the forefront of legal innovation. Over 20 amazing speakers, delivered practical insights of what they are doing, together with how they started, as delegates learned from their stories of success and failure and what they did next.


Mary O'Carroll, President of CLOC and Google legal operations guru was the opening keynote and inspired and challenged thinking.


Mary discussed how legal operations are shaping all our futures and explored what's next for the legal industry, challenging us to think about our own roles and ask ourselves “what will I change” and “what will I keep”.


The other fantastic keynote was Gus Balbontin, who provided an energetic and highly entertaining session on adapting.


Gus challenged us to face the future with courage and an open mind, whilst warning us if we don’t deliver to our customers what they want, we risk becoming obsolete.



Grant Pritchard, a senior in-house Lawyer at Spark and President of ILANZ delivered an inspiration and thought-provoking session on the critical topic of mental wellbeing for lawyers. Grant shared his own raw experiences, offering practical ideas and strategies to improve wellbeing for individual lawyers, teams and firms, including the Umbrella model and the role of technology in supporting better mental health.


A Catalyst for Change


Throughout the day we heard how the disruption of COVID-19 was the catalyst for change that many resisted for so long. Those that were reluctant to innovate or invest in technology now appreciate why they need to, together with the value of investing further going forward. Barriers to change quickly disappeared, as many were forced to make changes within weeks that previously may have taken years to implement.


The opening keynote panel featured Emma Priest of Blackstone Chambers, Julian Benefield of Foodstuffs, Hayden Wilson of Dentons Kensington Swan, together with Louise Taylor of Russell McVeagh with their journeys as they (and their organisations) adopted new ways of working and found opportunity amid the chaos of COVID-19. They shared key lessons they learned along the way and discussed whether the pandemic is a critical stepping-stone to the wider transformation of legal services.


The event culminated in a fascinating conversation on what the future holds for the profession and the delivery of legal services with Nick Whitehouse of Onit AI Center of Excellence, Maria Sopoaga of Auckland Council, Jarrod Coburn of Portia, together with Helen Mackay of Juno Legal. They identified what is possible and how we can better adapt in this ever-changing world. Bringing the fast-paced event together superbly was the MC, Erin Ebborn of Portia.