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Extra motivation: some firms are rewarding staff for coming up with AI-focused solutions © Nicolas Maeterlinck/Belga Mag/AFP/Getty Images

When Gary Adler wanted to reward lawyers for completing an online learning module, he ap­pealed to their natural sense of competition.

Adler, chief digital officer at Minter­Ellison, one of Australia’s largest law firms, thought the creation of an internal digital currency would spur participation. So, Mintcoin was born.

“We wanted to create some gamification through healthy competition driven by who had the most Mintcoin in their digital wallet,” he says. “People in law firms are competitive and ambitious, so adding aspects including leaderboards was going to resonate. It brings a sense of accomplishment and fun.”

Mintcoin uses the Solana digital coin as a base, says Adler, but it is for internal use only and cannot be traded in or shared externally. When employees complete a training module, Mintcoin is deposited into their digital wallet and can be exchanged for charity donations or gift cards.

Adler says the programme attract­ed interest, from junior lawyers to partners, but adds that the biggest challenge was making Mintcoin user-friendly and accessible.

Mehmet Kavlakoglu, a lawyer in the firm’s Adelaide office, is among the top 10 accumulators of Mintcoin. “It seemed that everyone I spoke to was looking at how they could maximise their exposure to Mintcoin and see their holdings increase,” he says. As well as being fun, he appreciated the offer of “tangible rewards”.

MinterEllison’s programme is one of several initiatives that underscore how technologies, such as digital assets and artificial intelligence, are being incorporated at law firms to build engagement and boost skillsets.

Gilbert + Tobin, another top-tier Australian firm, set up a six-week initiative offering a A$20,000 ($13,000) reward for the best generative AI ideas. The firm’s AI Bounty programme was open to all employees, from lawyers to staff in areas such as marketing and operations, who took part in training sessions to identify issues that could be addressed with AI-related solutions. They came up with more than 100 suggestions.

“The submissions were extremely varied,” explains Caryn Sandler, partner and chief knowledge and innovation officer. “Different practice groups have different pain points, from legal research, drafting review, streamlining, billing, practice management, marketing, and business development.”

Gilbert + Tobin initially planned to award just one “bounty” but, eventually, made five main awards plus 50 smaller prizes.

A$20,000Gilbert + Tobin ‘bounty’ for new ideas

Melbourne-based lawyer Joy Kim, in the technology and digital practice group, says her winning submission involved using AI to review privacy policies for compliance with Australia’s Privacy Act, which covers the handling of personal information.

“Of course, there was a level of interest in the A$20,000 prize,” she admits.

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Joy Kim’s winning submission involved using AI to review privacy policies for compliance with Australia’s Privacy Act

But financial rewards are not the only incentive for lawyers to pick up new tech skills. Piero Craney, a mergers and acquisitions lawyer at King & Wood Mallesons in Sydney, completed an in-house AI training module and was awarded a martial arts-style proficiency “belt”.

Craney says he had been using an AI chatbot for about a year, achieving fairly good outcomes but, in the training sessions, he learnt how to “design, build and tweak” his prompts to achieve better results.

Emily Forbes, a senior client relationship manager, says she had never used AI tools before she took the course: “The training was the perfect gateway.”

Michelle Mahoney, KWM’s executive director of innovation, says the AI belt is the sixth and latest in its suite of “legal transformation belts” — a training and certification initiative to improve tech skills. “In 2023, we observed an increase of generative AI legal tech start-ups and large language models”, she notes, as well as growing interest from clients.

At Lander & Rogers, a “legal clinic” was deemed the best way to gain clearer insights into how the firm should make use of AI. The idea was to “explore the technology and how it will affect the industry”, says Genevieve Collins, chief executive partner.

The firm, working with Melbourne’s Monash University, launched its “AI clinical placement programme” with five law students embedded into practice groups as “AI investigators”. They interviewed partners and lawyers in order to identify scenarios in which the technology might improve efficiency and productivity at the firm.

About 40 ideas emerged, from which managers chose 15 to analyse more deeply. These included proposals to use Microsoft Copilot for document summary and management, DraftWise AI for contract drafting, and Lexis Argument Analyser for legal research and analysis.

Shannon Chapman, a Brisbane-based partner, says the programme benefited students and the firm in equal measure: “Being on the front foot of AI in legal education is a critical step in transforming the firm.”

AI-related initiatives provide a sense of broader strategy for law firms, says Sandler at Gilbert + Tobin — such as how to procure and build relevant software. However, as the technology evolves, law firms will also have to raise their training game. G + T, for example, has launched an internal AI hub to support learning and usage. “There’s an ongoing bounty to submit ideas,” says Sandler. “We don’t want it to just stop.”

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