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How to land a tech career in law

Tech law

You may not get a starring role in legal drama Suits, but you can have an awesome career in tech law

Lucille Hughes doesn’t have a computer science degree – in fact she jokes that for a technology lawyer she can find it tricky sorting out her own tech sometimes – but that hasn’t stopped the specialist technology lawyer and in-house counsel at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) from being ace at her job.

Lucille always knew she wanted to go to uni, but it wasn’t until Year 9 that she started to think about studying law. However, Lucille says, the concept of a tech lawyer didn’t really exist the way it does now, so it wasn’t an option.

Fast forward to a move overseas and Lucille accepted a role working in-house for local government, where she was “immediately thrown into the deep end working on IT contracts,” she says.

Lucille Hughes, technology lawyer.

On her return to Australia, all that unexpected legal experience in IT – plus her dual qualifications to practice law in NSW and the UK – helped Lucille score sweet roles in banking; at a big law firm; and now, her current position at UTS.

The rise of digi-law

Tech law has become a key practice area for legal firms, Lucille says. “Technology has really disrupted the legal sector. It has changed the type of work lawyers do and the way lawyers deliver services to their clients.”

“The technology tools and platforms available to lawyers now mean that legal services can be delivered from anywhere to anywhere in real time,” she says.

Legal aid

For example, Melbourne company SettlePro is working on a prototype of online calculators, due for release next year, that will help family lawyers fast-track property settlements. And Sydney-based Smarter Drafter has 96 different automated legal documents for firms and clients to choose from to help businesses with their legal needs in a post-COVID-19 world. These tech-focussed platforms are changing the way lawyers get the job done.

There’s also the Australian Legal Technology Association (ALTA), offering a community vibe for sharing info and collaboration for organisations in the legal space to help fund, understand and use tech, both here and on a global scale.

“APIs (application programming interface) have been major game changers for organisations,” Lucille says. Automating legal proceedings also means courts can make rulings more efficiently. The Federal Court of Australia states that eLodgements make the court more accessible to everyday peeps. For example, it estimates the need for physical hearings in the 2019 Victorian Bushfire Royal Commission were reduced by 25% thanks to the docs being accessed via an electronic platform.

Who’s hiring?

Big data companies, startups, banks, insurance groups, telecoms and the public sector all rely on tech law, says Lucille. They also need a good understanding of their legal obligations in areas such as policy and regulation, so there’s work to be done there, too.

Even though Lucille didn’t set out to be a tech lawyer her advice is, “go for it! The skills are transferable globally and you get to work with some amazing people. Always be curious and interested in what lies around the corner.”

This article originally appears in Careers with STEM: Technology 2021.


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