Sitting down to lunch with David Bushby, legal entrepreneur and Managing Director at InCounsel, offers a glimpse into the burgeoning world of law done differently.
David Bushby has always been one step ahead of the pack. He was doing podcasts before they were a “thing”, understood the power of content marketing before content was “king”, and had launched legal tech start-ups before the phrase du jour had hit the general vernacular.
A Big Law defector, Bushby recognised the huge potential in alternative, agile legal services at a time when the Australian legal market was only just waking up to the scent of imminent technological change.
It’s refreshing, then, to see an entrepreneur of Bushby’s ilk order a plate of good ol’ fish and chips at one of his local favourites, Tilly May’s. The Surry Hills-based Managing Director of InCounsel – a digital marketplace for lawyers – often wanders into the trendy rooftop bar which has recently opened just around the corner from the house he shares with his wife and two young sons. It’s all part of the enviable lifestyle he has constructed around flexible work and an ability to call the shots.
“I usually work from a co-working space just around the corner,” says Bushby. “I spend the first hour of work in a café or at the beach. So, yeah, being on my own has been amazing.”
Bushby’s InCounsel venture, launched in late 2016, has seen him return to a more solitary career; similar to the one he launched in 2008 with Board Room Radio, a legal content platform on which he produced more than a thousand podcasts and videos for law firms and corporates.
After a couple of years building and heading up operations at the UK’s first online marketplace for legal services, Lexoo, Bushby returned to Sydney in 2016, ready to shed the extra responsibility that came with managing a large team and looking to regain that small start-up freedom.
He’s now fully embedded in a growing community of legal innovators within the Australian market.
“I have been in my own little legal bubble for a while now,” he says. “The people I meet with and associate with are really forward-thinking. It’s quite hard for me to step back and ask what the majority of the profession is like these days, because I am constantly meeting with and getting excited about lawyers – or former lawyers – doing really cool things.”
Bushby started his legal career at King and Wood Mallesons in 2003 and later spent two years as a legal manager at Macquarie Bank. He is well aware of the impact traditional law firm thinking can have on the entrepreneurial spirit.
“If you go back to law school, and even the early days of being a lawyer, there is so much creativity to be found. Some of the most talented comedians and performers are lawyers. I don’t think it’s necessarily in our nature, but sometimes getting into big corporate law can bash out that creativity,” he says.
It’s this view that has led to a gradual evolution of the advice he dishes out to law students who inevitably come knocking for guidance on how to pursue a career in the legal technology start-up space.
“Graduates ask me what they should do out of university. I used to say they should get a few years’ experience in the big firms, but I don’t say that anymore,” he says.
If you go back to law school, and even the early days of being a lawyer, there is so much creativity to be found. Some of the most talented comedians and performers are lawyers. I don’t think it’s necessarily in our nature, but I think that sometimes getting into big corporate law can bash out that creativity.
Managing Director, InCounsel
“Imagine if you poured the same amount of time and energy – if you pulled the all-nighters and did the same amount of networking – for your own start-up. Imagine what you could get done? And you wouldn’t end up in a situation where your creativity was crushed. Have you ever seen a law graduate straight out of university set up their own law firm? I would love to see that.”
While Bushby’s expertise and focus lays in the emerging technology space, his method for growing his business – much like his choice of lunch – is remarkably old fashioned.
“There are a lot of coffees. A lot of boots on the ground,” he says. “Setting up Lexoo and then InCounsel in Australia, I thought, well, I am self-funding this and I don’t have the money for [advertising] … but what I do have are a few contacts on the ground here. I can do coffee and I can build relationships one by one. So from the get go that has been the main approach.
“I’ve also got a newsletter that’s targeted towards general counsel. It’s a curated newsletter that tends to do pretty well and keeps me in front of clients and potential clients, and I do presentations around innovative technologies for in-house teams. I present emerging technology, and that is fed by Law Hackers, which is a newsletter I have been running since 2014.”
Bushby has always recognised the power of content as a marketing tool, and it is a strategy that has stayed true for him over the years.
“I have stuck with what I know and love. There are so many marketing channels out there I could try, but content is familiar; it’s what I like doing. Newsletter day is not something I dread – it’s something I quite like. I get up early and I enjoy putting it together. It just fits with my strengths.”
While family commitments mean Bushby intends to take a softly-softly approach to business this year, he plans to ramp things up in 2020 in a market which, while growing, he sees as falling behind the rest of the world.
“Legal innovation in Australia has really only just started,” he says.
“It has grown a lot in the last 18 months or so … but I just think we’re in the very early stages. It feels like there is a lot happening, but we have a long way to go before [innovation] penetrates the profession more broadly.”
Part of the stunted progress, he says, is the time it is taking for entrenched approaches to billing to exit the market.
“Nearly all of us have grown up billing time, and that’s a barrier,” he says.
“If you’re looking at technology that makes things faster, if you are billing time you are mathematically worse off. So there will come a tipping point where time will no longer be the dominant metric by which we sell ourselves.
“Quite literally, though, founders of start-ups get feedback from law firms where they say, well, this [technology] is going to reduce the time I can charge on this particular matter, so I’m not going to use it. I hear this story over and over, and I have no doubt it happens.
“So in that sense, no, the client is not being served properly, because they could be getting a service that is just as good, and faster and cheaper.
“It raises an ethical issue about access to justice.”