After seven years working as a lawyer in Sydney and Tokyo, Nick Abrahams followed what he calls a “deep personality flaw” and set out to achieve his childhood dream of becoming a Hollywood executive.
Using his credentials as a comedian on Japanese TV (a side-hustle to his day-job as a lawyer), he secured a place at one of the world’s best film schools, at the University of Southern California. After film school, he became a Creative Executive at Warner Brothers, working on with actors and writers on TV shows like ER and The West Wing.
During this time, he produced a short film featuring Woody Allen and Willie Nelson, Searching for Alison Porchnik. He returned to Sydney in 2002 to focus on becoming a technology lawyer.
“When [my son] Oscar was born, something clicked in me. I no longer wanted the Hollywood life but rather I wanted to bring up our family in Sydney,” he says.
“So I went back to the law with a real focus on what I wanted to do. People often say to me, how could you give up such an exciting career to then be a lawyer. I happily tell them it is a matter of understanding what makes you content and I like being a lawyer. I would take my worst day as a lawyer over my best day at Warner Brothers.”
Abrahams has since become one of Australia’s foremost technology lawyers and thrives at the intersection of law and technology. He has been at Norton Rose Fulbright for 22 years and during that time has held a number of global technology and innovation roles. Currently he is the co-leader of the firm’s digital transformation practice.
In his role as the Global Head of Technology and Innovation he co-created the world’s first AI-enabled privacy chatbot, Parker, which was then rolled out across six countries.
Addressing burnout in the profession
Abrahams is particularly concerned about the high incidence of lawyers not liking their careers or feeling overworked or burned out. As a part-time Adjunct Professor at Bond University, he has been studying high performance and career satisfaction in the legal profession. In 2023 he created an online short course for Bond, The Breakthrough Lawyer Program.
“The program is designed to make people better legal leaders and innovators in their organisation. It is one of the most rewarding things I have ever done. We limited the course to thirty lawyers and the feedback has been fantastic,” he says.
“The program is a self-paced, eight-week online course which is a combination of career coaching and legal innovation. It works for both in-house and private practice lawyers at any stage of their careers.
“We had lawyers from one year to 25 years qualified. In the coaching part, each student comes away with an understanding of how to build their unique legal brand. The innovation side is where the students learn a successful methodology for innovating and come out of the program with a low-cost, hi-impact innovation project they can immediately use in their organisation.”
Michelle Graham, Director of Legal at Transport for NSW, describes her innovation project, developed as part of the program, as simple but effective. It was a way of prioritising workflow for her team who felt over-worked.
The solution has been incredibly effective at bringing the workflow back into the manageable zone, and, an unexpected benefit, the team’s morale has improved significantly. Michelle says “The course really unpacked Minimum Viable Product innovation methodology and presented it in a way that was meaningful and could be applied to my day-to-day role. It was incredibly valuable.”
The program covers how lawyers can effectively use generative AI applications like ChatGPT and Microsoft’s new Copilot.
According to Abrahams “It is not all the ‘world according to Nick’. Far from it. Included in the course are exclusive interviews with more than 40 legal and business leaders from around the world. Our expert panel includes the Global General Counsels of Apple, Oracle, Paypal, Zurich Insurance, Mars Wrigley and the US SEC plus a host of Australian General Counsels.”
“In addition to the lawyers the students hear from business leaders who talk about what they look for in good lawyers. This includes people like the billionaire co-founder of Atlassian, Mike Cannon-Brookes as well as David Gonski and David Thodey.
Nathaniel Rowe, a Senior Lawyer at DLA Piper said “the program is like a high impact mini-MBA, tailor-made for lawyers.”
Abrahams is no stranger to legal innovation, having co-founded the online legal business, Lawpath.
“When I started Lawpath, I said our aim was to help a million small businesses with their legal needs. People laughed at me. After ten years we are halfway to that mark and aim to reach the million milestone in the next couple of years. Similarly with the Breakthrough Lawyer Program, the aim is to help the one million lawyers around the world.”
Bond University propose to release the Program in the US, the UK, Canada and New Zealand later this year.
Nick Abrahams will be presenting a session as part of a half-day online course ‘New technology essentials for lawyers: Mandatory rule 6.1’. The course is being offered on two dates: 30 January 2024 and 6 March 2024