A new UQ Law School initiative, Coffee Conversations, provides an informal opportunity for students to connect with an array of legal professionals who have had interesting lives and careers.
At our first event in March, we invited UQ alumnus and founder of Hyra iQ, Alastair Blenkin, to share his career story so far.
Study law. Get law degree. Work as a lawyer in a law firm. Right? Not necessarily.
New ideas and technologies are opening up new ways of practising law. Embracing digital disruption in the legal professional has been a key driver for Alastair Blenkin, the founder of Hyra iQ, a tech startup and digital platform that automates high volume contract negotiation using artificial intelligence.
Although this was a valuable learning opportunity and crucial step into the legal profession, Blenkin quickly realised that practising as a lawyer was not for him.
“Whilst I enjoyed the fast pace and commercial nature of real estate compared to the litigation teams, I knew this was my first foray into business for something bigger to come, and certainly outside the law,” Blenkin said.
Part of Blenkin’s day-to-day work was managing large volumes of leases for institutional landlords and overseeing the contract negotiations that ensued – a long and drawn-out process that opened his eyes to a major flaw – and opportunity – in the system.
“Contract negotiations are complex, big-ticket transactions so people often involve lawyers on both sides of the deal which creates a long, protracted and painful process.
“It only takes two days to draft up a lease —but with all of the back and forth it often takes another three months before it is signed. That time lag is a big problem.”
After a quick Google search to identify tools to accelerate the negotiation process, Blenkin discovered that the options were limited, and what was available wasn’t suitable for the big law firms and ASX-listed clients he was dealing with.
Recognising this as a unique opportunity to fill a gap in the market, Blenkin applied to participate in UQ’s ilab Germinate program, which has incubated hundreds of businesses including Redback Technologies and Microba.
He was offered a spot in their pre-accelerator boot camp program to begin working on what was to become Hyra iQ, an artificial intelligence-powered platform that helps landlords, tenants and lawyers quickly and easily negotiate retail and commercial leases.
Not having any background or skills in tech wasn’t a hindrance for Blenkin, but a blessing in disguise, because he didn’t spend three years building the software behind closed doors in his garage, he said.
Instead, he went out to market to first identify the problem and validate the idea, and signed up major customers to guarantee use before building the solution.
“There are always better ways of working if you put your mind and energies to it. Understanding and embracing technology is an absolute must for any young lawyer in the modern world."
Blenkin believes that it is vital that students understand the different pathways available to them after studying, and are well-prepared to own the unknown.
“Knowledge and theory is important, but there is a lot more out there.
"In the future, law will change in the way it’s practiced, so being aware of that – and being ready and willing to transform with it – will be essential for all law graduates."
Harnessing the learning power of conversations
Coffee Conversations is a new UQ Law School initiative providing students with the opportunity to meet with a wide range of industry professionals working in law and related fields.
The initiative is focused on sharing diverse stories that appeal to a broad range of students, boasting a program of leaders and innovators hailing from every corner of the profession; from top law firms to tech start-ups.
Legal education specialist Jacqui Lynagh, said that the monthly conversations showcase the ways you can create your unique pathway by combining law with other skills and disciplines, and how all kinds of people from a range of backgrounds can succeed and do wonderful things with a law degree.
"Coffee Conversations cohesively brings together the student experience, employability, entrepreneurship, the notion of professional service, and wellbeing."
It also provides the perfect environment for students to practice their conversational and relationship building skills.
“Regardless of what students do beyond university, good conversational skills are critical to learning, collaborating, generating opportunities, and social fluency,” Lynagh said.
Semester 1, 2019 Coffee Conversations guest speakers included:
- Alistair Blenkin, Founder and CEO of Hyra iQ
- Patrick O’Brien, planning and environment lawyer at McCullough Robertson
- The Hon Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG, former Justice of the High Court of Australia
- Andrea Perry Petersen, lawyer, clinical legal educator, legal tech adviser, social justice advocate and Churchill Fellow