PwC Legal partner brings technological know-how to MLS in new JD subject

Digital and Technology Law Partner at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) Cameron Whittfield has spent over twenty years working at the intersection of law and technology. This year, he is co-teaching a new subject at MLS: New Technology Law.

Cameron Whittfield

PwC partner Cameron Whittfield’s first job after leaving university was with a mobile phone company, at a time when mobile telephony was taking off.

“In many respects, the telecommunications industry was as close as you could get to cutting edge technology in the early to mid-90s. It was an incredibly exciting time. Mobile phone use was on a phenomenal growth curve,” Whittfield says.

Over the last 20 years, Whittfield has worked at the ever-changing intersection of law and technology: from advising on the liberalisation of telecommunications markets across Europe and Africa to working as a corporate technology partner through the boom. After five years in Europe and the US, he returned to Australia working for Freehills before setting up the Melbourne office of Gilbert + Tobin in 2009.

Today, he is a partner at PwC, heading its Australasian and South-East Asian technology and digital law practice – a practice group he set up in 2016 and now manages.

“Technology has always been in my DNA and core to my practice. Now, I have the opportunity to create, grow and lead a team at a time when my legal expertise and passion is at the core of business transformation,” he says.

Reflecting on the current legal market, Whittfield is adamant that technology is changing nearly all forms of legal practice.

“If a legal process can be distilled to a decision tree, then automation is inevitable,” he says.

“If the legal process requires cognitive thinking, then this too is under increasing pressure with various artificial intelligence and machine learning tools.”

While many commentators see technological innovation as affecting only entry-level legal jobs, Whittfield believes that all aspects of the profession will affected by technology.

“At the moment, technology is creating incremental efficiencies, largely impacting on the repeatable, commodity end of the market,” he says.

“But, as those familiar with theories of innovation would know, it is very likely that technology solutions will enable new businesses to move further up the value chain, impacting on areas some would have thought were beyond its capability.

“This is not a bad thing. While work type and business models will no doubt change, the increased productivity and demand will make for many new and interesting opportunities.”

Given the increasing relevance of technology to legal practice, Whittfield has teamed up with MLS Associate Professor Jeannie Paterson (Associate Director (JD)) to design a JD subject being offered for the first time in 2017: New Technology Law.

The course for New Technology Law touches on a variety of topics from technology infrastructure, technology sourcing, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, blockchain and cyber resiliency. It will also examine the way technology enables the creation of new business models and impacts on the legal profession.

“The course aims to provide students with a taste of key technology disruptive influences relevant to law, through a series of lectures and presentations from Australia's leading experts and legal practitioners,” he says.

Whittfield believes that it is incumbent upon higher education institutions to offer subjects like New Technology Law given the reality of today’s commercial environment.

“We are going through a generational change where data flows are unprecedented and digital natives are now well and truly within our higher education system,” he says.

“The challenge for us is to ensure our graduates enter the job market with the skill set to understand disruptive influences, and how these influences apply to the law, the legal profession and business more generally.

“Our graduates must remain relevant, combining excellent legal skills with a clear understanding of the opportunities that flow from this technology and data revolution.”

By Blake Connell

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