How now, purple cow? What Fintechs can teach the legal profession about being remarkable

Stella Loong
Technology lawyer, Melbourne, Australia


Have you heard of Tesla, LinkedIn, Palantir or YouTube? If so, you’ve heard of a venture founded by one of the so-called ‘PayPal Mafia’.

Have you used Facebook, Uber or Airbnb? If so, you’ve used a venture that received backing from one of the PayPal Mafia.

In fact, it’s not hard to have had some contact with the PayPal Mafia, when they have funded more than 1,000 ventures.[1]

The ‘PayPal Mafia’ is a term originally used to refer to 20 men who made their fortunes when PayPal was bought over by eBay. However, in recent years, the moniker is used to refer to a growing and diverse list of 142 PayPal alumni who have founded companies.[2

one How did this Fintech become a disruptor as well as the breeding ground for so many remarkable ventures? How can the legal profession be like the PayPal Mafia?

In this essay, I argue that the legal profession needs to create purple cows and explain three lessons that Fintechs can teach about how to create them.

What is a 'purple cow'?

Seth Godin, whom Business Week has called the ‘ultimate entrepreneur for the information age’,[3] calls remarkable ventures ‘purple cows’.[4] Godin describes being remarkable as: '[something] worth talking about. Worth noticing. Exceptional. New. Interesting.'[5]

The rise of Fintechs introduced purple cows into the financial services industry and this has changed the industry forever.

Why must the legal profession create purple cows?

‘The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.'[6]

According to Godin, if something is not a purple cow, it is a brown cow – boring and invisible.[7] The legal profession must therefore create purple cows or ‘put a purple cow into everything [we] build'[6] because the alternative is being boring and invisible. The legal profession must be remarkable because we fundamentally exist to uphold the rule of law. Being remarkable so that we remain relevant is not a ‘nice-to-have’; it is our duty.

Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter’s 1940s theory of ‘creative destruction’ describes a continuous process where the existing paradigm is destroyed and replaced with the new. The result is innovation.[9] When creative destruction becomes part of our culture, it means that our profession is in a state of continuous innovation. The objective and result of embedding this in our culture is so that we can help more people more effectively more often. To illustrate, it means that when someone creates software that results in lawyers no longer having to spend thousands of hours doing discovery, these lawyers naturally and purposefully move on to pursue the remarkable elsewhere [emphasis author's own].

The problem is…

Yes, and…

How now purple cow?

When lawyers’ jobs are displaced by purple cows, the firm will no longer be able to generate revenue from these fee earners. It would not be profitable for law firms to employ junior lawyers. Engaging in innovation would be akin to sowing the seeds of our destruction.

If you don’t build it, someone else will and the firm’s profit model will take a hit eventually. Instead, what can the firm do to create and move lawyers into new kinds of billable work for which the firm can charge a premium?


The bell has tolled for the legal profession. The Covid-19 pandemic has imposed further stresses on an already broken profession. As we saw in the 2008 global financial crisis, it is likely there will be fewer law graduate positions for students and less funding for legal aid and the justice system, while lawyers will face lay-offs, salary freezes and pay cuts.

These stresses come on top of a profession that is already battling to stay happy and healthy. Statistics show that the majority of lawyers have suffered from mental health issues.[10] In 2018, the widow of a partner at a top United States law firm wrote an open letter titled 'Big Law Killed My Husband'.[11] Judges too have come out publicly to share their battle with illness caused by overwork.[12] Based on the findings of the IBA’s 2019 report on bullying and sexual harassment, lawyers commonly perpetrate such unacceptable behaviour against each other.[13] And what can one say in response to recent revelations from the High Court of Australia that accounts of sexual harassment by a former Justice towards six female judges’ associates ‘have been believed’?[14]

In this watershed moment, we need remarkable solutions that will help everyone to thrive.

The rise of Fintechs

‘Fintech’ is a catch-all term for technologies that disrupt the way financial services are delivered. The term is also used to refer to companies that build these technologies. At the heart of Fintech is a purpose –to democratise financial services.[15]

PayPal is perhaps the most well-known Fintech. PayPal revolutionised the way payments were made by providing individuals and businesses around the world with an easy and quick means to transact with each other over the internet. Its adoption by eBay has made it synonymous with e-commerce and it is one of the leading providers of digital payments.

Another formidable Fintech is Tencent’s WeChat Pay, which integrates with the WeChat messaging and social media app. In the last quarter of 2019, WeChat Pay facilitated an average of over one billion payments a day between over 800 million users and 50 million merchants.[16It has helped WeChat to so fully integrate with users’ lifestyles that they seldom have a need to leave the platform.

Fintechs came to the forefront in a climate where dissatisfaction with big banks was rising and the market had a greater appetite for disruptors. Their success has fostered a sense of trust and openness towards the use of new technologies in a traditionally conservative industry. Not only have Fintechs paved the way for more innovative solutions to enter and thrive in the marketplace, they are also challenging banks and other players in the industry to innovate quickly or enter into partnerships if they want to remain relevant. The financial services industry has flourished in this new era of Fintech innovation.

What can Fintechs teach the legal profession about creating purple cows?

Adopt a ‘founder’s mentality’

Based on their decade-long research into 8,000 companies, Bain & Company’s Chris Zook and James Allen identified three traits shared by companies that achieved sustained and profitable growth: an insurgent mission, an owner’s mindset and obsession with the frontline. Together, they form the ‘founder’s mentality’. A founder’s mentality is found in Fintechs as most are still founder-led. However, Zook and Allen argue that any leader can inculcate these traits in any organisation.


An insurgent mission is likened to ‘waging war against an industry on behalf of underserved customers’.[17] This quality is evinced by TransferWise, which has changed the status quo for how money is sent internationally by enabling clients to do so at much lower fees than what banks charge. It is also at the core of Sempo, which makes financial services available to refugees and people in remote communities.

Over time, and as more people join the company, organisations tend to forget what their founders originally set out to do. However, organisations can go through ‘renewals’, which bring them back to their founders’ mission.[18] For the legal profession, what would a return to our roots look like?

The problem is…

Yes, and…

How now purple cow?

The legal profession is so diverse and our goals can seem so disparate. How will we attain critical mass and reach a common agreement?

Yet, we can assume that most of us became lawyers to seek justice and uphold the rule of law. If we keep focusing on the details and our own little patch instead of what we are ultimately here for, will this be sustainable?


Xinja, Australia’s first 100 per cent digital bank, which prides itself on being ‘made for people',[19] has published an online product roadmap. This roadmap allows clients to comment and vote on upcoming features that they are excited about. This information can then be used to help its engineers prioritise product development and deployment. Where a project is of a sensitive nature, this is also included in the roadmap under the moniker ‘Secret Sexy Squirrel’.

A legal co-op could harness the use and publication of a ‘product roadmap’ to create a new legal product for the delivery of legal services. Specifically, this interactive roadmap could be used to crowdsource ideas on how the product should be designed and members of the public could also be recruited as beta testers. This process would help the profession (and our allies) gain the critical mass needed for the development and adoption of new and emerging technology that will help society attain justice and uphold the rule of law.

Members of the legal profession could also consider developing and articulating their goals and plans in an interactive roadmap and presenting this to stakeholders for feedback. By strengthening relationships with stakeholders – and perhaps feeding off their energy – the legal profession may experience a reinvigoration of its purpose.


Having an ‘owner’s mindset’ means taking personal responsibility for the company’s decisions, as if you were the owner of the company. Founders crave for employees to have an owner’s mindset and one way to do this is to let them actually become owners. At early-stage Fintechs, it is common for founders to offer employees a chance to own a piece of the pie under employee share schemes. Usually, the option to own shares will vest over a number of years. This means that in order for an employee to buy all the shares they are entitled to, they need to be loyal to the company for a number of years. Similarly, the idea of becoming an equity partner has attracted many lawyers to private practice over the years, so why not start extending the opportunity to lawyers from the moment they qualify?

Entrepreneur Jennifer Prosek has also succeeded in creating an owner’s mindset at CJP Communications by introducing ‘Commission for Life’. For any successful new business meeting an employee sets up, they receive a five per cent commission on the revenue for the life of the business relationship. This programme has helped to create an ‘Army of Entrepreneurs’ whose goals are aligned with the company’s.[20] A similar incentive usually exists for partners of law firms, but could this be rolled out to all employees to foster an owner’s mindset?

The problem is…

Yes, and…

How now purple cow?

A traditional partnership thinks short term without a vision of what it will be in the future.

The younger someone is when they become a partner, the longer their horizon and the greater their incentive to build the firm’s goodwill, including by acting in accordance with the owner’s mindset.


An owner’s mindset can also be generated by creating many ‘mini-founder’ experiences, such as by ‘creating franchises with direct ownership stakes or encouraging employees to create internal startups that might later be spun off.[21] In the law firm context, I would ask the Chief Executive Officer if I could shadow them and subsequently (or concurrently) run a spin-off. I’d gather a team of young lawyers who specialise in different areas of law and I’d create and market an alternative full service legal product which caters for a new niche of clients. I would service them for a competitive fee, and they’d know I could tap on the shoulders of giants if I needed more expertise. This spin-off wouldn’t just give the law firm an opportunity to create something remarkable, it would also help to provide more people with access to justice.

The problem is…

Yes, and…

How now purple ow?

This spin-off requires leadership and the CEO to have an innovative mindset. Unfortunately, not all firms are so well-endowed.

The secret sauce is not in the learned crew but in the combined skillset of the team. At a minimum, I would either recruit a designer, solutions architect, data analyst and a communications expert, or enlist lawyers who have developed or are interested in developing skills that the above-mentioned professionals have. I would argue that these professionals possess skills that lawyers of the future need.


How do we foster unity of purpose in a diverse legal profession? Could we distribute a ‘social benefit dividend’ whenever a member advances our mission? For instance, if all of us reported on the impact we’re having on achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, would this reverberate positively through the profession? If such an idea is too grandiose, perhaps we could each create our own scorecard where we gave ourselves a score against what we would consider ‘essential factors’ in the delivery of legal services? These factors could include customer delight, empathy and service delivery –  in addition to the results we achieve for our clients and other stakeholders. Also, from mini-law firms to legal co-ops and startups, how can we create and fund more ventures so that more people will have ‘mini-founder’ experiences? What will help us remember that, at the end of the day, all members of the legal profession are in the same boat?


Being obsessed with the frontline means elevating the status of those key people who are up close with the client and empowering them to improve the client’s experience. At Xinja, frontline staff are called ‘Customer Advocates’ or ‘Xinjarati’ and the first requirement in their job description is:

‘MUST delight in helping people and making their Xinja experience positively memorable. This means you put customers at the heart of everything you do.[22]

Xinjarati have delighted customers by sending them flowers and other thoughtful surprises. They don’t have a playbook but are guided by their answer to ‘What would Xinja do?'[23]

Kevin Hale, founder of WuFoo and a partner at leading startup accelerator Y Combinator, talks about the extra benefits of frontline obsession. In his lecture on ‘How to Build Products Users Love’, Hale says that making everyone at WuFoo do customer support meant that his team obtained feedback on what wasn’t working and would then fix it.[24] This is in contrast to other companies where founders tend to have other people in the company provide customer support because, in their minds, ‘these other tasks are inferior’ [emphasis author's own].[25]

For the legal profession to develop a frontline obsession, I suggest that lawyers back a protégé by empowering younger lawyers to improve client service and giving them visibility of the various systems used by the organisation to deliver services [emphasis author's own].

In the law firm context, empowering a protégé includes encouraging them to put the client’s interests ahead of meeting internal targets (eg, billables). It may be that having a strong client relationship focus will at least in the short-term result in missed targets, however, in the Fintech world, it is not uncommon for investors to continue investing in multiple capital-raising rounds despite the Fintech’s books being in the red. Investors do so because they are confident of receiving a future return. Furthermore, in the legal profession, this ‘return’ should not be defined so narrowly. In the pursuit of justice, a ‘failure’ from a commercial perspective would pale in comparison to the return society enjoys when justice is served.

Adopting a culture of continuous improvement assumes things will not be right (or perfect) the first time and that perfection is not the end goal. Admittedly, this approach sounds risky and runs counter with how lawyers tend to think. Nevertheless, we can adopt a ‘yes, and’ approach rather than dismiss this idea straightaway. In addition to ‘always be thinking’, lawyers should ‘always be tinkering’!

The problem is…

Yes, and…

How now Purple Cow?

Investors in Fintechs have more resources and a greater risk appetite as compared to conservative lawyers.

We have a chance to make a lasting impact on our world for good if we invest wisely – in the happiness of our young lawyers and clients.

There are returns we can enjoy which money cannot buy but it does necessitate revamping the law firm business model and renewing our mindset.


If young lawyers are given visibility of systems, they can start thinking of how to build standardised processes and products to develop frontline customer service. While sophisticated legal advice will need to be customised for the client, having a consistent set of procedures in place helps to ensure a smooth client experience. Fintechs are obsessed with simplifying the onboarding experience. Complex and heavily regulated ‘know your client’ checks are incorporated in the back end of the form-filling process so that these checks and the customer sign-up process appear to occur seamlessly simply by the customer submitting a form on the website. Similarly, conflict checks and ‘know your client’ questionnaires, which law firms need to conduct, could be performed by a customer service professional (rather than a lawyer) or a chatbot or via an online form (rather than a human).

Think differently about the ‘competition’


Can the legal profession benefit from entering into strategic partnerships with those whom they consider their ‘competitors’? While you might think that Fintechs are at loggerheads with banks, this is not usually the case. In reality, banks invest in Fintechs and provide them with access to infrastructure, which they require to provide services.

Fintechs recognise that there is a large degree of interdependency that is inherent in their ecosystem. Established technological infrastructure such as the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunication network, that underpins cross-border money transfers, and Visa and MasterCard’s payment processing networks are not so easily displaced. The need for speed also makes collaborating more appealing than reinventing the wheel. Furthermore, to offer different financial products, Fintechs may need a range of licences, which may not be easy to obtain. For example, there may be quotas on certain licences or onerous capital requirements they have to meet. This results in Fintechs becoming promoters, agents or authorised representatives of each other and other companies in the financial services industry.

Similarly, what if the legal profession saw itself as being part of an ecosystem that extends to every part of society? What if lawyers didn’t define themselves by what they don’t do (eg, timesheets or advice on tax law) but by what members of the profession do together? Lawyers are sometimes seen as the ‘little red caboose’ that comes in at the end to help a multisector project over the finish line or the people to turn to at the last minute (or as a last resort) when a problem has escalated. However, what if we took it upon ourselves to proactively and responsibly cast strategy for different spheres of society because we see ourselves as equally vested partners with other professions and services? This means transcending from being a service provider that helps someone achieve their agenda to becoming a trusted collaborator in society that operates out of our insurgent mission. 


A useful framework to think about how we can engage with different sectors is the use of application programming interfaces (APIs). APIs are used to connect complex IT systems and enable them to share data with each other. This allows Fintechs to sell their services to customers both within and beyond the financial services industry – and at a long-term lower cost per additional customer. Fintechs also earn revenue by charging fees for use of their APIs.

In-house lawyers could be viewed as an API rather than a competitor of external legal service providers. Already, in-house lawyers act as a conduit and ‘filter’ for external law firms who rely on their on-the-ground knowledge and expertise in spotting and focusing on legal issues. By working together, external and internal counsel can effectively and efficiently deliver tailor-made advice to the businesses who employ in-house lawyers.

In-house lawyers can speak the languages of their industry and the legal profession, and we can help to distribute their impact at scale. If we work in government or advocacy groups, we could harness their insights to develop legal reforms that would not only help protect the stakeholder groups we advocate for (eg, consumers), but which would also help their industry flourish. If we are in private practice, we could engage them and give them a platform to deliver industry-specific training; this would allow them to upskill lawyers and even create a new revenue stream for themselves or their employers. In particular, in-house lawyers and barristers could be a rich source of knowledge for the development of new legal technology products that can help businesses comply with regulations.

A secondee or contract lawyer could be another type of API. An organisation that sends out lawyers to work in different environments could have these lawyers collect data about the type, volume and complexity of problems they see businesses and in-house teams facing. These datasets could then be used to predict trends and to create a new scalable product offering for the marketplace. To get started, data collection and analysis could be as simple as giving each secondee a notebook and asking them to record which colleagues in other practice areas at the law firm they reached out to for assistance during their secondment. The results could provide insights as to the nature of matters and areas of law an in-house team requires further assistance to deal with. The firm’s existing time recording system could also be leveraged; specifically, non-seconded lawyers could post their time to the secondment matter so that data is captured and recorded on their end too (eg, if they had spent time behind the scenes doing research before responding to the secondee’s query).

What APIs could we create to make it easier for specialist lawyers to collaborate with specialists in other fields? Some dentists are concerned about working under the ‘sword of Damocles’ because they are never sure if they have obtained ‘informed consent’ from their patients. Can lawyers help to promote understanding through standardised products and processes in this context? How could the legal profession reduce the risk of individuals being unrepresented in litigation or out-of-court settlements because they would rather avoid or cannot afford hefty legal fees? Should lawyers play a more proactive role in educating the public on how they can seek help from a lawyer to settle their matter? What about a new ‘zoom to conciliation’ product facilitated by technology and rolled out by lawyers who have honed their skills as mediators on top of their dispute resolution experiences and expertise?

Use technology to promote genuine collaboration and law reform


In Fintechs, open-plan offices are the norm and even the CEO rarely has an office. These physical symbols are a contrast to hierarchical law firms and courts where decisions are made behind closed doors. Slack,[26] which is a popular workplace collaboration tool used by Fintechs, helps to break down these physical walls by disseminating information quickly and effectively, thereby increasing transparency. In particular, posting information in a specific channel instantly communicates its context.

Nathan Reynolds, Managing Director of Ceridian ANZ (a global provider of cloud-based human resources software and services), argues that technology enables the rise of teams. He cites research from Deloitte and Accenture that:

‘the team is now the fundamental organisational design principle of a company, replacing traditional hierarchical structures […] and 79% of executives agree that the future of work will be based more on specific projects than roles. HR leaders will play a key role in enabling and improving team collaboration, by redesigning their structures to be built around teams.’[27] [emphasis author's own]

As such, if hierarchical organisations within the legal profession wish to move towards a ‘team’ structure, then technology can help to drive this. Notably, Slack enables Fintechs to quickly onboard new joiners to an organisation or project by giving them visibility of what’s going on across the organisation through a range of topic-specific and project-specific channels – including visibility of all conversations that have taken place in these channels.[28]

The legal profession, particularly big law firms, should embrace these technologies to improve communication and increase transparency within organisations. Firms which seek global expansion can also exploit these technologies to attract and retain talent. In Singapore, foreign law firms and local law firms may do business together under the Qualifying Foreign Law Practice Scheme or by way of a Formal Law Alliance. Unfortunately, anecdotal evidence suggests that locals are reluctant to join international law firms because they fear they will be treated as ‘second-class citizens’. One reason for this is because they are far away from the centre(s) of action where decisions are being made and information is not disseminated quickly or at all. These fears could be allayed if technology can allow employees to be quickly onboarded to the same shared platform so they can access a common suite of resources (such as training opportunities and precedents) and have more visibility of the business (such as by joining different channels on the platform).

A more collaborative approach will also deliver better client outcomes. Already, clients expect lawyers within the same firm to be across their business as they themselves work seamlessly with their colleagues in other countries or departments. Team members could use Slack to share client knowledge and instead of sorting through multiple emails, all relevant information would be captured in that one channel. This makes it more likely for information to be conveyed clearly and quickly.

Slack also allows users to use emojis (and create new ones), which I believe helps people to express themselves more freely and openly since they might use these same emojis on social media. Moreover, as barriers between colleagues are lowered and teams from diverse backgrounds work together more collaboratively, one would also feel closer to the centre(s) of action where decisions are being made, which would in turn help to develop a founder’s mentality.

The problem is…

Yes, and…

How now purple cow?

If the business model rewards each lawyer based on how much time an individual has spent on the project, it is against an individual’s interests to collaborate and share work freely.

Firms continue to use the billable unit to measure lawyers’ performance despite offering more sophisticated pricing arrangements to clients that are not based on this model.


In the judicial context, technology has the power to assist judges to build bridges with litigants. Judges play an important role in helping litigants understand the reasoning behind their sentence, particularly when the outcome is harsher than expected. However, in an increasingly diverse society, judges face new challenges around how best to communicate with litigants and gain insights into their particular contexts. What roles could technology play in the courtroom to help decrease barriers between parties and increase collaboration instead? While much has been written about government agencies using technology to automate decision-making, judges in Australia at least will not be hanging up their robes soon as the Australian Constitution requires judicial decision-making to be by a human. Can technology help to add a human touch to decision-making? How could barristers, who are perhaps the most collegiate group within our profession, help to create friendly ‘APIs’?


The legal profession can kill two birds with one stone by embracing new collaboration technology. First, these tools allow members to get ahead of the curve from an operational perspective. Second, using these tools helps us predict and understand the legal issues that might arise, which puts us in a better position to help drive law reform. For example, reform may be needed to help promote innovation and to protect people who use these technologies.

In the case of Slack, procuring this for your organisation should prompt you to rigorously assess how the application operates and whether you and your organisation would be able to meet your respective obligations at law. For example, you should consider where and for how long Slack stores data and whether or not persons authorised by your organisation to act as administrators of the organisation’s account can access data readily. In particular, Slack does not appear to give administrators automatic access to data shared by users in private conversations and in private channels and a court order may be required to enable employers to gain such access. Slack also allows administrators to choose a setting that would allow messages to be permanently deleted without leaving a note in the channel or in the conversation that the message has been deleted. Could this raise challenges for employees who have been victims of cyberbullying but are unable to provide the necessary conversation logs as evidence? Could the settings in Slack or its design prompt astute and tech-savvy legal eagles to consider whether there ought to be any changes in the law, Slack’s terms of use or Slack itself?

PayPal, our famous Fintech purple cow, is threatening to disrupt Australia’s world-first International Funds Transfer Instruction (IFTI) regime by being a model reporting entity. Following its decision to self-report to the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC), Australia's anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism financing regulator and specialist financial intelligence unit, that it may have failed to report close to 500 million IFTI reports, PayPal found itself the subject of an external audit.[29] It seems that the self-disclosure arose due to a lack of clarity about whether peer-to-peer payments between individuals’ PayPal wallets are subject to IFTI reporting requirements.[30] The practical implications are problematic given the upswell of online transactions since PayPal’s entry into Australia in 2005. Financial crime expert Nathan Lynch predicts it is likely that AUSTRAC will take a pragmatic approach and determine that only some of those potentially under-reported IFTI reports should be filed by PayPal. Lynch explains that the alternative is

‘[AUSTRAC] expand[ing] its IT capacity for a deluge of [retrospective] reports that offer little in the way of actionable intelligence […] such a data dump would blow out the “signal to static” ratio in the financial intelligence unit’s systems.'[31]

As such, one wonders whether this regulatory conundrum could have been avoided if the regime had been refreshed earlier to consider the digital disruption that has occurred in the international payments space and resulting from the rise of e-commerce. Instead of playing catch up, can the robust adoption of technology and our rigorous consideration of its implications help the legal profession to proactively advocate for law reform that helps society thrive? What would re-imagining regulation look like? Could the legal profession help to roll out principles-based frameworks underpinned by legislation rather than legislation that is overly prescriptive and at risk of going out of date quickly?


I would even go so far as to argue that lawyers could work closely with technologists to pre-empt injustices from being committed. Fintechs, like lawyers, are experts at harvesting data and identifying trends and patterns. For Fintechs, applying a set of rules to assess customers and their activities enables them to detect and report on suspicious activities (which is also part of their transaction monitoring obligations under anti-money laundering and counter-terrorism laws). According to Jennie Pakula, Manager of Innovation & Consumer Engagement at the Victorian Legal Services Board and Commissioner in Australia, lawyers are trained to do likewise. Pakula has worked for 26 years in legal regulation and has read over 15,000 complaints about legal services. She argues that the vast majority of legal matters fall into recognisable patterns, despite law school training us to pay more attention to the ‘unusual’ cases instead.[32] Consequently, she contends that:

‘One of the best things that [one] can do as a young lawyer is find an experienced, really good older lawyer, and pick their brains.'[33]

Pakula recommends that young lawyers help these older lawyers ‘deconstruct the elements’ of what they know, and specifically, how they pick out whether a matter is standard or unusual.[34] She explains:

‘One of the biggest skills that lawyers acquire with years of practice […] is what’s called a set of heuristics – that’s rules of thumb and ways of recognising patterns that operate on an intuitive level […] There are actually thousands of older lawyers out there who have incredible insights that are staying in their brains […] they have great insights into what could have happened if the problem had been dealt with earlier and I really do believe that one of the most under-appreciated resources for legal innovation is actually our older lawyers. So the younger lawyers have great ideas about how to do things differently but the actual things that you need to do differently consist of experience and patterns and legal knowledge and that’s what the older lawyers have got locked up in their brains.'[35] [emphasis author's own]

Pakula is speaking in the context of senior lawyers being able to identify elements that are more or less likely to go wrong, and being rich in insights that can be used to improve the delivery of legal services. I would go further to say that lawyers are also able to identify elements in the broader societal context (eg, toxic cultures that could give rise to bullying in the workplace) and can help to fortify law enforcement efforts. Can we harness technology to digitise the older and wiser brains amongst us and use artificial intelligence technologies to identify ‘red flags’ such as non-compliances and high-risk activities?


How can the legal profession create purple cows? From what Fintechs have taught us, it requires adopting a founder’s mentality, working with a broad group of stakeholders and harnessing technology to promote genuine collaboration. A key side benefit of the latter is that it allows us to understand technology better and be proactive about advocating for changes in law and developing new technological solutions that can help society thrive. The legal profession must cultivate a culture of creating the remarkable so that we can advance our mission and help our members flourish [emphasis author's own]. Creating purple cows means taking risks, but the ‘Legal Mafia’ who are so bold to take them will leave a legacy.


The problem is…

Yes, and…

How now purple cow?

I don’t know where to start.

Throughout this essay, I have included tables to prompt you to think about what a purple cow could look like. I invite you to revisit these tables and jot down some ideas. Nevertheless, keep reading for more inspiration…


Some ‘Legal Mafia’ who are creating purple cows both within and beyond the legal profession are Will Mahon-Heap, Anna Lozynski and Amy Nhan:

  • Notwithstanding the many hats he has donned, Will calls himself an ‘ex-lawyer’.[36] He’s a founder of Equitise, the first equity crowdfunding platform in Australia and New Zealand, and is now taking the United Kingdom’s most valuable Fintech startup global;[37]
  • Anna is on a ‘mission to inspire others to “do law” differently’.[38] She speaks and publishes prolifically (from eBooks to a Spotify playlist) to raise the profession’s IQ2.0 (Innovation Intelligence). As General Counsel of L'Oréal (Australia and New Zealand), she walks the talk by implementing legal technology solutions in L'Oréal; and
  • Amy is an employment lawyer who side-hustles every non-billable minute she gets. Her endeavours include Live Life Well: The Podcast, which ‘empowers millennials to thrive and not just survive so that they can live a life full of purpose, joy and delight’.[39]

And there is me, who wishes for our profession to be happier and healthier (especially for young lawyers and law students), and who took over 6,000 words (not including footnotes) just to say something that could have been said in four: will you join us?

Early in this essay I asked, ‘what does a return to our roots look like?’ For me, it means responding to this call to:

‘Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves,

for the rights of all who are destitute.

Speak up and judge fairly;

defend the rights of the poor and needy.’[40]

Until such time as laws are written on our hearts and minds, society will require lawyers to help us all get along. In this case, we may as well seek to be remarkable [emphasis author's own].



  • Australian & New Zealand Meritas Wellness Survey 2019 (Report, July 2019)
  • Boshoff, Nelius, ‘Intuition as an expression of procedural knowledge and its association with sense-impressions: Illustrations from winemaking practice’ [2015], 11(2) Journal of Research Practice, Article M4
  • Dickens, Charles, Hard Times (Bradbury and Evans, 1854)
  • Godin, Seth, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable (Portfolio, 2009)
  • Prosek, Jennifer, Army of Entrepreneurs: Create an Engaged and Empowered Workforce for Exceptional Business Growth (HarperCollins Publishers, 2011)
  • Schumpeter, Joseph Alois, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 2008)
  • Shakespeare, William, Henry VI Part II, printed in 1600 for Andrew Wise and William Aspley
  • The Holy Bible, New International Version (Biblica, Inc., 2011)
  • Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession (Report, May 2019)




[1]Andrew Granato and Scy Yoon, ‘A look at the PayPal Mafia’s continued impact on Silicon Valley’, 13 January 2019 https://venturebeat.com/2019/01/13/a-look-at-the-paypal-mafias-continued-impact-on-silicon-valley/

[2]Crunchbase, ‘PayPal Mafia who have started companies’ www.crunchbase.com/lists/paypal-mafia-who-have-started-companies/476d9107-9aa1-4d76-94f3-28cb98045d70/people.

[3]TED speakers, Seth Godin www.ted.com/speakers/seth_godin, quoting Mary Kuntz in Business Week.

[4]Seth Godin, Purple Cow: Transform Your Business By Being Remarkable (Portfolio 2009) 13. Although Godin speaks of this concept in the post dot com era, the distinction between purple cows and ordinary quadrupeds entered our imagination much earlier. In Hard Times, first published in 1854, Charles Dickens introduces the reader to two ‘celebrity cows’ in his critique of how the lead character’s obsession with facts (at the expense of wonder and fancy) has ruined his children’s lives:

‘No little Gradgrind had ever associated a cow in a field with that famous cow with the crumpled horn who tossed the dog who worried the cat who killed the rat who ate the malt, or with that yet more famous cow who swallowed Tom Thumb: it had never heard of those celebrities, and had only been introduced to a cow as a graminivorous ruminating quadruped with several stomachs’.

Charles Dickens, Hard Times, (Enhanced Media Publishing 2017) 11.


[6]William Shakespeare, Henry VI Part II, Act IV, Scene 2, printed in 1600 for Andrew Wise and William Aspley.

[7]Or as Dickens (see n 4 above) puts it, a ‘graminivorous ruminating quadruped with several stomachs.’

[8]See n 4 above, Godin, at 14.

[9]Joseph Alois Schumpeter, Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy (Harper Perennial Modern Thought 2008) ch 7.

[10]See, eg, ‘Australian & New Zealand Meritas Wellness Survey 2019’ (Report, July 2019) 5 www.swaab.com.au/assets/download/Meritas-Wellness-Survey-Report.pdf. Meritas is an alliance of 183 top-ranking law firms spanning 92 countries. In its survey of 200 respondents from its Australian and New Zealand members (each firm consisted of less than 100 employees), 63 per cent said they had experienced depression or knew someone close to them in the workplace who had. 85 per cent of respondents also said they had experienced anxiety or knew someone close to them in the workplace who had. The respondents included lawyers as well as non-legal professionals. It is important to note that the majority of respondents felt their mental health and wellbeing is important to their firm and that there is an open door policy that enables them to seek help.

[11]Joanna Litt, ‘Big Law Killed My Husband': An Open Letter From a Sidley Partner's Widow’ (12 November 2008) www.law.com/americanlawyer/2018/11/12/big-law-killed-my-husband-an-open-letter-from-a-sidley-partners-widow.

[12]See, eg, Magistrate David Heilpern, ‘Lifting the Judicial Veil – Vicarious Trauma, PTSD and the Judiciary: a personal story’ (25 October 2017) www.judicialcollege.vic.edu.au/sites/default/files/2019-07/Helipern%20%282017%29%20TJMF%20Lecture%20-%20Lifting%20the%20Judicial%20Veil.pdf.

[13]IBA Legal Policy and Research Unit, ‘Us Too? Bullying and Sexual Harassment in the Legal Profession’ (IBA 2019). The report found that of almost 7,000 individuals from 135 countries across law firms, in-house, barristers’ chambers, government and the judiciary: ‘Approximately one in two female respondents and one in three male respondents had been bullied in connection with their employment. One in three female respondents had been sexually harassed in a workplace context, as had one in 14 male respondents.’

[14]High Court of Australia, ‘Statement by the Hon Susan Kiefel AC, Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia’ (Media Release, 22 June 2020).

[15]‘Fueled by a fundamental belief that having access to financial services creates opportunity, PayPal (NASDAQ: PYPL) is committed to democratizing financial services and empowering people and businesses to join and thrive in the global economy.’ (emphasis added) PayPal, ‘Who We Are’ www.paypal.com/au/webapps/mpp/about. PayPal’s description of itself resonates with the mission statements of other Fintechs.

[16]Tencent, ‘Tencent Announces 2019 Fourth Quarter and Annual Results’ (18 March 2020) 5 https://cdc-tencent-com-1258344706.image.myqcloud.com/uploads/2020/03/18/7fceaf3d1b264debc61342fc1a27dd18.pdf. In its recent announcement of its first quarter results, Tencent did not state what the daily average of payments were but noted that they had recovered to late-2019 levels for the last week of April. See Tencent, ‘Tencent Announces 2020 First Quarter Results’ (13 May 2020) 4 https://cdc-tencent-com-1258344706.image.myqcloud.com/uploads/2020/05/13/4fd0bbf73926176c433cc60314d492ff.pdf. 

[17]Bain & Company, ‘The Founder’s Mentality Defined’ www.bain.com/founders-mentality/about.

[18]Wharton, ‘“The Founder’s Mentality”: Leveraging Startup Thinking for Long-term Growth’,(Knowledge@Wharton Show,21 July 2016) https://knowledge.wharton.upenn.edu/article/160609b_kwradio_zook.

[19]Xinja Bank, https://xinja.com.au.

[20]Jennifer Prosek, Army of Entrepreneurs: Create an Engaged and Empowered Workforce for Exceptional Business Growth (HarperCollins Publishers 2011).

[21]Chris Zook and James Allen, ‘Reigniting Growth’, Harvard Business Review (March 2016) https://hbr.org/2016/03/reigniting-growth.

[22]Xinja, Customer Advocate Job Description https://xinja.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Xinja-Customer-Care-Team-Job-Description.pdf.

[23]‘EVOLVE with Camilla Cooke | S1 E5’, Evolve (Spinley Media, 23 April 2020) at 28:15–28:20 www.youtube.com/watch?v=gV8U432Mzpo.

[24]‘How to Build Products Users Love with Kevin Hale (How to Start a Startup 2014: Lecture 7)’ (Y Combinator, 25 March 2017) at 17:00–18:20 www.youtube.com/watch?v=12D8zEdOPYo.

[25]Ibid, 16:38-16:45.

[26]Slack's backronym is ‘Searchable Log of All Conversation and Knowledge’. It was developed by a gaming company whose expertise in gaming helped them to create a collaboration platform that is fun and engaging.

[27]Nathan Reynolds, ‘Five tech-driven trends transforming the Australian workforce’ (Ceridian, 31 October 2019) www.ceridian.com/au/blog/tech-driven-trends-transforming-australian-workforce(emphasis added); Josh Bersin, Tiffany McDowell, Amir Rahnema, Yves Van Durme, ‘The organization of the future: Arriving now, 2017 Global Human Capital Trends’(Deloitte Insights, 28 February 2017) www2.deloitte.com/us/en/insights/focus/human-capital-trends/2017/organization-of-the-future.html; Mary Lyons, Michael Biltz and Nicholas Whittall, ‘Shaping the agile workforce’ www.accenture.com/_acnmedia/PDF-60/Accenture-Strategy-Shaping-Agile-Workforce-POV.pdf#zoom=50. In the quote, Reynolds has added a hyperlink for the word ‘team’, which directs the reader to Arnav Singh, ‘How a team-based model can help build the organisation of the future’ (Ceridian, 16 July 2019) www.ceridian.com/uk/blog/how-a-team-based-model-can-help-build-the-organization-of-the-future.

[28]This result is illustrated in an anecdote in a New York Times op-ed by John Hermann:

There was the guy who told of an ambitious new employee at his firm who spent his first weeks scouring thousands of Slack logs dating back years before his arrival. 'He has an encyclopedic knowledge of why certain decisions were made and every personnel thing that ever happened,' the employee said. 'Every little interpersonal tiff. Every interview we ever conducted!'

[29]Nathan Lynch, ‘Inside AML: PayPal’s regulatory woes highlight complexity of IFTI reporting, Thomson Reuters Regulatory Intelligence’(LinkedIn, May 2020) 1 www.linkedin.com/posts/nathlynch_regulatory-intelligence-inside-aml-paypal-activity-6658237860690440192-ecOn.

[30]Ibid at 3.


[32]'On Speaker with Jennie Pakula: What 15,000 complaints taught me about innovation in legal services’ (The Legal Forecast, 4 August 2020) at 12:02–12:52 https://youtu.be/RJwUJL_A96A.

[33]Ibid at 14:09-14:16.

[34]Ibid at 14:17-14:26.

[35]Ibid at 12:54-14:07. See also Nelius Boshoff, ‘Intuition as an expression of procedural knowledge and its association with sense-impressions: Illustrations from winemaking practice’ (2015) Journal of Research Practice 11(2) M4.

[36]@WillMHNZ (WillMHNZ), (Twitter) https://twitter.com/willmhnz?lang=en.

[37]Kalyeena Makortoff, ‘Digital bank Revolut becomes UK’s most valuable fintech startup’ (The Guardian, 25 February 2020) www.theguardian.com/business/2020/feb/25/digital-bank-revolut-becomes-uk-most-valuable-fintech-startup-cash-injection-airbnb-spotify.

[38]Anna Lozynski, ‘Legally Innovative’ https://annalozynski.com.

[39]SheMentors, ‘From Lawyer To Side-Hustler: Amy Nhan’s Tips For Getting There’ (13 March 2020) https://shementors.com.au/blogs/news/from-lawyer-to-side-hustler-amy-nhan-s-tips-for-getting-there.

[40]The Holy Bible, New International Version (Biblica, Inc 2011), Proverbs 31:8–9.