The Golden Ticket to #JDHorizons

By | April 6, 2018

JD Horizons Golden TicketThis morning a chocolate bar arrived in the post addressed to me at the Inksterplex from Janders Dean.

Inside the wrapper was a Golden Ticket to attend #JDHorizons in London on 17 May 2018.

Acceptance required a tweet in a certain format. I obliged:-

I am privileged to be one of the 150 select VIP guests attending an event that Janders Dean promise will be different “from the ‘same-old-same-old’ static and stale conferences that have plagued the industry in the past, and from the hype events that measure success on the number of delegates, rather than the right delegates“.

I have recently been critical of conferences/events that hype AI and blockchain. Somehow I don’t think that will be the case with #JDHorizons and no slaps will be required.

I am excited to have been invited and intrigued to see how different this conference will be from the norm.

I currently feel like Charlie Bucket and hope I don’t end up an Augustus Gloop!

I will, of course, update you after I have visited the Janders Dean ‘chocolate factory’.

Loo Law April Fool

By | April 4, 2018

Carry on at Your Convenience - Loo Law April FoolOn Sunday (1 April 2018) the first April Fool joke to appear on The Time Blawg was published – Flushed for Success: Loo Law Launches.

Thanks to those who responded on social media with comments in similar ‘carry on’ toilet humour style! The original blog post has been updated to include those.

Although an April Fool joke, the blog post on ‘Loo Law’ was intended as a parable about the opportunities/dangers of legal technology start ups.

There are some serious points to be gleaned from the entrepreneurial idea by Sidney James to provide legal services in the loo:-

  • Do your research thoroughly.
  • What are the real needs of your customers/clients?
  • Don’t be scared to try something new or to fail.
  • It doesn’t have to be AI or blockchain.
  • Think beyond the initial product/offering – what could come next?
  • Who is going to provide the legal advice? Is a qualified solicitor necessary and how do you engage them and how/how much do they get paid?
  • What are you charging and how are you collecting payment?
  • Ensure you are GDPR compliant.
  • Try Design Thinking.
  • When selecting a business name ensure there is no conflicting existing use of it and that domain and social media names are available.
  • Don’t delay acquisition of those domain and social media names.

What other points (not covered in my interview with Sidney James) would you add to that if advising a new legal technology start up?

 Carry on at Your Convenience - Loo Law April Fool

Legal Tech entrepreneur Sidney James – exposed!

Image Credit: Carry on at Your Convenience (The Rank Organisation)

Flushed for Success: Loo Law Launches

By | April 1, 2018

Loo Law LaunchesWhen tech entrepreneur Sidney James approached me to write an exclusive about the launch of his new and first legal tech initiative, ‘Loo Law’, I was a bit sceptical. At first it sounded quite bizarre but the more I heard about it the more interesting it became. Was this real legal innovation at play?

Sidney’s research shows that 83% of the population are bored when sitting on the loo and would rather do something else at the same time. Often people take a book or newspaper with them to the WC. In recent times their smart phone accompanies them.

James thinks this is an excellent opportunity to meet people’s legal needs. He told me:-

Where Lawyers2You and QualitySolicitors got it wrong with kiosks in shopping centres and WH Smith shops, respectively, was that their prospective customers were busy. They were out shopping for a purpose or in a hurry to quickly buy something before catching a train.

However a prospective customer doing their daily ablutions is a captive customer. They are likely to be more engaged with a lawyer when sitting on the loo than they ever will be in a busy shopping precinct. It is also a much more private and confidential place to discuss legal business.

So how does it work I asked James? I assumed a lawyer would not be present in the loo with the client but that technology would bridge the gap of the ‘engaged’ sign! I was correct as James enlightened me on the Tech to be deployed:-

We will use proven technology to deliver legal services to the loo.

What we will provide is an App for their smart phone to enable them to seamlessly connect with one of our loo lawyers.

No shiny new/hyped AI or blockchain involved or necessary. There may be a toilet chain in the loo but that is for the customers use at the end of the consultation for obvious reasons. We have, however, also included a ‘flush’ icon on the App for the customer to end the consultation.

They can ask legal questions and receive advice via the App by text, voice or video. Although James admitted that video might not be a popular choice in the loo compared to the others. Although special technology within the App will block out background noise, within reason, for the delicate ears of the loo lawyers.

James sees the concept expanding to in-cubical headsets in public WCs, branded ‘Loo Law’ toilet rolls with frequently asked legal questions emblazoned on them and branded toilet brushes. He even talked, beyond that, of the possibility of branded anti-diarrhoea tablets, laxatives and toilet cleaning products.

It was refreshing to see a new legal start up avoiding the unnecessary path of AI and blockchain and thinking first and foremost about customer needs and availability. James has seen a gap in the market and has sat down on it.

Craig Holt and Saleem Arif will be panning themselves that they didn’t latch onto an opportunity like this in the hay days of QualitySolicitors.

But who are the loo lawyers? James explained:-

We have no loo lawyers at the moment but you could be the Number One.

I began to wonder who would have the loo lawyer title of Number Two!

But how can James deliver this service with no lawyers? He further explained:-

At launch of the service today we are looking for lawyers to sign up to provide the service. Once we have sufficient lawyers we will then launch to the public.

No point putting the horse before the cart.

So today’s launch is purely for lawyers.

How will the lawyers get paid, I asked James? He confirmed:-

There will be a minimum payment of 30p to each lawyer for just connecting with someone on the loo. We realise that the customer may disconnect quickly for a variety of reasons but the lawyer will always be guaranteed 30p however short the engagement.

Beyond that the hourly rate will apply but in one second increments as I can’t see fixed fees working fairly for someone going to the toilet. Some will obviously be finished quicker than others.

Those downloading the App will already have given us their credit/debit card details and the average time they spend on the loo. So we can charge them as soon as a loo law consultation ends and the loo law lawyer will have the advantage of knowing how long the consultation is likely to last. Although clearly factors can influence that such as an upset stomach or constipation.

James also recognised that they may have more success with female customers rather than male ones as the former sit down more often when visiting the WC.

Finally I asked James how they decided on the name ‘Loo Law’. He helpfully informed me that:-

We did a lot of design thinking around the name. We got the post it notes and the coloured pens out.

There were lots of good suggestions like WC Law (but the domain was being squatted on by a law firm and linked to their website which has nothing to do with toilets!). There were also others that went straight down the pan like Crapper Law.

Loo Law was clearly the best of them. It says what it does on the tin without being too crude at the same time.

Whilst loolaw.com is already registered and for sale we will consider buying that or, of course, loo.law once we have the necessary number of lawyers to sustain the purchase of such a premium and expensive domain.

When I pointed out that I had carried out a Google search on ‘Loo Law’ and discovered a PI Attorney in New Hampshire, USA called Loo, who trades as ‘Loo Law’, James said:-

Oh dear! We must have missed that when doing our design thinking. I will have to have a chat with Loo Esq. You never know he might want to become our Number One loo lawyer.

Suddenly I was relegated to the possibility of being the Number Two loo lawyer!

James continued:-

If it becomes a sticking point we may have to fall back on some of the other names that were in the pipeline.

I said:-

Maybe ‘Lav Law’?

James responded:-

What?

I elaborated:-

‘Lav Law’ short for ‘Lavatory Law’?

James retorted:-

That’s brilliant. No one wrote that on their post it notes.

Will the provision of legal advice in the toilet disrupt the legal market? Will legal futurists like Richard Susskind, Jordan Furlong and Mitch Kowalski be enthusing about this innovation? Or will it end up not seeing the light of day or being another failed legal start up? What do you think?

If you are a lawyer interested in registering to be part of a new innovation in providing legal services in the loo you can do so by using the contact form below. ‘Loo Law’ (or ‘Lav Law’ but unlikely to be ‘Crap Law’) simply won’t emerge without you.

Reactions on Social Media

There have been reactions to this post on Twitter and LinkedIn. To keep these together with the post itself I have copied the tweets and comments here:-

And on LinkedIn:-

Lucinda Soon: I wonder what the core hours will be?

Brian Inkster: Think the loo lawyers will have to be available 24/7 😉

Lucinda Soon: Ah yes, very true. I suppose one might expect a morning rush and perhaps an after-lunch height of activity, but an excellent service is indeed a personalised one.

Brian Inkster: Indeed… ‘Loo Law’ will need to be geared up for these peek times. They will need loo lawyers prepared to hold in during the rush.

Lucinda Soon: Sounds like the perfect job. It’s a shame I no longer practise law. Do you think they will consider a KM bolt-on? KM Roll perhaps? It’s the perfect time to knowledge share…

Brian Inkster: Think Sid will be desperate for the loo lawyers to beat a way to his door. Sure he will be open to all ideas and suggestions to make this work. KM might work well with Sid’s ideas about FAQ on his branded loo rolls. Also there could be options to explore with sid re. knowledge sharing between cubicles. Legal info could be passed via the gaps at floor level.

Lucinda Soon: Haha all excellent ideas. Give Sid my best regards. And a very happy Easter to you!

Brian Inkster: Sid asked me to thank you for your input and he very much hopes you will become a loo lawyer. The Number One and Number Two slots remain available 😉 And a very happy Easter to you too from Sid and I.

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Brian Morgan: Will subscribers have to lodge a deposit before they can avail of the service?

Brian Inkster: Think it is just the 30p deposit to access the loo lawyer whether or not you then continue on a time and line basis of 1 second increments. But a larger deposit may need to be considered to deter time wasters.

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Alex Heshmaty: What a solid brain dump of an idea – let’s hope it doesn’t get flushed away as another crap legal tech startup…

Brian Inkster: That is the worry. Sign up has so far been slow. But Sid is putting that down to the Easter Holidays and is expecting (hoping for) a rush from today as lawyers return to their desks and see this innovative opportunity as a way to flush their law firm with success.

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Michael Burne: Inspired for all us A1 Fools. Love it. Pass the paper…

Brian Inkster: You will need to pass Sid something stronger than paper. He has just become aware of https://www.thesun.co.uk/fabulous/2890620/stop-taking-phone-toilet-immediately-germs/ and is crapping himself about the future viability of ‘Loo Law’.

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Graham Britten: There are piles to be made from that idea Brian.

Brian Inkster: Another marketing opportunity for ‘Loo Law’ perhaps – branded cream?

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Drew Long: What a load of pants! 😉

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The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field ~ Reviewed

By | March 15, 2018

The Great Legal Reformation - Notes from the Field by Mitch KowalskiI must declare an interest at the outset of this review of ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field’ by Mitch Kowalski. That is that me and my law firm, Inksters, feature in Chapter 10 of the book. I attended the book launch in Toronto in October 2017.

However, as a solicitor with an acute interest in law firm structure and management I found the book fascinating and full of secret sauce (more on that later). I trust my review will be taken as being an objective one given the Inksters’ chapter is just one out of 12.

In the preface to the book, Mitch tells his readers that “we are now at the tipping point of change in legal services”. This is the beginning of what Mitch calls the Great Legal Reformation and his book “shares the stories of interesting and instructive adaptations to the Great Legal Reformation, so as to provide guidance and inspiration to those coming next”.

In Australia we hear that Slater and Gordon’s goal is to be “the most technologically-enabled legal services business in the world.” They “focus first on creating the best business process and workflow” and “then build IT around that process.” Although in my experience the IT exists for you to feed into it your processes and workflows for the IT to then really work for you. Maybe that is what Slater and Gordon meant. I don’t think bespoke IT solutions are necessary for most legal functions and I have previously discussed that when looking at the demise of Clearspire.

Use of staff other than lawyers to work on aspects of files, a “balanced scorecard” approach to reward, providing individual lawyers with opportunities to pursue their own business plans and cross-selling techniques that really work were all aspects of Slater and Gordon highlighted by Mitch.

The benefits of a corporate (non-partnership) model was neatly summed up by the CEO of Slater and Gordon, Andrew Grech, who said to Mitch:-

In a partnership, partners often see the world only through the lens of their own personal interests. As a result, their decision making is often coloured by personal interests. Operating as a corporation makes an enormous difference to our culture. It’s much easier to embed values in a corporate environment than in a partnership which many lawyers see as nothing more than a cooperative venture where office expenses and staff are shared.

This indeed is a theme that runs through the book with most of the firms featured by Mitch as part of the Great Legal Reformation not having adopted the traditional partnership model. To do so would clearly not be to reform but to conform. Those that had retained the traditional partnership model had no doubt done so due to the regulatory restrictions affecting them in their own particular jurisdictions. Their stories though show reformation in other ways where regulation did not restrict them.

Mitch discusses Slater and Gordon’s “disastrous £675 million acquisition of the professional services division of Quindell PLC in 2015” and other events that have made life rather problematic for them. However, Mitch points out that “despite the storm, Slaters is still operating”. He does not believe that a traditional law firm would have survived such a storm.

Indeed it was highlighted at the Legal Futures Innovation Conference in London in November 2017 that Slater and Gordon has “been refinanced, and within two to three years it could be back in rude health as a dominant player in the market.”

The group separated its UK operations and subsidiaries from the Australian branch of Slater and Gordon. The UK operations were transferred to a new UK holding company enabling both businesses to focus independently on recovering from the mishandled venture with Quindell PLC.

Fast forward to 6 March 2018 and shares in the Australian operation had surged 148% over the previous week. They were trading at $4.50, up from $1.81 on 27 February.

Although as pointed out in Markets & Money “to get back to their peak — $785 per share in April 2015 — there’s still a long way to go.”

Staying in Australia Mitch looks at Salvos Legal Limited and Salvos Legal Humanitarian Limited. Both wholly owned by the Salvation Army. The first company is a traditional commercial law firm whose profits fund the other company that provides free legal assistance to those who could not otherwise obtain such assistance. Mitch’s account of the set up and what led to it is fascinating. That this model has not been emulated elsewhere is surprising.

From Australia to England where Mitch visits the offices of Riverview Law in the Wirral. Riverview we learn has “the DNA of a professional outsourcer, not that of a law firm”. The firm’s founder, Karl Chapman, went on to explain to Mitch that Riverview is “capital-driven, not income-driven”. He elaborated:

We’re interested in long term sustainability to get that capital back. This drives very different behaviour in terms of how we reward our people and how we invest in technology. It also helps us create a team ethic, rather than an individual ethic.

As Mitch points out this is unusual. The norm is for law firms to maximise income each year and then distribute nearly all of it. This “incents short-term behaviour at the expense of long-term benefits.” However, this long term approach is one that reoccurs in other law firms studied within The Great Legal Reformation. It is clearly an important aspect of many NewLaw firms.

Mitch provides interesting detail of how Riverview is investing heavily in technology that is client-centric not firm-centric. Karl Chapman tells Mitch they are “only at 50 percent of the journey”.  I can’t wait to see what develops at Riverview by the time they finish their journey.

Staying in England Mitch has coffee with Alex Hamilton of Radiant Law. Mitch describes Radiant as “a smaller version of Riverview Law that was also developing software and workflow to improve service.” Alex, like Karl Chapman, takes a long term approach and continually re-invests in the business. Indeed Alex reveals that “to date, we’ve never taken any money out of the business”.

Mitch sees Radiant as a good example of how a relatively small-sized operation started by a small group of lawyers with big ideas, can be successful in the Great Legal Reformation. Legal services is not just for large players and not all good ideas require massive scale and massive amounts of money. Indeed I know that all too well from my own journey in forming and growing Inksters.

Still in England Mitch makes his way to Maidstone to visit Geoff Wild at Kent County Legal Services (then soon to be Invicta Law). Mitch does say that “a visit to an in-house municipal legal team may seem an odd choice for a book about legal innovation. After all, it’s easy to dismiss government legal teams as the place where lawyers go when they want a less-stressed, cozy lifestyle.”

Indeed, I too know some of those lawyers. But Geoff Wild wanted to shake that image up and shake it he certainly did at Kent County Council. He decided to “borrow all the best bits from the private sector and, with a great big hypodermic needle, inject them into the public service and create the best of both worlds”.

As a result he has created a private law firm owned by Kent County Council providing legal services to that Council and many others. This returns a profit to Kent County Council which is something unheard of in the public sector.

Technology, as in many of the other examples in the book, is an important factor at Invicta with Geoff telling Mitch it will not be “a legal business that happens to use technology. Instead, it will be a digital business that happens to do law.”

In Part 2 of the book Mitch takes us to the USA to look at law firms where process is all important.

First of these is Hunoval Law in Charlotte, North Carolina who embraced Lean Six Sigma to “do the right things [and only the right things] (Lean), and [to do] those things right (Six Sigma).” This saw staff being sent on intensive training and returning to the office to implement better processes for the work they do. It differentiated the firm from others and brought in new work as a result.

Mitch asked the firm’s founder, Matt Hunoval, why other law firm’s haven’t copied him. He responded “There’s no motivation to create transformational change at traditional law firms, especially older ones. Even if they understood what we’re doing, they wouldn’t do it.” Matt expands on this with an amusing analogy concerning what happens after you purchase an exercise regime advertised on late-night TV.

Next stop for Mitch was Chicago for more Lean Six Sigma with Seyfarth Shaw. This chapter is a case study on how a large law firm made itself process driven. Something that, for a big law firm, is acknowledged as being “a long trek”. A great example of using Lean Six Sigma to improve trademark application workflow is given.

Seyfarth Shaw’s use of legal technologists who are not traditional IT support thinkers is highlighted. This includes them having a data solutions architect. They have even spun out a standalone entity, Seyfarth Lean Consulting, to advise companies (not law firms) seeking ways to make themselves more operationally effective.

Whilst in Chicago Mitch visited the Valorem Law Group where pricing is the thing. Valorem is recognised as a leader of value pricing in a litigation practice. This, Mitch points out, is “something that many litigators across the world dismiss as impossible.” Founder of Valorem, Patrick Lamb, gave his view on pricing and lawyers to Mitch:-

I also don’t believe that lawyers should be guaranteed a profit on every hour they work, and I certainly don’t believe they’re entitled to a 40 per cent profit year in year out. I believe that lawyers should have the price pressure of being more efficient and they should deliver outcomes more efficiently. There will always be cases where you screw up the pricing and not make much money – deal with it! Every business faces this.

Part 3 of the book is “a potpourri of alternative trailblazers in vignette form”. It starts by looking at what Mitch refers to as “plug and play platforms”.

First up is England’s gunnercooke: “a firm born out of frustration with a model that no longer seemed fit for purpose.” The gunnercooke model has all their lawyers being independent contractors. All the lawyers need to do is the fee earning and project delivery. The firm takes care of everything else. Mitch observes that “in a very short time span, the firm had become a notable competitor in the English legal market by shedding itself of overhead, bureaucracy, and politics of the old guard, making it nimble, attentive, and accessible.”

The second ‘plug and play platform’ that Mitch looks at is my own law firm, Inksters, in Scotland. After drawing comparisons between me and Elvis Costello, Mitch looks at our model, similar in many ways to gunnercooke, our use of technology and legal process engineering, similar to Hunoval Law and Seyfarth Shaw.

Like many of the law firms Mitch looks at in his book he notes the investment for the long term and the forsaking of short term gain. Something that sets the law firms of the Great Legal Reformation apart from most traditional legal practices.

Mitch then continues his tour of alternative trailblazers with a look at two ‘nomadic’ law firms.

First is Obelisk: “a support offering for global clients.” They “take people who want to work in a different way and pool their availability at scale to create a seamless process for the client.” They have 1,200 lawyers operating globally.

The second ‘nomadic’ law firm Mitch considers is Lawyers on Demand (LOD) which boasts 6,000 lawyers with offices in Australia, Melbourne, Singapore, Hong Kong, New York and London.

Mitch is of the view that the market for ‘nomadic lawyers’ will only continue to grow. He thinks that “it feeds on a millennial generation demanding more control over their careers, a profession that thoughtlessly sidelines scores of talented lawyers, and a marketplace that no longer views nomadic lawyers with suspicion – all with a low capital cost to entry.”

Mitch Kowalski rounds things up with a final chapter on what it all means. In the book the term ‘secret sauce’ is used more than once. This book and Mitch’s conclusions will give you a taste of that secret sauce and how you might apply that to your law firm if you want to join the Great Legal Reformation and perhaps avoid extinction.

On that point this latest book by Mitch is an excellent companion piece to his first book: ‘Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century’. In that first book he hypothesized over what he thought the law firm of the future would/should look like. Now in ‘The Great Legal Reformation – Notes from the Field’ he provides an informative and unmissable account on how legal service provision has actually been reimagined to date in the 21st Century. If you are a legal service provider you cannot afford not to read Mitch’s ‘Notes from the Field’.

Buying the Book: You can order Mitch Kowalski’s book ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field’ in the UK via Amazon in Canada via Amazon and in the USA via Amazon and no doubt wherever you are via your local Amazon. In Toronto it is available for purchase at Ben Macnally Books.

Hype Hurts: Steering Clear of Dangerous AI myths at GlenLegal

By | March 8, 2018

AI Hype Hurts - GlenLegalI have been critical of legal technology conferences/events or slots that hype AI or blockchain. I predicted in January that this would be a feature of the year ahead.

It was good to see possibly the first legal technology conference of 2018, GlenLegal: The Legal IT Leaders Forum, that instead highlighted the hype surrounding AI in legal: The above slide steering you clear of dangerous AI myths and the hype that hurts.

Well done GlenLegal!

Unfortunately I was unable to attend GlenLegal this year due to a commitment in London. But I have been at the event the past two years and always very much enjoy it. Organised by the Legal IT Insider / Orange Rag the annual event at the Gleneagles Hotel in Scotland (handy for me) always ensures an audience that know about Legal IT and wouldn’t swallow the hype.

More of this is required as the year progresses.

Innovation ranged from the more exotic exploration of AI to support contractual review, right back to the more mundane, but arguably most cost-effective and fastest route to ROI, which could be characterized as “workflowing the s**t” out of legal processes. A reminder that there’s still plenty of scope to make legal processes more efficient with outstanding and thoughtfully executed basics. Lean six sigma anyone?

For a review of GlenLegal see: GlenLegal: A story of Innovation, AI and Pricing, or Planes, Trains and Automobiles…

London Legal Hackathon bend the rules?

By | March 3, 2018

London Legal Hackathon bend the rulesMy last post ‘Hack the Law to Reinvent the Wheel?‘ generated a lot of debate on Twitter and LinkedIn yesterday (social media comments have now been incorporated at the end of that post).

It also brought out some interesting answers to the question “Why blockchain?” (asked following Pinsent Masons winning the London Legal Hackathon with a blockchain solution to partnership voting).

It has become clear that the competition criteria set by the organisers/hosts of the London Legal Hackathon (Pinsent Masons i.e. they organised/hosted the event and won it) do not necessarily follow that set by the Global Legal Hackathon organisers.

The criteria in London was:-

  • The goal is to apply innovative ideas and emerging technologies to progress the business of law or facilitate access to justice for the public.
  • Teams of 3 to 6 (maximum 10) will come up with a prototype or proposal at the end of the hackathon to present in front of a panel of judges.
  • We expect ideas using technologies like AI, Machine Learning, Chatbots, Blockchain, or the Internet of Things.

The first and second of these correspond with the Global Legal Hackathon criteria but the third does not.

The Global Legal Hackathon’s rules do not limit the technology in any way to specifically those “like AI, Machine Learning, Chatbots, Blockchain, or the Internet of Things.”

Indeed when interviewed by Richard Tromans one of the co-organisers of the Global Legal Hackathon, David Fisher, stated that they had:-

not been technology specific. Been very, very careful about keeping it open. And that is in terms of technology categories. So it could be AI or blockchain or just traditional development. So we have not taken a position and Aileen [Schultz – the other co-organiser] very much to her credit has kept it wide open and agnostic. We felt this was the right way to do this to engage the largest community.

When I put the criteria used in London to the Global Legal Hackathon they suggested:-

The meaning of the word here was likely “expected” as in “anticipated”… accurate given the current legal industry landscape. Not “expected” as in “mandatory”.

We apologize if it lead to confusion, and suspect what was meant was “anticipated”. Note however, hosts were entitled to frame up their focus areas if they wished.

We hope there was never any confusion around the goals of the #GLH2018, it has been open from day one, use of any technological solution welcome across the board.

There was a global judging rubric intended to keep consistent criteria across the board. However, judges were permitted to “debate” their decisions and scores to come to a consensus of the winning teams.

I don’t think “expected” can be interpreted as meaning “anticipated”!

The definition of “expect” includes:-

  • regard (something) as likely to happen
  • require (something) as rightfully due or appropriate in the circumstances
  • require (someone) to fulfil an obligation

The definition of “anticipate” includes:-

  • regard as probable; expect or predict.

I believe competitors seeing as part of the criteria “We expect ideas using technologies like AI, Machine Learning, Chatbots, Blockchain, or the Internet of Things” would proceed on the basis that they had to use “technologies like AI, Machine Learning, Chatbots, Blockchain, or the Internet of Things”.

Immediately that limits the range of technology and might therefore go someway towards answering the “Why blockchain?” question.

Orlando Conetta who led the winning Pinsent Masons team has written about his experience of so doing on LinkedIn.

Orlando also seeks therein to answer the “Why blockchain?” question:-

Like children presented with a large box of Lego, we wanted to have some fun by constraining ourselves on the tools we would use. In this instance we would focus on blockchain. The challenge would be to find a problem for which blockchain could be a natural fit.

So, rather than identifying a problem that needed resolved and then applying appropriate technology to it, team Pinsent Masons did it the other way around. They focused on one of the technologies from their now restricted list and then found a problem they could use the technology to solve.

Therefore the “Why blockchain?” question was answered in that it had to be blockchain. That was a given regardless of whether the ‘problem’ could be solved using other technology.

However, Orlando probably doesn’t see it quite like that and tried to answer the “Why blockchain?” question thus:-

There are other vendor solutions in the space of polling and collaboration, but from our analysis they are not ubiquitous and innovation polling is far from a solved problem. We think the application of blockchain is relevant and unique amongst existing players in the market, and would offer anonymity to voters and integrity in the auditing of results….

Is the use of blockchain a sledgehammer to crack a nut in this instance? Well, I would say not as blockchains are not as complex as one may imagine to deploy, integrate and manage. Indeed, there would be a similar amount of complexity and effort required to scale anonymity and ledger integrity using other technologies.

I will not try to challenge that as I am nowhere near technically adapt on the question of blockchain to even try. I will leave other techies, who are, to come in on this point if they so wish. However, I do wonder if Orlando’s team checked out doyouneedablockchain.com first.

One other interesting point that Orlando revealed was:-

For our prototype, we used the existing tools we have within Pinsent Masons to develop the submission curation workflow. So, while the process functioned, it did so through technologies we could not share.

Hmm… Is such use of already developed proprietary tools allowed in a hackathon?

A look at the official global rules (although we now know they might not mean a lot in London) suggest perhaps not. These three entry requirements might be relevant:-

Do not include or make reference to any external data, except those specifically designated during the Competition, or those available through
open sourced and public platforms.

Entries that attempt to harm the Sponsor or otherwise create an unfair advantage over other entrants will be rejected.

By submitting an Entry, you warrant and represent: (a) that it is your (or your team’s) original work; (b) that it has not been previously published, sold or submitted in any other competition, promotion, or contest; (c) that it has not won previous awards; and (d) that it does not infringe upon the copyrights, trademarks, rights of privacy, publicity or other intellectual property or other rights of any person or entity; (e) that is was not developed in any substantive form prior to the event, though ideation, research and material gathering are permitted.

It is also the case that the organisers provide all entrants with access to the same resource toolkit for fairness. Bringing your own just might not be cricket.

Whilst looking at the rules can a host/organiser also compete? The rules state:-

Entrants who are employees, officers, directors, agents, representatives and their immediate families (spouse, parents, children, siblings
and each of their spouses regardless where they live) or members of household of Integra, Inc., the Global Legal Blockchain Consortium, or
their respective parent companies, affiliates, and subsidiaries (the “Competition Entities”) and any individual connected with the production
or distribution of this Competition are not eligible to enter or be awarded a prize.

Are Pinsent Masons, as hosts/organisers of the London event, not in effect agents and representatives of the “Competition Entities” and/or connected with the production or distribution of the competition?

Anyway no doubt different interpretations can be put upon the rules but there has perhaps, at the very least, been a bit of rule bending going on.

You would have thought a firm of lawyers would have checked the Ts & Cs!

David Halliwell of Pinsent Masons has pointed out that “R&D is about lateral thinking, not literal thinking“. When it comes to rules, David, I would suggest that you are best applying those literally and not taking your chances laterally. You just might get found out.

I understand the London event was organised in a bit of a rush at the eleventh hour and this may go someway towards explaining the lack of attention to the detail in the rules. Perhaps next year the organisers will be able to reflect on this year and ensure a better adherence to the global rules.

Hack the Law to Reinvent the Wheel?

By | March 1, 2018

Hack the Law to Reinvent the WheelMy last post on ‘Lawyers and coding‘ was written as the Global Legal Hackathon was underway. We now have the results.

As I watched proceedings via Twitter, with specific reference to the London event, I was of the view that I was seeing solutions to ‘problems’ that possibly didn’t really exist and the wheel often being reinvented. Also blockchain was in vogue for no real reason other than perhaps to feed the current hype surrounding it.

A healthy debate then took place over on LinkedIn when Richard Tromans announced the London winners:-

The winners of the #GLH2018 >>> Pinsent Masons team led by Orlando Conetta.
>>> Big congrats to the team which created a Blockchain platform for partner voting on internally developed project ideas. Excellent work also by the five other teams.

Stephen Allen then enquired:-

Are you able to explain why Blockchain was the correct platform?

Richard didn’t appear to know the answer as he didn’t respond.

However, one of the Judges, Joanna Goodman, commented:-

Yes, in this specific case, it was, even though it might not be for every firm.  Of course it’s not the only approach to the law firm innovation dilemma…

Arlene McDaid joined in:-

Interested to learn why a voting system among a finite and defined group of trusted, identified parties benefits from blockchain (a way to reach consensus among mutually distrusting parties) – a centralised solution could provide the anonymity and security (blind signature schemes, for example) for considerably less cost than a blockchain solution.

Graeme Bodys, CEO of nooQ, joined in the debate too:-

Blockchain does seem overkill to me for this scenario. We provide innovation platform for idea voting, commenting and debate. We also provide option for anonymous voting too. We find legal partners esp drawn to our visual interface as being a time strapped and conscious industry we just show personalised decisions required for each individual.

Joanna Goodman came in again:-

A voting system is interesting for the partnership model because the blockchain element helps to accelerate decision-making and preserves independence – i.e. it gets around organisational politics.

I threw in a cheeky comment:-

Arlene McDaid It could be said that law firm partners are often “mutually distrusting parties” 😉 However, even where that is the case  I agree that using blockchain is still over egging the ‘problem’. I am at a loss to see why a large partnership has all their partners voting on innovation ideas. Surely a recipie to destroy any real innovation. Is that how you do it at Hogan Lovells Stephen Allen, FRSA?

Stephen replied:-

We use this great thing called email…..

But for innovation we like to go rogue.

Interestingly, on Tuesday past, The American Lawyer published an article entitled “The Death of the Law Firm Partnership Vote?” In that article it is suggested that with an eye on efficiency, law firms are ditching old methods for a more corporate form of governance. It is pointed out:-

A group of professionals focused on innovation in law firms were sitting around a table at a recent conference in London when one wryly remarked, “Partnership votes? Who does those anymore?”

It was an apt statement to be made in London, where law firms are typically more committed than their U.S. counterparts to running their operations like their corporate clients. And it was equally appropriate that the comment came from a group focused on innovation in law firms, something much more easily accomplished when only a small group of yeas are needed.

Again this echoes my point about the relevancy of the ‘problem’ the winning team sought to solve.

Alex G Smith entered the fray:-

I’m surprised none of the ideas/collaboration platforms got a mention before putting ideas on a blockchain like Spigit, Wazoku, Ideas Drop or Crowdicity used by a decent slice of corporate world, with clarity, auditable, built-in stages and mentors  … usually the first thing a product manager checks is whether the wheel already exists before accidentally reinventing it. Several firms have used such platforms. I’m sure immutable ideas are better than non-immutable ones.

look at the end results here – Teams China smashing it out the park using real tech https://globallegalhackathon.com/round-one-winners/ – mostly it seems by avoiding blockchain bingo and focusing on hard tasks like understanding legislation and knowledge graphs.

Things then got a little heated between Stephen and Joanna but all was resolved with agreement that they meet to discuss over coffee.

Joanna also said:-

I will write about why blockchain, and why we felt that application of blockchain worked in that context.

I look forward to seeing that when in print as it will no doubt add much to this debate.

Joanna did make the very valid point that as judges they were constrained with the entries before them and the competition criteria.

That criteria was:-

  • The goal is to apply innovative ideas and emerging technologies to progress the business of law or facilitate access to justice for the public.
  • Teams of 3 to 6 (maximum 10) will come up with a prototype or proposal at the end of the hackathon to present in front of a panel of judges.
  • We expect ideas using technologies like AI, Machine Learning, Chatbots, Blockchain, or the Internet of Things.

They had to pick a winner and the blockchain partner voting solution was the best of the pick. Fair enough. But also fair enough for spectators to question the validity (not of the judges decision) of the use of blockchain if it was just being used for the sake of it.

Joanna also made the valid point that the participants were giving up their time, energy and resources all weekend to try and develop something new. Hats off to them.

I wouldn’t dismiss the idea of participating in such an event myself but I am unsure if we need to have such an emphasis on AI and blockchain rather than simply technology. These events do somewhat feed the AI/blockchain hype I have highlighted before.

Joanna, however, believes:-

that routinely criticising people for trying to use emerging technology is unimaginative and demotivating. These people aren’t just playing AI/blockchain ‘bingo’ they are curious, and interested to explore what’s new.

I accept that participants are curious and interested to explore what’s new. But were they forced into playing AI/blockchain ‘bingo’ by the criteria set by the event itself and is that a good or a bad thing?

I know Orlando Conetta who led the winning team. I have seen him at a Legal Hackers event at Glasgow University. We sometimes bump into one another in the café below the Inksterplex in central Glasgow. He does not appear to have entered the fray so far but I would be interested to hear his views. Perhaps he and I will chat over a coffee sometime soon in Glasgow whilst Joanna and Stephen are doing the same in London. We can perhaps then expand upon the debate further on here.

Thomas Pauls, Client Experience Consultant at LexisNexis, commented:-

The winning team mentioned blockchain being a solution to a problem they had yet to identify during the pitching session on Friday.

I’m not sure they did with the solution presented.

We found the process really enjoyable and defiantly worthwhile, but it did seem to be more of a PowerPoint off.

I personally was expecting teams to be showcasing products that they had made in the allotted time.

Maybe that was my lack of understanding and reading the judging rubric I can defiantly see what Team P and M won so no complaints from me.

So rather confusing now – was the winning solution a blockchain one or not?

I was rather surprised that the competition was a “PowerPoint off”. I too had assumed that, with coders on the teams, a prototype would have been produced and demonstrated at the event. Is that not what a hackathon is all about?

Wikipedia suggests it is:-

A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, and others, often including subject-matter-experts, collaborate intensively on software projects.

The goal of a hackathon is to create usable software. Hackathons tend to have a specific focus, which can include the programming language used, the operating system, an application, an API, or the subject and the demographic group of the programmers. In other cases, there is no restriction on the type of software being created.

If the goal is to create usable software that is surely not PowerPoint. Was it a case of too many lawyers and not enough coders on the teams?

There is plenty of fit for purpose technology out there that can be used out of the box by lawyers without them needing to build their own.

I am also of the view that lawyers should avoid ‘a Clearspire‘ and not necessarily build their own.

However, that does not mean that we should not have hackathons to explore and find solutions to problems where no existing legal technology exists.

But do we need to clarify the purpose and criteria for such hackathons to make them better and reduce criticism of them?

Does AI/blockchain need to be the be all and end all of these events?

Should the goal actually be to create usable software rather than a PowerPoint presentation?

Should judges consider the relevancy of the actual ‘problem’ the team is seeking to solve and give scores according to such relevancy?

It only takes a quick Google search to see if your idea has already been implemented before. Should such Google disclosure be a mark down criteria in the judging process in future hackathons to avoid wheel reinventions?

What do you think?

Reactions on Social Media

In addition to the comments in the comments section below there have been reactions to this post on Twitter and LinkedIn. To keep these together with the post itself I have copied the tweets and comments here:-

NB Frank Jennings was one of the four judges at the London Legal Hackathon

NB Richard Moorhead has also left a comment in the comments section of the blog post below.

And on LinkedIn:-

Joanna Goodman:

This is worrying in a way, it is almost judging the event by proxy. You were in London and you could have attended the judging, but instead you are choosing to judge the event, it’s premises, and what it should be vicariously online. Personally, I don’t think this reflects very well on you, but that’s my personal view.

Stephen Allen:

So, let me be 100% clear.

I have simply asked ‘why blockchain’? I am not questioning the judges decision. I am not saying it’s the wrong platform. I am curious why it was chosen.

I am curious for two reasons:

1. I will be asked why was blockchain was used and could it be something that would work for us?
2. I have judged a couple of hackathon events and the decisions as to why an option was chosen are more interesting than the end solution.

So, I await the article in this state of curiousity.

Brian Inkster:

Joanna Goodman

I am sorry you feel that way.

Whilst I was in London I was there for other purposes and I am afraid I couldn’t attend the judging.

In the digital world we live in it is usual to view events from afar online and take views on them. People do that all the time particularly on Twitter and LinkedIn. I have done so for years with posts on www.thetimeblawg.com.

My blog post simply took a debate that had already begun on Twitter and LinkedIn and built upon it.

I highlighted valid points made by you in the debate to date and looked forward to your further comments. I raised questions that the exploration of can only seek to enrich future legal hackathons.

I am heartened that the organisers of the Global Legal Hackathon have referred to my blog post, on Twitter, as being a “Wonderful critique”.

This is all I set out in my blog posts to do: create some critical thought about issues concerning the past, present and future practice of law and maybe, like the participants of the hackathons seek to do, bring about meaningful change.

I am not criticising the event, the judges or the decision. I am simply expressing my views and hoping that others will engage and benefit from them.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Stephen Allen.

I agree that there can be no suggestion that the judges decision is being questioned.

I, like you and several others, asked the “why blockchain?” question as soon as we saw it.

It is a very reasonable question to ask. So I too await the article that perhaps will answer it with the same state of curiosity.

Thomas Paul:

Totally agree, as a participant in the event, that the best team won as per the judges rubric. I certainly don’t think this is being questioned.

As my quote states we had a great time and found the event worthwhile and enjoyable.

The question I had at the time and it seems others do too, was why blockchain. This was one of the questions I wanted to raise on the day but was unable to do so with the 5 minute Q&A time limit.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Thomas Pauls. I think that adds another question to my list: Should Legal Hackathons have longer than a 5 minute Q&A time limit?

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Nir Golan:

Thanks for sharing Tom Braegelmann. What a great post by Brian Inkster. A few weeks ago, we had a long discussion on LinkedIn about the hype around hackathons and their real “effectiveness” in solving real problems:

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6366959996839739392

It is astonishing that the criteria for the solutions that were presented at the hackathon in London was that they needed to be based on emerging technologies (AI, blockchain, bots etc.. ). Again, more focus on the tech used than solving a real problem. So disappointing. So much good can come out of these hackathons. Who cares what tech is used/if tech is used so long as we find a solution to an aching problem. That is the goal at end of the day, no? Isn’t that the purpose of hacking? Innovation?

Lawyers and coding

By | February 24, 2018

BBC Micro Computer - Lawyers and CodingI revealed in my recent post on ‘Hack the Past : How the Legal Profession knew nothing about Technology‘ that I taught myself some basic coding on a BBC Micro computer way back in the early 1980s. My need/desire to code since has been non existent although I experienced a little bit of it for fun at a Legal Hackers meet up in Glasgow last year.

My view is: if I need coding done I will hire in an expert to do it. I wouldn’t expect a lawyer to do it. Just like I wouldn’t expect a coder to represent me in a court of law.

I saw this tweet which sums it up nicely and which I can relate to in my crofting law world:-

I hope at the Global Legal Hackathon (taking place this weekend) that real coders are doing the hacking with some input (but not coding) from the lawyers and their clients.

As Jordan Furlong said, in his opening talk to the Ottawa Legal Hackathon last night, it is this collaboration that is important:

You’ve got the entire orchestra coming together and saying “what are we going to play guys? What are we going to pull together tonight and tomorrow and the next day and next week and next year to make this work better?”

We can solve the legal profession’s problems if we work together. If we are building on what everyone brings to the table. We need everyone around the table because we need to learn from each other, we need to teach each other what we need to know.

We need to build something which is greater than the sum of its parts. Something that individually we can’t pull together but if we pull ourselves together in one place and talk and program and write things on these cool white boards then we will actually start making our way towards the solutions that we need.

Looking at the introductory slides by David Terrar for the London Legal Hackathon it looks like teams will be expected to be made up of:-

  • Lawyer
  • Application developer, coder
  • Designer
  • Graphics expert
  • Marketing expert
  • Business Person

So a good mix for the orchestra if indeed teams follow that mix. I hope that the Business Person also takes on the role of client in the team otherwise an important ingredient mentioned by Jordan Furlong may be missing.

The Global Legal Hackathon “expect ideas using technologies like AI, Machine Learning, Chatbots, Blockchain, or the Internet of Things”.

I get that at a Hackathon, where coding is the thing, that is to be expected.

For your average law firm a design thinking day: avoiding building the technology but looking at process and incremental improvements is likely to prove more meaningful, long lasting and successful.

Reactions on LinkedIn:-

There has been a lot of debate in relation to this post on LinkedIn where I asked the question “should lawyers code?” To keep these together with the post itself I have copied the comments here:-

Arlene McDaid: Are you up for some more coding Brian? Philip can take the coding on your mobile session.

Philip Hannay: A BBC micro computer! Hah, come on Brian show your real age. It was an abacus…

Arlene McDaid: You sponsoring Philip?

Abacus Programming for Lawyers

Philip Hannay: Arlene what’s that all about?

Arlene McDaid: Humour 🙂

Brian Inkster: Arlene McDaid I think the little coding that Philip Hannay and I did last year was enough to reafirm to me that I can leave that to the experts.

Brian Inkster: Philip Hannay You will have to get a team of your Legal Engineer™s onto this. They will be well trained in abacus programming by Arlene McDaid and moving onto BBC Basic before you know it.

Brian Inkster: Philip Hannay Well when I started school there were no PCs and not even electronic calculators in use. I remember an older brother who was in secondary school when I was in primary school getting a very large electronic calculator – the first one I had ever seen. So yes I started life in the age of the abacus but as I highlighted in my earlier post http://thetimeblawg.com/2018/02/11/hack-the-past-how-the-legal-profession-knew-nothing-about-technology/ I (like other Gereration Xers and Baby Boomers) have seen many advances in technology and can appreciate what technology can do for us in a way that might be lost on millennials.

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Yvonne Nath: I am sitting in Toronto at the #GlobalLegalHackathon right now and there is a trademark attorney who was a programmer in his past life. His ability to communicate ways for applying tech to legal to address business needs is wonderful.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Yvonne Nath. Lawyers who are also programmers may find a niche and a future in Legal Technology development. But do you think all lawyers should be able to code well? Also does it take a knowledge of coding (rather than an interest in and understanding of technology) to be able to communicate ways of applying tech to legal to address business needs?

Yvonne Nath: Programmers who understand legal, as well as lawyers who can program, can certainly specialize as Legal Technologists.

As for non-programmer lawyers, No, I do not believe lawyers need to be able to code, but perhaps if they can think like a coder when approaching challenges, that may help them come up with innovative approaches. They can at least be able to meet technologists in the middle to explain processes and goals in a way a technologist might see them. For example, building a risk analysis tree using conditional statements… or mapping a process to identify where technology can remove a bottleneck.

Perhaps we just need more legal hackathons!

Brian Inkster: Thanks again Yvonne Nath. I wonder whether coding is really a skill one needs to set out a risk analysis tree or to process map? These things can of course be done by non coders and then bring in the coders if need be. Although often process mapping is simply an important step to use existing technology that is at your fingertips more efficiently without any further coding input being required.

I am unsure whether more legal hackathons is the answer. There may be some overthinking going on at them with the emphasis on AI and blockchain. Simpler wins are possibly being overlooked as a result.

Yvonne Nath: Brian Inkster, thank you for leading this critical thinking…I would agree that coding is not needed for process mapping and risk analyses. I guess I was just trying to say that being able to think like a coder (if-then statements for risk analyses) allows one to communicate better with technologists (not coders, exclusively). Being able to think in different languages helps open up channels of creative thinking which, in turn, can lead to innovative approaches to solving problems.

Yvonne Nath: What are you thinking with respect to “simpler wins”?

Brian Inkster: Most lawyers Yvonne Nath have very analytical minds and are good at risk analysis (although maybe too risk averse). If they apply themselves to creative thinking (which they probably don’t do enough of) and there are ways to prod that out of them (e.g. design thinking) then that can lead to innovative approaches to solving problems without coding having to feature.

Brian Inkster: On ‘simpler wins’ Yvonne Nath I was thinking incremental improvements that don’t involve bells, whistles and the hype surrounding AI and blockchain e.g. http://thetimeblawg.com/2014/07/04/improving-for-reinvent-law-london-2014/

Yvonne Nath: Brian Inkster, right on w/r/t coding not being an essential capability of lawyers, but I would say that events such as hackathons are successful platforms for inspiring risk-taking and creative thinking!

Brian Inkster: Possibly Yvonne Nath. But often I see the wheel being reinvented. I might expand on that in a full blog post on The Time Blawg.

Yvonne Nath: I look forward to reading your blog, Brian Inkster, and hope Philipa Jane Farley elaborates on how her coding background has helped her in her law career. Here is an article from Robert Ambrogi today in which he reflects on hackathons: “Whatever the actual applications it bred, the Global Legal Hackathon created a kind of legal technology good karma, and that karma is likely to fuel even further cooperation and innovation in law on a global scale.”

On Hackathons And Karma

Philipa Jane Farley: Yvonne Nath Thank you for the mention. Currently I’m working in the privacy law space and change within organisations (not just surface level compliance) and before that more in the compliance space where contract review was a large part of the job. My work invariably lands up in a space where I am an interpretor between board level or ‘the bosses’ and the IT department or between legal and IT.  IT may need to say that they cannot do something but they can’t say it in a way that is understood and then again, they sometimes need to understand that something has to be done whether they are fully prepared for it or not so at that stage I can step in and help them adjust the way that they need to approach an issue.  To explain, I don’t just have a coding background but it grew into IT management, too.  Now, in the privacy law space when working with systems within organisations I have an intuitive (and well grounded) understanding of how things work so it cuts down audit times drastically and makes reporting richer.  I also have a better understanding of how an organisation would be connected up in terms of external systems so when doing 3rd party discoveries, we manage in an audit to get it all out in the open.

Philipa Jane Farley: Yvonne Nath On the other side, coding is problem solving and simplyifying, making things better and teamwork all rolled into one.  Bringing those values into the law space allows for a fresh approach and creativity in thinking.  Privacy by design is a great little crossover niche for people who have law and coding.

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Ann-Maree David: Great post Brian and thanks for sharing comments by Jordan Furlong as well.  It takes a long time and a lot of effort to become a great lawyer.  Better we hone our collaboration skills early on so we can work with the experts in so many other areas including coding and design and let everyone achieve their full potential.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Ann-Maree David. A good way of expressing it.

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Cameron Hodgson: Interesting point. There seems to be increasing opportunities for learning anyway, eg on futurelearn.com; at least for some of the background to it. Best wishes

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John O’Gorman: Should lawyers code? That’s what they do now, isn’t it? They just don’t do it for computers… they take a perfectly straight forward piece of content and transmogrify it into gobbledegook! 😀

I’m just not sure if that’s a transferable skill.

Bruce Laidlaw: To be serious: a well written contract or escrow agreement is very similar to coding.  It is structured, references common sections where appropriate, etc.  A badly written   contract is just like bad code: repetitious, jumbled, hard to follow and even harder to change in one place without breaking it in another.

Thomas Lukasik: Bruce.. given your analogy, it would be great if they just had some good debugging tools 😉

Bruce Laidlaw: Thomas Lukasik, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t have an analysis tool that would show references and links.  In data management there used to be a tool that would read contracts, extracting the ‘will’, ‘shall’ and ‘must’ phrases for example.

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Tara Taubman-Bassirian: You should be at the Global Hackatin

Brian Inkster: I could have been as I was in London all weekend! However, I had other fish to fry. I saw from Twitter that you Tara were there and thanks for keeping me up to date in tweets with what was happening on the ground as it happened.

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Adam Manning: Always delighted to see a photo of a proper computer 🙂

Brian Inkster: They don’t make them like that anymore Adam Manning 🙂

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Dominic Jaar: Lawyers, as most other professionals, should code. Coding is the literacy of the 21st century.

Decades ago, lawyers could read and write, while the majority could not… Now, the majority can leverage technology while most lawyers can’t.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Dominic Jaar. Reading and writing always was and remains an important part of being a lawyer. However, I find it difficult to see how coding now might be as important.

We all use technology every day without knowing or needing to know how it was coded. We are not about to re-engineer our smart phones, our PCs, laptops, tablets or the software that runs on them. Others make them to make our lives easier – we just need to know how to use them.

The same, as far as I can see it, is true of legal technology. Leveraging that has nothing to do with being able to code but is all about embracing and using.

Gordon Leigh: The first industrial revolution was about mechanisation. The business owners at that time didn’t need to become mechanical engineers to use this new technology. They just needed an understanding and an imagination to see how it could apply to their business.

I met a lawyer a while ago who told me “if you’re smart then you’re a doctor or a lawyer, so if anyone is going to build something it should be us.” Useful progress is made by collaboration and integration of different disciplines – not from self-idolisation.

Of course, I’m passionate about programming, and I think everyone (who is interested) should have a go. As Philipa Jane Farley has already said, it gives great transferable skills in engineering thinking and creativity – however playing around is not the same as building industry-ready software, and it would be a mistake to assume that people can successfully adopt a second profession simultaneously.

Dominic Jaar: Hi Brian Inkster,

Thanks for your reply.

My vision is that providing legal advices, drafting pleas and contracts, etc. is the historical way of providing legal services. Moving forward, as many have already recognized, such services will be delivered through physical and logical assets that ensure compliance by design.

If my prediction is accurate, given lawyers’ legal and ethical obligations, I’m suggesting they should be able to develop, or at least QC and audit, these assets to properly discharge of these obligations. In any case, I would not be comfortable as a mere end user relying on a third party black box.

Cheers!
Dj)

Dominic Jasr: Hi Gordon Leigh,

Without repeating my comment to Brian Inkster, I would suggest that your answer, while appealing prima facie, is based on a premise that I do not support : programming is complex. Perhaps at some point it was true and in some areas it still is, but overall these pockets of complexities seem to be shrinking as programming is being simplified by the day. In fact, many programmers now rely on public libraries and are master copy-pasters. Furthermore, somehow supporting my theory that coding is the 21st century literacy, many schools now teach kids to code and will see them joining the work force with capabilities that will be stronger than that of digital immigrants who have learned later in their life.

That being said, I certainly understand that it may be scary to current programmers to see new entrants in their market.

Gordon Leigh: Thanks for replying Dominic Jaar.  IT in general, and software development in particular, is an industry which seems to suffer disproportionately from the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Although a lawyer can piece together a contract by copying and pasting clauses from online resources, I would assume that at some point the lawyer must have an actual understanding of what they are doing, not least because I don’t want to pay £200 per hour for someone whose skills amount to reading and writing.

A lot of the projects I have worked on have been to try to tidy up the mess created by people who think that programming is easy.  You might have something that starts off looking like it works, but try maintaining a million lines of code a few years down the line when it was written by someone who didn’t understand how to write maintainable code.  Although crap developers have created the impression that it is normal for applications to be flaky and throw up errors all the time, it causes significant harm to the businesses which are trying to rely on this software.

If you’ve got 5 mins, take a look at this interesting post about “the Expert Beginner”: https://www.daedtech.com/how-developers-stop-learning-rise-of-the-expert-beginner/

Dominic Jar: Thanks for the good laugh Gordon and the interesting post on the expert beginner!

I agree that we need to improve code quality, and would dare to suggest that, perhaps, lawyer (who are trained at over documenting and reviewing) coders could play a role to pursue this noble objective. In fact, if you look at different laws, you will see that their structure and documentation is akin to some code. Interestingly enough, some of these laws are embbeded in what is referred to as Codes…

Brian Inkster: Thanks Dominic Jaar and Gordon Leigh for your insights. Having weighed them up I’m with Gordon on this one. I’ll stick to legal codes and let the software coders do what they are expert in.

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Allen Woods: Noooooooooo…..  Burn the heretic.. Make them learn 8086 assembler first…

Brian Inkster: Allen Woods You must be older than Philip Hannay thinks I am!

Allen Woods: Ooh chasing 63 from the wrong side….  But  seriously, There is a lot of stuff that is said in  respect of the impact of GDPR that I find is astounding in terms of the level of technical ignorance it displays.  It means that people really don’t understand what us geeks  get up to.. And that is increasingly and untenable position.  And I would  suggest that learning to code is one of those things that an awful lot of lawyers would do  well to learn about..  And it does not have to be that expensive to do either…  Learning to write the odd word macro for example would be fine (and by that I do not mean using the recorder..  Because then people might just begin to get what a game changer the GDPR is….

Brian Inkster: I have difficulties with word macros but I have someone in the office who is a whiz with them 🙂

Allen Woods: Hee…  Over the past 10 years I have had tto read and understand several US Acts of Congree,, four Acts of Parliament and the GDPR….  Revenge is sweet…..

Philipa Jane Farley: Allen Woods As long as you never have to wade through the UK’s IP law (in particular the Copyright Act….) There would be cause for payback if that was the case.

Allen Woods: Well now…  That too is something I have had to dabble in and I have an atomised searchable copy of that in my library of atomised documents….  Soooo, get coding….    you too can do that…

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Gordon Leigh: I agree with this. It takes a long time to become a competent programmer. Getting started is deceptively simple. Writing useful software is more advanced than “hello world”.  Lawyers should learn about technology and how their business could evolve with this technology, but then entrust implementation to people who have spent years honing their skills. I can write something that looks like a contract, but no lawyer would advise me to do that. Why is this any different?

Ann-Maree David: Great post Gordon.  The real skills we should all be honing are collaboration and communication so we can work in multidisciplinary teams.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Gordon Leigh. Well expressed. If it does take 10,000 hours to really master a skill as Malcolm Gladwell suggested in ‘Outliers’ you would be better mastering the one skill you are really going to need in your area of work. For a lawyer that will be the law (or more likely specific legal niches in the area that they practice in) : for a programmer that will be coding.

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Isabelle Lajeunesse: I am personally between the two philosophies. I think today’s lawyers need to understand technology better. We can not represent our clients without a clear understanding of what they are doing. However, I’m not sure that all lawyers need to code unless you have real talent. To make an analogy with the medical world, my friend can read and know all the details of a surgery but if I need an operation, I want a real surgeon, not someone who reads on the subject or who practice medicine from time to time.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Isabelle Lajeunesse. And to continue that analogy you might not want the heart monitor you are attached to during the surgery to be a new one that your surgeon has decided to build because he can make a better one than the existing tried and tested expert systems.

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Philipa Jane Farley: I was a coder in a life before law school. It is invaluable to me now.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Philipa Jane Farley. I would be interested to hear more about how coding has been invaluable to you as a lawyer. Can you eleborate? Whilst you came from a coding background before doing law do you think that all lawyers should or need to also be coders?

Philipa Jane Farley: Hi Brian Inkster thank you for the mention.  I elaborated more above with Yvonne Nath. I don’t necessarily think that all lawyers should or need to also be coders as for some it doesn’t fit well.  If you consider the values you can bring into the law space (creative collaboration whilst sticking to a set of acceptable standards, problem solving whilst simplyfing), then I see a better fit for what coding brings to law.  With regards to having a more technical insight, it would help to have a basic understanding of systems but to acknowledge the fact that hiring in an expert who can translate would be best (as you mention in your article).  I do love the correlation in the tweet you embedded. However, my father was a farmer who could build tractors so 🙂

Brian Inkster: Thanks Philipa Jane Farley for elaborating and clarifying your thoughts. There will always be niches that a coding lawyer like you will beneficially find themselves in. Just like a Chinese speaking English lawyer might find such a niche. Glad you agree that all lawyers do not need to be coders just like all lawyers don’t need to speak Chinese. You clearly take after your father! I knew a farmer who built planes and fish gutting machines. Also a baker who improvised with baking machines to make them better. These are special and unique people who liked to get their own hands dirty implementing their ideas. A lawyer can have ideas of how to improve things using tech but can always hire in the people whose hands will get dirty implementing it.

Philipa Jane Farley: Absolutely agree with that Brian Inkster

Slap the Self Proclaimed Legal Technology Futurist!

By | February 15, 2018

Following my recent blog posts on ‘Legal Conferences and Artificial Intelligence‘ and ‘Hack the Past : How the Legal Profession knew nothing about Technology‘ I saw this tweet from Janders Dean and thought it very apt!

Reactions on LinkedIn:-

In addition to the comments in the comments section below there have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn. To keep these together with the post itself I have copied the comments here:-

Nir Golan: seriously don’t even know what that means. I see these titles all the times and just don’t get it. What makes one a futurist? What do they do?

Alex G Smith: Get paid to go to conferences and talk about something or other … usually not that far in the future because most don’t have much real creative imagination. I’ve seen some awful ones in the past 15 months, usually self-proclaimed and most actually don’t understand the tech itself having never built anything in true lives.

Nir Golan: Alex G Smith pretty crazy. Again a by-product of the hype..

Alex G Smith: Nir Golan yep … https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2013/08/26/215761377/a-history-of-snake-oil-salesmen

Nir Golan: Alex G Smith thanks. My main concern with the hype is that down the line it will create negative bias for companies that create great products solving real problems that firms/companies/people really need. Same tech hype all over again. See the tech bubble..

Brian Inkster: Think the emphasis has to be on the “self proclaimed”. That fits in with Alex G Smith’s snake oil salesmen analogy. They are not the real deal but have found a latest bandwagon they can get onto in the hope of making some money from it. They often move from one bandwagon to the next – perhaps from being a web/SEO evangalist to being a social media guru and then an AI/blockchain expert (see the cartoon below of the evolving ‘expert’). They are not to be confused with the real deal i.e. a legal futurist (not a self proclaimed one) with an established body of work spanning a period of time who has been endorsed by many as being a known expert in their field. These real legal futurists are like the original importers of real snake oil into the USA from China before the copycats appeared with the fake oil. That is my view of what Janders Dean had in mind when they posted the original tweet that spawned the post by me. Justin North may let us know if he has a different take on it.

The Evolving Expert

Nir Golan: Brian Inkster thanks. Interesting.

Carolyn Elefant: I see this all the time – but they are apparently making money so how can you argue s with that. It’s entrepreneurship at its finest – figuring out what you want to do and finding a way to monetize it.

Alex G Smith: Carolyn Elefant people are starting to vote with their feet at least in the UK from the conferences so they better take the cash whilst it’s still there. Not really sustaining or building a collaborative ecosystem of innovation and creative networks.

Carolyn Elefant: Alex G Smith I agree. But maybe selfishness is what it takes to get rich.

Alex G Smith: good for them … others find pleasure and satisfaction in doing real things, building things that last, fixing long term problems or nudging the needle to actually change something. There are a lot of people at present who seem not to worry about impact and lining their pockets. I’m sure one day they could make it all the way to the top – futurist consultant to Trump? Good luck to them we need their taxes to pay for the real people that change things, esp within governments.

Brian Inkster: Those making the money Carolyn Elefant are perhaps the same as those original fake snake oil salesmen that Alex G Smith referred to. It will no doubt ever be thus: people will make money from such things without actually helping those that are paying them. The gullible will be taken in. As Alex G Smith says in the UK we are starting to vote with our feet. I certainly am and there are conferences I won’t be going to this year for this very reason.

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Alex G Smith: I could run a Boolean search and be a futurist right now … please join “graph data-gate” on twitter now/today – we’re just blowing the doors (aka Michael Caine) off the van on core awesome free cool tech that already exists … and we could say is done and travel the world on conferences but actually we want to DO something …and iterate and measure… next year I may be considered a “leading light” of legal tech #crowdsource750

Hack the Past : How the Legal Profession knew nothing about Technology

By | February 11, 2018

Don't let millennials think that lawyers are still using quill pens

Don’t let millennials think that lawyers are still using quill pens

Yesterday I came across the #UMLR2018 hashtag on Twitter and started following what had the promise of being an interesting conference from the Miami School of Law: ‘Hack to the Future: How Technology is Disrupting the Legal Profession‘.

However, hot on the heals of my thoughts on ‘Legal Conferences and Artificial Intelligence‘ this conference appeared to be no different.

There was a good splash of futuristic frightening that at the moment for most practising solicitors is simply science fiction and nothing at all to be concerned about, e.g.:-

I would take the Albert Einstein approach and not clutter my brain with something I can look up elsewhere. He, when asked his phone number, looked it up in a telephone directory.

What alarmed me most was the hatchet job that appeared to be aimed at my generation (Generation X) and the one that went before me (Baby Boomers) as luddites in legal technology use awaiting saviour by the current generation (Millennials).

I have not deep dived into the hashtag and, of course, can only comment on the tweets I have seen (there may have been contradictory and better content at the conference not revealed in tweets). Here are a couple of tweets from #UMLR2018 and replies from me:-

You would think legal technology had just been created and was only now about to disrupt legal services and needs millennials (who, of course, understand it in a way my generation never will!) to implement it. What nonsense. Technology is an evolving thing. Technology for lawyers is part of that evolution.

I had my own personal computers as a schoolboy in the early 1980s: A Dragon computer followed by a BBC Micro. I taught myself a bit of basic coding at the time.

The first law office I worked in during university holidays in the mid 1980s had no computers but electronic typewriters (with a limited memory) and a Telex machine. Carbon paper was used to produce your file copy letters/documents.

When I started my legal traineeship in the early 1990s computers were in use, at the law firm who trained me, for Client Record Management (CRM), document production and cash room accounting functions. I introduced e-mail to that firm and ensured they registered their domain name.

In 1999 I formed my own law firm, Inksters. At day one I purchased a sophisticated practice management system (more advanced than the one the firm I left had). It set me in good stead to build and grow Inksters. That system had statistics, data analysis and data visualisation. None of those things are new.

That system has evolved and improved over the years. We moved it completely into the cloud in 2011.

Over the years at Inksters we have been early adopters in the introduction and utilisation of other technology, like being the first law firm in Scotland to:-

  • facilitate Online payment for legal accounts.
  • Tweet.
  • with a dedicated YouTube Channel.
  • pin at Pinterest.
  • utilise a web based digital dictation system.
  • introduce the property information to mobile phones by text service: Keytxt/Intelligent Property to both Glasgow and Shetland.

We continue in that vain and have a number of new technology initiatives (none requiring AI) to be implemented in 2018.

The early adoption of technology by solicitors in general can be seen through the history of the Society for Computers and Law. Their website reveals:-

Overview

The Society was established in 1973 to promote the use and understanding of information technology (IT) in the context of the law. For the first twenty years of its existence it focused more on the technical aspects of IT in use to support legal practices. Since then its focus has shifted more to the practice of IT law as a specialist subject as this has evolved to encompass new issues like the world wide web and digital media.

Origins

In 1970 the Law Society of England and Wales set up a committee to look at the possible uses of computers in a solicitor’s office.  The focus of those deliberations were on time-recording and on accounting systems only but there were many groups of people who were already pointing the way to a wider range of possibilities

In Scotland Colin Campbell, who was then a member of the Law Faculty in Edinburgh, organised a conference which led to the formation of the Scottish Legal Computer Law Trust and the publication of a report by Colin Campbell, Bill Aitken and Richard Morgan entitled Computers for Lawyers.

Meanwhile in England, starting, as long ago as 1967, Professor Bryan Niblett had aroused the interest of Norman Nunn-Price in computing. Norman had been working on shock waves and plasma physics at Harwell and Culham, and it was at Harwell that the two pioneers developed the Status project for the retrieval by computer of legal data relating to atomic energy.

In New York a legal information system was made available in the early 1960s by a firm called Law Research Services Inc. but the enterprise floundered in a welter of litigation. It was not until later in that decade that the Ohio Bar Association decided to sponsor a new full-text retrieval system which eventually developed into the Lexis system.

Whilst undoubtedly it is the case that on the whole lawyers adoption of technology is slow it has happened and is still happening at different paces depending upon the law firm in question. Indeed I have argued that BigLaw is often behind SmallLaw or NewLaw on the Legal IT curve.

But let’s not mislead the lawyers of tomorrow (the millennials) into thinking they are the saviours of the legal profession and that they alone will bring a new wave of legal technology with them that will disrupt legal services. That disruption has clearly been in progress the whole of my lifetime if not before and will continue as technologies evolve and are implemented by law firms. That is how it has been and will be. The pace may appear to be picking up a bit but I am not even sure if that is really the case. This is something that perhaps more likely arises, perception wise, from the current hype surrounding AI, blockchain and chatbots.

As Sara Kubik astutely pointed out:-

Also the fact is that as new lawyers entering a law firm they will be there to be trained in law. Surely they have entered the profession to be lawyers not data analysts.

Okay Richard Susskind foresaw (in ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers‘) a future where there will be new jobs for lawyers. I created one such job at Inksters when we employed a Legal Process Engineer.

But these are specific roles that take you away from practising law and into new and different territories. The question is do you want one of those new roles or a traditional role as a lawyer which is likely to be backed up by technology you can utilise and exploit? If the latter you will be trained in the use of the technology in question. You don’t need to know how to create or build it.

Also we learn at conferences that millennials are unlikely to stay in one job for more than two years, are likely to change career direction and do not want leadership roles. I know these are generalisations, and the topic warrants a blog post in its own right, but if there is any truth in these statements are millennials really going to take the mantle in legal technology advancement within law firms?

Again what is required is a dose of reality and a bit less hype. Millennials, of course, have a part to play in the evolution of legal technology advancement but they are not the ‘gods’ of it.

Let’s not forget the past and where we have been and what we have achieved to date. Teach our law students that and be positive about their role in an ever evolving world of legal technology.

Reactions on Social Media

There have been reactions to this post on Twitter and LinkedIn. To keep these together with the post itself I have copied the tweets and comments here:-

And on LinkedIn:-

Michael Burne: I’m a big fan of actual intelligence Brian Inkster and it sounds like you might be too. Tech changes how we work – ref Wang to Word but there’ll always be an important place for humans enabled to do more and better by tech!

Rob Brown: As Bill Gates prophesied, Michael Burne, the geeks will take over the world!

Michael Burne: Rob Brown that’s Mr Gates building self-fulfilling prophesies. If I prophesy that the lawyers will take over might that happen? I’m hoping the humans will stay in control rather than machines and hopefully both lawyers and geeks will remain a sub-set of human!

Brian Inkster: I am Michael Burne and agree that lawyers and tech need to work together and not one try to outdo the other like: http://thetimeblawg.com/2017/10/31/casecrunch-v-lawyers-not-deep-blue-v-kasparov/

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David Gilroy: Great post Brian Inkster.

Rob Brown:  was going to forward this to you David Gilroy, as this is precisely the kind of thing you talk about. But you’re on it already.

Brian Inkster: David Gilroy doesn’t miss a trick Rob Brown!

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Rob Brown: While technology is a game changer, Brian, there HOPEFULLY will always be a demand for a ‘people skill set’ to win work, build relationships and handle complex cases.

Brian Inkster: Indeed Rob Brown. What Richard Susskind refers to in Tomorrow’s Lawyers as the expert trusted advisers. “These are intelligent, creative, innovative lawyers who can fashion and articulate new solutions and strategies for clients who have complex or high-value legal challenges (the expert element). These are also lawyers who can communicate their guidance not just with integrity and in a confidential manner but in a highly tailored, customized and personalized way (the trusted component).”

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Victoria Moffatt: Great post Brian – having been to a fair few similar-sounding conferences in the past (we met in IRL at one actually!) I have to agree that the hype doesn’t usually match the reality of life in practice.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Victoria Moffatt. I remember the one we met at. I also remember at that one a delegate (not you or me) falling asleep during the keynote by a legal futurist. I am starting to feel sleepy at such conferences when the same hype gets re-pedalled. Indeed I am becoming more selective about such conferences based on speakers and content advertised. Hope to meet up with you again at a good one sometime in the future.

Victoria Moffat: Brian Inkster I can’t believe I missed that! Maybe the room was too hot ;0) I think Shireen Smith was thinking of organising a tweetup for the ‘old guard’ – hope so. If not, do you ever come over to Manchester?

Brian Inkster: Were you sleeping too then Victoria Moffatt 😉 A tweetup for the ‘old guard’ would be good. Happy to help Shireen Smith with that if later in the year! Not often in Manchester but will let you know if I find myself there.

Shireen Smith: Really great points you’re making in this post by the way Brian

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Pritesh Kabawala BSc (Hons) DipFA®: Brian Inkster good post!

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Yvonne Nath: Yes, we need to stay positive amidst all of the anxiety-producing hype, and it is so important to respect and remember the past when looking to the future. Many lessons learned that we should not simply dismiss.

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Jonathan Maskew: Great reading, thx for sharing

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Alex G Smith: Couldn’t agree more with this. The lack of “history” in our industry is shocking and will cost us up to half a decade as wheels are reinvented that could have been instantly answered by asking someone who has already designed or created solutions in a different phase/cycle of technological development. We need to better join the dots and not listen to experts who seem to start from a doomsday scenario or generalisation. Can we please skip the half decade of wheel reinvention – I’m getting old and there’s some really great things to do and society issues to fix with digital law.

Tim Lennon: I’m always fascinated how, in history, we find a simplification of something that happened, and stick with it as if people before us were idiots: it took them an absolutely age to legislate for the Plimsoll Line, yet now it’s pretty much an international given. Yet supporters spent an unholy amount of time trying to get it set up.

When we go back and look at all these things we take for granted, we recognise that there really is never, at the time, genuine black and white everywhere – as you and the article observe, the more we realise that, the more we accept that the big bang of whatever the new tech is does not fix the problem by itself …

Stuart Clout: Amen Alex G Smith. And may I also suggest to look for and ask people who used to be lawyers and now sit at the front edge of tech development. They have a very unique and pretty handy perspective. Firms working with tech outfits who identify issues, solve them, move onto the next one (repeat) is how real, practical progress is made.

Alex G Smith: I look for good legal tech companies that want to have an open and user centric approach to understanding the needs of lawyers and the user journeys of those lawyers. The tech companies don’t need to be stacked with ex-lawyers just be curious, listening and methodical to the needs of their end users and be prepared to invest in this and not “hard sell” of the wonders of “AI” or whatever open source/off the shelf tech they are leveraging.  Anyone building a product on continuous and incremental insight will do well … the bar is very low in this area.