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/

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).”

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.

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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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.

Legal Conferences and Artificial Intelligence

By | February 9, 2018

Brian Inkster having a laugh about AI at the Legal Practice Management Conference 2018

Brian Inkster sharing a joke about Artificial Intelligence with a fellow delegate at the Legal Practice Management Conference 2018

Just a few weeks into 2018 and my predictions about legal conferences and Artificial Intelligence (AI) appear to be coming true.

I predict that in 2018 AI will continue to be a de rigueur slot in legal technology conferences. But delegates will continue to leave none the wiser as to what they are actually supposed to do with AI in their own legal practices or how much it might cost them.

Last week I watched from afar (Scotland) the tweets surrounding a Legal Technology Conference in New York City by following #LegalWeek18. This week I was in London for the Legal Practice Management Conference #LPM18.

Here are some of my tweets and re-tweets from last week:-

Just as well I have AI in my name then even if it is the wrong way around: BrIAn!

Yes, it is crazy. But it shows how crazy AI and blockchain is to many if not most lawyers.

Bringing some sense and reality to proceedings for our American Cousins was a speaker from the UK, namely Stephen Allen of Hogan Lovells.

Hear, hear!

Unfortunately, Stephen Allen was not at the Legal Practice Management Conference in London the following week to give delegates there the same dose of reality.

Relevant tweets from #LPM18:-

Chris Marston was watching from afar on Twitter and, taking up the Stephen Allen role from #LegalWeek18, let #LPM18 know his thoughts on AI:-

N.B. Remember that we learned earlier that it might cost you £200,000 to get the answer!

We never found out who the law firm was, who they were paying or what they were getting for £200,000 on research to find out what they could be using AI for in their firm.

The three delegates who claimed their law firms were using AI gave examples from the floor that sounded like basic process automation to me and not necessarily something that would actually involve or have to involve AI. Automation and AI often appear to be one and the same in the eyes of lawyers. They are not.

Yet again we didn’t have real life, properly explained, use cases of AI in practice in law firms. Use case examples are needed that delegates can assimilate and decide from whether or not such use would be beneficial to them and their law firms. Delegates need to know how much it will cost. Being told they might need to spend £200,000 just to find out what AI they might need will just frighten them.

I have yet to attend a legal technology conference where this has happened. I will let you know when I do. If, in the meantime, you have any real life AI in law firm stories to share please do so in the comments section below. If you think AI in law is over hyped let us know that too.

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:-

And on LinkedIn:-

Nir Golan: all kidding aside, I think that there are some great technologies out there that are solving real needs and problems and can make and are making the work of lawyers and legal departments much more efficient and allowing  them to spend more time on high-value work, problem-solving, and advice. I do agree, however, that the AI buzzword is being used excessively in order to grab our attention to describe any and all new “disruptive” legaltech out there. I don’t think we should underestimate and undervalue some great tech that is out there just because the word “AI” is being used to describe it. Just my humble thoughts.

Alex G Smith: We don’t underestimate – we have already used these tech over the last decade … we are being mis sold tech. Much of the AI is search so call it search and tell us the use case … we may have already done it or we may go cool, this adds nicely to what we’re pushing. We’re already doing this stuff without the hype.

Alex G Smith: When a legal tech company does something good like the Panama/Paradise Papers then I’ll be impressed! But it’s about tying the tech(s) to the people, process and then technology use cases that the magic happens.

Nir Golan: sounds like a big generalization to me.

Brian Inkster: The problem is being able to actually estimate and value the legaltech available. If it is not ‘AI’ it shouldn’t be labelled ‘AI’. A legaltech vendor who clearly explained that their tech was not AI, didn’t need to be AI, was not as expensive as AI but would do the job I needed as good as or better than something with an AI label on it is more likely to get my pounds, shillings and pence (or dollars) than the AI salesman.  Most lawyers would do well to spend their time , energy and money on non-AI legaltech that will and can make them much more efficient. However, much of that tech has been around for a long time (although always improving) but with little real uptake from most lawyers.

Nir Golan: I fully agree with you that it is about what the tech does and the problem that it solves for us that matters and not whether it is AI or not.

Alex G Smith: I’m seeing so many reinventions of the wheel at present that I like to attach to the exceptions. The exceptions are good including going to open source and doing ourselves on the baseline tech for everyone. The hype media seems to like generalisations.

Nir Golan: Brian Inkster also not sure that all the tech you are talking about (at least not the one I am thinking about) has been around for a long time. Some of it is very new and interesting with real use cases for lawyers. I am not here to defend the tech just don’t like generalizations. I believe in staying open to new things and not ruling them out because they call themselves AI etc.. let’s stay open.

Brian Inkster: My point was simply that often lawyers are not adopting legaltech that would have made their life much easier that has been available for some time. There are always iterations of the original tech that sometimes can appear new but isn’t really. However, I would never discount genuinely new legaltech if it helped out with a problem at hand or increased efficiencies. Indeed my law firm has often been the first or amongst the first to adopt new tech in Scotland.

Nir Golan: Alex G Smith understood. Important feedback.

Alex G Smith: Hi Nir – end of a long week so slightly jaded by another week of hype – so to be positive at the start of a brave new dawn/week:

The things that excite me in tech (potentially for legal):

(1) data visualisation is getting awesome – lawyers and clients like visual approaches to advice & data
(2) the return of exciting search technology – elastic search & similar are meaning search is making a comeback.
(3) big graph data – see the Panama Papers – are applicable to legal as they are to driving the recommendation engines taht rule our lives
(4) the emerge of drag/drop configuration of tools – so dynamic process flows, ML models, decision logic so lawyer don’t need to code
(5) the agile revolution and attitudes coming to every industry – yet to land in legal but coming.
(6) a re-humanising of user experiences (after a generation of terrible online meetings) into technology to drive adoption of change. – check out virtual reality for business.

Interested in what new that interests you?

Of course that is using what you already have and have had for a long time (document automation) in a clever way  that drives system level adoption and change.


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Nir Golan: AI in legaltech. Hype/buzzword for something that does not yet really exist or real present innovative tech creating real value and solving real life problems in legal?

This started out as a post by Brian Inkster and was then followed by an interesting discussion about the applications of AI for law firms. Brian Inkster and Alex G Smith, thanks for the open and candid discussion. It is great to be able to speak frankly and exchange different views and opinions. Another small step towards change and innovation..

If you are interested in legaltech and AI, this “practical” discussion amongst lawyers/innovation people could be interesting for you.

Having worked with a few legaltech AI companies and seen what their technologies can and are doing, my humble opinion is that AI in its current form is already solving some real problems for lawyers and legal departments, especially in the legal docs arena. My guess is that we will be seeing many more use cases in the year to come.

Any additional thoughts/experiences with AI in legal?

Future Law: Legal Technology / IT Predictions for 2018

By | January 4, 2018

Legal IT predictions 2018

New legal tech toys but will lawyers do anything sensible with them?

Every three to four years on this blog I look to the future year and what might happen in the world of legal tech / IT. I haven’t done this every year as things move very slowly in the world of legal practice and I would just find myself repeating myself 😉

Artificial Intelligence

Artificial Intelligence (AI) didn’t feature in my legal IT predictions back in 2011 or 2014. But over the past year or two it has been the next big thing that everyone in legal IT seems to be speaking about.

I predict that in 2018 AI will continue to be a de rigueur slot in legal technology conferences. But delegates will continue to leave none the wiser as to what they are actually supposed to do with AI in their own legal practices or how much it might cost them.

Law Firm AI has not quite reached the stage predicted for 2001

Law Firm AI has not quite reached the stage predicted for 2001

Despite this more law firms will be boasting in 2018 that they have adopted AI but the reality will be that their actual adoption will be no better than what they have done to date with document automation (see more on that below).

Whilst AI defeated lawyers in an unfair competition in 2017, AI will not defeat lawyers in a fair fight in 2018 (I doubt any such contest will be staged). That time may come one day.

Blockchain

Another new kid on the block is Blockchain. It will continue to be mentioned in passing at legal technology conferences in 2018 but again clarity on what your average lawyer will be able to do with it will be scant.

Document Automation

Some lawyers will wake up in 2018 to the fact that they could and should be utilising the document automation system that they purchased at vast cost many years ago to a far greater extent than they currently do before spending even more money on AI and blockchain.

However, the majority of lawyers will think that they must invest in these shiny new toys just to then do exactly the same with those as they did with the old ones!

Chatbots

The big thing in 2018 will be for law firms to start introducing chatbots onto their websites never mind getting actual content on there first for the chatbot to reference.

The fact that introducing a basic search function to their website might be more effective and useful than a chatbot that gets confused with most queries put to it (unless there is a human being operating it) will be lost on most lawyers.

However, if it has not been done already, a legal chatbot will in 2018 be able to order your Uber for you. This will be major news in legal publications but not really a giant leap for the legal profession.

Legal Robot makes coffee - ordering an Uber will be next

Legal Engineer

In 2018 the term ‘Legal Engineer’ is likely to be trademarked in the UK to Glasgow IP solicitor Philip Hannay, despite him not having coined the name, unless there is effective official opposition by those not happy with his trade mark application. I am sure Philip, being the nice guy that he is, will allow me to continue using the term ‘Legal Process Engineer’.

Social Media

In 2011 and in 2014 I predicted that Twitter would remain the most effective social media channel for lawyers to spend their time on. I referred to LinkedIn as “deadly boring” in 2014. It was back then.

But that has changed. LinkedIn has evolved and come into its own. It is being used far more effectively as a networking/interaction tool than used to be the case. It will undoubtedly grow further in stature in 2018.

Surface Phone

The fabled Microsoft Surface Phone just might make an appearance in 2018 unless it is pushed back to 2019 or does not exist at all.

Microsoft CEO, Satya Nadella, has said over the past year or so:-

We will continue to be in the phone market not as defined by today’s market leaders, but by what it is that we can uniquely do in what is the most ultimate mobile device.

and

In some sense, when you say, ‘Will we make more phones?’ I’m sure we will make more phones, but they won’t look like phones that are there today.

Some have seen this as a hint towards the development of a Surface Phone. Patents have been filed by Microsoft which show a device with a flexible hinge.

As a big fan of the Surface range of products (I had a Surface RT when first launched and am writing this post on a Surface Book) I will be queuing up for a Surface Phone as an upgrade to my HP Elite x3 Windows 10 Phone (which is an excellent device in its own right).

Surface Phone just might appear in 2018

Possible Surface folding device as imagined by David Breyer.

If the Surface Phone concept is all that it has been rumoured to be expect a dual screen, foldable device with Surface Pen that will truly be a PC in your pocket.

This will be the mobile device for lawyers as the Blackberry once was.

What do you think?

What do you think 2018 has in store for IT and legal practice?

Credits:-

Second image: HAL 9000 from ‘2001 a Space Odyssey’ – Metro Goldwyn Mayer

Last image: Possible Surface folding device as imagined by David Breyer.

Elvis Inkster?

By | November 11, 2017

Mitch Kowalski in his new book, ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field‘, writes:-

Brian Inkster reminds me of what Elvis Costello would look like if he had become a lawyer: Inkster has an understated, new-wave coolness about him that fits nicely with his role as a legal entrepreneur-and he does kind of look like Elvis Costello in his prime. Kind of.

I had never thought before that I might resemble Elvis Costello, but there again maybe kind of:-

Elvis Costello and Brian Inkster

Elvis Costello and Brian Inkster

For what Mitch says next about me and my law firm, Inksters, do buy the book and see Chapter 10.

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.

Legal Innovation in Toronto

By | November 2, 2017

Legal Innovation in TorontoLast week I was in Toronto. I went over the pond for the launch of Mitch Kowalski‘s latest book ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field’. Stephen Mayson in reviewing the book said:-

Through in-depth case studies and vignettes, Mitch Kowalski takes us on a tour to meet some of the trailblazers breaking the legal service provider mould, allowing us to eavesdrop on his conversations with them. This is not a glimpse into the future of how he and others might see the legal world developing as the Great Legal Reformation unfolds. This is insight into the here and now – into what these innovators have already envisioned and achieved. These are the platforms from which yet further innovation and re-formation of the market will be driven.

Brian Inkster and Mitch Kowalski - Toronto - Canada

In Chapter 10 Mitch meets me on a visit to the Inksterplex in Glasgow. Now I was meeting Mitch again, but this time at the Legal Innovation Zone at Ryerson University in downtown Toronto. The Legal Innovation Zone was a very apt venue to host the launch of a book that dives “deep inside some of the world’s most innovative legal providers” (John Chisholm).

In his talk Mitch pointed out that whilst there was no Canadian Chapter in his book (USA, Australia, England and Scotland *waves* are all covered) there is plenty of legal technology innovation in Canada but not law firm innovation. He suggested that regulation in Canada hampers it.

Legal Innovators network at the Legal Innovation Zone

But here we were in the Legal Innovation Zone in Toronto which is filled to capacity by 20 legal start up technology firms, a community of 35+ entrepreneurs who burn the midnight oil with the aim of being the next big thing to disrupt the legal industry. Many will no doubt fail but some could be the disruptors that Mitch is not currently seeing within Canadian law firms. I was thinking that all law firms could do with a Legal Innovation Zone within their own four walls.

In the Legal Innovation Zone $80,000 in total seed funding is up for grabs for winning teams in support of their artificial intelligence legal solution. Apply by 10 November!

Legal Innovation Zone Canada and The Great Legal Reformation - Notes from the Field

Some sound bites from Mitch’s talk:-

  • The original Reformation [started five hundred years ago in 1517] lasted over 100 years [until 1648] so the great legal reformation may not happen overnight.
  • New players [NewLaw] have a huge advantage because traditional law firms [BigLaw] can’t move fast.
  • Over time we don’t need so many lawyers because law can be done in different ways.
  • Is the partnership model broken? Yes 100%

After the book launch looking out the window of a bar in the same building that houses the Legal Innovation Zone I tweeted:-

It did feel like I had landed in the future.

The next day I was the guest speaker at the Toronto Legal Innovators Round Table held in Thomson Routers offices overlooking downtown Toronto. My talk was entitled ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from Scotland’ in homage to Mitch’s book and his Chapter on my law firm, Inksters. I told the Inksters’ story and persuaded the Round Table to don Inksters Christmas Hats even though it was still October!

Inksters Christmas Hats - Toronto Legal Innovation Round Table - October 2017

The Round Table consisted of a very interesting array of lawyers, legal technologists and academics who all get the need for innovation and are all doing their part in the Great Legal Reformation. I was pleasantly surprised to see at the table fellow Scot, Paul Maharg. I last saw Paul when I was speaking about legal technology at a conference at Nottingham Trent University in June. As he did then he also live blogged my talk in Toronto. So you can read all about it on his blog: ‘Brian Inkster in Toronto‘.

Ryerson University - Law Practice Programme - Toronto - Canada - Webcast by Brian Inkster

Later in the afternoon I was back in the Legal Innovation Zone. This time to do a live webcast to the students on the Law Practice Programme at Ryerson University. There are two routes in Ontario to become a lawyer. You can spend 10 months after completing your law degree working within a law firm as an articled clerk (like our two year traineeship in Scotland) or you can do the Law Practice Programme at Ryerson. The programme is billed as:-

An innovative alternative to traditional articling through a rigorous and demanding eight-month program combining on-line training and experiential learning with a hands-on work term.

Brian Inkster and Chris Bentley - Ryerson University - Law Practice Programme - Toronto - Canada

Managing Director at Ryerson, Chris Bentley, introduced me to the students and kept me on my toes, as did the students, with thought provoking questions.

One student asked if some of the fun activities we promote at Inksters (e.g. Christmas Hats, This is Your Trial and Inky the Sheep) might trivialise the gravitas of the legal profession. My answer was that most law firms who hold the gravitas approach all look exactly the same: boring. At Inksters we differentiate ourselves from them and that can only be a good thing for us and our clients.

I had only just adjusted to the five hour time difference before I was on a plane back to Glasgow with jet lag to contend with once more. It was a flying visit to Toronto but a very enjoyable and enlightening one. As Mitch says in his book:-

So it’s no wonder that Cold War spy George Smiley wrote that a desk is a “dangerous place from which to watch the world,” particularly during the Great Legal Reformation. To really understand what’s happening at law firms, one needs to get out of the office and poke around in the fog—and so I did.

I was glad I had left the Inksterplex to see, meet and learn from innovators in Toronto. I make a point of getting out and about and meeting other legal innovators as I have done recently in London, Nottingham and Cork. Innovation needs exploration.

The Great Legal Reformation - Notes from the Field by Mitch Kowalski

N.B. I have just touched on Mitch Kowalski’s book ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field’ in this post. I will return on this blog later with a detailed review of it. In the meantime you can order your copy 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.

CaseCrunch v Lawyers NOT Deep Blue v Kasparov

By | October 31, 2017

CaseCrunch v Lawyers NOT Deep Blue v Kasparaov

At least Garry knew how to play chess!

CaseCrunch is a legal AI startup founded by Cambridge law students. On Friday, they claimed to have made history in the legal profession.

In the past week, they held what they stated to be the world’s first competition to directly pit lawyers against artificial intelligence in a “Man v Machine” battle.

Artificial Intelligence won the competition, scoring 86.6% accuracy compared to the lawyers’ 62.3%.

The 112 lawyers who participated in the Lawyer Challenge were presented with factual scenarios of PPI mis-selling claims, and asked to predict “yes or no” as to whether the Financial Ombudsman would succeed in the claim. The same factual scenarios were given to CaseCrunch: whoever had the highest accuracy, won.

The participants of the competition were apparently 112 of London’s top lawyers, including several ‘BigLaw’ partners, from firms such as Bird & Bird, Kennedys, Weightmans, Allen & Overy, Berwin Leighton Paisner, DLA Piper, DAC Beachcroft, DLA Piper, Pinsent Masons and Eversheds Sutherlands (none noted for their PII mis-selling expertise).

775 predictions were submitted by the participants. A Technology Judge and a Legal Judge independently verified the fairness of the competition.

The factual scenarios were real decided cases from the Financial Ombudsman Service, published under the FOIA. All identifying details – such as the name of the parties, case names and dates – were removed, leaving only the facts.  Lawyers completed their predictions in an unsupervised environment; they were able to use all available resources.

The official press release specifically states that:-

PPI mis-selling was chosen as the basis of the competition because it matched the background of most lawyers taking part in the challenge and is an area of law that is easier to learn about than others. Participants were given links to the Financial Conduct Authority’s rules detailing the basis of an Ombudsman’s decision.

Matching the background and the lawyers knowing anything about PPI mis-selling may, however, be two very different things.

The Legal IT Insider, in their more balanced report, quoted Ralph Cox, a patent litigation partner at Clyde & Co, as saying:-

I keep an open mind. However, it struck me that the computer was given all the database information and therefore had an unfair advantage. Lawyers who took part were from outside this area of expertise without any real experience of PPI; they had to do it in a limited time.

Nadia Abdul, one of the tech start up founders, admitted to Legal IT Insider that:-

The system does not have the experience of a lawyer who has worked in the field of PPI.

So not quite like Deep Blue beating Garry Kasparov at chess.

I wouldn’t bet my chances against AI on a subject I know nothing about. Pitted against a crofting law Robot there might be a fair fight 😉

When CaseCrunch takes on PII mis-selling specialists and beats them then that might be newsworthy.

Remaking Law Firms ~ Why & How : Reviewed

By | October 11, 2017

Remaking Law Firms - Why & HowI promised a review of ‘Remaking Law Firms – Why & How’ by George Beaton and Imme Kaschner in 2016 shortly after its publication. However, it has taken me a year to read and review it purely because my attention was diverted away from The Time Blawg and to blogging about the law as opposed to the past, present and future practice of law.

I am pleased though to now mark a return to blogging on The Time Blawg with a review of a book that very much looks at the past, present and future of law firms and the change that might be necessary to remake them.

As the authors point out “by the way, have you ever considered that today is the first day of the rest of your law firm’s life?”

They suggest work is won by NewLaw firms through promotion of a corporate brand rather than through personal promotion. Not sure why this should be the case. Many successful corporate brands promote themselves from a personal as well as a corporate perspective e.g. Richard Branson at Virgin or the late Steve Jobs at Apple. Okay I accept that is perhaps not what the authors had in mind but still worth them considering in a NewLaw model based on benevolent dictatorship 😉

Furthermore, NewLaw models that for example revolve around self-employed consultants must, by necessity, have those consultants promoting their and their firm’s brand just as much as the corporate entity itself will do.

The book misleadingly suggests that “the United Kingdom… have allowed non-lawyer ownership of law firms… for a number of years”. This is indeed the case in England & Wales, but not that other part of the United Kingdom where I live and practice law: namely Scotland. I will forgive the authors for this as it is an easy mistake to make in the same way as some people like to think Andy Murray is English 😉

In Scotland whilst we have an Act of the Scottish Parliament that will allow non-lawyer ownership of law firms (but, unlike in England, not more than 49% ownership) that Act has not yet been fully brought into force to allow it to actually happen. When that may happen seems constantly unclear.

Despite ABS not yet being a reality in Scotland law firms can, like their English & Welsh counterparts, incorporate. But I imagine that the statistics given in the book for incorporated law firms in the UK exclude those in Scotland. This is because the figures in question were supplied by the SRA who regulate solicitors in England & Wales but not in Scotland where that task falls to the Law Society of Scotland.

The authors are of the view that “firms that are trying to adapt need to make significant changes in their business model”.

What is not explored is that even where ABS is not yet allowed, law firms can still be inventive in shaping different models in a non-ABS context. That doesn’t have to necessarily involve outside ownership/investment or incorporation.

The effect on law firms of large corporations significantly reducing the size of their panels is discussed. In some cases to just one. However, the potential of small boutiques with a clear niche to be included on the panel of large corporations is highlighted in a comment by Mike Roster (Co-Chair of the Steering Committee of the ACC Value Challenge). As has been highlighted on this blog before John Flood foresaw the rise of the law firm boutiques back in 2010: The Rise of Boutiques?

‘Remaking Law Firms – Why & How’ looks forward to what the legal landscape will look like in 2025. However the scenario analysis used “focuses solely on corporate and commercial law firms”. The authors speculate that with “complex and heterogeneous groups of stakeholders in an industry, the futures they face are likely to be many and varied”. Although that is the future they also see, after careful analysis, for those corporate and commercial law firms.

The description of what we might expect in 2025 is not that different from much of what was going on around us in 2015 or is today, just a bit more amplified perhaps.

A dramatic rise of robot lawyers is not envisaged in the way Chrissie Lightfoot imagines the future in ‘ Tomorrow’s Naked Lawyer: NewTech, NewHuman, NewLaw – How to be successful, 2015 to 2045 ‘. Artificial Intelligence does feature in the 2025 of ‘Remaking Law Firms – Why & How’ but as an outsourced commodity.

A handy ‘law firm self-assessment tool’ is provided in the book whereby you can score your firm against various benchmarks. This provides you with a starting point for remaking your law firm or focussing your use of the book. Again some of the questions are geared more for corporate and commercial law firms rather than those serving private clients. But there is still I believe an overall relevance and benefit for all law firms in using this tool.

Having considered the “Why” the book moves on to look at the “How”.

There are, we are told, three important business model dimensions for legal service providers:-

  1. How work is won
  2. How work is done, and
  3. How the entity is governed and managed

These three dimensions need to be addressed if you are to have a successful business model as an enterprise providing legal services.

Reference is made to Mitch Kowalski’s “highly readable book” Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century “for a detailed fictitious version of a remade BigLaw firm”.

The need for BigLaw to be so remade is captured in the observation that “NewLaw firms are designed ab inito to be more client-centric, efficient, and agile, whereas traditional law firms operate on principles from an era that is rapidly passing.”

The book looks at Brand, Marketing and Business Development and postures that law “firm brands are becoming increasingly important as services become more commoditized, as law firms diversify, and as partners with strong personal brands become even more mobile, often acting as free agents.” Something I recognised and have pursued with my own law firm since 2011: Inksters New Branding.

There is also a very valid view expressed that law firms should consider at least partly separating production from selling legal services by engaging professional sales personnel.

Pricing and Fee Arrangements come under scrutiny with the conclusion being that alternative fee arrangements are the way to go and if implemented correctly could be more effective and profitable than the billable hour. This is subject to the caveat that time recording still has a place to track efficiency and improvements.

When looking at sourcing and outsourcing I liked the authors’ analogy of sourcing legal services to sourcing dinner. Dining options vary dramatically from home made to a fine dining restaurant through fast food outlets or takeaways or indeed a packet of crisps (chips in the USA).

An interesting, but not surprising, statistic brought out in the book was that only 12% of senior law firm management believe that technology contributes to their law firms revenue growth. As the authors point out “these views are a self-fulfilling prophecy; they are unlikely to lead to innovative ways of using technology to deliver better or different services.”

With regard to technology the book makes no specific reference to BigLaw being behind the curve compared to NewLaw. It may, however, be implicit. This is a topic considered in some detail in a series of posts on this blog.

The statement “legal technology specialists on their own are also less likely to foster close collaboration with knowledge management professionals and legal professionals in ways that can generate gains in the quality or efficiency of delivered legal services”, is certainly not my experience. It may, however, reflect what goes on (or doesn’t) in BigLaw firms.

Apparently “large law firms have billing and practice management systems that generate large amounts of data, but this data is not necessarily coded in a way that lends itself to analytics for practice improvement”. It is astonishing that this should be the case in 2017 and highlighted in a chapter that also deals with the advance of AI. But this comes back to my earlier point about BigLaw often being behind SmallLaw and NewLaw on the IT curve.

Small law firms can and often do have billing and practice management systems that generate large amounts of data (probably not as much data as BigLaw would generate of course) and more likely than not coded in a way that does in fact lend itself to analytics for practice improvement. When I formed Inksters (at that time just me and a PA) in 1999 I installed such a system which has been enhanced and improved on since then as the firm has grown. I wonder if there are BigLaw firms today still struggling with legacy systems that pre-date 1999?!

It is concluded that “delivering value from the investment in a firm’s information technology infrastructure necessitates the articulation and implementation of an appropriate operating model”. This often, in effect, simply means the law firm actually learning how to use the systems they have to best advantage and spending time and effort putting the systems properly to work and training staff on how to use them. At Inksters we fast tracked this process with the appointment of a Legal Process Engineer.

It is reaffirmed, if any enlightened lawyer needed it to be, that “partners are change resistant”. This is expanded upon in an interesting chapter on ‘Partners, Innovation and Change’. We are told that, “in short, lawyers are skeptical people who value individual achievements over group consensus, and dislike change for the uncertainty that it brings, rather than valuing it for the opportunities that it provides”. Indeed, I can testify to countless examples of this that I have witnessed throughout my career as a lawyer and whilst implementing change at Inksters.

It should be stressed that in my experience this aversion to change runs deep in most lawyers and not just partners. Clearly in partnerships it manifests itself at its worst in the inability to actually affect change when the partners are the decision makers and invariably retain the status quo. Perhaps that is why my NewLaw firm, Inksters, has no partners and embraces change (even if some individual lawyers might seek to resist it). We did have a lawyer who joined us for two days but promptly left because they couldn’t cope with the level of the technology we employed!

As a partner in, at that time, one of Scotland’s largest law firms once said to me:-

I envy your agility to effect change. We are like an oil tanker when it comes to manoeuvrability.

That law firm no longer exists.

The Pam Woldow quote in the book that when you don’t have the clients in the room, many lawyers sit with their arms crossed over their chests, huffing away: “Spare me all this process crap. I just want to practice law. Let me just do it my way.” sums things up precisely.

Stuart Fuller is quoted as describing partners’ desire to improve their firm: “The word stewardship is not a word all in the industry use. But I think there is an inherent pride amongst partners to leave the firm in a better position than when they came into it”. This I think is looking at things through rose tinted glasses. The reality is much too often law firm partners thinking of themselves before the firm especially as they edge towards retirement. The end result is often a law firm that will not survive another generation and either folds or seeks rescue through merger.

The authors do, however, recognise this issue when they acknowledge that an “all profit today” mentality is a hindrance for long-term investments.

Conclusion

Each chapter of ‘Remaking Law Firms – Why & How’ ends with a conclusion that sums up the findings of that chapter. What are my conclusions of the book?

I found it very perceptive in highlighting the problems inherent in big law firms (often there in small and medium sized ones too, it should not be forgotten).

As a result of identifying those problems solutions were given on how to potentially remake the problem ridden firm.

The book is about remaking and is very much written from the perspective of a big law firm needing to change to avoid extinction. For those firms it is an essential read.

For the smaller more innovative law firm already initiating change or the new law firm starting out with a clean sheet it may reaffirm why they have set off on the course that they have but it may not be the best guide for them.

Many of the examples given in the book were of change at BigLaw (including ‘skunkwork’ initiatives that have come out of BigLaw) rather than examples of pure NewLaw initiatives. More perhaps could have been done on that front.

Perhaps a companion piece for George and Imme to consider writing would be ‘Making NewLaw Firms – Why & How’.

That said, however, I would commend the book as an essential addition to the library of any lawyer intent on changing their law practice for the better and the health of its future.

Buying the Book

‘Remaking Law Firms – Why & How’ by George Beaton and Imme Kaschner is available in the UK from Amazon and in the US (and presumably elsewhere) via the links at remakinglawfirms.com.

The Time Blawg Regenerates

By | October 8, 2017

The Time Blawg - RefreshedI went to add a post to this blawg tonight and discovered it wasn’t loading. The mobile version was working fine but on my Surface Book I was just getting the above image and nothing more. The Time Blawg had died!

I couldn’t find a solution, to sort the problem out, other than changing the theme. The Time Blawg regenerated.

I liked the original theme which went well with the time travel blawg theme. This has been a quick change for convenience but may well be the default theme on here for sometime now!

As a result of having to sort this out tonight the intended blog post is not happening. But I will now try to get that up on here within the next few days, if I do not encounter any more technological problems!

Transform your law practice after two days in Cork

By | September 22, 2017

The 2017 Practice Transformation Summit

On 16th and 17th October I will be in Cork, Ireland at the 2017 Practice Transformation Summit. I have been asked to speak on ‘The Entrepreneurial Law Firm’.

I will give delegates an insight as to how I see and operate my law firm, Inksters, very much as a business. Delegates will hear real life examples of how I have grown Inksters over an 18 year period and my plans for future growth and expansion.

One theme that will run through my talk is that of improvement. I believe that you can make lots of little changes to improve many facets of a law practice and these will cumulatively reinvent it.

I will talk about identity, office environment, the internet, social media, marketing, geographical reach, the cloud, legal process engineering, funding, self employed consultants, corporate social responsibility and having fun.

Delegates should, as a result, glean more than an idea or two on how to make their law firm more entrepreneurial.

I am very much looking forward to spending two days in Cork listening to the inspirational line up of speakers who have all in different ways transformed their law practices:-

  • Flor Mcarthy, Marketing Expert, Award Winning Author & Business Consultant, Partner McCarthy & Co. Solicitors Clonakilty, Co. Cork, Ireland;
  • Paul Hajek, Website, Content Marketing and Innovation Award Winner, Managing Director Clutton Cox, Chipping Sodbury;
  • Teresa Payne, Marketing Expert, Business Coach & Author, Owner of Parfitt Cresswell, London & Director of Compliance Manager; and
  • Nigel S G Harper, Chief Executive, Parfitt Cresswell, Windsor, Berkshire

I always think the best legal practice conferences have a good line up of coal face practitioners who have interesting and inspirational stories to tell and there is no doubt that the 2017 Practice Transformation Summit well and truly ticks that box.

The line up of speakers doesn’t stop there with none other than:-

  • Walt Hampton, J.D., Executive Coach & Law Firm Manging Partner, Law Firm Marketing Consultant, President Book Yourself Solid®, U.S.A. & Ireland; and
  • Gina London, Communications Expert, CNN Emmy Award Winning Reporter & Anchor, United States & Ireland

If you’d like to:-

  • Take your legal business to the next level.
  • Grow your client base… and make a lot more money.
  • Learn cutting edge business & marketing practices.
  • Discover how to scale & automate your business so that you can break free.
  • Collaborate with like-minded professionals.

Then the 2017 Practice Transformation Summit is definitely for you!

For more information and to book (if you get in quick you might just get the early bird rate which expires at midnight tonight!) see the 2017 Practice Transformation Summit website at: tbgsummit.com