Like butterflies in the Amazon, virtual and crowd-based professional services firms ('NewLaw') are starting to disrupt
A brief, but handy, guide to aspects of the Law of the Time Lords and other cosmic civilizations
Guest Post by Mark Gould in reply to Brian Inkster’s latest blog post on The Time Blawg
I am generally nervous about technology evangelism because evangelists tend to assume that their preference should be the same for all, without considering that different people have different needs and perspectives. The sterile debate between Mac fans and Microsoft users has mutated into an equally pointless dialogue of the deaf between iOS devotees and the Android camp. I prefer to see this proliferation of powerful operating systems, apps and hardware as a fantastic opportunity for people to choose exactly the right combination to match their needs.
I had a similar reaction to the recent blog post asserting the laggardliness of Big Law, by comparison with smaller firms.
It is true that larger firms have taken time to wake up to the opportunities of newer technology. But the same is true of many large organisations. Yes, larger law firms are moving slowly from Windows XP to Windows 7 (not even Windows 8). This migration mirrors that of their large clients in financial services and other sectors. There are good reasons for this dilatoriness. Consider the following, for example.
As firms become more complex — both in terms of work done and sheer numbers of employees and business units — the interaction of systems, databases, software and hardware becomes increasingly difficult to disentangle. Systems adopted over many years can seriously reduce the ability to make choices that are straightforward for smaller businesses or for individuals. Moving to Windows 7 is not a simple question of getting Dell to deliver new PCs. It is a major project with significant dependencies — any one of which could directly affect client service. It is no wonder that IT departments tread very cautiously in this respect.
Caution is also a watchword when considering moving to the cloud. The vagueness of the term ‘the cloud’ in this context is less than helpful, but I assume it encompasses the storage of data on servers that are not directly controlled by the firm. That proposition is a risky one for firms that have to worry about abiding by regulatory burdens over and above those imposed by their own regulator (the SRA or Law Society of Scotland, for example). Clients in regulated businesses (such as financial institutions) will often demand that their advisers work to the same standards as they are bound to by their regulator. More generally, concerns about market abuse and disclosure mean that firms operating at this level can only make decisions to work in a different way (even when new technology is not involved) after serious consideration. Information security and regulatory compliance are increasingly serious concerns.
Even if there were no technological or regulatory hurdles to overcome, should larger firms be adopting new tools as soon as they are available? Possibly, but only if they serve a valid business purpose. There are always lots of shiny opportunities that could be followed up, but most firms will not have unlimited resources to explore all of these. It takes time to work out which will bring the biggest benefit; that is where larger firms will appear to fall behind their smaller counterparts. Inksters can move more quickly because it is essentially more agile, and because instinctive decisions can be tested much more easily.
The legal market (in England & Wales, at least) is becoming increasingly diverse. There are firms owned by a company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. There are firms using a business model akin to barristers’ chambers. There are firms using Alternative Business Structures to bring non-lawyers into partnership. There are high-performing boutique firms. And there remain some firms that will continue much as they have for decades. All of these will be more or less successful. There will also be some that fail — but I think it is unlikely that the proximate cause of many of those failures will be an excess of caution about new technology.
The diversity of legal structures and market choices will push different firms to choose different models for their technology platform, to ensure that they are best place to serve their clients well. The outcome of those choices cannot be critiqued by a simple adoption curve for one technology. A more appropriate critique needs to take account of how well client demands are being met. It is almost impossible to do that looking from the outside.
About the Guest Blogger: Mark Gould is Head of Knowledge Management at Addleshaw Goddard. This blog post reflects Mark’s personal views and not necessarily those of his firm. As Head of Knowledge Management Mark is responsible for finding, developing and promoting ways in which people in the firm can make the most of their own and other people’s knowledge. In addition to managing knowledge activities for the firm, in June 2011 Mark took on responsibility for leading the firm’s 20 Professional Support Lawyers (PSLs) as a team, focusing them on delivering improved profitability for the firm and their practice groups. Before moving into the central KM role in September 2006, Mark was a Professional Support Lawyer in the firm’s Competition, Trade & Regulatory group, looking after the team’s know-how and training needs, and developing client relationships in the through knowledge support. Prior to joining Addleshaw Goddard, Mark was a Lecturer in Law at the University of Bristol (1989-2001) and the University of Hull (1988-1989), teaching undergraduate and postgraduate subjects including Public Law, Jurisprudence and EU Law.
NB: Images, captions and credits inserted by The Time Blawg Editor
It is a ‘thread’ book that grew out of a blog post by George on ‘The rise and rise of the NewLaw business model‘. That post sparked a torrent of comments and replies. These form the basis of this crowd sourced e-book supplemented and linked with other posts, tweets and George’s narrative.
George uses the terms ‘BigLaw’ and ‘New Law’ to refer to business models. BigLaw and NewLaw do not refer to the size of the firms or when they were founded. BigLaw and NewLaw are distinct and fundamentally different business models.
BigLaw for George is the business model underpinning the operations of traditional law firms. It applies to law firms of all sizes, except solo and micro firms. Whilst the book does not explore solo and micro firms in any detail I would suggest that many such firms may well have the attributes that George gives to NewLaw.
We are told that the BigLaw business model is built on six elements:-
NewLaw on the other hand shares possibly only one of these characteristics, namely the attraction of top legal talent.
In all other respects the NewLaw business model is different. The investors are seeking returns on capital and are separate from the producing staff, so leverage and the tournament are not present. Certainly some, even many of the staff, have a financial interest in the success of their business, but as an asset, not to maximise equity partners’ profits each year. The balance sheets of NewLaw business models are as important as the income statements.
And – most importantly – fees are fixed in NewLaw. The provider, not the client, absorbs the risks of under-estimation and poor matter management.
The conversation in the book revolves between these two models with thoughts, comments and predictions on both.
We hear of disruption and of changes that are structural not cyclical.
There is a suggestion that firms that are less suited to handling highly complex matters might be more at risk from NewLaw competition. This may be true of what are real high complex matters. However, in my experience, BigLaw often over complicates reasonably straightforward transactions. It puts a team of half a dozen lawyers in three departments onto a ‘commercial’ transaction that any competent conveyancer could carry out on their own. When clients begin to realise that NewLaw can simplify the process rather than mystify it then BigLaw may have more to fear than some of the contributors to NewLaw New Rules suggest.
The advantage NewLaw has over BigLaw in adapting technology is discussed where BigLaw have legacy systems that still have to run their course. I will explore this in some detail with reference to Small Law (which could well equate to NewLaw) in my next blog post.
Steven Tyndall thinks NewLaw will better use technology because:-
BigLaw typically asks ‘How can I use technology to do what I do better?’ Whereas NewLaw simply asks ‘How can it be done better?’. The first question results in sustaining technology. The second question does not just reference technology; it is an intrinsic component.
We are told by Peter Carayiannis that client power is reshaping the BigLaw business model:-
Those firms that recognise adaptation is the key to survival and everything revolves around providing the best value to the client will benefit.
The lawyers of the future will also be reshaping things:-
The bottom line is that Gen Y mocks the billable hour and will not spend a career toiling on a billable hour basis. These young professionals have been told they are knowledge workers and that they can work wherever and whenever and need not be fixed to a single location.
Discussion takes place about the need for lawyers to actually change the way they practice law. As Ron Friedmann referencing Jordan Furlong points out:-
90% of what 90% of law firms do today is the same as it ever was. And that’s generous.
BigLaw is training lawyers for New Law. Will NewLaw ever train their own? Although as Jordan Furlong highlights the training may not be as appropriate as it should be:-
Large law firms are facing a near-complete transformation of their business models and are mostly ill-equipped to see this process through. Large firm associate training is designed to produce law firm employees, not entrepreneurial lawyers of the future.
Richard Susskind warns:-
If one leading law firm breaks rank and delivers world-class service at significantly lower cost, using alternative methods of sourcing, then the market will change irreversibly.
It is suggested by George Beaton that for BigLaw firms based on business as usual, profit-per-partner will halve within ten years. From anecdotes I have heard concerning BigLaw (at least in the UK or certainly in Scotland) I though that had already happened to many during the recent recession. A further halving in the next 10 years could therefore to many be a quartering from where levels once stood.
Discussion takes place that specialist boutiques ranging in size from a handful of partners to maybe 20 or 30 will form de novo or by breaking away from large firms. I have referred to this a number of times in the past on this blog with reference to the post by John Flood on ‘The Rise of the Boutiques?‘. This may well result in more and not less law firms as some predict the future of law holds. As John Flood also blogged ‘Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom‘.
Karl Chapman won’t be investing anytime soon in a traditional law firm:-
But, taking a ten-year view I wouldn’t invest in a traditional law firm; the competition (which is well capitalised and run like businesses) has only just started to flex its muscles. As Reagan said ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’.
Ken Grady thinks that:-
Strong, smart, nimble players will survive; slow, inward-focused and tradition-bound players will struggle and disappear
Peter Kalis from within BigLaw thinks that some (not all) the contributors to New LawNew Rules are “glitterati among the membership of ABLAC”. Apparently ABLAC is the acronym for Attack Big Law at Any Cost. Peter makes it clear that he is in the business of serving clients not selling books and he provides a robust defence of the BigLaw business model and its survival. It is likely that with him at the helm his firm has a good chance of survival. However, many other BigLaw firms may not be so fortunate to have a Chairman who actually considers the threats that NewLaw pose. Indeed potential ignorance on that front amongst BigLaw partners is something that comes out in the book.
Richard Susskind in his forward to NewLaw New Rules states:-
This is mandatory reading for anyone who is interested in legal businesses of the future.
I would second that.
George Beaton must be congratulated for putting NewLaw New Rules together. It is the start of a conversation/debate that I am sure is set to continue as NewLaw firms come and go (not all will survive) and BigLaw firms adapt, change, do nothing, vanish or survive.
I have highlighted excerpts from NewLaw New Rules that particularly caught my personal attention. There are many more contributors to the book, in addition to those specifically mentioned by me, with plenty to say on the topic. There is detailed analysis contained in the book that will appeal to a broad range of people involved in the legal industry from TinyLaw to BigLaw and to those already part of or contemplating NewLaw.
To receive your complimentary copy of NewLaw New Rules:-
> Go to Smashwords by clicking on that link
> Register with your name and email address
> Search for NewLaw New Rules
> Click on the title
> Enter this coupon number AN37P
> Your free copy will download
Note: This free copy must be downloaded by 15 March 2014 – the offer expires after this date. If you miss the free offer you can, of course, still purchase NewLaw New Rules via Smashwords or Amazon UK or Amazon USA and no doubt also at Amazon’s other international sites.
Note about the author: George Beaton is a Legal services industry specialist, Business adviser to law firms, Leader of strategy and research consultancies serving professional services firms, Author, Commentator and Keynote speaker. George is a Partner in Beaton Capital and an associate professor at the University of Melbourne.
I was in Glasgow, Scotland yesterday and not New York City, USA. I would have been in the latter attending the Reinvent Law Conference had the organisers invited Scott Greenfield to talk. I gave that promise following Reinvent Law London in 2013. It was not to be despite my proding. So instead I followed the hashtag on Twitter. Not the same as being in the room but it gives you a flavour.
— Who Trended it ? (@WhoTrendedIT) February 7, 2014
I particularly liked the sketchnotes of the Conference from Margaret Hagan.
I am very much a supporter of the ethos behind Reinvent Law. I enjoyed attending LawTech Camp London 2012 and Reinvent Law London 2013. It is good to see boundaries being stretched and ideas about the future of law formed. Perhaps it gives us hope. I am sure that I will continue going to such events in the future. It is usually a good social event too. I would have met many Twegals (legals who tweet) in New York City. Scott Greenfield still went along for the ride despite the speaking snub.
It would have been nice to have said hello to Scott and to others in person.
Whilst perhaps not as extreme in my views, or ways of expressing them, as Scott Greenfield (‘a survivor’s tale‘) I do agree with him that balance is required and is often lacking at these legal tech / futurist conferences.
This is also true of the LawTech Futures Conferences held annually in London since 2012.
Gizmos doth not a lawyer make. It can be a tad worrying to see the image portrayed to young lawyers being one that involves only technology as the future of law with little or no regard to the art of advocacy or indeed any other skills that a lawyer traditionally is should be equipped with.
Those skills take years of practice and honing. We may yet reach a stage where a computer takes over – but we are a little bit away from that yet.
Donning Google Glass will not make you the next Petrocelli. This fact is often ignored. Largely I believe because those preaching don’t have those skills (they may well have Google Glasses). They are non-practicing ‘lawyers’.
To invite up on the stage some actual practicing lawyers would give balance and a dose of reality. Not a bad thing for the young lawyers of today.
And don’t think some practicing lawyers (even Scott Greenfield) don’t get IT. Scott is a blogger that leaves most all lawyers in the shade. He is a blawgoneer. There is much for the aspiring lawyer to learn from Scott. I am not so sure about the AOL desktop though!
Many sole practitioners (solos as I think they call them in the States) are way ahead of Big Law when it comes to IT (a theme that I intend to continue in future blog posts). Those attending Reinvent Law conferences could learn a thing or two from what is actually happening to improve efficiencies and client experiences within ‘Small Law’.
There was also apparently a dearth of women contributing to Reinvent Law NYC.
I am sure if the organisers had asked Nicole Black, Betsy Munnell, Stephanie Kimbro and Carolyn Elefant (to name but four) to speak they would have been happy to oblige. Next year perhaps?
One of the better Futurist conferences I have attended in recent times (‘Evolution or Extinction’) was actually held in Scotland and what made it so was the number of coalface practitioners telling us how they had advanced or were advancing their real life businesses. Traditional law firms can adapt and thrive. There is a lot for law firm partners and new start-ups to learn from such experiences. If they attend or tune in to hear that is!
Reinvent Law may need to consider adapting itself. There are things you will not currently hear at Reinvent Law. There are things that perhaps you should be hearing. A balanced view will give Tomorrow’s Lawyers a better start in legal life and a much healthier future than a one sided view will.
I have been accused of “mixing good old traditional values with an innovative approach to delivering legal services”. You can mix the two. You should mix the two. That is what I call Forward Thinking Law.
Reinvent Law is a fairly new kid on the block. I am not knocking it. I think it has something to offer. But the organisers should perhaps pay attention to the crowd and let it develop. Originally the talks were crowd sourced. That did not happen in New York City. Perhaps a retrograde move? Perhaps one designed to keep some speakers out? But even when crowd sourced many potential good talks were excluded as those who did most canvasing usually got in. Perhaps a first come first up approach – open up the invites and list the talks as they are entered on the web? Have some invited speakers too (and please do invite Scott Greenfield this time and a few other practitioners from the coalface, especially solos/small law). Perhaps a quota for women to address the gender imbalance? Expand the focus. Oh… and don’t forget the coffee and WiFi.
#ReinventLaw no WiFi, no coffee. Shoot me now.
— Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) February 7, 2014
I might call along Reinvent Law London 2014 to see if Reinvent Law reinvents itself. Or…
What could you be creating if you weren’t sitting in this room being told how to innovate? #reinventlaw
— Mark W. Bennett (@MarkWBennett) February 7, 2014
The Time Blawg was three years old on 1 January 2014.
It is now, at this time of year, traditional for me to look back over the past year on The Time Blawg with my reflections and thoughts on the past, present and future practice of law. So here goes.
In 2013 I blogged less on The Time Blawg than I had done in the two previous years. Indeed last year my review of 2012 was done in 4 parts! This year my review of 2013 will easily fit into one blog post (I will do a second post on my predictions for 2014 as I usually cover that at this time of year also). The reason was not a waining interest in the past, present and future practice of law or of blogging in general. On the contrary my energies have been channelled into the future of my own law firm, Inksters. I have opened two new offices (in Wick and Portree) and moved the firm to a much larger new Glasgow HQ (affectionately known as the Inksterplex!) all in 2013. I will hopefully get around to blogging about the why and how of what Inksters are up to at The Time Blawg in 2014.
I also started a new blog in 2013 on crofting law (a niche area of law that I specialise in) with 37 blog posts being contributed by me to it since it began in March. So I was a bit distracted from The Time Blawg. I did have some ideas for posts and a few were drafted but never finalised. I wanted to write more about my experiences of the Surface. I had more to say about QualitySolicitors. I have been promising for some time a follow up on my Paper.li experiment. I may find time later in 2014 to make amends. Until then what did I manage to cover on The Time Blawg in 2013? Well it was mostly reviews of Legal Technology / Futurist Conferences I attended or books I had read.
First up in February was Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century – Reviewed. I commended this book by Mitchell Kowlaski to any lawyers serious about their future. But I suggested that they don’t just read it but act on it. A theme that was to emerge in other posts throughout 2013.
In April I reported on some simple but effective technology being employed by the Scottish Land Court at hearings. It also made me think and ponder on the Blawg about what else the courts could be doing to utilise technology and create efficiencies.
April also saw me review Richard Susskind’s latest book ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’. I finished my review with this paragraph:-
As I said about Mitchell Kowalski’s book, Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century, with Tommorow’s Lawyers don’t just read it and hope it never happens. Much of it is already reality and much more will become reality. If you want to be one of tomorrow’s lawyers read it, digest it and, most importantly, act on it. Richard Susskind hopes you will “want to be one of the pioneers” rather than respond defensively (“how can we stop this happening?”). I, for one, am in the pioneer camp. Join me for the ride if you dare.
April was a month of sadness when I heard of the death of Elizabeth Miles. I put my thoughts down in a blog post about ‘a true Twitter friend’.
Whilst I did not blog about it at the time 2013 saw the sad loss of others I had become acquainted with through Social Media.
In November Gianni Sonvico’s body was found in the Thames. Gianni was only 23 and had just been called to the Bar. He was a young lawyer with a bright future ahead of him. That future was very sadly brought to an end. I had the good fortune to meet Gianni once when a few of us went out for a curry in London after a Twegals Tweetup. It was a very amusing and memorable evening.
November also saw the untimely death of Paul McConville at the age of 47. Paul was well known for his blog: Random Thoughts Re. Scots Law. I met Paul only once when he visited me to pick my brains on something. He was a very likeable and intelligent lawyer. I think we picked one another’s brains that day. Ian Smart, who knew him much better than I did, blogged on Paul McConville’s passing.
The anonymous editor of Blawg Review died in October. Not many had met Ed or knew who he was. He did a great job over the years in bringing law blogs to the attention of many by encouraging blawgers to write blawg reviews. In recent times these reviews had unfortunately dwindled in number. Not because there were less blawg posts to review but because, I think, there were a limited number of blawgers willing to put in the time and effort to write the reviews. I know, having done one for UK Blawg Roundup (The Time Travel Edition), that it is a time consuming task. I do, however, now regret not writing a review for Blawg Review. Ed asked me and I said I couldn’t at the time but would do so at a future date. I didn’t realise the future for Ed was not going to be a long one. Some of the stalwarts of Blawg Review created a final edition in Ed’s memory. Starting with Scott Greenfield’s post, each chapter linked to the next, before returning to the post by Colin Samuels on Blawg Review and “closing the loop one last time”.
In April I attended the biggest legal technology event in Europe. I blogged about it: LawTech Futures 2013 Reviewed: The one with the neocortex. On the ‘neocortex’ keynote talk by Ray Kurzweil I blogged:-
For most lawyers struggling to decide whether to upgrade to Windows 8 from XP (having missed Windows 7) or just wait for Windows 9 it was all a bit too Dr Who.
In June I was speaking in Edinburgh about Cloud Computing for Law Firms.
Also in June I was at the Reinvent Law conference in London. I blogged about that: Reinvent Law London 2013 Reviewed: DO – don’t just talk. Again the clear message was “Reinvention is Doing Not Talking”. The next Reinvent Law conference was at that time planned for November 2013 in New York City. That was subsequently postponed to February 2014. New York criminal defence lawyer, Scott Greenfield, reckons Reinvent Law requires “balance instead of just cheerleaders”. The organisers of Reinvent Law New York City have an excellent opportunity to include that balance by inviting Scott to speak. I said I would book a flight for it if they did. Alas they have not done so as yet despite my proding:-
— The Time Blawg (@TheTimeBlawg) December 20, 2013
— The Time Blawg (@TheTimeBlawg) December 22, 2013
In a recent blog post on ‘Innovation – of course, it’s what we all do, isn’t it?’ Paul Gilbert said:-
We have created a sort of pointless coin toss – “heads” we talk of change endlessly, but “tails” let’s defend the status quo. All this tossing about has resulted in two very irritating side-effects. The first is the rise of the “thought-leader” – a small self-appointed cohort of media savvy preeners, masticating the bleedin’ obvious and expectorating platitudes. The second irritant is the rank NIMBY-ism of so many lawyers; they sit, metaphorically arms folded across their chests, demanding that others impress them with innovative thinking failing which they conclude they must be doing just fine…
Finally the endless chatter about change has paralysed our ability to think for ourselves. The epitome of this nonsense is the evermore flaccid agenda for over-hyped conferences on change/new thinking. These are empty vessels devoid of anything more compelling than half-hearted networking…
Sometimes the networking is the best part of these conferences. Meeting Scott Greenfield in person would have made Reinvent Law NYC a worthwhile event to attend. I know, roughly, what his talk would probably have been about. Others might have benefited from hearing that also.
In September I attended a debate on Law Firm Mergers at the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow. Was it “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven”? In 2013 we saw plenty of law firm partners in Scotland handing over the keys to law firms in England. We are likely to see more of that in 2014.
That brings me nicely onto the last post of 2013. A conference on Evolution or Extinction for law firms organised by the Law Society of Scotland. One thing that set this conference apart from some of the others I attended in 2013 was the high percentage of speakers who had been there (some were still there), done that and bought the T-Shirt. They brought actual experiences from the coal face of running and growing very successful law firms. A lot can be gleaned from such experiences. Conference organisers don’t always appreciate that. I finished my blog post with this paragraph:-
So will we lawyers evolve or face extinction? I have no doubt, as we heard at the conference, that there are many opportunities to evolve if you have the resolve to do so. But those not prepared to adapt may well face extinction. A look around the room or a read through the delegate list showed that the evolutionists were preaching to the converted. Those that are likely to face extinction don’t know it yet. They were not there to hear why.
I do believe that there are benefits to be had from such conferences even if it is just confirming that you are on the right track in what you are doing within your own law practice or in benefiting from those networking opportunities mentioned earlier. Occasionally you may even pick up an idea or two that you can adapt or apply for the benefit of your own law firm. This will be especially so if the speakers have real life experiences to impart. The important point is to act and do following the conference. I will no doubt report on more legal technology / futurist conferences in 2014 but that does not look like it will include Reinvent Law NYC. I’ll book my flight when they book Scott Greenfield.
A debate on Law Firm Mergers was held at the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow on 5 September 2013.
Austin’s view was that it was “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” (John Milton – Paradise Lost). As an aside Steven Raeburn told us, via Twitter, that in the Star Trek episode ’Space Seed’, Milton is referenced by Khan and quoted by Kirk.
Anyway, back to planet earth and Austin was telling us that running a law firm was not about being a good lawyer. Management and business skills were equally important. A recurring theme in posts on this blog. If you deal with the business aspects of running a law firm you will have a better business. Austin was of the opinion that you should look inward and see what you can improve within your own firm before you consider merger as an option – or the last throw of the dice. Many mergers are to do with safety, security and making the best of a bad lot. None of us make the best out of clients that we can. If your starting-off point for running a law practice is your client’s best interests, you can’t go far wrong, as long as you see that term and its meaning in its widest context.
Gilbert Anderson knows law firm mergers first hand: his firm, Andersons, merged with DAC Beachcroft. He believes that the merger has benefitted the firm’s clients. If the clients benefit then the firm does through client retention and more work. The benefits have been an ability to deliver a wider and better added value service to clients. This has in turn produced more work.
With insurance being Andersons core work (80% or so) and insurers reducing their panels of solicitors then merger was perhaps inevitable. They had a number of key clients with DAC Beachcroft and a merger enabled them to offer cross border services within the UK. This may also be true of the merger announced this past week of Scottish law firm Simpson & Marwick with international law firm Kennedys. This is the latest in a series of Anglo-Scottish mergers following on from the recent mergers of Shoosmiths with Archibald Campbell & Harley, DWF with Biggart Baillie, Pinsent Masons with McGrigors and TLT with Anderson Fyfe. There have been less notable purely Scottish mergers but one in recent times was Burness with Paull & Williamsons.
Gilbert Anderson mentioned boutiques emerging in niche areas and then merging with larger firms. My own view is that boutiques may be better off remaining independent and not merging. John Flood joined in, via Twitter, to comment that boutiques “can foment more boutiques!” I have made reference before on this blog and will do so again to John Flood’s post on The Rise of Boutiques? Again on Twitter Matthew Denney thought if boutiques merge then they risk losing the reason they existed in the first place. Continuing the Twitter debate, Jon Busby tweeted “merging, I suspect, is the end of the ideas road for firms”. Some more from Jon on mergers can be found on his blog at Legal 2.0: Digging a hole? Back to Twitter and Simon Arkell tweeted “for a boutique, merging could lose identity and will not necessarily fix financial woes”.
Back in the Royal Faculty (rather than on Twitter) and Walter Semple pointed out that most of the law firm mergers we have seen in Scotland in recent years have been driven by the banks and not necessarily the desire of the firms involved. As Steven Raeburn put it in a tweet: “They have all been panic takeovers, with the exception of Burness-Paull & Williamsons”. That exception to the general rule was, Steven reckoned, ”just a good, organic business fit that both wanted but neither needed”.
Andy Todd tweeted: “more time will be spent talking about the new name than new opportunities”.
Discussion took place over the lack of investment by law firms in their future. New entrants (ABS) will reinvest profits in their future. If we keep the model we have now we won’t get anywhere. There is huge potential. We must do something rather than giving up. We must climb down from a position of perceived superiority and start again from a different mindset. Indeed, as I blogged in my last post, we must do - don’t just talk. If law firms did so then they may find that they have less need to consider a merger.
What do you think?
I attended Reinvent Law in London on Friday. It had the same organisers (Daniel Katz and Renee Knake of Michigan State University College of Law in partnership with the University of Westminster) and style as LawTech Camp London 2012. Basically the same concept but with a new name.
So pretty much every tweeting legal is here at #ReinventLaw – nice full room, great atmosphere
— Mark Smith (@intchallenge) June 14, 2013
I enjoyed LawTech Camp London last year so was looking forward to it. On the whole it delivered again this year although I did hear noises from some who thought last year’s event was better. Perhaps it was more novel to us last year and so was more compelling first time around? What I particularly like about Reinvent Law London is the North American dimension. Many of the presenters were from the other side of the pond bringing some fresh ideas to this side of it. They probably think the same but the other way around.
“Technology is not the solution, people are.” Steve Jobs #ReinventLaw
— The Time Blawg (@TheTimeBlawg) June 14, 2013
There was a packed schedule with 24 speakers to get through. Many of these were in the short (6 minutes long) ‘ignite’ format. I am not going to attempt to review all 24 talks. What I will do is mention a few that caught my attention in one way or another. This does not mean those are any better or worse than ones I do not mention – simply they were more my thing.
Craig Holt, Chief Executive of QualitySolicitors, was first up. I had tweeted before the Conference that I was a bit surprised to see QualitySolicitors on the Bill. Were they not old news by now? Renee Knake when introducing Craig did confess that she had been attempting to get him to speak at a conference for several years and he had eventually said yes.
QualitySolicitors may have been fresh and of interest to many of our North American friends in the audience but I suspect most from this side of the pond had already heard about QualitySolicitors ad nauseam. I am as much at fault for that with several blog posts on The Time Blawg about QualitySolicitors and another coming your way soon.
However, not to be too unfair to Craig Holt he still made some interesting points in his talk – although the solution to most is in the hands of law firm owners willing to effect change and it does not follow that this means being part of a branded umbrella organisation.
Craig discussed services sold by law firms as often being a mystery box. You don’t really know what you are getting or how much it is going to cost you. Craig used the analogy of lawyers being like taxi drivers with the meter running (I have a blog post on that lined up for The Time Blawg).
QualitySolicitors have a Research & Development Department that calls other solicitors to assess the service being provided by them. Craig played us a recording of one such call where the solicitor couldn’t tell the caller what a divorce would cost. This same theme came up in later talks as a reason why people don’t like to engage a solicitor.
The problem is with the law firms and not with the lawyers Craig told us. As law firms (pre ABS) are owned by lawyers might there not be some fault at lawyer level I wonder? Craig thinks that law firms need to be reinvented so that lawyers can be adored. He showed us a slide of the word lawyer changing to adored one letter at a time:-
Lawyer > Sawyer >Sawder > Sadder > Ladder > Lander > Gander > Gender > Render > Reader > Header > Headed > Healed > Sealed > Scaled > Scared > Scares > Scores > Scorns > Acorns > Adorns > Adores > Adored
One step at a time was a theme that ran through several talks including Craig’s one. It is not necessarily about the next big thing but taking small steps that together build into something greater than the parts. Jon Busby has blogged about Improving. I also believe that many law firms could do well to improve on where they are currently at, a little step at a time, rather than attempting to completely reinvent themselves overnight.
Speaking of Jon Busby, he was quoted by Craig:-
If I had to pick just one central theme for the future of legal services delivery it would be this; Lawyers will delegate more routine process to the customer (free) leaving them to focus on the high value intellectual stuff (paid for). That delegating will be enabled by technology and driven by you and me.
That, said Craig, is what QualitySolicitors are doing by way of their tie up with Legal Zoom. The sceptic in me wonders if this will be as fruitful as their tie up with WH Smith (no mention of that one at Reinvent Law!).
However, to be fair again to QualitySolicitors, at least they are experimenting and whilst some of those experiments will fail others will, in all probability, work out for them. Legal Zoom, with proper execution, has more to offer their members than WH Smith ever did. It may not be the case though that each of their ventures is right for each of their member firms. That is, no doubt, a difficult balancing act for the umbrella organisation to play as it decides what its next step will be.
The very clear thrust of Joshua Kubicki’s afternoon talk was “Reinvention is Doing Not Talking” and at least QualitySolicitors are doers as well as talkers. The need to do is the punchline in my recent reviews on both Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century and Tomorrow’s Lawyers.
Moving onto the ignite sessions, it was the one by Lah Leutrim Ahmeti that kept me (and I think most of the audience) entranced. His presentation was about the ‘UrLaw app’ which would be an app that allows you to access consumer contract terms, engage a solicitor and settle disputes all from your mobile phone.
What was impressive about this presentation was the fact that the presenter never opened his mouth once. Instead he did a robotic dance and mime to accompany his slides. If this was the law industry equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent he would have earned a wink from Simon Cowell. I trust a video of it will be posted soon.
Mark Smith also provided a very engaging presentation. He told us the story of Amy Li from her birth to becoming General Counsel at IBM. It held our attention and the punch line was that she achieved this success without any formative training in the law.
— Larry Bridgesmith (@lbridgesmith) June 14, 2013
Martin Langan guided us through how his online service, Road Traffic Representation, works. It has a free diagnostic tool which, once you have answered relevant questions, provides advice on possible outcomes and penalties if convicted. It also allows you to access telephone advice and instruct a barrister if required.
Barristers are impressed by the level of detail in the instructions they receive via the system – often better than being instructed at the last minute by a solicitor with a “here is the file, get on with it”.
We weren’t naval gazing with Martin. We were seeing the law reinvented today. Martin hinted that he would be moving the system into other areas of legal practice.
Electronic brief automatically generated by website – looks like great quality brief – would love to get sent one like this!! #reinventlaw
— Lorna Borthwick (@lorna_borthwick) June 14, 2013
Alice de Sturler (aka Nic H. Vidocq or Vidster or @Vidocq_CC) gave a talk on “Using Blogs to Give Cold Cases a Web Presence”. Some of the audience may have been surprised to learn that Vidster is a women. Until now Alice has blogged at Defrosting Cold Cases anonymously and the persona adopted by her appeared, on the face of it, to be male.
“Be more innovative with existing technology” -Alice de Sturler on giving cold cases a web presence. Fantastic. #Reinventlaw
— Ciara O’Neill (@CiaraOneill7) June 14, 2013
What I enjoyed about Alice’s talk was that this showed what can and is being done using the world wide web and social media on a practical level. Lawyers can learn much from others that are more advanced in their use of available technology. More practical examples of this ilk wouldn’t go amiss at future Reinvent Law conferences.
The title of Richard Susskind’s talk, which rounded off the day, was “The Past, Present and Future of AI + Law”. Very much in keeping with the theme of this Blawg so pleased to be able to journey back and forth in time with Richard in his Tardis. We heard about Richard being involved in the development in 1988 (when I was still a law student) of a computerised diagnostic tool: Latent Damage Law – The Expert System. Richard had expected 25 years later for there to be many more systems like this. There are some (we heard about Road Traffic Representation earlier) but not that many. Richard thinks the reason it didn’t happen was because of hourly billing. There was no need in law firms for efficiency. As we know that is now changing. Richard discussed the 4 stages of acceptance of technology:-
Many law firms are still nowhere near stage 4.
Like last year #Reinventlaw gives you glimmer of understanding just how much tech will change legal services. We have only just started
— Neil Rose (@legalfutures) June 14, 2013
Thanks to #ReInventLaw my lunch was tea and sweet pastries.
— Zeribe Nwachuku (@ZeribeNwa) June 14, 2013
Last year in my review of LawTech Camp London 2012 I mentioned the lack of nourishment of the edible kind. Thankfully with a little help from LexisNexis we had this year not only pastries at our tea breaks but also wine, beer, spirits and canapés at the after conference reception. Well done. Also the sponsorship element did not colour the ethos of the conference in any way. The LexisNexis slot was an informative and interesting talk much like all the others and in no way felt like an advert break.
For those in need of even more refrehments there was a Twegal Tweetup organised by Shireen Smith at a nearby pub after the Reinvent Law reception.
The next Reinvent Law
Reinvent Law is going to New York in November 2013. New York criminal defence attorney, Scott Greenfield, reckons Reinvent Law requires “balance instead of just cheerleaders“.
— Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) June 15, 2013
Scott is not going to pitch a talk and wait for votes. He has, however, made an offer to talk if invited but thinks there will be no takers. I do hope Renee and Daniel make that call. It would add a very interesting dimension to Reinvent Law New York. I would book a flight for it.
On 19 June I will be in Edinburgh speaking about my law firm’s experience of moving our entire IT system to the cloud at a Conference organised by Denovo Business Intelligence in conjuction with RSM Tenon, Inksters and RISE. This is the programme:-
Scottish Legal Conference
Maximise Fee Income using Intelligent Cloud Computing
09.30am, 2.00pm or 5.30pm
Claim CPD Time
Recent research has shown that most legal firms are not capitalising on their fee income. Yet most law firms focus on new client capture whilst not charging accurately or timeously for the work already carried out.
This is due to a variety of factors such as:-
Lack of accurate time records, outsourcing to third parties such as law accountants, lengthy time delays between case completion and billing, fee disputes with clients, lack of interim billing, excessive discounting of fees and the list goes on……………………………
How can your law firm CAPITALISE on these opportunities?
At this conference we will answer this question. We will look at practical methods which will enable you to harness your already existing billing potential.
Angela Mitchell CA CTA, Tax Director, RSM Tenon, will discuss tax tips and planning opportunities for legal practices in order to reduce partners’ exposure to higher rates of income tax.
Brian Inkster, Inksters Solicitors, will present his practical experience of implementing “Intelligent Cloud Computing” and the positive impact this has had for his firm.
James Henigan, Managing Director, RISE, will present a summary of the Rise cloud platform (DataCenter on Demand) and their partnership with Denovo, focusing on adoption trends of the SMB marketplace and why companies should not be fearful of trusting their data to cloud based infrastructure and the inherent benefits that can be realised by doing so.
Margaret Buchanan of Denovo Business Intelligence, will demonstrate a cost-effective way to outsource the burden of managing and maintaining hardware and software platforms, by showing live access to “the cloud“ and by using a couple of work type examples demonstrate WIP Limits being reached, Accurate Charges being Captured, Automated Production of Bills and automation of government forms and documents.
The Conference is at the Apex International Hotel, 31-35 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HS on 19 June. The programme is repeated in three slots (9.30am, 2.00pm and 5.30pm) during the day so you can choose the time that suits you best. You can book to attend here: Maximise Fee Income using Intelligent Cloud Computing