An alternative view on Legal Tech Conference Swag

By | March 9, 2019

Swag Tote Bag

Handy reusable environmental friendly shopping bag or a disgraceful blot on our carbon footprint?

A campaign to decrease the use of unnecessary swag at legal technology conferences #gagtheswag was launched last week by a group of GROWL (Global Rise of Women in LegalTech) mentors who met at the Global Legal Hackathon in New York.

Reporting on this new initiative Richard Tromans at Artificial Lawyer asks:-

Ever noticed how much complete junk is handed out at legal tech conferences? Did you really want that tote bag? The miniature Rubik’s cube key ring? The glossy brochures that will go straight in the bin as soon as you get home?

Richard continues:-

And, it has to be said, there is something a bit bizarre about walking around a legal tech conference with cutting edge digital technology experts everywhere handing out wads of paper and giving away plastic pens that are also designed to write on paper.

Moreover, who needs another novelty plastic USB key drive handed out by someone you’ve never met before…(they’re a security risk anyway….)? Or anything else you will never ever use again, if even once…..you get the idea. What a colossal waste of materials, energy and money, with much of what is handed out made from non-recyclable materials.

So will that be an end to the Artificial Lawyer Laptop stickers then?

Is it the end of LegalTech laptop stickers as we know it?

Is it the end of the LegalTech laptop sticker as we know it?

However, an alternative view would be that those tote bags are useful and reusable as shopping bags – much better and more environmentally friendly than the plastic supermarket ones. My wife particularly likes, for this purpose, a slightly larger than normal size one I picked up at a conference in Ireland.

The miniature Rubik’s cube key ring I admit I could do without.

Brochures won’t necessarily go in my bin as soon as I get home and if and when they do it will be the bin for recycling paper. You might not have time to speak to every vendor at a LegalTech conference and there may be ones that interest you (even if you have spoken to them) and you want to read up more about. Taking away a brochure will give you that opportunity.

People (even LegalTech Innovation Gurus) still use paper and pens. That is not going to vanish anytime soon. A good quality notepad and pen is not to be sneezed at. I accept, however, that sometimes the LegalTech vendors could do better on the quality of the pens they give out.

USB key drives are always handy I find for having a back up of a speaker presentation on when I am giving talks (a ‘security’ backup rather than a risk). Happy to pick one up at a LegalTech conference otherwise I’ll end up buying them anyway.

Other swag not mentioned by Richard would include reusable water bottles or coffee cups (clearly environmentally friendly compared to the one-use disposable alternatives).

Branded cupcakes and fruit are edible and I assume therefore not an issue?

And surely we are not going to be deprived of branded vendor socks at LegalTech conferences?!  I like the ones from Moneypenny:-

Moneypenny socks

#dontsackthesocks

The GROWLers campaign, if you want to join it, gives two pledge options:-

Option 1

We will not provide/accept conference swag and we ask that the conferences we support ban conference swag.

Option 2

We pledge to only provide/accept environmentally and socially responsible, 100% recyclable swag and ask that the conferences we attend require this.

With regard to Option 1 are we really going to see stark vendor stands at conferences bereft of anything for the vendor’s to give the delegates?

Will those vendors still be expected to pay say £5,000 or more for a stand with no ability to give anything to anyone that might want to remember who they have spoken with?

These are businesses advertising their wares. It is a basic marketing principle that it takes at least 7 touch points before someone will internalise and/or act upon an advertiser’s call to action. Ideally this should be delivered in a variety of formats, over a period of time. #gagtheswag wants to eliminate some of those touch points. That won’t necessarily be attractive to a vendor.

Option 2 is a perfectly acceptable aim but a lot of existing swag, as already discussed, is actually 100% recyclable. But how will this be policed? What happens if something not quite 100% recyclable slips in? Even if something is not 100% recyclable but will be worn/used over many years by the recipient (in the same way as a similar product purchased by them from a shop would be) is that really a problem?

It seems to me that this is rather a big fuss over a tiny problem (limited perhaps to that Rubik’s cube key ring and the like). A dedicated website has even been set up to #gagtheswag! (no real content on it yet though). I had expected greater things than sorting out what goes in the bin from the Global Rise of Women in LegalTech.

LegalTech Swag Guy

Is the reality not that delegates should be left to be responsible for picking up what they want, and will use, and for leaving on the vendor’s stalls items that they might just end up throwing away?

Ken Grady, possibly commenting on these issue, tweeted:-

Perhaps if we really wanted to see an environmental initiative that would have real impact on Legal Tech conferences and reduce their carbon footprint then out of town speakers and delegates would have to be banned from attending in person and could only do so virtually. But that would be silly, wouldn’t it?

A more sensible and possibly serious approach to dealing with waste at LegalTech conferences was announced shortly before #gagtheswag by Legal Geek and Janders Dean. These conference organisers have pledged to reduce waste at their respective events. They are looking at their events becoming carbon neutral and plan to share their lessons collaboratively. They will apply the 3Rs of “reduce, reuse, recycle”. This I don’t think has to necessarily involve gagging all swag.

Pledge option 1 should not and does not have to be an option. Pledge option 2 should be aimed towards by all, but with common sense applied. #bagthebestswag

What do you think?

The Debate on the Review of Legal Services Regulation in Scotland (aka ‘The Roberton Rammy’)

By | February 16, 2019

Roberton Review Debate - Legal Services Regulation in Scotland - RFPG - 13 February 2019On 13 February lawyers and others interested in the future of legal services regulation in Scotland (following publication of the Roberton Review) filled the grand hall of the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow for what turned out to be, at times, a feisty debate on the subject. Indeed, as previously reported on this blog, an impassioned debate had already started on Twitter in the run up to this live one.

Legal Hackers Scotland had done a great job in organising this event and getting all the main players in the same room together. Those players were Esther A Roberton (Chair of the Review); Neil Stevenson (CEO of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission); Christine McLintock (past president of the Law Society of Scotland, who served on the Review advisory panel); and Roddy Dunlop QC (Treasurer of the Faculty of Advocates). The Fiona Bruce/David Dimbleby role, as moderator, was taken on by Professor Donald Nicolson OBE (Director of the Law Clinic, University of Essex).

Sponsorship by Cloch Solicitors, Inksters Solicitors and The Time Blawg allowed the event to be free to attend and for there to be wine on tap!

Background

The Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation in Scotland was launched by the Scottish Government on 25 April 2017. The stated purpose of the Review was to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling.

Full details of the Review recommendations can be found in the Report which was published in October 2018. Whilst the Report makes 40 recommendations, the primary recommendation is that there should be a single regulator, independent of both government and those it regulates, for all providers of legal services in Scotland. The proposed single regulator’s remit will include entry, standards and monitoring, and complaints and redress.

The Debate

It was this primary recommendation that was the main topic of hot debate on the night with the panel clearly split two against this proposal (The Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates) and two for it (the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission and, of course, Esther herself). Indeed at one point Donald referred to it as being like the case for the prosecution, on one side of him, against the case for the defence, on the other.

In the opening remarks reference was made to the ‘Roberton Rammy’ (a “rammy” being a Scottish term for a quarrel or brawl). Esther appeared to quite like this. She was up first for the rammy.

Roberton Review Debate - Legal Services Regulation in Scotland - RFPG - 13 February 2019 (Esther A Roberton)

Esther A Roberton ~ Chair of the Review

We were told that this was the most intellectually stimulating exercise Esther Roberton had been involved in. No red lines were involved. The Scottish Government gave her a broad ambit to carry out the review.

Esther referred to there being “a heavy handed and complex regulatory framework” for the legal profession.

She said the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission were vilified across the nation by lawyers and consumers.

Esther was also of the view that the legal sector is not one that is thriving. It is, however, she thinks a sector with huge potential, admired around the world but not thriving as perhaps it should. There is no need, given its size (12,000 professionals) in Scotland, for there to be five regulators.

She highlighted the importance of access to justice within Scots law, the need for a modern regulatory framework that is fit for purpose, with a risk-based approach, and the need for independence of regulation from government and those it regulates.

Esther’s proposal of a single regulator would further improve co-regulation. You don’t have self regulation but have co-regulation. You need independent regulation. Esther decided to be bold.

She thinks her primary recommendation is the correct one. If lawyers are confident then they should be happy to expose themselves to independent regulation.

In her closing remarks Esther said that if you disagree with her recommendations, make your voice heard, but equally make sure to voice your view if in support.

Roberton Review Debate - Legal Services Regulation in Scotland - RFPG - 13 February 2019 (Neil Stevenson)

Neil Stevenson ~ CEO of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission

Neil Stevenson supports Esther’s primary recommendation even although the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission is the only organisation the Roberton Report recommends completely abolishing.

Neil told us that Scottish lawyers pay for the most complicated, convoluted professional complaints process system in the world. The split legal complaints system leads to having potentially as many as six different regulatory bodies handling a single complaint! This system is madness – and we are paying for it everyday. It needs to be simplified.

Neil highlighted the importance of service design to create a single point of entry for members of the public, and the need to consolidate functions. Shouldn’t regulation be designed to be accessible and understandable to the public?

The Law Society’s suggestion would add a 6th regulatory body to the equation and do away with the single gateway.

Neil said that regulating the term “lawyer” is a good idea. That was one thing there appeared to be unanimous agreement on.

He also commented on the fact that we still don’t have a single Alternative Business Structure (ABS) in Scotland. That’s done nothing for consumers.

Neil’s view was that regulatory reform along the lines of the Roberton Review can strengthen practitioners and the solicitor brand, while also protecting consumer rights and needs.

Roberton Review Debate - Legal Services Regulation in Scotland - RFPG - 13 February 2019 (Christine McLintock)

Christine McLintock ~ Past President of the Law Society of Scotland and Review Panel advisor

Having heard the case for the prosecution the first submissions for the defence came from Christine McLintock. She gave reasons as to why the Law Society of Scotland is against the main recommendation of the Roberton Review. Christine suggested we may be about to throw the baby out with the bath water.

The Law Society of Scotland is recognised globally. There is no evidence for such radical change. We could end up dismantling our profession into disparate groups.

Christine is worried about the increased costs of the regulatory changes proposed by the Roberton Review, although the review criticised the high costs of the current regulatory system. She is worried about dismantling the profession and how it would dismantle our law society.

Roberton Review Debate - Legal Services Regulation in Scotland - RFPG - 13 February 2019 (Roddy Dunlop)

Roddy Dunlop QC ~ Treasurer of the Faculty of Advocates

Roddy Dunlop QC began by admitting that “Turkeys don’t usually vote for Christmas”. How can heads of current regulatory bodies be said to have “no biases”? The bias to preserve the status quo?

Roddy pointed out that the proposals in the Roberton Review has not been costed. Many regulatory functions at the Faculty of Advocates are done voluntarily and thus at no cost.

There is no lack of independence. Regulatory overview is not going to make the legal profession thrive any more.

Roddy is of the view that five regulators are proportionate – regulation is not a numbers game.

Roddy warned that the one law that one cannot legislate against is the one of unintended consequences.

Roddy said that one thing everyone was agreed on is that the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission doesn’t work and needs change. They are the only one that supports the primary recommendation presumably because they see themselves being reinvented as the new regulator.

Roberton Review Debate - Legal Services Regulation in Scotland - RFPG - 13 February 2019 (The Panel)

Questions and Answers

Following the presentations by each of the panellists it was time for some responses by them to the initial submissions and for questions to be asked from the floor and answered.

Roberton Review Debate - Legal Services Regulation in Scotland - RFPG - 13 February 2019 - Esther A Roberton

Cost

Esther Roberton pointed out that on cost the only thing that’s publicly known is the cost of the Scottish legal Complaints Commission. With regard to the cost of independent regulation it is, she thinks, likely to be much more cost effective.

I hadn’t considered before the fact that the costs associated with the Law Society of Scotland (of which I am a member) may not be known to me. I know what me and my firm pay each year to remain members of that body. Should as a member we not see accounts annually? As a member of the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow (RFPG) I do receive their accounts. What is the difference? A rough calculation based on membership dues and number of members (and excluding guarantee fund subscriptions) provides a guestimate of income. Add onto that CPD income and sponsorship income and the figure mounts up.

Maybe there needs to be more transparency around income/expenditure of the member organisations involved as the debate continues?

Not all against her

Esther pointed out that the review panel didn’t all disagree with her principal recommendation. Professor Lorne Crerar, Chairman of Harper Macleod Solicitors, was in favour.

Empty shell?

Someone from the audience questioned whether the Law Society of Scotland will become an empty shell like the RFPG where we were holding the debate. Perhaps just doing CPD and not much else (the RFPG does, of course, have a library for members use which is perhaps its main function). Will the voice of the profession be lost?

On Twitter the view was expressed:-

Or could it be reinvented as the representative body the Solicitors profession needs (but currently lacks)?

And the RFPG waded in:-

Empty shell? Seems a bit harsh!
Potential role for the RFPG and other local faculties as representative bodies … “which the Solicitors profession needs (but currently lacks)”?

Esther thought that it was a sad view that the Law Society of Scotland would lose membership through creation of single regulator (and no longer have compulsory membership). She was of the view that rather it would strengthen its membership function.

Referendum?

Someone asked why does the Law Society of Scotland not ask its 11,500 members what they think of the Roberton Review?

On Twitter the response was:-

It did and does. Emails, feedback opportunities with dedicated email address, Council members organised constituency meetings across the country. Plenty opportunity for every member to give their views.

That is perhaps not quite the same as a direct survey or dare I say it referendum of all members.

The essential character of the profession

Roddy Dunlop QC pointed out that complaints against members of the Scottish bar is small.

It was asked whether losing the essential character of the profession is a strong enough justification to continue to have membership bodies regulate their members?

Separated functions and cooperation

Whilst someone from the floor thought that we need to embrace change they were of the view that we need to understand fully the issues involved. They thought that education and Entrance Certificates should be functions retained by the Law Society of Scotland and not passed to an independent regulator.

Esther, however, pointed out that the new regulator would have to work in cooperation with the Law Society of Scotland, the Faculty of Advocates and other member organisations. They would not make decisions in isolation and this wouldn’t simply be consultation.

Neil Stevenson made reference to the dental complaints service and how that works and could work in law – complaints dealt with in 3 days.

The consumer

Neil also pointed out that people want excellent service rather than the basic service they get and that causes issues.

On Twitter it was commented that:-

People want excellent service, but at basic service prices and legal aid pays less than basic service prices.

The consumer representative in the audience said that there’s a tension within our current system about what we’re trying to aim for. She highlighted the territorial defence of current organisations and the struggle of getting the consumer voice heard. You need to know what consumers want. A fundamental consumer principle is independence of regulation.

We were told that good regulation is about working with consumers. We should get back to principles instead of fighting over who does what.

Good regulation is taking an overarching view of how professionals and consumers work together. There was disappointment that consumer principles were ignored in the views of professional bodies in the Roberton Review.

Change for the sake of it

Roddy Dunlop QC said that we can’t just embrace change for change’s sake. Where is the indication of there being difficulty with entrance requirements, CPD, consumer satisfaction etc.

If there is a problem it needs to be tackled. Roddy Dunlop remains unconvinced that there is. The data and evidence does not support change. We must resist change for change’s sake.

It was suggested that you’re never going to get a perfect profession and there needs to be a reason for change.

However on Twitter the view was expressed that:-

We have heard today about how inefficient and ineffective the current complaints system is. Isn’t that enough reason for change?

Esther Roberton highlighted the key principle of good regulation according to the Competition and Markets Authority: Regulation should be independent of those it regulates.

Conflict of interest

If there is a perception that the Law Society of Scotland and its two roles are in conflict then that creates a problem for the profession. Not possibly a perception we were told as when conflict does arise then they always back the profession. This was a fairly definitive statement and I was unsure if there was evidence to back it up.

A view was given that the profession was not protectionist. Professional bodies are hard on their profession as they live or die on reputation and must make sure their reputation is upheld.

It was questioned whether there is an element of protectionism around the advocate versus solicitor advocate and does this come across to the public as protectionism?

The Master Policy

It was asked from the audience that if change comes to pass and the Law Society of Scotland weaken what happens with the Master Policy (professional indemnity insurance)? Will we see firms close (as the costs of insurance could rise as is the position in England & Wales where there is no Master Policy)?

Esther pointed out that her Report recommends that the Master Policy remains. It would be for the Law Society of Scotland to continue it. This would be a good reason to remain a member of that organisation.

It is happening elsewhere

It was pointed out that whilst apparently no one seemed to think that the principle recommendation of independent regulation would be the outcome of the review it is what has happened in every other review of regulation around the world.

The UN Task Force Report

Interestingly, a report for a UN task force on Justice (pathfinders for peaceful, just and inclusive societies) has recently, as reported in The Law Society Gazette, recommended that new regulatory models along the lines of those introduced by the Legal Services Act in England and Wales could help close the global ‘justice gap’.

According to the authors, from more than a dozen countries:-

The United Kingdom [although they really mean England & Wales] offers an example of a country where the legal services sector has been opened up with a new regulatory model that fosters innovation and accessibility.

Currently, the people who participate in designing and running justice systems are almost exclusively legal practitioners/lawyers. The exclusivity of lawyers is unparalleled and contributes to an inward looking sector that does not innovate. To make justice systems more fit for purpose and to ensure they meet justice needs in line with the people and relations paradigm that we advocate, others – psychologists, social scientists, data analysts, designers, neurologists, social workers, public and business administrators, and critically users – must be let in.

Commending the England and Wales model, the report says:

By shifting from a focus on regulating people – the lawyers who historically have provided legal services – to regulating services — which could be provided by a host of innovative people and businesses, the UK [again they really mean England & Wales] regulatory approach has the flexibility to accommodate new models. Moreover, it fosters responsible competition to help drive costs down and quality and accessibility up.

Alternative Business Structures

It was stated that Australia has had ABS for 20 years with no major changes or new entrants to their legal system.

Hmm… perhaps read the first two chapters of The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field by Mitch Kowalski about ABS in Australia. Mitch also makes the following comment in Chapter 10 of that book about my own law firm Inksters:-

It’s hard not to notice the marked difference between Inksters operating in Scotland’s traditional regulatory environment, and gunnercooke, which has taken advantage of England’s more enlightened approach to legal services regulation. Both have found success with virtually (pun-intended) identical models, but one can’t help but feel that Brian Inkster (and by extension a new generation of Scottish lawyers) is being unnecessarily held back from greater success by Scotland’s antiquated regulatory regime, which encourages short-term thinking by forcing lawyers to fund all innovation from firm revenue or personal loans.

Engage in the debate

The point was made a number of times by all the speakers that the debate is only just beginning and that if you have an interest in it and the outcome of it you should engage with it.

The Scottish Government’s response to the Report is expected possibly sometime in the Summer of 2019.

Following the debate Roddy Dunlop QC tweeted:-

Really interesting debate. One thing is clear: people need to engage in the discussion to follow, or we will sleepwalk into monolithic regulation that changes our profession forever and for the worse.

Also on Twitter the following observation was made:-

“There will be more to come” – comment from the panel; seems the Legal Hackers Scotland event has opened up interesting debate on the review of legal services regulation in Scotland. No real rebuttal around the point that good regulation should be independent of those it regulates, which seems to be the elephant in the room.

As the ‘Roberton Rammy’ continues we will keep an eye on it here at The Time Blawg and keep you updated. It is unlikely anything major will happen overnight. We have been waiting almost 10 years for ABS to become a reality in Scotland since the passing of the Legal Services (Scotland) Act 2010. There is a glimmer of hope that this might actually happen before the current year is out. If so will it be another 10 years before we see anything concrete emerge from the Roberton Review of Legal Services Regulation in Scotland?

Travels through the Blawgosphere #3 : Legal Tech Start-ups

By | February 10, 2019

Legal Technology Start-upsOver the past week or so I’ve seen some interesting tweets, articles, press releases, blog posts and a YouTube video about Legal Technology Start-ups. This is what caught my eye on this topic in the Blawgosphere:-

Legal Tech Start-ups on the decline

Raymond Blijd explained ‘Why I left my job?‘. It was apparently “to power world peace” through working full time on his start-up Legal Pioneer which allows you to benchmark your concept against a dataset of over 7,000 startups. You can find similar ventures based on market, location, and technology. By matching existing companies, to your own startup, you can calculate costs and estimate the investment needed and much more besides. However the interesting point made in this post was that:-

Our numbers show that legal startups have been declining for a second year in a row. Moreover, funding of legal ventures is skewed towards mature later stage companies that only tend to serve traditional models.

Maybe not the best time to give up the day job then?

9 in 10 Legal Tech Start-ups will fail

This is perhaps not surprising if the prediction, reported by Legal Futures, is true that ‘Nine in ten legal tech start-ups will fail‘. This prediction was made by David Holme, chief executive and founder of Exigent, who said that:-

lots of start-ups, flattered by the attention of law firms, had announced the next big thing, but serious tech start-ups needed long-term funding partners, investment strategy and expertise.

The focus for meaningful change and impact should be on combining corporate finance and technology expertise, not on small-scale law firm investment.

That’s why not a single legal start-up or accelerator backed by a law firm will come to market in 2019.

David Holme reckons that instead private equity will target alternative legal services providers.

Building a Legal Tech Company is Hard

But it shouldn’t be forgotten that building a Legal Technology company is hard work and that will be a factor as to why so many fail. This was brought out in a thread on Twitter by Pieter Gunst, Co-Founder of Legal.io.

Peter first addresses why is it hard to build a legal tech company (assuming that the product is useful / tech does not suck). He gives ten reasons:-

  1. The current predominant business model (the hourly rate) does not encourage efficiency on the supply-side of the market.
  2. Lawyers are busy people. It is hard to step back and think “what improvements could I make to make what I am doing more efficient”
  3. Lots of marketing hype. Hard to see the forest through the trees. Chatbots, AI, blockchain. Valid and exciting use cases but we’re all tired of the bs and the misleading numbers being shared. What to buy?
  4. Many people building legal tech are lawyers. Law school does not prepare you to run a business.
  5. Heavily regulated: memo’s for days. Makes it hard to get velocity.
  6. Lawyers are often not tech-savvy. Customer support gets unhappy after the tenth email of the day asking how to reset a password. It’s rough.
  7. Legal is a very fragmented market. Solutions are often jurisdiction specific. Hard to scale.
  8. Sales cycle is usually long. This benefits incumbents and deep pockets.
  9. No organizations enforcing efficiency, e.g. like insurance providers in the medical industry that are organized, have leverage, and an incentive to decrease cost.
  10. It is not trivial to raise capital for a legal tech startup, because – amongst other things – the above.

Peter then looks at, specifically, why it is hard to build a legal marketplace. He defines this as connecting clients to legal solutions (attorneys or otherwise):-

  • High customer acquisition cost (CAC). If you are doing paid acquisition, cost per click on Google is very high. Requires deep pockets.
  • Clients do not have a legal need all the time, so it is hard to build brand loyalty. See Reason One (for legal marketplaces) above.
  • Hard to monetize because of regulation (fee splitting rules). Paired with high CAC, this is killer.
  • Siloed data. We’re lacking the standards that would drive transparency, and hence a more efficient marketplace, for legal services.
  • Business structure limitations: can’t provide legal advice if not a law firm, and law firms are not well positioned to attract and reward the talent to build the solutions of tomorrow.

I can’t argue with Peter’s views which should be essential reading for any novice start-up thinking about doing it in Legal Tech.

The Legal Tech Bubble

In an article in Canadian Lawyer various statistics were given about the extent of global investment in Legal Tech with a view expressed that Canada looks well-placed to lead a legal technology industry being transformed by automation, cybersecurity, talent and APIs.

However, LawGeex vice president of marketing Shmuli Goldberg says that despite the industry’s apparently “explosive” growth, it remains “very early days” for the legal tech industry due to lawyers’ low adoption levels.

Mitch Kowalski, a professor of legal service innovation at the University of Calgary Law School and author of the book Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century, says legal tech remains stuck in “hype mode” in a “bubble that will burst and taint the entire sector.”

Mitch continued:

Just like the fog of war, there seems to be a lot going on out there with legal tech, but it’s becoming more and more difficult to keep up with all the players. Like the dot.com boom, it has become nearly impossible to sort out what’s real and what’s just good marketing.

Mitch added that while the market is seeing increased acquisitions, and while there have been a handful of big funding rounds, this is “very normal for nascent sectors.”

Furthermore, most rounds have been small.

Mitch concluded:

This suggests that while there’s healthy interest in legal tech, venture capitalists are not willing to go ‘all in’ unless there is a proven, compelling business case.

Legal Tech and Wile E Coyote

Aron Solomon gave his wry views in a series of tweets:-

Marketing Tutorial for Legal Tech Start-ups

But for those Legal Tech Start-ups who want to survive, Daniel Hoadley shows them “how to market your Law Tech product like a pro so that even cynics like Alex G Smith buy-in” with his not to be missed ‘How to Make an Awesome #LegalTech Ad tutorial’:-

Law Society Endorsement

An alternative to Daniel’s #LegalTech Ad tutorial is to get your local Law Society to endorse you. Here in Scotland it was announced recently by the Law Society of Scotland that they had entered into a ‘strategic partnership‘ with Legal Tech Start-up Amiqus Resolution “to provide insight, support, guidance and accessible solutions for Scottish solicitors as they undertake new ways of working”. Simultaneously the Law Society of Scotland shattered any remaining or redeemable credibility in their Lawscot Tech initiative by breaking most of the aims and values of that initiative.

The Legal Tech Rocket

At the end of January it was Legal Week in New York City. On the whole the tweets I saw were about/by vendors, related to available swag or the weather (it was snowing). But at the end of the week Inspire Legal took place (a new unconference) from which Joe Borstein was quoted as saying:-

Legal tech is a rocket ship without a guidance system.

Legal Tech for the Legal Elite

Writing about both Legal Week and Inspire Legal Robert Ambrogi asked:-

Whose voices were missing from these conferences?

He answered:-

For one, it was the roughly 90 percent of lawyers who practice outside the large firm/large corporation ecosystem. Neither of these conferences was designed or structured with them in mind.

Who else was missing? How about those the legal system is failing?

Legal Tech and Money

Carolyn Elefant commenting on the previous article thinks ‘The Reason Why Legal Tech Remains the Domain of the Legal Elite: It’s All About The Money‘. She says:-

As I’ve written before,  legal tech — even the tech that purports to focus on serving consumers — is all about the money. Always has been, always will be.  And the truth is that if you want to find the big money, you find it at big law.

Carolyn also points out:-

For a time, many lawyers-turned-entrepreneurs believed that there was money to be made from technology that expands A2J.  Now, many are discovering that’s not the case. Consumer markets depend on volume, and even if wills and divorces and DUI defenses only cost $99, most folks still won’t have need to purchase those services more than a handful of times over the course of their lives. By contrast, think of how many times you took an Uber or made a purchase off Amazon in the past month.  Compared to the consumer space, biglaw has money to burn and once one or two firms begin to embrace technology, it’s only a matter of minutes before the others fall in line lock step.  For legal tech entrepreneurs consulting or building products or founding companies, big law is an attractive market – far more so than A2J.

So for the many Legal Tech Start-ups that go down a route that is not for Big Law their days just might be numbered. And Big Law will only ever need a certain amount of legal technology. Reinventing what they already have might not be a good idea either.

The $100 million Legal Tech Start-up

These comments came just before the announcement that a further $10 million had been invested by existing investors in Legal AI start-up Luminance (who launched in September 2016) apparently now valuing the company at $100 million.

One of the investors is Invoke Capital an investment firm founded by former Autonomy Chief Executive Officer Mike Lynch. U.S. prosecutors charged him with fraud in connection with Hewlett-Packard Co.’s 2011 acquisition of Autonomy. Lynch has denied the charges. He is on the board of Luminance “because he brings a rare mix of deep technology understanding and commercial acumen”.

Luminance software is certainly aimed at Big Law but I wonder what the Dragons (or Sharks) would say about that valuation if pitched to in the Dragons’ Den (or Shark Tank)?

Dragons Den - I'm OutImage Credit: Dragons’ Den © BBC

Reactions on Social Media

In addition to the responses in the comments section below there have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

On LinkedIn the following comments have been made:-

Anusia Gillespie (Global Co-Head of Innovation at Eversheds Sutherland):

According to Brian Inkster’s roundup…for 2019: legal tech startups are out, and law companies are in.

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Aron Solomon, JD (I build things):

IMO, Brian Inkster has one of the best perspectives in the world on the
#legal and #legaltech verticals. Thanks for including my ramblings.

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Aron Solomon, JD (I build things):

Thanks for including me. To me, the most impactful comment was David Holme’s:

“That’s why not a single legal start-up or accelerator backed by a law firm will come to market in 2019.”

If true, this is quite awful but also laughable (1, 2,3).

endnotes:

(1) Holy shit.

(2) Recent LegalTech funds, as well as those seeking a cash infusion (several are running on near empty) will reel from this and some will (mercifully) vanish.

(3) So many of these accelerators were started by sheep looking at other sheep in the field. Baker McKenzie Frankfurt is a perfect example. Nextlaw Labs gets full credit for being early, loses every one of those points on execution. I can go on…

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And on Twitter:-

John Craske @John_Craske:

As usual @BrianInkster gives us a sharp and succinct summary of where legal tech is. “It’s all about the money”. A bit sad but true!

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King Solomon‏ @aronsolomon:

THIS (and not just because I’m in it)

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Debate on Legal Services Regulation in Scotland heats up on Twitter in advance of the live event in Glasgow

By | February 7, 2019

Legal Hackers Scotland - Roberton Review (Future Regulation of Legal Services) DebateLegal Hackers Scotland are bringing together all the main players for a unique debate at the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow next Wednesday (13 February) on the Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation in Scotland.

Presentations and debate will be provided by a distinguished panel of speakers: Esther Roberton (Chair of the Review); Neil Stevenson (CEO of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission); Christine McLintock (past president of the Law Society of Scotland, who served on the Review advisory panel); Roddy Dunlop QC (Treasurer of the Faculty of Advocates); and Professor Donald Nicolson OBE (Director of the Law Clinic, University of Essex).

The Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation in Scotland was launched by the Scottish Government on 25 April 2017. The stated purpose of the Review was to make independent recommendations to reform and modernise the statutory framework for the regulation of legal services and complaints handling.

Full details of the Review recommendations can be found in the Report which was published in October 2018. Whilst the Report makes 40 recommendations, the primary recommendation is that there should be a single regulator, independent of both government and those it regulates, for all providers of legal services in Scotland. The proposed single regulator’s remit will include entry, standards and monitoring, and complaints and redress. The Law Society of Scotland and the Faculty of Advocates appear to be against this proposal whereas the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission appear to support it.

This seemed to be borne out on Twitter today when the following exchange took place between Neil Stevenson (CEO of the Scottish Legal Complaints Commission) and Roddy Dunlop QC (Treasurer of the Faculty of Advocates).

Neil tweeted about the event next week:

Roberton Review on regulation of legal services to be debated at free Glasgow event @scottishlegal https://www.scottishlegal.com/article/roberton-review-on-regulation-of-legal-services-to-be-debated-at-free-glasgow-event @StevensonLaw @LegalHackersSco @Christinemclint @arlenemcdaid @RoddyQC @DonaldJamesNic1 @RFPG2 #ReimagineRegulation

Roddy responded:

Realise this was said with irony. But it raises a central point. The Faculty of Advocates has, for almost 500 years, needed no “champion” other than its Dean, its esprit de corps, and its fundamental independence. We will not cede this lightly.

To which Neil mused:

I suspect the whole panel may be pro independent regulation, but have different definitions of independent. Interesting to see Cilex in England call for the model in Roberton Review to differentiate its offering to public from solicitors and barristers.

Roddy then added:

Spoiler alert (not really): but I am looking forward to hearing how an independent disciplinary panel,chaired by a judge and with a majority of lay persons over practising members of faculty, is anything other than “independent”. If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.

Neil came back with:

I suspect I’m not going to pass the cross examination at this event, but its lovely 2b on a panel with folk I know are hugely informed & really care about the issues. That hearing is already subject to oversight by SLCC, & in some cases OISC. How different is Roberton?

Roddy was now up for a fight:

Hadn’t realised that SLCC was delighting in its own prospective demise… Roberton is different because, fundamentally, “one size fits all” rarely provides an ideal. The same regulator for licensed conveyancers and solicitors and Advocates is, simply and IMHO only, not ideal.

Neil fought back:

It is a tricky picture for us, but in #ReimagineRegulation we tried 2 step back from the institutions & think about what process & model the profession & the public may want. A little bird just sent me hot off the press UN backing some of these proposals.

That UN backing is interesting indeed and perhaps adds a new dimension to the debate.

If the exchanges between Neil and Roddy on Twitter today are a taster of what’s to come we are in for some lively debate at the RFPG next Wednesday. Maybe the sponsors should be providing popcorn rather than wine on the night 😉

Oh.. and those sponsors include The Time Blawg as media partner. We will provide a full report on the debate on here after the event.

The other sponsors are my law firm, Inksters, and Philip Hannay’s law firm, Cloch.

The three sponsors are meeting the costs involved, ensuring the event is FREE for all to attend, and providing refreshments. The event takes place from 5.30pm on Wednesday 13 February 2019 at the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow.

Tickets I am told are moving like hotcakes. If you don’t want to miss out, before the venue reaches capacity, get your free ticket now at the Legal Hackers Scotland eventbrite booking page.

Reactions on LinkedIn

On LinkedIn the following comments have been made:-

Mitch Kowalski (General Counsel and Strategic Advisor on Legal Operations. ICD.D designation in corporate governance):

Man, would I love to go to this! Things heating up for Scottish legal services reform.

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Neil Alan Stevenson (Chief Executive | Non-Executive Director | Charity Vice-chair and trustee):

It should be a really exciting evening. These are big issues, and it’s great to see people seeking out information and wanting to be part of the debate. It looks like the panel should perform its role of prompting discussion well!  But we’ll learn as much from the debate on the floor. What do the public, lawyers, and legal businesses need? Is the status quo perfect? If not, what does change look like? And with the expertise in Legal Hackers, what does.

Reflections on 2018 Legal Tech Predictions

By | February 2, 2019

Reflections on 2018 Legal Tech PredictionsIn January 2018 I made some legal technology predictions for that coming year. I’ll now look back and see how those predictions fared.

Artificial Intelligence

I predicted:-

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.

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).

Early in 2018 this was accurate with Legal AI being hyped at conferences with tales of law firms spending £200,000 on consultancy just to see what AI they actually needed to employ. Probably zero!

There were also conferences where it was suggested the shiny new toys were the saviour of lawyers who had never really had technology before!

However, as the year progressed a realisation that it was all mostly smoke and mirrors started to sink in.

The Wizard of Oz Behind the Curtain

At GlenLegal in March there was talk on Hype Hurts: Steering Clear of Dangerous AI myths.

On April 1st there was news of the launch of a new legal tech start up with no AI involved.

In May Janders Dean at their JDHorizons Conference avoided the topic in favour of #bringbackboring. I dressed up as Willy Wonka. Other Conferences later in the year such as Source by Symphony Legal, Legal Sector Client Experience and Legal Futures also simply took AI off the agenda.

In October I blogged about the Seven Deadly Sins of Legal AI Predictions.

Also in October reality overtook AI hype at Legal Geek. Noah Waisberg of Kira Systems threw sequins from the stage with one real diamond amongst them to illustrate the preponderance of hype in legal tech. He also called out legal tech journalists who promote hyped up legal tech PR fluff without doing proper diligence and told them to “do real journalism”. This had the legal AI hypesters choking on their croissants and spluttering out their coffee. One innovation head told the Legal IT Insider that they had the popcorn out all week during a war of words on Twitter over this.

In December I provided a reality check on a day in the life of the future lawyer. I will be doing more of that live and in person at Lexpo in April of this year.

AI Coffee Maker

Blockchain

I predicted:-

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.

Again this rung true in 2018. Although Blockchain took on a more significant role at the Global Legal Hackathon where a team from Pinsent Masons won the London competition for ‘creating’ a Blockchain platform for partner voting on internally developed project ideas. I doubt they have developed it further but would be interested to learn if I am wrong on that front. This was a clear example of using Blockchain for the sake of it and where it simply was not necessary or sensible to do so.

At the London event they also, in my view, steered competitors towards Blockchain (and AI, Machine Learning, Chatbots or the Internet of Things) contrary to the Global Legal Hackathon rules and possibly broke a few of the other competition rules along the way.

Later in the year Blockchain was simply being mentioned in passing and with little reverence as “the B word” at the Legal Geek Conference.

Hopefully the Global Legal Hackathon in 2019 will see less teams feeling the need to Blockchain their ideas. It is always a good idea to run such ideas through doyouneedablockchain.com first or just follow this flow chart:-

Blockchain Flow ChartAlthough, disappointingly but perhaps not surprising, Blockchain hype in law continues to be spread by some as this headline from the turn of the year confirms: Hate lawyers? Can’t afford one? Blockchain smart contracts are here to help.

Then, to crown it all, the blockwashers tried to claim that 1.7 million people had read an eBook on Blockchain for Lawyers when the reality might have been 500 if they were lucky.

Document Automation

I predicted:-

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!

With the bashing of Legal AI Hype in 2018 and the #bringbackboring movement gaining momentum less of those shiny new toys might be purchased in 2019 and beyond.

Chatbots

I predicted:-

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.

I was correct. But the failure in 2018 of legal chatbots to order pizzas was hugely disappointing especially for legal hackers.

I started a series on this blog of Chats with Legal Chatbots. The first two episodes released in 2018 speak for themselves:-

  1. The Global Legal Hackathon and LawDroid
  2. Billy Bot

Expect more episodes and to hold your heads in despair in 2019.

The Chatbot Parker is apparently held up as a beacon of legal innovation by the LawTech Delivery Panel. I’ll debunk that myth in a future episode.

I’d recommend you invest in a Swearbot from Small Robots as an antidote to any chats you might ever have with a Legal Chatbot:-

Swearbot - Small RobotsLegal Engineer

I predicted:-

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’.

There was effective opposition and the result so far appears to be that Philip may be able to wear a T-Shirt with “Legal Engineer” on it but otherwise the term should be free for anyone in the legal profession to use.

The debate about whether lawyers should learn to code or not continued through 2018 and no doubt will not go away this year either. My view is a resounding oh no they don’t.

Social Media

I blogged:-

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.

That panned out and I said more on the subject to Alex Heshmaty in his article for The Internet Newsletter for Lawyers on LinkedIn – the lawyer’s social media channel of choice. And more recently, in the same publication, I also gave my thoughts to Alex Heshmaty on The enigmatic Twitter.

Surface Phone

I predicted:-

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…

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.

A render of a possible Microsoft Surface Phone from designer David Breyer

Unfortunately, it didn’t appear in 2018 although the Surface Go did (I updated my Surface RT with one).

Whilst there have been less rumours about the Surface Phone of late it could still be in the Microsoft pipeline unless the project (apparently codenamed Andromeda) has been binned in favour of a larger dual screen digital journal device: Surface ‘Centaurus’. Let’s hope we get both in 2019.

Reactions on Social Media

There have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

On LinkedIn the following comments have been made:-

Michael Burne (Founder & Chief Exec at Carbon):

The voice of reason and a human one at that.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Michael. I’m not expecting to be replaced by a robot any time soon 😉

Robotic Brian

Michael Burne:

That’s a relief – can’t see a robot or an avatar cutting the mustard!

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Alex Heshmaty (Legal Writer): 

Your assessment of chatbots is spot on – currently they’re essentially search engines by another name. Re foldable phone/tablets this could be interesting.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Alex. Although you would usually be better off using Google than the chatbot. A number of mobile phone providers are now getting in on the act of foldable phones although Microsoft have been in the picture for a long time with patents going back several years. As you say how this develops could indeed be interesting.

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Alex Hutchinson (Helping LAW FIRMS increase Billable Hours & Profits. Experts in Paper-Lite, Document Management & Digital Workflow):

What a refreshing read. Totally agree. Hype can be harmful. It’s distracting and draining. So many firms could make use of their existing technology and systems to improve their document efficiency. Always worth exploring if you have already invested in a system but not realised the results (Happy to talk to any firms struggling with this at present). Great article and a refreshing read for Managing / Equity Partners.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Alex Hutchinson. I think most (probably almost all) law firms will be under utilising the legal tech they already have. That is where they should concentrate their efforts in the first instance before buying anything new.

Alex Hutchison:

We seem to be putting a lot of time working with firms who are trying to make the right strategic decision, and investment in technology to help them move forward. Typically they have held off investing large amounts in a single system. Sounds like we need to extend our marketing efforts to helping firms realise a return on their previous / existing investments. Either way, nice to read an article from someone respresenting a potential user / client of these technologies instead of traditional marketing fodder being fed to the market.

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Colin Levy (Corporate Lawyer and Legal Innovation Advocate):

Great article.

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Suj Legha (Entrepreneur And Mentor):

I see AI emerging a fair bit this year. Fascinating stuff.

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And on Twitter we had the following tweets:-

Alex G Smith‏ @alexgsmith:

2018 retrospective … avoid the hype. Common sense from @TheTimeBlawg with some call outs to diamonds @nwaisb and bringing back boring @jandersdean

Janders Dean @jandersdean:

Glad someone captured what happened across #LegalTech accurately in 2018. We weren’t sober for much of the year…

The Time Blawg @TheTimeBlawg:

I always make sure I note down what is happening in #LegalTech before the breakfast martinis come out 😉

Breakfast Martinis at JDHorizons

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John Flood‏ @JohnAFlood:

Reflections on 2018 Legal Tech Predictions… controversial as they should be!

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Janders Dean @jandersdean:

This rocks.

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Legal Typist @LegalTypist:

This is a good read.

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Totum @totumtalks:

Top work this.

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BeeHBee‏ @bhamiltonbruce:

2019 the year of do more with what you’ve already got.

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Chrissie Wolfe @CWolfe_LAB:

Mr @BrianInkster cutting through the innovation circus with some sound observations about the #Lawtech market as usual.

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Image Credits:

What does it say when a Legal Blockchain eBook is promoted by FAKE views?

By | January 16, 2019

Blockchain for Lawyers eBook HypeWhen I saw the headline on Social Media that read ‘What Does It Say when A Legal Blockchain eBook Has 1.7M Views?‘ I thought that couldn’t possibly be correct.

The article by Mark Cohen on Forbes states:-

Blockchain For Lawyers,” a recently-released eBook by Australian legal tech company Legaler, drew 1.7M views in two weeks. What does that staggering number say about blockchain, legal technology, and the legal industry? Clearly, blockchain is a hot legal topic, along with artificial intelligence (AI), and legal tech generally. It’s also a hot investment; last year a record $1B was pumped into legal tech. The global enthusiasm for tech is manifest in the throngs that attended the Legal Geek Conference, the Global Legal Hackathon, and a slew of events held by legal tech organizations around the world. Tech is the mortar of a global legal community that is transforming law from territorial profession to borderless industry.

Cohen asks:-

But why, with so many blockchain and legal tech books and articles, is Legaler’s eBook capturing so many eyeballs?

He then gives his own answer to that question:-

One explanation is its plain-speak effort to demystify blockchain and analyze its current and future adaptations to law. The book also provides a framework for  understanding how AI, software, the cloud, and other technological advances enable new delivery models to better respond to consumer demand for more transparent, efficient, scalable, cost-effective, and predictable outcomes.  There is a hunger—especially among those in the early and mid-stages of their careers– to understand these tools and new delivery models and, more importantly, how it will impact their careers.

However, not everyone was taken in with the numbers which really just don’t add up.

Jason Morris, in a series of Tweets, on Twitter, observed:-

Ok, guys, our stupid is showing. Let’s talk about this article about an eBook with nearly 2M views.

The author in question wrote an e-book. Then, he went on LinkedIn and said that it was available for free for anyone who commented requesting a copy. This is a very good strategy.

If you comment on something in LinkedIn, that means it will show up on your contacts’ feeds. So if you just offer a download link, you don’t get nearly the publicity boost that requiring people to comment gets you. Good idea.

So where does this 2M number come from? That is the number of time the LinkedIn post has been seen. Not the number of times the book has been read. If we assume that everyone commenting has read it only once, and that everyone commenting read it, and that only commenters read it then it has been read about 2000 times. Not 2,000,000. 2,000. Now, 2,000 reads is nothing to sniff at. But inflating that by a factor of 1000 most certainly is. The fact is that 99.9% of people who had the opportunity to request a free copy evidently didn’t.

And that doesn’t even take into account the fact that most online stats are inflated artificially by bots. How this is a  “blockbuster” is beyond me.

None of which says anything about the quality of the book itself. I haven’t read it. But I have significant doubts. You can read part of why here: http://www.slaw.ca/2019/01/03/blockchain-probably-not/

The author is also an executive for a company that needs blockchain to be widely adopted in legal for their success. So there is a bias, there. When the blog post above was published, someone referred me to the author. I invited him to read the column and tell me if I was wrong. He hasn’t yet. It’s an open invitation. But I’m not holding my breath.

I was one of the 1.7 million who saw the LinkedIn post and replied with “Gimmie” (the phrase that Stevie Ghiassi of Legaler wanted you to type to get access to the eBook). By doing so, as Jason Morris points out, I immediately put Stevie’s LinkedIn post potentially in front of my 1,467 LinkedIn connections (most of whom will have very little interest in Blockchain for Lawyers let alone Blockchain for anyone). But they were all added into that 1.7 million statistic nonetheless.

I wouldn’t, however, be as generous as Jason was in suggesting that everyone who commented on the LinkedIn post (1,729 comments at the time of writing this) downloaded and read the eBook. That is because a closer look at the comments show replies to almost each ‘Gimmie’ by Stevie Ghiassi and then sometimes further replies to Stevie from the original person who said ‘Gimmie’. There are also regular additional comments by Stevie tagging various new people into the post to widen even further its circulation. Each of these entries count as a comment. I have not gone through each of the 1,729 comments but I would suggest it fair to say maybe one-third if that will be ‘Gimmie’. So maybe 576 requests for the eBook.

When I downloaded it I had a quick glance at it and dismissed it as marketing fluff. Many of the other 575 who said ‘Gimmie’ will have done likewise. A good proportion probably didn’t even get around to downloading it.

How many then have actually read it. Possibly less than 500. That makes the suggestion of 1.7 million views one of the most inflated exaggerations I’ve heard in a long time. Trump’s fake news (whether his own or that he imagines to be made by others) pales into the shade.

I have now read the eBook. I thought I better had if I was going to write about it. Doing so just confirms my initial view of it being marketing fluff.

It is full of hyped up jargon and provides a completely unbalanced view of the reality of Blockchain for lawyers.

It contains classic misleading statements such as:-

The practice of law has famously lagged in innovation, remaining ‘analogue’ while other services like banking and accounting continue to transition online.

This ignores completely the evolution of technology in legal practice over many years that makes it anything but ‘analogue’ today. Blockchain may end up being part of that evolution but it certainly isn’t the Holy Grail of legal technology.

Interestingly, but maybe not surprisingly, Mark Cohen, who wrote the Forbes hype, contributed to the eBook with a quote on his views of the promise of Blockchain.

The eBook contains a glossary of jargon but I prefer Alex Hamilton’s Law Tech Glossary where he defines Blockchain as:-

A technology for creating and sharing between many parties an unchangeable ledger of historic transactions. Introduced initially as part of Bitcoin, it is now being touted as a technology to underpin a number of legal-related activities. Most, if not all, of these potential use cases would be better served by a database.

If you really want to know if you need a Blockchain just check out doyouneedablockchain.com first.

By the end of 2018 legal technology journalists were being called out for the hype they were creating over Artificial Intelligence. It is disappointing to see, as we enter 2019, that they are carrying on regardless at least where Blockchain is involved.

In a week when another legal tech journalist said “there is no stopping the lawtech rollercoaster” I think that any such rollercoaster is often being created by the journalists. It is they that need to put the brakes on it before it runs out of control.

Suggesting that 1.7 million people viewed an eBook on Blockchain for Lawyers when the reality is that maybe 1.7 million people glanced at an advert for that eBook and only circa 500 actually read it is misleading in the extreme. It does nothing but fuel the hype around AI and Blockchain.

For the novice legal technology start-up such hype makes them think Blockchain must be the band wagon to climb onto. It isn’t necessarily so. Last year the Global Legal Hackathon did the same thing (at least in London) and chances are that Blockchain will unnecessarily while away the hackers time at the event this year.

They need to be woken up and shown the snake oil for what it is. Whilst legal technology journalists continue to peddle the hype and not provide balanced reporting we will have a legal industry that believes tomorrow is going to be very different from reality.

In The Observer this past Sunday (online in The Guardian) there was an excellent article on this by John Naughton entitled ‘Don’t believe the hype: the media are unwittingly selling us an AI fantasy‘.

In this article Naughton states that “journalists need to stop parroting the industry line when it comes to artificial intelligence”. He quotes research that shows that:-

Critically, AI products were often portrayed as relevant and competent solutions to a range of public problems. Journalists rarely questioned whether AI was likely to be the best answer to these problems, nor did they acknowledge debates about the technology’s public effects.

He concludes:-

So lets have no more “soft” coverage of artificial intelligence and some real, sceptical journalism instead.

Noah Waisberg of Kira Systems made the same point at Legal Geek in October of last year where he called out legal tech journalists who promote hyped up legal tech PR fluff without doing proper diligence. He told them to “do real journalism”.

Let’s hope we start to see more real legal technology journalism in 2019 that is properly researched, analytical, informative and not just down right misleading.

On The Time Blawg I will continue (when I can) to call out those that fail to do so.

Update – 29 January 2019

After publishing this post there was a lot of interaction concerning it on social media. This is reproduced below. But also interestingly, although being called out about his misrepresentation, Mark Cohen subsequently reproduced his original Forbes Article word for word on his own blog.

Meantime Stevie Ghiassi created a new LinkedIn post in which he referenced Mark Cohen’s Forbes article and continued to perpetuate the myths created by it. I thought it would be helpful to make his readers there aware of the actual facts involved and posted a comment. Stevie Ghiassi clearly doesn’t like actual facts and figures as he deleted my comment. A tactic known to also be practised by some other AI commentators. “The truth is ill heard” as my late mother used to say. But I did, of course, screenshot my comment before Stevie Ghiassi deleted it:-

LinkedIn - Stevie Ghiassi deletes a comment by Brian Inkster on Blockchain eBook viewing statistics

Reactions on Social Media

In addition to the responses in the comments section below there have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn and on Twitter.

On LinkedIn there has been the following comments:-

Ivan Rasic (LegalTrek CEO LawWithoutWalls (LWOWX), Eleven Mentor):

Fighting hype with data and common sense. Thanks for sharing!

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Yvonne Nath (Business Strategy Consultant):

On marketing metrics: views per se do not have much meaning, especially if we compare sales to views. More views water down the ratio. If one’s goal is to receive direct sales benefit, one hopes to create content that gets you close to a 1:1 ratio of sales to views. On the other hand, if the goal is to win a position as a thought leader (which may indirectly lead to sales or some other benefit one seeks), then many views, whether genuine or not, can make others perceive someone as a thought leader. Many genuine views will keep them there. Many fake views…people can spot hype soon enough.

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Holger Zscheyge (Legal Publisher, Legal Tech Enthusiast, inquisitive Mind):

Sounds all a bit like sour grapes to me. The eBook is free of charge, written in a concise language understandable for non-technical people (AKA lawyers). Of course, the author wants to spread the word as wide as possible – what use is his effort and the eBook itself, if only 20 people know about it? With all our attention focused on Kim Kardashian’s butt nowadays (which, BTW, got a gazillion times more views), you have to stand out a little bit to have people look your way. Again, in my view, no harm done here. If my followers on LinkedIn are not into blockchain, they will just ignore the mention on my wall – I trust them to be that mature.

Brian Inkster:

You appear to have entirely missed the point of my blog post Holger Zscheyge. No one is suggesting that the author of the eBook cannot spread the word regarding the existence of his eBook as far as possible. Indeed his ‘Gimmie’ tactic for so doing was a clever one and I might use it myself sometime. The harm that has been done here is (after the LinkedIn post) providing misleading information that suggests that 1.7 million people viewed the eBook when they clearly did not. Nowhere in the Forbes article is LinkedIn mentioned. If it had been an article about how you can promote an eBook on Blockchain for Lawyers like you were Kim Kardashian that would have been another matter. It would then have fairly and accurately represented the actual position. It unfortunately did not  and as a result misled the Forbes readership. That is clear from many comments following on from it on social media where people clearly mistakenly thought the eBook had been read 1.7 million times. I note you are a legal publisher and hope, as such, that you would not stoop to such practices.

Holger Zscheyge:

Brian, I hear what you say in your blog post. But again, no harm done, in my opinion. At least not intentionally, as Mark pointed out. Social media metrics are a tricky area, views vs reads vs buys etc. One can argue whether the appearance in someone elses feed, that is followed by other people that are presented with it by LinkedIn’s algoritm, can be considered “a view”. If not, then the whole advertising industry bases its business model on a misconception (which might be true, but try to argue with them). I probably wouldn’t count all visitors to a book shop, where one of my books is on display, as “viewers”, no, but this is “the real world”. And, as I said, I believe that people are generally smart enough to differentiate hype from reality, especially readers on LinkedIn or Forbes. If not, and if they “fell for the exaggeration with 2 million views” and accidentally spent 2 minutes to download the free eBook – so what? Might open their eyes to a totally new subject. So let’s not nit pick – there are real fights to fight in legaltech and life. BTW, maybe Stevie Ghiassi can share the real download figures and put this discussion to bed?

Brian Inkster:

But no one was arguing about LinkedIn until Jason Morris pointed out it was LinkedIn views not eBook view that were involved. Mark A. Cohen not pointing that out in the Forbes article was and remains a huge error. It is truly a pity if “the real world” in your eyes is one where we can misrepresent such matters. I have suggested a misrepresentation of about 99.97%. If Stevie Ghiassi can correct that and confirm that nearer 1.7 million people actually did download his eBook then I will stand corrected.

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Mark A. Cohen (LegalMosaic; Writer, Speaker, Legal Business Consultant, Teacher):

To Brian Inkster’s comment (and others): The last thing my article intended to do is to add to tech hype. My view is–and has always been that human beings, not tech, solves wicked problems. Tech helps and enables new delivery models. You point out gamesmanship used to produce 1.7M views and I cannot speak to that as I don’t know the mechanics of how LinkedIn counts “views.” Note that the title of my article says “Views”–not “Reads.” The more important point raised by the discussion–and seemingly lost in the comment–is that legal tech is mainstream and law is not solely about lawyers or practice anymore. Let’s not become overly enmeshed in internal squabbles and focus on the bigger picture of creating a global legal community that is intent upon solving wicked problems. That’s my take.

Ivan Rasic:

I fully agree Mark that LegalTech is mainstream nowadays. I think auditorium may be growing a bit weary from various articles that use bashing of the legal industry as a means to get more clicks, so your article may have ended up being a collateral damage of the backlash. Not implying that you have done any of that whatsoever. I have, though, seen some authors employing this tactic.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks for responding Mark A. Cohen.

It may not have been your intention to add to the legal tech hype but that unfortunately has been the outcome.

You wrote the article stating that “a recently-released eBook by Australian legal tech company Legaler, drew 1.7M views in two weeks”.

You went onto state: “But why, with so many blockchain and legal tech books and articles, is Legaler’s eBook capturing so many eyeballs?”

You concluded that “Stevie Ghiassi’s  thoughtful book that encourages lawyers to embrace technology as a tool to better serve legal consumers and society is deserving of even more views.”

Thus each time you referenced “views” it was directly linked to views of the actual eBook and not to “views” of a LinkedIn post advertising the eBook.

Anyone reading your article would be likely to assume that viewing an eBook meant reading an eBook. That fact is clear from many responses to your article where the LinkedIn dimension was not known about or appreciated.

Nowhere in your article do you mention LinkedIn. So no one reading your article would have assumed you really meant views of a LinkedIn post advertising the eBook.

If Stevie Ghiassi provided you with information to the effect that 1.7 million people viewed his eBook and you printed that information in good faith then he misled you and you, in turn, unwittingly misled your readers.

If, however, you knew that the statistic was views of the LinkedIn post and not the actual eBook then you misled your readers by not spelling that out.

Either way you should ensure that Forbes publish a correction of this erroneous representation of the 1.7 million statistic.

Knowing the mechanics of how LinkedIn counts “views” is irrelevant when your article doesn’t mention LinkedIn. If you are just going to mention the eBook and not LinkedIn then you should replace the 1.7 million figure with the actual number of downloads (which I guess to be circa 500). If you are going to retain the 1.7 million assertion then it should be spelt out that this is views of a LinkedIn post advertising an eBook.

In either case that wouldn’t be newsworthy. But it would be the truth.

Your approach is no different from say Legaler advertising their eBook during the Super Bowl and bragging that 103.4 million people viewed the eBook when those 103.4 million people only saw an advert for the eBook. The number downloading the eBook on the back of that advert would be a small fraction of this headline figure.

Creating a global legal community that is intent upon solving wicked problems will involve trust within that community to work together to solve those wicked problems. Relationships flourish when partners trust each other to be honest, faithful, respectful, kind, consistent and open to resolving conflict (among many other things).

Misleading that community with information that is 99.97% incorrect is not a good move in building this trust.

Philipp Thurner (Award-winning Legal Innovator and Legal Technologist. Design Thinker | Product Manager | Consultant):

Great example on how data can lead you a stray if you don’t look at the Why. This doesn’t prove that legal tech is mainstream. It’s certainly not yet. This post proves that blockchain is mainstream. You only need to click on the hashtag to see how many followers the tags have. #legaltech about 400 and #blockchain well over 8k. Next thing we need to understand what “Views” are. Well… they are impressions. Whenever someone opens LinkedIn and their feed loads, if it loads that post, that’s an impression or a view. So everyone who follows blockchain got it. Everyone who followed anyone tagged in the post, got it. Everyone following anyone who interacted with the post, got it. It only showed up in their feed.

I think it was quite an achievement for Stevie Ghiassi to get this many organic impressions tho. Smart use of tagging.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Philipp Thurner for commenting. However, I can’t see any hashtags on Stevie Ghiassi’s original LinkedIn post. So I don’t think hashtags have anything to do with the reach of his LinkedIn post. As already discussed it was the ‘Gimmie’ request and offer of something for free that probably swung it coupled by him actually tagging a lot of people and continuing to do so after the post was first published.

Legal Tech is mainstream – amongst lawyers. It has been for a long long time. All lawyers (apart from maybe a very few odd ones) use technology daily. You can read my take on the history of legal technology here: http://thetimeblawg.com/2018/02/11/hack-the-past-how-the-legal-profession-knew-nothing-about-technology/

Blockchain, unlike LegalTech, is not mainstream amongst lawyers. Lawyers on the whole are not interested in Blockchain. Some are playing with it for the sake of it and to look cool: http://thetimeblawg.com/2018/03/01/hack-the-law-to-reinvent-the-wheel/

Blockchain may be mainstream amongst Bitcoin fans but it isn’t elsewhere.

What, however, is your view on someone saying there were 1.7M views of an eBook rather than saying those were views of a LinkedIn post advertsing the eBook that had maybe only 500 downloads?

Phillipp Thurner:

Brian Inkster Good Point. All shares and comments within post included these tags though. Saw many with even bitcoin hashtags. Well… I personally wouldn’t report on impressions a but on actual conversations but that’s my personal opinion.

Is it a little misleading? Everything is open for interpretation and I’m sure that most things we read in papers and articles sounds better than they actually are. I usually make my own picture on what’s actually happening behind closed doors. I do understand tho why people do it coz it sells better and it’s more interesting to read. Hype has positive and negative effects but that’s a different topic all together.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Philipp Thurner. I didn’t notice any shares or comments within the post with those hashtags. Mostly it was just ‘Gimmie’ or ‘Thanks’ and the like. Unusual for anyone commenting on a LinkedIn post to add a hashtag. There may of course have been some but I think they would have been a minority. If anyone was using the bitcoin hashtag in a post about blockchain for lawyers they were clearly confused.

Yes, hype sells but that is not an excuse for fabricating the truth. If you haven’t already read it take a look at Kevin Colangelo’s comment on this thread about ‘Truthiness’. He is spot on.

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Kevin Colangelo (Vice President, Head of Enterprise Client Engagement at HBR Consulting):

Thanks for highlighting.  There’s a lot of “self-credentialing” in our ecosystem on many topics.  Unlike even 5 years ago, one can read-up on a topic from an armchair (e.g., law schools’ efforts to broaden their appeal to potential students) and offer authoritative-sounding proclamations to a wide audience.  It’s a problem particularly as such pundits & their readers repeatedly share, like, etc. these assertions or if the platform offers built-in gravitas (“It was in [mainstream pub], so it must be true!”).

It’s all evidence of the Validity Effect, which Colbert famously called “Truthiness.”  “. . . the belief or assertion that a particular statement is true based on the intuition or perceptions of some individual or individuals, without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts. Truthiness can range from ignorant assertions of falsehoods to deliberate duplicity or propaganda intended to sway opinions” (Wikipedia).

Spot-on for much of the ink spilled recently and this challenges those with real, fingers-in-the-dirt expertise who seek to advance & improve the profession, however expressed (e.g., being tapped for a panel, attempting to sell your expertise to a law firm, etc.).  Hoping ’19 will be better.

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Aron Solomon, JD (Innovation Realist):

This was a TRULY superb piece, and one that got a lot of play on Twitter. It’s 2019, ffs. Let’s finally call out the bullshit in and around #LegalTech.

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In another thread also on LinkedIn, where my post was shared, the following discussion took place:-

Alex G Smith (Innovation Manager at Reed Smith LLP):

For almost two years we’re being swamped by playbook content marketing and big claims in legal … this feels like the line in the sand, let’s get to honest, open, humble and human again please. Read the comments and Brian’s article. Caroline Hill this is along the lines of your Legal Geek talk right? Storytelling and praising small last change with people, process, tech not what we’ve had.

The comments are worth reading …

Caroline Hill (Editor-in-Chief at Legal IT Insider aka The Orange Rag):

Alex you’re right that I’m a fan of back to basics but what concerns me about the hype busting rhetoric in general is that it is very likely to deter people from attempting to educate the market about technology for fear of being shot down in flames. In the same way as Brian Inkster is great at dissecting hype, it’s important to be able to take feedback and that is: steer clear of creating a toxic Donald Trump-like culture where the media or other educators are the enemy. Not that I’m comparing you to Donald, Brian. Oh dear God I’ve brought politics into it now!

Alex G Smith:

So who is educating then? If “we” (certain people held a point) all went too far one way and certain groups lost the trust of people (though incorrect content marketing, overclaiming, etc) who is left to educate? Who is left to build back up. This is a necessary correction because just like when Trump goes or Brexit “occurs” the fall out is that certain parties/groups will be left no longer functioning or in radical need of overhaul. Everyone wanted change but I think everyone wanted only firms to change … in fact change will be across the ecosystem, things may not be needed or need to embrace radical new models. It’s going to be different but painful … just like Brexit.

Brian Inkster:

Caroline Hill When I wrote my “hype busting” post I did procrastinate over the use of the word “fake” in the headline. I knew that using this word can bring out Trump comparisons. But also it can draw people in as headlines are supposed to do. On balance I thought that as it was a mirror opposite of Mark Cohen’s headline I was completely justified in using “fake” when he used 1.7 million instead of 500 (my guess at the real statistic involved). With a reasoned, fact based article that argues Mark Cohen has misled his readers by being 99.97% incorrect, his article was about as fake as it comes.

What Trump does (and I appreciate and am thankful that you are not comparing him to me!) is to shout “fake news” with no argument whatsoever as to why it is fake. He also circulates his own fake news that is not based on any reasoned argument or on any actual facts.

Mark Cohen took a statistic which was possibly true of LinkedIn views of an advert for an e-book but not true of views of the actual eBook itself and wrote an article that implied the latter and not the former.

This was misleading in the extreme. It was the epitome of fake news.

Mark Cohen is not “the enemy” as a result but he has been rather naughty. That naughtiness in my opinion requires to be called out to dampen the hype he was creating.

Others assumed his reporting to be correct and repeated it. Some examples found online include:-

“1.7 Million views in two weeks. No, we’re not talking about YouTube videos. The #ebook Blockchain For Lawyers is breaking the internet.”

“Impressive how this ebook got 1.7m views in two weeks.”

“It’s a wonderful book – but there’s also got to be some masterful marketing behind it. Getting 1.7 million views for an ebook is more interesting to me than blockchain for lawyers.”

“Blockchain For Lawyers. 1.7m views in two weeks. Wow!”

“A little over ten years ago, very few people knew about a blockchain, but in our time, the technology has become a force to reckon with and even have the potential to displace the most feared professionals (lawyers) if they don’t embrace it.

The latter part of the last sentence may seem to be overhyped but it certainly is not, going by the fact that a new ebook about legal blockchain practice amassed 1.7m views in just two weeks!”

Mark Cohen himself had the gall to tweet: “International blockbuster? Why has this eBook garnered nearly 2M views?”

This all perpetuated the naughtiness. It is the ‘Truthiness’ at play that Kevin Colangelo refers to here: https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6491219432617189376?commentUrn=urn%3Ali%3Acomment%3A%28activity%3A6491219432617189376%2C6491681542815911936%29

Journalists (including legal tech journalists) should be expected to provide articles that are fact based and not mislead. Of course journalists will take different viewpoints and the same point may be argued in different ways as we see for example in newspapers that are right wing compared to those that are left wing in their leaning.

But we cannot and should not allow legal tech journalists to get away with presenting a position that is perhaps 99.97% inaccurate.

You admirably referred to it as “a valid call” following Legal Geek and the popcorn moments that ensued on Twitter after Kira Systems’ founder Noah Waisberg “called for the legal tech press at large to become more discerning in its coverage of ‘AI’ and emerging technology and try to help avoid some of the hype.” The Forbes article is a glaring example of what Noah was referring to.

As I said earlier Mark Cohen is not “the enemy” for what he wrote. But in my mind, and I think the minds of many others, his credibility as a legal technology commentator has been shot to pieces. I, for one, will certainly be approaching future articles by him with a high degree of care. This I already do with certain other legal technology ‘journalists’ due to their poor track record to date. That does not, of course, include the Legal IT Insider.

The message here for legal technology journalists is to fact check the information they are supplied with and present it accurately and fairly.

Any legal technology writers that do so will win a watch in an age where readers clearly want less hype and more realistic reporting.

You should not be “shot down in flames” for realistic reporting or even for the occasional PR fluff piece. You should, however, be shot down for greatly exaggerated and misleading articles that fuel legal tech hype. And if you present a position that is perhaps 99.97% inaccurate and misleading you fully deserve to, and should, be shot down.

Kevin Colangelo (Vice President, Head of Enterprise Client Engagement at HBR Consulting):

Much of this is remediated if an author’s (note: author, not journalist – different vocation) intentions are spelled-out clearly up-front. Prolific authors like Cohen are selling something most of the time. This is not a bad thing – I do it too. It’s admirable that Cohen & others devote so much time and energy to our industry. But make no mistake: every article is intended as sales collateral for something. In Cohen’s case, I assume it’s unique, compelling expertise such that downstream he is retained as a consultant, a retreat keynote, a Board member, or perhaps as an Adjunct at a law school. All worthwhile, non-controversial pursuits.

Problems arise when, as here, an author (1) veers outside of her/his areas of truly qualified expertise (fingers-in-the-dirt stuff) and/or (2) fails to establish the “advertorial” nature of his/her piece. When you know you’re being sold to, bombastic statements like those in the subject article are taken for what they are: eye candy meant to trigger the buying cycle. The intent was to sell expertise not deceive. But absent clarity on his credentials & motivations, a sophisticated audience justifiably called a foul..
Oh yeah. You really should know your audience, too . . .

Caroline Hill:

Alex G Smith so here’s an example of where I think things are going awry – there are a ton of ebooks from vendors and and many are a mixture of fact and useful tips and marketing guff. If we are to tear a strip off one we must tear a strip off all and then we really won’t have time for our day job. Let’s keep our eye on what the ultimate goal is. As you know (and you flagged here), I’m a genuine supporter of the reset movement. Or as Justin North Janders Dean calls it #bringbackboring !:)

Now I’m off to watch my son play rugby and it’s freezing! Happy Sunday.

Brian Inkster:

Caroline Hill I think you might be missing the point of the debate which was nothing at all to do with tearing a strip of the Blockchain for Lawyers eBook but everything to do with tearing a strip of the Forbes article that suggested 1.7 million people had read that eBook when the actual figure was probably somewhere nearer 500. That article suggested that as a result there was a huge “hunger” amongst lawyers to learn about Blockchain. This clearly hypes Blockchain and does not reflect the reality involved.

I downloaded the eBook a few weeks ago and dismissed it a piece of marketing fluff. It was a basic guide to Blockchain for Lawyers but a very biased and unbalanced one. I wouldn’t have wasted my time blogging about that. But when the very misleading and inaccurate article in Forbes came out that was a very different matter.

As I said in my earlier comment I believe that such misleading and inaccurate information should be called out for the benefit of those who may know no better and be taken in by it. If you are part of the reset or #bringbackboring movement (as I am) then I think you have a duty to do so. This is especially so in extreme cases like this one where the information given was potentially 99.97% inaccurate.

I know that since I published my blog post you have been busy getting hot and bothered queuing to get into Oracle OpenWorld and then freezing watching rugby. You may not have had the time to fully digest the arguments and the debate that has taken place within another thread on LinkedIn and also on Twitter. I have updated my post to include all of those at the end and in one place. You might want to catch up on all of that at leisure over a croissant and coffee in the morning. You can read it here: What does it say when a Legal Blockchain eBook is promoted by FAKE views?

Mark Wasson (Principal at MarkHitsTheRoad): 

Unfortunately the big claims in legal tech have been coming for decades, and will no doubt continue.  That’s why it’s important to set higher expectations for those promoting the technologies.

In a 30-year-career with LexisNexis R&D I looked into more than 400 3rd party technologies, many referred to me by someone in the company who heard some impressive claims.  Most really didn’t deserve the cost of having staff investigate them.

By the time some technology is mature enough for people to try to apply it to the legal domain, it is sufficiently well-defined in the R&D community to have example successes and failures in other applications, evaluation procedures that can be applied across approaches to that technology, and quantifiable metrics.

Hype is inevitable, but at some point – and fairly quickly – the candidate tech provider must demonstrate real familiarity with the technology space and share real test/evaluations and results using the technology-standard metrics.  (I met with candidate tech providers who claimed their technology could improve search accuracy but had never heard of the most fundamental metrics of search accuracy:  recall, precision and f-measure.)

Their test cases may not align with the buyer’s.  Only testing on buyer cases does that.  But by sharing their experiences with testing and evaluating the technology, the candidate provides insight into their level of expertise and experience with the technology at hand.

It also helps the buyer determine whether the application may be ready for their “prime time”.  A 4% increase in Top 20 search relevance is statistically significant, but will users notice the 1-document difference in Top 20 results if they rarely go past the Top 10, and are they willing to pay the cost?  How fast is “fast” when it comes to processing a large document collection?  The impact on a data center footprint or cloud bill is part of the cost of adoption.

I don’t care how many people saw a link (or even clicked on it), any more than I care how many people saw a demo at some trade show.  Blockchain – like many of the technologies we now call AI in law – is mature enough that providers should now be providing concrete specifics if they want to impress.

Alex G Smith:

It was always a pleasure working with you on this a popping those claims … the lack of metrics and measurements is rife right now.

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On a LinkedIn Article ‘January 2019: Legal Innovation Roundup’ Dan Marcus wrote:-

What does it say when a Legal Blockchain eBook is promoted by FAKE views?

It would be pretty difficult to write about the legal technology blogosphere this month without including a reference to what has, unfortunately, been one of the biggest stories in terms of engagement. The controversy arose around an ebook on blockchain for lawyers written and cleverly promoted by an Australian startup, Legaler. Shortly after its release, those of us that keep an eye on LinkedIn (we really should find something better to do) started seeing stories that the book had reached 1.7m people. This was pounced on by some as evidence that legal technology is going mainstream before others (such as Brian Inkster in the article linked in the title) pointed out that the 1.7m figure is grossly misleading. You can probably tell which side of the divide I fall, though I would add that I am more critical of the use of misleading statistics than the original viral promotion tactic followed by Legaler.

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And on Twitter we had the following tweets:-

Mark A Cohen‏ @legalmosaic (Legal Education | Legal Delivery System | Future of Law | Legal Supply Chain | Strategy Consultant in Legal Industry):

The article focused on bigger issues of global legal community, new tech-enabled, customer-centric delivery models, investment, etc. to solve law’s wicked problems. Hope focus is not diverted to how views were created–and article title said “views,” not “reads.”

Jason Morris @RoundTable Law (Dad, tech geek, board gamer, Lawyer at Round Table Law, LLM computational law candidate @UAlberta. ABA Innovation Fellow 2018/2019. TEDx, Clio Cloud speaker):

It also said eBook, not LinkedIn post.

If you don’t want attention to be diverted toward falsehoods, don’t repeat them.

And if one accidentally gets repeated, the appropriate journalistic response would be a retraction, and an expression of regret.

The Time Blawg @TheTimeBlawg (The past, present and future practice of law (brought to you by @BrianInkster of @inksters):

Nail. Head. Yet again a direct hit by Jason. #blockchaingate

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Mark A Cohen:

I cannot speak to “fake” views, @TheTimeBlawg and others. Focus of article was to draw attention to global legal community galvanized by tech possibilities to solve law’s wicked problems and what tech means to legal professionals’ careers. Hope that positive message is not lost.

The Time Blawg:

If you are called out for using a statistic in a way that is possibly 99.97% inaccurate you should be able to speak to that. Original blog post now updated to include all the comments from LinkedIn. Surprising how some people think to mislead is ok.

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Mark A Cohen:

“Blockchain For Lawyers” international blockbuster? Why has this eBook garnered nearly 2M views? Here’s what that says about the legal industry.

Carolyn Elefant @carolynelefant (Power, pipelines & property law #altlaw owner: PowerUpLegal.com ; blogger, author, mom. Early adopter/early widow):

It’s a wonderful book – but there’s also got to be some masterful marketing behind it. Getting 1.7 million views for an ebook is more interesting to me than blockchain for lawyers.

The Time Blawg:

The answer to the “masterful marketing” and the fact it is more like 500 and not 1.7 million is here @carolynelefant: What does it say when a Legal Blockchain eBook is promoted by FAKE views?

Mark A Cohen:

Let’s not lose sight of bigger issue, @TheTimeBlawg and @carolynelefant. It’s not about what some allege as gamesmanship to boost views but global excitement, investment, & possibilities to solve wicked problems that new tech-enabled models provide.

The Time Blawg:

Global excitement shouldn’t be created by hype that is simply untrue. Bring a bit of reality into your reporting and we will all be the better for it. It may help create trust that will allow us to work together to solve those wicked problems.

Carolyn Elefant:

Thanks – knew I could count on you! It’s hard to know at what point to jump on board in a new space.

The Time Blawg:

Suggest you hold back on this space for now 😉 But if you are publishing an eBook on another topic you can always use the ‘Gimmie’ trick if you want to get 500 or so people downloading it 🙂

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Stephanie Curcio @stephcurcio (IP Lawyer. Co-Founder, @Legalicity):

Battling Fake News in the legal tech space @BrianInkster’s great overview on why the public’s perception of legal technology is skewed by the media @TheTimeBlawg @KiraSystems @wearelegalgeek @ArtificialLawya @LPGravelle

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Alex G Smith @alexgsmith (Innovation Manager at Reed Smith LLP. Ex-Lexis platform innovation lead. Geekily into service design, information, technology, law and cricket):

When you see fake legal tech news and fluffery you need to call it … by doing so you send a clear message that as a clever, savvy audience you expect more from your press. Thanks @BrianInkster @TheTimeBlawg and @RoundTableLaw for calling this initially.

Paul Ryan @pjryan51 (Amateur Politician By Night):

Yes but bigger issue in legal tech news is lack of willingness to hold bigger suppliers to account with any kind of critical analysis of their products and performance. So instead usual suspects pat each other on back, get their “client wins” published and we never hear anything more.

Nick Rishwain‏ @NickJRishwain (Legal technology and marketing professional. #LegalTech, Robotics, and #AI fan and advocate. Co-founder of @LegalTechLIVE. Amateur comedian or wannabe. #comedy):

Interesting read. I had not read the Forbes article. However, this reminds me of a discussion I had with some others recently about Forbes articles being mostly fluff.

I should have said, I have not read the Forbes article.

Alex G Smith:

don’t worry @BrianInkster did and made comment in the article. I can’t even be bothered as it (at marketing level) seems to put the solution before the problem which is 50% of the problem at present, but hey-ho one day we’ll learn.

Aron Solomon @aronsolomon (Lifelong watch fanatic who now designs great watches @missionwatchco. I also help startups and huge corporations build cool stuff together):

Thank you. All. Again, I’m able to use

Legal Tech 100 per cent BS Logo

Just in case you missed this, it’s an important, good read about how full of shit #LegalTech can be and how #blockchain, #LawCompany and the like need to be closely watched.

So @TheTimeBlawg updates the #LegalTech piece of 2019 (it’s early, but will be tough to beat) with the comments that highlight #OurStupidIsShowing. (READ THE COMMENTS, FFS)

Of course, were this blog post penned by the lawcompanygentsia, they’d claim 14 million views by now.

The Time Blawg:

Think my blog post may now have been read by more people than the eBook has 😉

Legal Tech Reality Check at Lexpo 2019

By | January 14, 2019

Lexpo 2019 - Brian Inkster - Legal Tech Reality CheckIn 2018 I blogged a lot about the hype surrounding Artificial Intelligence and Blockchain in the legal world. This included:-

In 2019 I will be taking the scepticism I have expressed in these posts to present a reality check on legal technology live on stage at Lexpo in Amsterdam on 8 & 9 April.

My talk is on:-

The Seven Deadly Sins of Legal Tech Predictions

There is much hype about robots taking over the work of lawyers. In this talk I will guide you through The Seven Deadly Sins of Legal Tech Predictions to debunk the hype and allow you to see the wood from the trees.

Expect to hear tales of sensationalism by legal technology journalists, fake and failed robots, unimpressive legal chatbots, AI washing, Blockwashing and the reality of Moore’s law today. Blade Runner, which of course was set in 2019, will also feature.

Lexpo’19 – Legal Innovation at its best

In just three years, Lexpo established itself as the number one opportunity in Continental Europe to learn about the latest trends in legal innovation. Lexpo’19 will provide a comprehensive overview of the cutting-edge trends that will be high on every law firm’s agenda in the coming years.

Why visit Lexpo?

Network with the Lexpo speakers and panelists, your peers from the legal industry and dozens of vendors of innovative legaltech products and services. There will be plenty of opportunity to relax and socialise: during the morning- and afternoon breaks, while enjoying the extensive lunch buffets, during the refreshing drinks reception or at the original foodmarket-style networking dinner!

Learn about the latest innovations and find out how new solutions can bring you and your firm to the next level. Find out what Lexpo’s legaltech startup partners are working on and how their solutions might streamline your operations. Discuss pressing issues during round table sessions and discover how other firms delivered successful projects to their business.

Have fun! Lexpo visitors know they can expect the best experience: top speakers, interactive sessions, timely themes, high-quality catering and more than enough entertainment.

Lexpo’19 Themes

1. Differentiation

Innovative legaltech solutions are hitting the market at an ever-increasing rate, thereby facilitating the creation of level playing fields for all involved parties. How can law firms differentiate themselves to demonstrate competitive advantage to their clients? There will be multiple sessions at Lexpo’19 that will help formulating your strategy.

2. Collaboration

Collaboration is key, not only between lawyers and their clients, but also between the professional experts working in different practice areas. Partners might recognise the need to change, but their buy-in doesn’t always translate to a change in behaviour. At Lexpo’19 they explore different perspectives and let key stakeholders take the stage!

3. Valuation

What is legal advice really worth to clients? Does the means of delivery affect the value? How to work out the right price on the right deal? Can pricing and client service strategies help to differentiate a law firm from its competitors? How to define what customer-focused really means. And how can technology play a role? At Lexpo’19 prominent subject matter experts will share their views.

4. Cyber Security

The news is full of stories about law firm hacks and ransomware victims. Cybersecurity remains a top priority for law firms, the reality is often disappointing: expensive security projects that do not necessarily offer a return on investment tend to be pretty unpopular with CIOs! At Lexpo’19, they won’t just stress the importance of cybersecurity—they’ll try to find ways of improving security while keeping everyone happy.

Other Speakers

Other Lexpo’19 speakers so far announced include Heidi Gardner, Tim Nightingale, Richard Burcher, Arup Das, Marcus Weinberger, Karl Chapman,
Jenny Jones, Oz Benamran, Mitch Kowalski, Alex Hamilton and Peter Lee.

I’ve been a delegate before

In 2017 I attended Lexpo as a delegate and very much enjoyed the conference. Here is a video giving some impressions from that one:-

Lexpo 2017 Impressions from Lexpo on Vimeo.

Buy your tickets

You can buy your tickets here: lexpo.com/buy-your-ticket

Legal Futures Innovation Conference 2018: The One with the Women

By | December 31, 2018

Legal Futures Innovation Conference 2018The annual Legal Futures Innovation Conference in London is one that I like to take in. Neil Rose always manages at these conferences (as he also did at the Click 2 Client conferences) to produce a range of coal face practitioners with interesting stories to tell about their innovations in legal practice. This year’s conference in November was no exception.

This summary of the event is taken mostly from tweets I tweeted at the time. Thus they will be on the whole short bullet points. But I do elaborate a bit when I get to the keynote interview with Marilyn Stowe and also the panel of women leaders in innovation.

The current state of innovation
Rob Cross (Legal Services Board), Chris Nott (Capital Law), David Whitmore (Slater & Gordon) and Osman Ismail (DPS Software)

Alternative Business Structure (ABS) New Law firms are 3.3 times more likely to use technology than traditional Old Law firms.

The traditional law firm partnership model works against innovation.

Innovation is not about technology but technology is an enabler of innovation.

Millennials are not a rare breed they are the future of the legal profession. They think things we are not capable of thinking.

If you just exploit you will die. If you just explore you will die.

Certain law firms are businesses run by business persons. Others are law firms run by lawyers. ABS are more likely to be the former.

Smaller law firms aren’t really engaging with innovation in the same way as larger ones. I think there will be exceptions to this and plenty of larger law firms that aren’t really innovating even if they think, and issue press releases to suggest, that they are.

Smaller firms should engage with the Solicitors Regulation Authority. They are open to forward looking discussions. Maybe more so than the Law Society of England & Wales.

Culture comes from leaders. Innovation comes from the top

Law firms equal a bunch of very busy people. Innovative law firms have someone driving change through it. Smaller law firms often don’t have that person. Hmm… smaller law firms can still and often do have an owner driving change. Often one who has escaped from BigLaw to do just that!

Keynote interview: Sir Nigel Knowles

It’s all about execution. You can have a vision and strategy but you have to execute it.

You need your people behind you to achieve success.

You have to try that little bit harder.

Too many partners in law firms can’t articulate their business plans fast enough.

Every partner in every law firm should be responsible for incremental improvement which drives innovation. This was incremental improvement again being advocated. This time by someone (Sir Nigel Knowles) who grew a global law firm using it. It works. Don’t believe the AI hypesters who say otherwise.

A word from the sponsors

90% of stress is caused by uncertainty. You should use legal technology to keep your clients informed electronically.

Legal Technology needs to look the part. Needs to be designed for user experience.

Lessons from listing
David Beech (Knights plc) and Greg Cox (Simpson Millar)

Knights culture today:-

  • Low ego
  • High confidence
  • Self-starters
  • Team
  • No dickheads
  • Normal people
  • Friendly

Again the view was expressed that the equity law firm partnership model is no longer fit for purpose.

Chris Marston jumped in at this point on Twitter from outside the Conference to tweet:

That old saw! It’s strategy, values and behaviours that matter, not legal structure. In my experience, most incorporated law firms still behave like traditional partnerships.

I commented:-

Speakers at the Conference have been emphasising separating management functions from doing law. Assume that could be true in a partnership, limited company or any other structure.

Chris Marston responded:-

Yes of course – and very often is. Good leadership can come from lawyers and non-lawyers, and in any entity-type.

Back to the Conference:-

Unregulated and proud
Merlie Calvert (Farillio), Ryan Lisk (Hybrid Legal) and Darren Stott (Which? Legal Services)

They plug an important gap at Farillio. However, I didn’t quite understand what the gap was. I questioned Farillio about this on Twitter and was advised:-

So we aim to help people with their businesses, supporting them with templates and guides that answer all the questions that often they feel to embrassed to ask a lawyer as they feel they should already know the answers.

Farillio acts as a support. So I believe the gap we plug is for the people that feel they can’t go to, or can’t afford a lawyer, we act as the help and support they need! Hope that helps.

Keynote interview: Marilyn Stowe

Marilyn Stowe

Marilyn Stowe

This interview was the highlight of the conference for me. Marilyn Stowe’s story was inspirational but also highly engaging and amusing. I didn’t tweet much through it as I was too taken up with the story of how she built, from humble beginnings in 1982, and sold in 2017 a very successful national family law practice. You can get the details of that from Marilyn’s page on Wikipedia but without the amusement value that Marilyn brought when telling her story to Neil Rose on stage.

I did tweet a couple of times during her story which may have been key takeaways. Those tweets were:-

  • Marilyn Stowe realised how important PR was to get on.
  • Take risks says Marilyn Stowe – many lawyers are very risk averse.

Women leaders in innovation
Shirley Brookes (PwC Legal), Vidisha Joshi (Hodge Jones & Allen), Shainul Kassam (Fortune Law) and Barbara Hamilton-Bruce (BHB Consulting)

We were told that men are not more innovative than women (Marilyn Stowe’s talk alone was evidence of that). A gender equality discussion took place about getting as many women than men speaking at Legal Innovation conferences.

Legal Futures Innovation Conference 2018 - Women leaders of innovationNeil Rose admitted that it had never entered his head when organising conferences previously. He had identified the content he wanted and sought out the speakers to suit without gender being a deciding factor.

However, at last year’s conference Vidisha Joshi had raised the speaker gender balance as an issue with him and he was now seeking to redress the situation (this year’s conference having 11 male and 9 female speakers).

Gender equality has been a recurring topic at legal conferences this year. Legal Geek made a point of ensuring fair representation and had a Women in Law Tech Panel. Janders Dean always ensure a gender balance of speakers at their conferences and are active promoters of Gender Avenger. They also call out those that do not include a gender balance at events.

Yesterday I was at a preview screening at the Glasgow Film Theatre of RBG (a documentary on the exceptional life and career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has developed a breath taking legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon).

This preview was introduced by Nicola Irvine, Dean of the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow. Nicola is the first female Dean in the Faculty’s 350 year history.

The film showed the struggles that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had in a male dominated world in the 1950s and beyond. But how she overcame the obstacles placed in front of her to become the second female Justice appointed to the US Supreme Court and for a while she was the only female Justice on that court.

Ginsburg spent a considerable part of her legal career as an advocate for the advancement of gender equality and women’s rights, winning multiple victories arguing before the Supreme Court. She made it clear in the film that change takes time and needs to be done one step at a time.

After the film there was a Q&A panel session with five women (two of whom were lawyers).

As we are about to enter 2019 it should also be remembered that we will soon be marking the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time in the UK. The First 100 Years project was created by Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support, to chart the journey of women in law since 1919.

The move to gender equality at legal conferences is admirable and necessary. Indeed it seems odd that in this day and age we have to debate it. We heard at the RBG Q&A session that when one of the lawyer panellists was at university 75% of her class were female. Times have clearly changed since Ginsburg was a law student. But inequality still remains an issue as a study on wage differences between male and female lawyers in Scotland revealed in 2015.

I hope in 2019 we see gender equality becoming mainstream at legal conferences and no longer something we have to debate at them. I also hope, as part of that, we no longer have to have all female panels to compensate for the lack of gender equality elsewhere in the conferences. Please just always have such equality on all panels and throughout the conferences. After all Gender Avenger want to do away with all male panels at conferences but I think there aim is to have balance on those panels rather than replace them entirely with all female ones!

Now back to the Legal Futures Innovation Conference 2018:-

The new innovators
Dani McCormick (LexisNexis), Laura Fisher (gunnercooke), Peter Lee (Wavelength Law), Gary Gallen (rradar) and Debbie Farman (Jordans Corporate Law)

There was a very sensible talk from Dani McCormick of LexisNexis. She told us to avoid the AI hype. Her good advice included:

  • Go for marginal gains not disruption.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Look at process points.
  • Use existing tech.
  • Chip away at it.
  • GCs want simple tech and solutions.

‘Virtual’ law firm makes you sound unreal. gunnercooke don’t like the term as they are very real. I prefer Mitch Kowalski’s plug and play term which he uses for them and my law firm, Inksters, in his book The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field.

We heard about Legal Engineers at Wavelength Law. That very same week there had been an interesting report about the battle by a Scottish law firm to trademark the term Legal Engineer.

Lawyers need to sit next to the Legal Tech.

You’ve got to give before you get.

Stubbornness is important to see it through and make it happen. Need to graft, take risks and be bloody stubborn.

Big Law can’t move at the pace a small New Law firm can to create change and a different way/model of working.

A mind shift is happening in Big Law. There is more innovation there just now than might have been the case three years or so ago.

There are new roles for non-lawyers in Big Law today that didn’t exist three to five years ago.

Networking

I have said before that legal conferences are as much about the people you meet than the content itself. Legal Futures always has an abundance of both. As usual at Legal Futures I caught up with old friends and met new ones in what was a most enjoyable and informative day.

Next Year

The Legal Futures Innovation Conference 2019 will take place in London on 28 November 2019.

The Legal Sector Client Experience Conference 2018 : The One at the Zoo

By | December 29, 2018

Legal Sector Client Experience Conference 2018In November I attended the Legal Sector Client Experience Conference at Bristol Zoo organised by Clare Fanner of Find Get Grow. It was the first conference I have attended where the Health & Safety announcement at the beginning included that if there was an animal related incident we were all to remain within the conference room! Thankfully the only ‘animal’ related incident of the day was the Conscious Solutions’ orange dog going missing at the end of the day (but that is quite a common occurrence).

Orange Dog at Bristol ZooHaving a conference for lawyers entirely dedicated to client experience is unusual but probably a much needed day of education for most. Especially so given some of the statistics revealed at the event from a survey carried out by customer experience specialists insight6. For example of the 70 law firms that were mystery shopped:-

Calling Back
75% of law firms called back after the client left a message

The speed of returning calls
42% within 3 hours
33% between 3 hours to one day
25% never received a call back

Follow up
Only 7% received a follow up call or e-mail within 5 working days of speaking to an expert

The following is a summary of the event taken, on the most part, from the tweets I tweeted at the time:-

Clients changed our brand and our perspective – why & how? – insight6, Jonathan Winchester & Rhian Huxtable

If something goes wrong with customer service it is a great opportunity to turn things around

Service can only be provided by people not by machines.

How employee ownership improves client service – Stephens Scown, Christian Wilson

You need to look outside the legal sector for good client service examples.

You need to record and celebrate when someone goes the extra mile.

You should engage with clients in a way that supports them e.g. Stephens Scown’s campaign to get people to pay more for milk to help the firm’s dairy farming clients.

Say thank you.

Love where you live.

Focus on client service and people.

Empowering the workforce to live & breathe a culture of client-centricity – Moneypenny, Claire Smith

Recruit for attitude over skill set

No appraisals just wow chats. What’s your wow moment and ouch moment.

Make people feel secure. “There’s no team without trust.” Paul Santagata, Head of Industry, Google. It is okay to make mistakes.

Give back. Blend work and home.

Interest free loans for staff when their chips are down.

“The best customer service is if the customer doesn’t need to talk to you. It just works.” Jeff Bezos, Amazon.

Go the extra mile.

Be available.

Live chat is the fastest growing means of cummunication. I thought, hopefully, with humans and not chatbots (e.g. LawDroid and Billy Bot)!

Do simple things. Make it personal. Answer the phone and say who you are. Use the client’s name back to them.

A client experience programme for YOUR law firm – insight6, Rhian Huxtable, Craig Hawthorn, Richard Knight & Mel Evans

Use smaply.com  to map the customer journey.

First stage of the client journey is knowing the type of client you will be dealing with.

Customer Experience v Customer Journey – Conscious Solutions, Rich Dibbins

Heat mapping using heat-map.co will let you know where your clients are going on your website pages.

Google Analytics tell you what pages are being bounced, how long are they spending on each page?

Most popular pages on any law firm website are the profile pages.

First mistake: Not being mobile friendly.

Second mistake: Asking for too many details on a contact form.

Third mistake: Too much info or bamboozling. But need plenty of content.

Fourth mistake: Not responding to bogus reviews on social media. Responding is customer service 101.

Chatbots are not there to replace lawyers. But to help. Although in my view If that is automated chatbots (e.g. LawDroid and Billy Bot) then yes… help!

You want a low bounce rate on your website and new visitors to be higher than return visitors.

Show us the money. Why you can’t aford to ignore CX – Find Get Grow, Clare Fanner & Third Bounce, Alex Barr

3% of turnover (excluding staff costs) is the average law firm marketing spend. i.e. You would spend 3% of turnover in cash on marketing activities but that 3% would not include your staff costs on marketing which would be on top of the 3%.

25% of opportunities are lost at the outset.

How what you do and say impacts others. An inspiring and unforgettable personal story. – Richard McCann

Richard McCann has a story that you have to hear to believe. I would not do it justice by trying to summarise it here. I suggest you read his books: Just a Boy and The Boy Grows Up.

His message is that you need not just an ‘I can’ attitude but you need an ‘I will’ and an ‘I did’.

Richard was a highlight in a very informative day on client service in law firms. A day that I was able to take choice parts from and use in a seminar on client service at my own law firm, Inksters, in December.

And at the very end of the day I was able to visit the animals in the zoo. That was an added value and memorable customer experience of attending this particular conference!

Bristol Zoo - Legal Sector Client Experience Conference 2018

Chats with Legal Chatbots ~ Episode 2: Billy Bot

By | December 28, 2018

Chats with Legal Chatbots - Billy BotThe official line on the Billy Bot website is that:-

If you need a Barrister or Mediator to help you, Billy can help you get a quote.

Billy Bot is a Clerksroom project to build a junior clerk robot. Billy is a cheeky chappie and loves to chat.

So I had a chat with Billy Bot. Here is the transcript:-

Billy Bot: Hi! I’m Billy, a robot junior clerk in training. I can help to get a quote from a barrister or mediator, quickly! Would you like to get a quote from a barrister, mediator, or something else? Click a button for speed!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: Hi Billy

Billy Bot: Hi there! How can I help you today?
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: Something else

Billy Bot: I can help with setting up a free conference call, putting you in touch with a solicitor, finding a profile on LinkedIn and some other clever stuff. How can I help you?
1. Search LinkedIn
2. Conference call
3. Contact a solicitor
4. Free legal help

Me: Search LinkedIn

N.B. Would I not have been better to just do that via LinkedIn directly rather than via a third party robot?

Billy Bot: Ok let me know whose profile you are trying to find?

Me: Yours

Billy Bot: Sorry but I need a name to search Linkedin?
1. Cancel

Me: Jonathan Maskew

Billy Bot: Okay, one second and I will see if I can find any matches!

Billy Bot: Here is what I could find: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/clerksroom-direct-runners-up-national-disruptive-live-maskew/

N.B. Billy Bot had selected for me one particular article by Jonathan Maskew on LinkedIn out of 24 written by him at the time. I had expected to be taken to his profile rather than to a specific article.

Me: What next?

Billy Bot: I can help with setting up a free conference call, putting you in touch with a solicitor, finding a profile on LinkedIn and some other clever stuff. How can I help you?
1. Search LinkedIn
2. Conference call
3. Contact a solicitor
4. Free legal help

Me: Free legal help

Billy Bot: Law donut is a great resource for legal information. What would you like help with and I can see if law donut has any relevant information for you?

Me: Can a crofting tenant legally buy their croft?

Billy Bot: Okay, one second and I will see if I can find anything useful!

Billy Bot: Sorry but I can’t find any results

N.B A Google search by me of the same question revealed about 22,600 results. The top result was:-

“Since 1976 tenants have been able to buy their crofts. Technically an owner is not a crofter but the landlord of a croft. However, so long as you live on the croft as the owner, the Commission does not expect the croft to be re-let to a new tenant. If you want to buy your house site you will need to employ a solicitor.” [Crofting – Citizens Advice Scotland]

Billy Bot: Do you want me to search again with a new search or put you in touch with someone who can help you?
1. Search law donut again
2. Contact someone

Me: Can you have a servitude right to park a car that is ancillary to a servitude right of access?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

N.B. A Google search by me of the same question revealed about 76,100 results. The first page of results all confirmed the answer as yes with reference to Moncrieff v Jamieson.

But in case Billy Bot couldn’t understand Scottish legal terms I tried him with the English equivalent:-

Me: Can you have an easement right to park a car that is ancillary to an easment right of access?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

N.B. I had mistakenly spelt easement as “easement” the second time it appeared in my question. But a Google search of the same question revealed about 23,600 results and also corrected my spelling mistake in the process.
Again the top results all confirmed the answer as yes with reference again to Moncrieff v Jamieson.

Giving up on asking legal questions I moved on to test Billy Bot on something else:-

Me: Can we try contacting a solicitor next?

Billy Bot: Ok to put you in touch with a solicitor I just need a couple of bits of information. Could you tell me your name please?

Me: Hercule Poirot

Billy Bot: Ok could I please have your email address?

Me: hercule@poirot.be

Billy Bot: Thanks! Could you please tell me your phone number?

Me: +32 123 456 789

N.B. +32 is the dialling code for Belgium but Billy Bot can’t cope with foreign telephone numbers:-

Billy Bot: Sorry but I need a valid phone number to continue
1. Cancel case

Me: 020 1234 5678

Billy Bot: Ok thanks, and finally if you could provide a brief description of what your enquiry is regarding that would be great.

Me: I have a debt to collect

Billy Bot: One second while I process that for you…

N.B. Over one hour later and Billy Bot still hadn’t processed that for me.
So I said:-

Me: That is taking you a lot longer than one second?!

N.B. Billy Bot then responded quickly and in quadruple:-

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

N.B. And so we were back at the beginning with no solicitor to help Hercule recover his debt. Unless someone had e-mailed hercule@poirot.be!

An awful lot of time had been spent chatting to Billy Bot with no perceptible benefit to me.

I know I had tested him on niche areas of Scottish law (crofting law and the law of servitudes) that I happen to specialise in. But then when I tried “easements” a familiar term in the law of England & Wales it still drew a blank.

A search on Google however on all three matters gave me exactly what I was looking for.

I did in another chat ask Billy Bot:-

How do I get a divorce?

He responded with links on Law Donut to Divorce Financial Settlement FAQs and Divorce FAQs.

So if you keep it simple Billy Bot may oblige.

I think Clerksroom have given Billy Bot too many tasks to perform. As a result he is master of none. In his early days Billy Bot was even linked to Domino’s Pizza and you could apparently use him to order a pizza. How successful that functionality was I do not know. But it no longer exists which perhaps tells us something.

I nevertheless tried Billy Bot, in another chat, with a pizza query:-

Me: Can you get me a pizza?

N.B. It looked like he was typing a reply. But after more than 10 minutes of him doing so I asked:-

Me: You’ve been typing for over 10 minutes now and I am still waiting to see what you have typed?!

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: Can’t you chat unless I use a button?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: I thought IBM Watson had given you AI to do anything?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: Clearly no AI in you is there?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Billy Bot apparently can also switch on the coffee machine in Clerksroom’s offices and make a cup of coffee. I tried this function and he confirmed having made me a cup. If so I hope someone at Clerksroom in Taunton drank it for me as I was sitting in Glasgow (412 miles away) at the time!

Here is our coffee chat:-

Me: I understand you can make coffee. Is that correct?

Billy Bot: Hmmm I love coffee. I can make you a fresh coffee now if you like.

Me: Please do so.

Billy Bot: One coffee on its way!

Me: Thanks. How are you delivering it to me?

Billy Bot: Sorry I couldn’t quite understand what you meant. Maybe try rephrasing or use the buttons below to help you!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Something else

Me: Do you do biscuits with the coffee?

Billy Bot: Hmmm I love coffee. I can make you a fresh coffee now if you like.

And so we were back in the circular loop I was by now familiar with when chatting with Billy Bot.

Pizza and coffee are maybe fun gimmicks but the real purpose of Billy Bot is to instruct a lawyer. In that he failed. He told me that my request was being processed but then went silent on me for more than an hour. Perhaps at that stage e-mail contact would take over but he never told me this would be the case so I am none the wiser. Perhaps I should have used a real e-mail account rather than a pretend one.

I did in a separate chat try instructing a Barrister. Billy Bot asked me if I was a lawyer. Here is how the chat went from there:-

Me: Yes I am a lawyer.

Billy Bot: Ok, can I start by taking your e-mail address so I can see if you have used us before?

Me: atticus@finch-law-firm.com

Billy Bot: Thanks, one second while I check if I have your e-mail address in my system already…

Billy Bot: Sorry. We seem to be experiencing some technical difficulties.

Me: So you can’t check my e-mail address?

Billy Bot: I can put you in touch with a barrister, mediator, or a solicitor. Or if you would prefer you can always call one of my collegues on 01823 247 247!
1. Barrister
2. Mediator
3. Solicitor

Once more the circle had been resumed without achieving anything.

However, rather than all the questions and answers via a robot surely a simple website contact form would suffice and be more effective? For example:-

In an article in The Times over a year ago it was claimed by Stephen Ward from Clerksroom that:-

Our human clerks tended to take between eight and ten minutes to book a barrister. Now that process is fully automated with Billy Bot, which means we are saving about 200 hours a month.

Hmm… maybe not saving the instructing solicitor’s time. I spent well over an hour attempting a very simple instruction. I may have been unlucky. But a second attempt resulted in Billy Bot experiencing technical difficulties and again failing to complete my attempted instruction. A year ago he was apparently handling up to 100 instructions a day. I assume a year later he will be doing much more than that. Although why anyone is spending their time instructing in this way is beyond me.

But I am happy to stand corrected by those using Billy Bot regularly when instructing Barristers.

My own experience of instructing Advocates (the Scottish equivalent of a Barrister) is that I am only doing so for complex matters where the instruction usually requires to be very detailed. Our Stables (the Scottish equivalent of Chambers) do not yet have a Billy Bot. But I am unsure how a chatbot would fair with (as was the case in my last such instruction) a 1,778 word note with 26 accompanying documents. I simply e-mailed it directly to the Advocate.

Billy Bot (like other chatbots I have encountered) is a very early prototype and he will (like other chatbots) no doubt improve with age. At the moment it seems to me that chatbots are not yet equipped for serious heavy lifting. Clerksroom may disagree and I would welcome their comments.