Law Society launches Lawscot Tech but what is it?

By | October 13, 2018

Lawscot Tech - Law Society of ScotlandThe Law Society of Scotland announced on 10 October that they were launching Lawscot Tech to:-

stimulate legal technology innovation in Scotland which will deliver practical benefits for those working in the justice and legal sectors and their clients. Lawscot Tech will provide support from concept stage through to taking a product or service to market.

Paul Mosson, Executive Director of Member Services and Engagement at the Law Society of Scotland, said:

We think there is enormous potential to develop technology-based solutions specifically for the legal sector. There have been great strides made in ‘fintech’ and we think there is scope to look at how we can use technology to resolve issues which are particular to lawyers and legal work.

There has been huge change within the legal sector and it’s no longer enough to have an in depth knowledge of black letter law. Solicitors want to excel at running their business and provide high quality service for their clients. By creating an environment which supports innovative thinking and provides a mechanism to develop tech-based solutions specifically for the legal sector, we will be able to drive innovation which benefits Scottish solicitors and their clients.

Through LawscotTech we will encourage solicitors to articulate the challenges they face and collaborate with technology firms, the academic community and other Scottish businesses to design new solutions.

We plan to support the most promising concepts and work with those involved to deliver them to the market.

The press release from the Law Society of Scotland also stated that they will hold a number of events around Scotland for solicitors and will invite technology companies to join the events. Dates are to be announced.

Some reactions on social media (and discussions I have been party to off line) wondered what this initiative really consisted of. For example:-

Call me cynical but is this just another ‘thing’? Why not work with the long running LegalHackers community in Scotland? They’ve put lots of efforts into engaging both legal and tech industries in Scotland.

The responses were that:-

Everyone’s invited to the party… Law Society Scotland are keen to be the hub with plenty spokes coming out from the middle.

and

This is the start of the journey. The call is out to work with everyone to move this forward. We work with ten legaltech companies, but we want to open that up further to the ones we don’t work with. That we don’t know about. And if you think we should we doing something, our ears are open. If you’re interested let’s speak.

and

There’s not much more to share at the minute as its early days, good intentions and good people, a solid start.

During this debate the headline about this initiative on the Law Society of Scotland website changed from:-

Law Society of Scotland to launch legal technology incubator

to

Law Society set to drive innovation in legal technology

So did they think at one moment they were launching an incubator and the next minute decide that was not what they were doing?

An incubator would be more like the Legal Innovation Zone at Ryerson University in Toronto that I visited last year: Innovation in Toronto

So it perhaps looks like the Law Society of Scotland are just making it up as they go along?

Some have suggested that it looks as though they will just be organising meet ups between solicitors and legal tech companies!

Let’s hope that it involves a bit more than just that. It will need to be all inclusive, with those grass roots legal hackers on board, and have some actual structure and substance to it. Inviting the Scottish Universities to the party should be an essential component too.

Perhaps the Law Society of Scotland will also, as part of this, look at scrapping its ‘member benefit scheme’ where a very limited number of legal technology providers are promoted by them presumably because money changes hands to do so. This does not provide members with a true picture of the legal tech landscape in Scotland nor indeed necessarily the best legal technology for them to invest in. It is anything but inclusive and gives the impression of a very private legal tech party/club.

I will be interested to see how LawScot Tech actually pans out and will provide updates on here as and when the mist begins to clear.

Reactions on Social Media

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

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

It seems more people throwing round the accelerator/incubator formula without actually asking what is the goal they are trying to achieve …

Jane Treadwell-Hoye (Transformation | Customer – CCXP):

Failing to address the fundamental question – Why? Too many rush to a solution before stopping to ask what is the problem they’re needing to solve. And, once identified, who has the problem, how many have the problem AND are they willing to pay for the solution?

Alex G Smith:

Jane Treadwell-Hoye much of this is driven by corporates wanting a plug and play “innovative arena” and you can now cookie cutter this. In reality you need to find something that works for your Why? Brian’s article asks about where is the why. Sadly it seems to late for England (or London) re legal tech and this culture but maybe Scotland can adjust …

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Alex G Smith and Jane Treadwell-Hoye. I wonder if there is really a problem to solve here. It may be that lawyers just need to know the existing legal tech options open to them rather than any new bells and whistles being invented for them. That should of course not just be ad hoc ‘endorsements’ https://www.legaltechnology.com/latest-news/our-members-werent-consulted-lssa-angered-by-law-societys-clio-endorsement/ I know that I have enough to deal with just implementing properly and effectively the legal tech I currently have never mind adding anything more to the mix. I believe many law firms are actually slimming down the tech they are using for this very reason. But it appears to be very early days for Lawscot Tech so let’s hope they can stop and reflect a bit on all of the comments on here. If so they might, as Alex says, be able to adjust and provide their members with a better offering than what has perhaps developed south of the border.

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Nigel Williams (Leading the drive to deliver best in class legal software):

There is a sudden explosion of these type of gatherings/communities but as said already, why? – (in the ‘what purpose?’ rather than ‘why bother?’ context).  As a legal tech supplier I’m interested to engage in these so I can explore putting some of our building-block tech in the hands of innovators (did I really say that?!) to grow ecosystems and evolve solutions more quickly than traditional methods. The response from those that I have contacted is warm but wary, and the suggestion is usually to come along to the event as a regular punter.  So I get the feeling that the headline is created first, with a few ‘players’ identified, and it’ll kick-off with the hope that something useful will come out of it. That’s ok, but I suspect that a good number of these initiatives will simply whither. But keen to play a part if allowed!

Paul Ryan (Director at Focis):

I think the big suppliers would have to have a voice and hopefully from individuals that use that voice responsibly! There’s no escaping the fact that in Scotland and in terms of volume I’d imagine 60%+ of legal transactions depend somewhere on LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters software. Very much an estimate but if anything probably under rather than over. You then look at smaller firms and a huge % of those must sit somewhere on the “Leap” platform. So for all the comments I see elsewhere  of “another legal tech startup” those numbers are pretty staggering for a single industry. I’d imagine picture across UK can’t be so different. We’ve allowed consolidation in the legal tech  supplier market to creep up and it has, in my opinion, started to stifle creativity. Not within the suppliers themselves with some great individuals but in taking a step back, looking at the techology now available, what a legal transaction involves, and asking “how can we do this better for our clients”. That’s I sultomately what a LegalTech hub must focus on.

I think what startup industry there is in Legal tech then tends to be feeder companies working off those big suppliers. We’re in that bracket and very grateful of it (doffs cap!). However I then see the kind of things Arlene McDaid and Callum Murray are doing, with none of that incumbent supplier baggage, and also some of the great tech innovators in the firms themselves like Sarah Blair at Thorntons along with some really talented IT people in other firms and think that’s the stuff we need more off.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Nigel Williams. Indications are that all those interested will be included. Do contact the Law Society of Scotland and ensure that you are. You can then hopefully contribute to the discussion about the why? and beyond that help shape the purpose and effectiveness of Lawscot Tech.

Good points Paul Ryan. As I highlight in my blog post the Law Society of Scotland has, to date, limited its connection to only certain legal tech suppliers (on presumably a paid basis). That needs to change if Lawscot Tech is to be a success. I don’t think in Scotland the “Leap” platform is as big as suggested by you. They are a fairly new player north of the border. The main players I think would be Denovo Business Intelligence formerly Axiom (used by my firm since its inception 19+ years ago) and Lawware. A new legal startup emulating what these companies already do would be fairly pointless. I see many such startups south of the border and elsewhere in the world who seem to lack any knowledge about what they are competing against as they attempt to simply reinvent the wheel. Some guidance on that to startups would be useful. Also it is questionable what new bells and whistles law firms really need rather than just making what is already at their disposal work better and more effectively for them. A Legal Tech Hub should, as you say, focus on such things before it runs away at tangents that will serve no purpose to anyone.

Andrea Perry-Petersen (Churchill Fellow 2019 – Innovating Justice with Effective Solutions):

Tony Petersen re our chats

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Paul Ryan (Director at Focis):

I would say I’m curious  and hopeful with still a touch of cynicism. As an actual Lega Tech start up  in Scotland (though formed  from 2 existing legal tech freelancers) we want to make a successful business and use our experience towards the greater good of the industry. In that sense thats ideally suited to a framework to help and encourage small businesses to enter the market with fresh ideas. Scotland has a good track record in this with Scottish Government  funded organisations  Data Lab building such strong connections between universities, startups and bigger established businesses. The same is starting to sprout up around “Fintech”

As I’ve raised elsewhere there is a potential danger when Government / publicly funded organisations crate  selective startups using resource  from publicly funded universities along with publicly funded regulatory bodies. This then swallow up such huge resource it actually creates a barrier to entry for new startups out with the “xxxtech” ecosystem.

However hopefully that can be avoided and, crucially, established innovative independent groups and innovators in Scotland will be involved.

Brian Inkster:

Agreed Paul Ryan. Lawscot Tech have declared their intention to be all inclusive. But they have also stated that they “plan to support the most promising concepts and work with those involved to deliver them to the market”. So who decides what is the “most promising concepts” and how will Lawscot Tech then “work with those involved to deliver them to the market”? Where is the funding for that coming from? I trust not from my Practising Certificate dues! Perhaps there will be a Dragons’ Den type pitch to decide in Atria One (that is the Law Society of Scotland HQ for those not in the know).

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Nir Golan (Founder @ Nir Golan & Co. Law | Legal Innovation):

As somewhat of a foreigner here, what I have trouble understanding is why does this body need to create a separate “platform” instead of just hooking up/formally collaborating with Legal Hackers for example? The Law Society probably has very little experience and knowledge in this field. Or is it just looking for an “innovation win/badge”? This creates a segmented ecosystem and this confuses people.. also I believe in “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. The fragmented “we know better” doesnt work in the long term. Not if you want to build something truly collaborative and sustainable. Law Society brings the members and access to members/pain points, Legal Hackers brings the knowledge, talent, experience, culture, purpose, and startups. If formalized and maintained this could be a huge win. The fragmented let’s reinvent the wheel/startup mindset doesnt work in the long run. Not where its the collaborative knowledge that makes or breaks this thing. Everyone loses here. Some humility would be nice here. Knowing what youre good at and when you need to partner with someone more experienced than you..

Paul Ryan (Director at Focis):

I think it’s come from what has undoubtedly been a huge  success with Data AND more recently Fintech in Scotland and taking that established model and using it on another sector. However I agree perhaps that already existed in the forums you suggest and could be simply brought under or connected to this new initiative.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Nir Golan and Paul Ryan. Looks like Legal Hackers have now been “invited to the party” but where I come from that might be what is called a ‘Fiddler’s Bid’ https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/fiddler%27s+bidding –  I would have expected Legal Hackers Scotland https://legalhackers.scot/ to have been an integral part of discussions around Lawscot Tech from the outset. But as I have already said it is early days for Lawscot Tech and perhaps as you say, with a little bit of humility, things can be set in perspective with an all inclusive approach to discussing the why and what before this initiative heads over a cliff. It is also essential that the “party” when it happens does not have a separate VIP room for the chosen few.

Paul Ryan:

Brian Inkster great, let’s see how it all develops. However in the words of Groucho Marx, I’m not sure I want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member!

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Peter Nussey (Head Of Business Development, EMEA at ThoughtRiver, AI-enabled Contract Analysis):

As the professional body (recognised brand etc) they are well placed to bring together early stage ventures, who need cash and access to their members, who themselves need anything from basic understanding through to ‘solutions’ (and potentially angel investment opp’s) as well as investors who want deal flow. That  itself is a commercial opp – connecting buyers and sellers – what more is there to know?

Brian Inkster:

That is a very simplistic approach to the issue Peter Nussey. My post and the subsequent comments on here all echo the fact that there is very little known about what Lawscot Tech actually is. Conflicting messages have been issued by them from it being an ‘incubator’ to it being something to drive innovation in legal technology (but presumably no longer an ‘incubator’).

You say they are well placed to bring together “early stage ventures” with their members and investors. Those “early stage ventures” might be likely to be found amongst Legal Hackers Scotland but they have yet to join the party. Anyone interested in this area (as I am) should be given clarity over what the initiative actually involves. That is so far missing. The bringing together you refer to is very unlikely to effectively happen in the absence of that clarity. But as I have already said hopefully the mist will start to clear and this will become more apparent as the initiative moves forward. Hopefully, as that happens, the professional body in question will take on board and address the concerns that have already been expressed.  As they should, of course, do especially when those concerns have been raised by their members.

I have, for the avoidance of any doubt, no problem with the Law Society of Scotland being involved in such initiatives. But as has been expressed, better than by me, by others on here the why? does need to be asked and the answers to that analysed. Also the Law Society of Scotland as a regulator/membership body has to be at least perceived as transparent and neutral.

Paul Ryan’s questions (raised directly with the Law Society of Scotland in another, but related, LinkedIn post) regarding who are the 10 tech companies they are involved with, where listed and what is the selection process remains unanswered. Who is paying for this initiative should also be made clear. How they are actually going about it needs to be known and it needs to be clear that it is to the benefit of their members and that members are actively involved.

You refer to the commercial opportunity of connecting buyers and sellers. I trust you aren’t implying a commercial opportunity for the Law Society of Scotland as they should not be the gatekeeper to vendors selling to law firms. So I think there is a lot more to know and I hope to hear the answers from Lawscot Tech in due course.

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Travels through the Blawgosphere #2 : Artificial Intelligence and Law ~ Robots replacing Lawyers?

By | October 1, 2018

Robots replacing Lawyers?

Exterminate… Exterminate… We shall replace the Law Lords!

Way back in 2012 I announced I was doing a new series (Travels through the Blawgosphere) that would be an occasional review of blog posts I had come across relative to the past, present and future practice of law (which is what this blog is all about).

I did say at the time:-

How regular the series becomes remains to be seen. I am not going to promise anything. It will very much depend on what other blawgers produce and I find from time to time.

Well the first episode in the series was posted on 6 May 2012 (Innovation and Law) and there hasn’t been one since! But it is interesting to look back at that post and note that six years later similar debates about innovation in law firms still ensue. If there have been any changes it might be that there is now a lot more law firms with a ‘Director of Innovation’ or the like than there was back then.

It is also interesting to see mention, in my 2012 post, of the faux-law firm Robot Robot & Hwang founded in 2010 as “a legal startup” having a single human partner. Eight years on from the founding of that ‘firm’ and Robots taking over from lawyers is perhaps bigger news than it was back then but probably still as far fetched as it was then.

Two law firm partners - Robot and Robot

Hwang is late again for our partners’ meeting R2D2!

It is the current hype about robots and the law, fuelled by apparent advances in Artificial Intelligence, and blog posts I have seen over the past week on this topic that has resulted in this review of those.

Of great significance in debunking the Legal AI hype is the post The Seven Deadly Sins of AI Predictions by robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks. This is not specifically about Legal AI but just AI in general. It is, however, very relevant to the hype generated around Legal AI. It also actually dates from a whole year ago but it has not dated in any way in that year. I came across it as a result of a tweet concerning a recent interview with Rodney Brooks (which is very worth listening to) that has as its background his post from last year. That tweet came from Tim Harford (whose own views on technology I will also look at in this post).

Brooks thinks the claims that robots will be taking over our jobs anytime soon (particularly in the volumes often cited) are “ludicrous”.

Considering claims that the jobs of grounds and maintenance workers in the U.S. are under threat Brooks points out:-

How many robots are currently operational in those jobs? Zero. How many realistic demonstrations have there been of robots working in this arena? Zero.

He goes on to say:-

Similar stories apply to all the other categories where it is suggested that we will see the end of more than 90 percent of jobs that currently require physical presence at some particular site.

This will be as true of law.

We also all know what happened when a security robot was introduced in a D.C. office building:-

The first deadly sin is overestimating and underestimating. Brooks makes reference to Amara’s Law whereby:-

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

This can be seen in countless examples in articles and blog posts concerning AI and law where Robot Lawyers are apparently just around the corner (or already here) and we need to hide behind our sofas quickly for the fear they should instil upon us. A quick Google search returns headlines such as:-

The robot lawyers are here – and they’re winning

Robot lawyers are here!

Rise of the Robolawyers

Law firms of the future will be filled with robot lawyers

‘World’s first robot lawyer’ now available in all 50 states

Yes, Robot Lawyers Are Now A Thing

‘Robots will replace lawyers in court’ says head of Serious Fraud Office

The first two of these articles (the first from the BBC no less) reference Case Cruncher (a ‘robot lawyer’) beating human lawyers in a competition about PPI (payment protection insurance) claims. I have previously debunked this ‘competition’ on the basis that the real lawyers utilised knew nothing about PPI claims!: CaseCrunch v Lawyers NOT Deep Blue v Kasparov

A year later and no real sign of law firms actually using this technology. The CaseCrunch website is all about the competition and press coverage with nothing on there about clients and testimonials.

The other articles reference ROSS Intelligence (an AI research tool), LexMachina (legal analytics software), DoNotPay (a Chatbot that compiles a parking ticket response letter for you) and Xiaofa (a physical robot that is 1.46 meters tall, can move its head and hands and speaks in a child’s voice answering over 40,000 litigation questions and 30,000 legal issues).

The first two of these are tools that assist lawyers in their work and are unlikely to replace them. The third fulfils a function that most people using it would never actually contact a lawyer for (the cost of the lawyer would outweigh the cost of the parking ticket). The fourth is just bonkers.

Chinese Robot Lawyer

Xiaofa: A real threat to lawyers of just a gimmick?

The last headline did not accurately reflect what David Green, director of the Serious Fraud Office, perhaps did predict within the article itself. He was referring to AI being used to sift through evidence in preparing a case not to replace lawyer representation in the court room. So again over sensationalising the actual position with attention grabing headlines.

What these articles are actually saying (if you ignore the hype that surrounds them) is that AI will assist lawyers with tasks that AI can usefully assist them with. It is another tool in the lawyers arsenal along with many other (non-AI empowered) technologies that they currently employ and will in the future employ.

The second deadly sin is imagining magic. As Rodney Brooks cautions:-

Watch out for arguments about future technology that is magical. Such an argument can never be refuted. It is a faith-based argument, not a scientific argument.

Much of the current Legal AI hype falls into the ‘magical’ pot.

Law Firms plan to introduce Heads of Wizardry to replace their Innovation Managers

Law Firms plan to introduce Directors of Wizardry to replace their Directors of Innovation

Alex Hamilton in his tongue-in-cheek open source glossary for the terminology in LawTech refers to magic in his definition of AI:-

Artificial Intelligence: A term for when a computer system does magic. “General” artificial intelligence refers to thinking computers, a concept that for the foreseeable future exists only in science fiction and lawtech talks. “Narrow” artificial intelligence refers to a limited capability (albeit one that may be very useful) such as classifying text or pictures, or expert systems. Discussions of AI that blur general and narrow AI are a good indication that you are dealing with bullshit.

Also suddenly technology that has been with us for years is magically being AI driven when it does not need to be and often probably isn’t.

Document Automation falls into that category. Lawyers have had at their disposal for 20+ years fairly sophisticated document automation technology (no AI required). My generation, of course, apparently knew nothing about legal technology.

The fact is that these systems have been woefully under utilised by most law firms.

However, all of a sudden we now apparently have AI enabled Document Automation. Which won’t in any way increase law firm utilisation but may sell some licences to the uninitiated.

But many of the new kids on the block, who are really just reinventing the wheel, are professing to use AI when they patently are not doing so, e.g.:-

Robot Lisa LinkedIn post on AI washing that was subsequently deleted[N.B. Originally I had an embedded link to this LinkedIn post but unfortunately that post was, within 24 hours, deleted from LinkedIn. That is a great pity because the numerous comments were very relevant and spot on to this debate. They have now been lost. One comment was that this LinkedIn post should be printed out and framed – I have, sort of, now done so albeit online. Oh… the particular “legal AI” thing referred to in the LinkedIn post and the link within that was to Robot Lawyer Lisa.]

This is known as AI washing:-

A marketing effort designed to imply that a company’s brands and products involve artificial intelligence technologies, even though the connection may be tenuous or non-existent.

AI washing appears to be fairly prevalent in the legal technology world. The same problem exists with blockchain:-

I highlighted the practice of Blockwashing in the legal world earlier this year but unfortunately did not know of this definition at that time: Hack the Law to Reinvent the Wheel? and London Legal Hackathon bend the rules?

And if there was ever AI washing going on it must be the AI-brewed Paisley Snail Pale Ale produced by Thomson Reuters.

Rodney Brooks moves onto the third deadly sin, performance versus competence, and points out:-

People hear that some robot or some AI system has performed some task. They then generalize from that performance to a competence that a person performing the same task could be expected to have. And they apply that generalization to the robot or AI system.

Today’s robots and AI systems are incredibly narrow in what they can do. Human-style generalizations do not apply.

Another mistake those reporting on AI in law make over and over again and by doing so they simply fuel the hype.

Chatbots probably fall into this category. We hear that a legal Chatbot has performed a simple task and the next we know they are replacing lawyers. The fact is that Chatbots are currently very limited in what they can do and if AI is supposedly attached to a Chatbot then it is probably in a washing machine set to full spin. For more on that do follow my series on Chats with Legal Chatbots.

Legal Robot makes coffee - ordering an Uber will be next

The fourth deadly sin is suitcase words (words that carry a variety of meanings):-

“Learning” is a powerful suitcase word; it can refer to so many different types of experience. Learning to use chopsticks is a very different experience from learning the tune of a new song. And learning to write code is a very different experience from learning your way around a city.

When people hear that machine learning is making great strides in some new domain, they tend to use as a mental model the way in which a person would learn that new domain. However, machine learning is very brittle, and it requires lots of preparation by human researchers or engineers, special-purpose coding, special-purpose sets of training data, and a custom learning structure for each new problem domain. Today’s machine learning is not at all the sponge-like learning that humans engage in, making rapid progress in a new domain without having to be surgically altered or purpose-built.

A good example of this could be seen in a recent report from Legal Cheek on an event at Clifford Chance’s London office to explore the impact artificial intelligence (AI) is having on the legal profession.

A senior associate in Clifford Chance’s Intellectual Property team explained that AI at its core “is software that is capable of writing its own software”!

Another Clifford Chance associate (a technology, media & telecommunications specialist) said at the same event “Fundamentally, AI is great, it’s cheaper, quicker, better, less troublesome… and you might get better results since AI directors don’t care about bonuses”!

Legal Cheek might want to invite Rodney Brooks along to speak at their next AI and Law event.

Moore’s Law is also debunked by Rodney Brooks when it comes to robots taking over and the fifth deadly sin of exponentials. Brooks says:-

Everyone has some idea about Moore’s Law, which suggests that computers get better and better on a clockwork-like schedule. What Gordon Moore actually said was that the number of components that could fit on a microchip would double every year. That held true for 50 years, although the time constant for doubling gradually lengthened from one year to over two years, and the pattern is coming to an end….

Similarly, we have seen a sudden increase in performance of AI systems thanks to the success of deep learning. Many people seem to think that means we will continue to see AI performance increase by equal multiples on a regular basis. But the deep-learning success was 30 years in the making, and it was an isolated event.

That does not mean there will not be more isolated events, where work from the backwaters of AI research suddenly fuels a rapid-step increase in the performance of many AI applications. But there is no “law” that says how often they will happen.

A similar point was made in a very recent post by Mark Husband on Jason Holt Insights (without perhaps appreciating the point by Rodney Brooks about Moore’s Law coming to an end):-

Moore’s law, conceived in the 1970’s continues to accurately predict the doubling of processing power every two years; if computing power was, in any way connected to or causative of the “End of Lawyers” it would have done so by now!

Moore’s Law has been a constant reference point for legal futurists at legal technology conferences for many years now. They just might have to revisit their PowerPoint slides on this one.

Next up from Rodney Brooks is the sixth deadly sin of Hollywood scenarios:-

The plot for many Hollywood science fiction movies is that the world is just as it is today, except for one new twist.

In Bicentennial Man, Richard Martin, played by Sam Neill, sits down to breakfast and is waited upon by a walking, talking humanoid robot, played by Robin Williams. Richard picks up a newspaper to read over breakfast. A newspaper! Printed on paper. Not a tablet computer, not a podcast coming from an Amazon Echo–like device, not a direct neural connection to the Internet.

It turns out that many AI researchers and AI pundits, especially those pessimists who indulge in predictions about AI getting out of control and killing people, are similarly imagination-challenged. They ignore the fact that if we are able to eventually build such smart devices, the world will have changed significantly by then. We will not suddenly be surprised by the existence of such super-intelligences. They will evolve technologically over time, and our world will come to be populated by many other intelligences, and we will have lots of experience already.

Yet again in the world of AI and law this fits. Look again at the headlines and articles I highlighted earlier. We are given a picture of law firms today with no particular changes other than the Robot Lawyer suddenly descending amongst them.

In the interview with Rodney Brooks I mentioned earlier he also draws out analogies using Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Whilst on the topic of Hollywood scenarios, in a post on Lawyers Weekly in Australia, Giri Sivaraman uses Blade Runner analogies to conclude why he is not scared of robot lawyers.

Blade Runner Replicant Lawyers

Are these really replicant lawyers?

Likewise Tim Harford in his post What We Get Wrong About Technology uses Blade Runner and Rick Deckard using a payphone to call the replicant Rachael rather than a smartphone in a similar way to the reference by Rodney Brooks to Richard Martin in Bicentennial Man reading a newspaper rather than reading from a tablet or listening to a podcast.

Harford points out that:-

Forecasting the future of technology has always been an entertaining but fruitless game. Nothing looks more dated than yesterday’s edition of Tomorrow’s World. But history can teach us something useful: not to fixate on the idea of the next big thing, the isolated technological miracle that utterly transforms some part of economic life with barely a ripple elsewhere. Instead, when we try to imagine the future, the past offers two lessons. First, the most influential new technologies are often humble and cheap. Mere affordability often counts for more than the beguiling complexity of an organic robot such as Rachael. Second, new inventions do not appear in isolation, as Rachael and her fellow androids did. Instead, as we struggle to use them to their best advantage, they profoundly reshape the societies around us.

Harford, like Brooks, concludes that Robots will not be taking away our jobs:-

A task-based analysis of labour and automation suggests that jobs themselves aren’t going away any time soon — and that distinctively human skills will be at a premium. When humans and computers work together, says Autor, the computers handle the “routine, codifiable tasks” while amplifying the capabilities of the humans, such as “problem-solving skills, adaptability and creativity”.

The last of the seven deadly sins of AI predictions from Rodney Brooks is speed of deployment. He says:-

A lot of AI researchers and pundits imagine that the world is already digital, and that simply introducing new AI systems will immediately trickle down to operational changes in the field, in the supply chain, on the factory floor, in the design of products.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost all innovations in robotics and AI take far, far, longer to be really widely deployed than people in the field and outside the field imagine.

This will be so true in law firms. I have written before about BigLaw having to sweat their legacy technology systems. Whilst some will be dabbling in AI (and I understand this includes some buying an AI license from a Legal AI vendor just to say they have AI even if they are not using it!) it will be a long time before it is embraced to a universal extent. DLA Piper have admitted that they are only using “about 1%” of the overall potential for legal AI technology.

Old Computers at BigLaw

Will AI be compatible with BigLaw’s computer systems?

Much of the actual AI use in law firms today centres around e-discovery. Most law firms (outside BigLaw) are simply not involved in that area. The use case for AI across most legal services that most law firms provide has yet to be demonstrated or proven in any meaningful way. I have previously highlighted this point around AI presentations at legal technology conferences. Such conferences really should have keynotes from the likes of Rodney Brooks.

On the general question about robots taking away our jobs from us (legal or otherwise) it is brought out in the post Every study we could find on what automation will do to jobs, in one chart that:-

In short, although these predictions are made by dozens of global experts in economics and technology, no one seems to be on the same page. There is really only one meaningful conclusion: we have no idea how many jobs will actually be lost to the march of technological progress.

Indeed, where do these predictions come from and what are they actually based on?

So to sum up. There is much hype out there about robots taking over the work of lawyers. Apply the seven deadly sins that Rodney Brooks has so well enunciated to any articles you read on Legal AI to debunk the hype and see the wood from the trees. AI is a tool that lawyers can and will usefully use and which they should only use when it is relevant, necessary and cost effective to do so. There is also much technology currently in their arsenal that they could be using to greater advantage before they consider even looking at AI.

Legal AI hypesters may consider me and “a smattering of militants with a more conservative nature” to be spoilsports “writing off the whole thing as hype”, though we apparently “seem to have been left adrift by reality”. I think Rodney Brooks has nailed the reality on the head and I will happily stick with his viewpoint for now and the foreseeable future.

What do you think?

Image Credits: The Daleks from Dr Who © BBC; C3PO and R2D2 from Star Wars © Lucasfilm; Harry Potter © Warner Bros; and Blade Runner Replicants © Warner Bros

Law is a Buyer’s Market: Building a Client-First Law Firm ~ Reviewed

By | August 15, 2018

Law is a Buyers Market - Building a Client-First Law Firm ReviewedReading the introduction to ‘Law is a Buyer’s Market – Building a Client-First Law Firm’ by Jordan Furlong I began to wonder whether I should simply stop reading and leave it at that.

This is because Jordan warns the reader that he has narrowed down the focus of his book. He was not writing for “NewLaw” competitors to the legal profession. I’m in the NewLaw camp. He “would not address lawyers in sole practice or smaller firms” (which for present purposes Jordan defined as practices with fewer than ten lawyers). I’m technically a sole practitioner and also have just under the ten lawyer threshold set by Jordan in my practice. He also restricts his geographical ambit to North America. So Nova Scotia is included but old Scotland, where I hail from, is not.

However, I decided to persevere as Jordon reckoned that even lawyers like me “can find value here as well”.

Jordan states that his intention is to describe “why the market for legal services has irrevocably changed and how traditional law firms, finding their old practices and procedures no longer effective, can change with it.”

His book, he tells us, “is meant for lawyers, in a way” but “it’s not really about lawyers or law firms it’s about the people and families and businesses that consult lawyers and retain law firms and thereby enter the legal market willingly or otherwise.”

We are reminded that, as Richard Susskind observed, the law does not exist to provide a living for lawyers.

Serving your clients, Jordan tells us, is your North Star. If you follow it he promises that you will not go astray.

Jordan expertly guides us through why the market for legal services has changed in recent times from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. Factors include technology, the internet, globalisation, regulation, competition and empowerment of buyers. But one over-arching factor that Jordan says should be taken into account was the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2008.

Then Jordan explores the emergence of lawyer substitutes and the development of law firm substitutes. The result being that lawyers and law firms are no longer the exclusive suppliers of legal services.

However, Jordan’s list of lawyer substitutes would not fill me with much fear in the more regulated (from the lawyers ‘only’ point of view) jurisdictions of Canada and the USA. He acknowledges that these ‘subsitutes’ such as licenced independent paralegals in Ontario are really not competing with but fulfilling a role that traditional lawyers aren’t interested in fullfilling.

Jordan includes various legal technologies in a list of pragmatic substitutes for lawyers. But to my mind (other than perhaps LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer who possibly have had more impact in the States than they have so far at this side of the pond) the ‘subsitutes’ mentioned are simply tools that any lawyer can employ to assist and make themselves more competitive. As indeed my own law firm, Inksters, has done with legal process improvement. As usual I raise my eyebrows at the mention of legal artificial intelligence being a real threat just now as a viable lawyer substitute.

Jordan does, however, fully recognise that lawyers can adopt these technologies to improve their own productivity.

On law firm substitutes we are pointed to examples such as legal process outsourcing (that has perhaps not faired as well as anticipated), flex-lawyer platforms such as Axiom and Lawyers on Demand, the Big Four accountancy firms and ‘NewLaw’ firms such as Radiant Law and Riverview Law (although I was surprised to see OldLaw behemoth Eversheds on Jordan’s list of examples and where does Riverview Law now fit in, I wonder, following it being acquired by Big Four accountancy firm Ernst & Young?).

As Jordan clearly puts it:-

These law firm substitutes have identified the market gap of inefficient, overpriced law firm services, and they’re exploiting it. They’re revealing a dangerous truth to legal service buyers: You can obtain the solutions you need without the overhead costs of the bloated, inefficient law firms that have been doing your work the same archaic way for decades.

This is the real threat to the traditional law firm model. Not only are these substitutes taking work from firms, they’re also transforming that work in the process, making it lighter, faster, more easily tracked, and more accurately measurable.

The last book review I did on this blog was of a book by Jordan’s fellow countryman Mitch Kowalski entitled ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field’. Do read that book for an indepth look at some of these law firm substitutes including, of course, my own law firm, Inksters.

Next Jordan looks at the fall of the traditional law firm. He does so with what seems at first the old analogy about dinosaurs. Is it going to be that old chestnut adapt or die? Not quite. Jordan points out that climate change killed off the dinosaurs. He elaborates:-

Law firms are like dinosaurs. The business climate in which they evolved is changing radically and permanently – and I think they are in serious trouble as a result.

Jordan paints the picture of a traditional law firm and all its known hallmarks. He then tells us why the legal market sees things differently and wants things done in a different way. As Jordan sums it up:-

Efficient, buyer-focused, innovative platforms are exactly what the legal market is now seeking, and it’s finding them in growing numbers. The traditional law firm is constitutionally unable to compete in, let alone dominate, the new legal market. Something will have to replace it.

Jordan then plans to outline what he thinks a new law firm model should look like. But first he addresses what he thinks “is the most fundamental issue facing law firms over the next 10 to 15 years: the steadily diminishing role that lawyers will play in creating and delivering services to clients”.

There is an assumption that you need lawyers to have a law firm. But Jordan reckons that over the next 10 to 15 years this is going to change and “lawyers will no longer be considered essential to law firms’ ability to deliver legal services”.

He gives examples of where this is already happening (although signing a deal to use AI legal tech and actually leveraging its usage may be two different things). No examples are given of straightforward Legal Process Engineering which is an area I believe all law firms should concentrate their energies on before they get caught up in the current hype surrounding AI or blockchain.

Jordon refers to technology-powered products and services as being “productivity engines”. These “enhance the user’s ability to complete a task or reach a solution while reducing the amount of time and money required to achieve that goal”.

Jordan says that today “lawyers generate more than 99 percent of a law firm’s revenue”. I would argue that this would have been the case in the past but is perhaps a higher figure than reality in many law firms today where “non-lawyers” (a term Jordan does not like but still uses for distinguishing purposes) are often fee earners.

But Jordan reckons that “once productivity engines are ubiquitous in law firms, that percentage could conceivably drop below 50 percent”.

What should be borne on mind, but is not necessarily highlighted by Jordan, is that productivity engines have been available to lawyers for many years. Over 20 years ago case management systems were available that could, if employed properly, enhance workflows and productivity.

That lawyers on the whole didn’t employ them in any meaningful way was perhaps a symptom of the billable hour and there being no compelling reason to do so. But as Jordan points out the climate is changing which is perhaps why such tools are receiving more promenance today than they did yesterday. But do remember many of these tools are not new even if the vendors have added an ‘AI’ tag to them (and if they have it may not really be AI and you probably don’t really need AI in most productivity engines in any event).

We are walked by Jordan through a “lawyer-proof” law firm of the future: “firms that don’t rise and fall, as traditional law firms did, with the actions and fortunes of individual lawyers”.

Then Jordan considers how you should understand and act upon the coming “inessentiality” of lawyers. This involves building systems that can meet the market needs of its clients. Those systems must be effective. It matters not whether the people who operate them come with a law degree.

I liked the line “you must think of your law firm as a business entity that helps buyers overcome legal challenges and meet legal opportunities – not as a hotel for lawyers, which is the description to which most law firms answer today”.

Having shown us that in his view (one shared by many including me) the traditional law firm model is no longer sustainable Jordan then turns his attention to “what a new, better, more market-appropriate law firm business model looks like”. This Jordan refers to as the “post-asteroid” law firm.

Jordan considers the question “why do law firms even exist?”. He compares a traditional law firm’s characteristics with those of a typical corporation. The full analysis he gives is well worth studying with a view to making your law firm standards more akin to those of a corporation.

Unlike a corporation, where “the best interests of the company” are paramount, the typical law firm ‘makes decisions’ that are “based on what a small number of its most powerful equity partners consider to be in their own interests”.

The switch from this old style of management to a more corporate one has happened in NewLaw firms as clearly highlighted again and again in the real life examples given by Mitch Kowalski in ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field’.

I liked the game Jordon plays in giving examples of well known businesses and their purpose and then asking you to state your own law firm’s purpose. Having done so he runs through some examples of how lawyers might state their law firm’s purpose before offering what he feels that purpose really should be. I was glad that my thinking on this was in line with his. Do play the game in the book and see how well you fair.

Jordan examines whether law is a business or a profession and concludes that “obviously, it’s both”. It is “a commercial business that deals in professional services”.

He looks at how a law firm should choose its markets and identify the clients it wants to serve. This includes identifying characteristics of “good clients” that you will want to keep and nurture. Jordan doesn’t mention sacking clients. I have read elsewhere that lawyers should sack at least one bad client every week and concentrate only on having good clients. Most will seldom ever fire a client and will put up with the consequences of having bad clients on their books.

Next up is creating a strategy to fulfil your law firm’s purpose. At this point I had to google “Pensacola”! You will have to read Chapter 9 to understand why. You will also in that chapter read an amusing analogy concerning law firm strategic planning and a duck-hunting expedition.

Moving on to look at client strategy Jordan recounts the Black & Decker story (a favourite one amongst legal futurists). This emphasises what the customer really wants. Jordan reveals what a lawyer’s client really wants and how that shapes your client strategy.

The importance of the client experience is emphasised: “Your firm, in the eyes of the market, is defined not by who and what you say you are, but by who you actually are and what you actually do”.

Jordan considers that competitiveness starts with how a law firm does its work – its internal operations and workflow. A topic close to my heart. He states that “few law firms have yet developed the position of Chief Workflow Officer”. At Inksters we did, of course, coin the title of “Legal Process Engineer”: one that has been picked up and used by others since.

The importance of pricing and distinctiveness is also covered as cornerstones of a law firm’s competitive strategy. Again music to my ears. At Inksters our first strapline was “Just that little bit different” and we have always striven to stand out from the same old same old.

The importance of culture within a law firm is examined by Jordan. Drawing from research carried out on lawyers’ personality traits, Jordan concludes that “lawyers tend to be intense, critical, and easily frustrated short-term thinkers who don’t like dealing with other people or taking direction from them. The law firms that lawyers create, own, and operate in their image are not usually delightful workplaces.” Jordan adds a footnote to that: “Throw in lawyers’ deeply entrenched tendency to view themselves as superior to the “non lawyers”  who work for them, and you exacerbate the problem”.

Thankfully, Jordan guides you through what you need to do to change that culture. On that journey you will learn about the “one-firm” firm, culture in the community and generational change (the impact that Millennials are making and will make on your law firm). You will also learn Jordan’s views on the behaviours to encourage and those to have a zero-tolerance towards in order to create a  perfect culture. Compensation should recognise “the multi-dimensional nature of success in a law firm”. Diversity is also an important aspect in all of this.

The role of Associate and Partner are looked at by Jordan as a dying breed. We learn why these roles first existed but how now they no longer need to. Although clearly some lawyers will hanker after the perceived power and prestige that the title supposedly brings, whilst many others realise the burden it can actually be.

Jordan states:

Firms will eventually recognise that “partner” and “associate” are words that no longer convey much meaning, either internally or externally, when it comes to their lawyers. The important step will be for firms to shake themselves free of the legacy burdens of these old job descriptions and to start re-visualising the myriad ways in which lawyers, regardless of their capacity and experience, can add real value to the firms and their clients. That’s the structural and organizational reality for which your firm should start preparing now.

I’m glad to say that I started preparing for this at Inksters a good few years ago now. For how my law firm’s model works without partners or associates see chapter 10 of ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field’ by Mitch Kowalski.

So all this change requires change management from the law firm leader(s). Tell me about it!

As Jordan puts it “changing a law firm can be an undertaking of Kiliminjaro-esque proportions”.

Jordan outlines why lawyers are particularly change averse but gives some tips on how you might turn this around. He also advises you to hold your ground and see change through even if there are casualties along the way. People will leave as a result of change they can’t cope with but invariably your firm will end up better off as a result.

In the final chapter Jordan highlights what a buyer’s market in law means for you. He stresses that:-

From now on, everything that law firms do, plan, price, sell, perform, and compensate has to be geared not towards themselves or their lawyers, but towards the buyers of their services.

Lawyers need to adapt. He doesn’t quite go as far as to say adapt or die. Others have. But perhaps that is implied.

If, having read the foregoing review, you fear the death of your law firm then buying, reading and acting upon Jordan’s advice is the best first step you can take to help cure the ills that might lead to such a death.

At the beginning of this review I pointed out that Jordan was not writing for “NewLaw” competitors to the legal profession nor law firms with fewer than ten lawyers. He also restricted his geographical ambit to North America.

I think Jordan did himself a disservice by claiming these restrictions. I can assure you that his book is just as relevant for those in NewLaw and/or small law firms and/or outwith North America.

As a NewLaw, small law firm proprietor based outwith North America who has been undertaking significant change in his law firm I could empathise with much that Jordan writes about. But I could also see that there is much more still to do. We are always on a journey and Jordan’s book will certainly guide you in the right direction.

You can buy ‘Law is a Buyer’s Market – Building a Client-First Law Firm’ by Jordan Furlong online from Law21. Be prepared to pay post & packing from Canada but don’t let that put you off. The added expense is well worth it. Or if you are happy with just a Kindle e-book (I wouldn’t be) then you can purchase that on Amazon. This is the UK link. If you live outside the UK then do go to your local Amazon site.

Chats with Legal Chatbots ~ Episode 1 : The Global Legal Hackathon and LawDroid

By | July 28, 2018

Chats with Legal Chatbots

Even now we have gone digital you can still wind up a robot!

This is a series I have had in mind for a little while since I experimented, a few months ago, having chats with some legal chatbots. Apparently chatbots are the next big thing.

In my Legal Technology/IT Predictions for 2018 I blogged:-

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.

So I thought I would test out a chatbot or two. First up is LawDroid, the chatbot used by the Global Legal Hackathon. I tried to have a conversation with it at the time the Global Legal Hackathon was in full swing and before writing my blog posts linked to or about that event: Lawyers and codingHack the Law to Reinvent the Wheel? and London Legal Hackathon bend the rules?

For the uninitiated it appears to be the norm and perhaps expected (at least in the UK) at a hackathon that the participants will be supplied with pizza. So I thought I would ask LawDroid about pizza.

This is how our chat went:-

LawDroid: Hi [hand symbol]! I’m LawDroid.

What’s your name?

Me: Bond, James Bond.

LawDroid: Hi James Bond!

I’m programmed to provide helpful information for Global Legal Hackathon hosts and attendees.

If you ever get stuck, don’t worry, you can type in the word ‘restart’ to start over. Or, type ‘end’ to stop.

Shall we get started?

Me: Yes

Law Droid: Would you like to learn more about GLH’s Organizers?

Me: No.

LawDroid: Will you be attending or hosting the Global Legal Hackathon in your location?

[presented with Attending or Hosting option]

I was doing neither but selected Attending.

LawDroid: Here are some FAQs for attendees:

What is the Global Legal Hackathon? What is a hackathon? How do I form a team? etc

Would you like to try another option?

Host Info – Attendee Info – Ask a Question

Me: Ask a Question

LawDroid: What issue do you need help with?

Me: Will there be pizza?

LawDroid: So we can follow up with you about your concern, I’ll need a couple of pieces of information.

What’s your email address?

Me: I don’t want you to e-mail me I want you to chat.

LawDroid: Sorry, I didn’t quite get that

Me: Can we continue our chat?

LawDroid: Sorry, I didn’t quite get that

Me: You have not been programmed well have you?

LawDroid: Sorry, I didn’t quite get that

Me: You don’t get very much do you?

LawDroid: Sorry, I’m still not getting that.

Me: Will we start again?

LawDroid: Hmm. I didn’t get that. Sorry.

Me: Goodnight.

LawDroid: Hmm. I didn’t get that. Sorry.

I gave up. A lot of time and questions to not get the answer I was looking for.

The Global Legal Hackathon website didn’t help much on the pizza or food front either. All I could find under a “food” search (a “pizza” search returned no results) was a recommendation to bring non-alcoholic beverages with you.

But the London Legal Hackathon had their own website with a FAQ page which reveals to the question “Will there be food?”:-

We are catering for around 100 participants comprising of 8 to 12 teams. There will be a plentiful supply of tea, coffee, water and meals (kindly provided by our sponsors). We’ll add more details here soon (and we’ll cater for non-meat eaters too, but please warn us if you have any special dietary requirements).

We will provide lunch and an evening meal, but not breakfast, so please grab a bite on your way Saturday and Sunday please.

You are welcome to bring your own food and refreshments if you want.

No mention specifically of pizza but at least it tells you there will be food.

Although confirmation, if needed, that there was pizza (at least in London and Sydney) could be found on Twitter:-

So a quick glance through a FAQ page on the London site (and this might apply to other location sites on the global circuit) was much quicker and more helpful than using the chatbot on the main site. So far, on the whole, that has been my experience of using legal chatbots. Do you agree? Or have you had good experiences of using legal chatbots? If you want to do a guest post of your conversation with a legal chatbot on this blog, for a future episode in this series, I will be happy to consider any submissions. Just e-mail it to me.

Reactions on Social Media

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

Alex G Smith:

I broke a GDPR one in a minute by asking it what privacy by design was. It then had a chat with me about how my day was and was having a good time. I only tried it because the hype said AI had landed … I never expected the Spanish Inquisition on how I was feeling about life in general. Can’t wait for part 2.

Graham Laing:

Create something even less responsive than the lawyers they ultimately seek to replace. Only in legal ;-P

Garth Watson:

If you think about the phrase “privacy by design” it’s no wonder it was confused.

Surely, “well designed privacy policies”, as opposed to privacy itself by a thing called “design” would be a better way of putting it.

Most lawyers would also struggle to answer what privacy by design was. Most obvious answer is locking the door.

Totally get that these thing have a long way to go, but baby steps come first.

Graham Laing:

That is an interesting question in itself – can ‘baby steps’ be permissible in a highly regulated environment? My view is not. Something works or it doesn’t.

Alex G Smith:

Garth Watson, Privacy by design is a core principle that GDPR pushes forward and given that these bots are “hand programmed” not self learnt I felt it not a hard question to ask. I don’t mind if the narrow decision tree it no doubt was following didn’t have it but if that’s all it is why the whole bot thing, an FAQ or a nice blog could have done the job. I’ll give your questions (or search terms) a go and see what happens … my guess is I’ll end up in the bizarre banter on “how I am” and “am I well” as last time.

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Nir Golan:

At least you checked one of their GLH requirements box- legal chatbot.. check. it doesn’t matter if it does not solve the problem. That’s not relevant to the GLH.

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Jonathan Maskew:

Well worth having a chat with Billy Bot

Brian Inkster:

Oh I have! We didn’t chat about pizza, although I understand he (unlike LawDroid) has been trained to deal with pizza queries. I would expect Billy to feature in a future episode of ‘Chats with Legal Chatbots’ 🙂

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Enia Titova:

I don’t understand how an industry that puts either “this is not legal advice” disclaimers or “PRIVILEGED & CONFIDENTIAL, ATTORNEY-CLIENT COMMUNICATION” on literally everything that comes out of its mouth thought this was a good idea.

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Alastair Ross:

Good to see someone using the good Lean principle of ‘Go see’! Look forward to Episode 2 Brian – hoping there will be pizza….

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David Martin:

Managing the expectation from Chatbots is a challenge.
It is where the Chatbots are used for “Transactions” that typically generates the integration to RPA.

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Thomas G. Martin (Founder at LawDroid, Bot Development and Consulting for Legal Industry):

Hi Brian – Thanks for checking out LawDroid as deployed on the Global Legal Hackathon website.

In the lead up to GLH, LawDroid helped provide thousands of attendees and hosts with helpful information to prepare. However, it wasn’t programmed to answer venue specific questions. We did build in an opportunity for a person to ask a question that wasn’t answered by the bot and pass it on to a GLH volunteer for assistance. This automated + human approach worked very well for many, many people.

LawDroid gave you this opportunity to ask such a question which it would email to a volunteer for follow up, but you didn’t do that. It also provided instructions for how to restart the conversation but you didn’t do that either. So, yes, you managed to break it.

I would have enjoyed speaking with you to discuss our approach to designing the bot, what problem we were attempting to solve,  what results we achieved, and what we learned, but you never reached out to me to discuss.

Brian Inkster:

Tom, I didn’t think of it as a venue specific question as pizza and hackathons seem to go hand in hand from London to Sydney (although I accept some locations may not have been so keen on pizza).

However, in determining questions that might be asked by attendees I would have put it fairly high on the list.

The opportunity you built in for a person to ask a question that wasn’t answered by the bot and pass it on to a GLH volunteer for assistance was rather odd in its approach. I asked “Will there be pizza?”. The bot answered “So we can follow up with you about your concern, I’ll need a couple of pieces of information. What’s your email address?”. It wasn’t a “concern” as such just a query. The bot didn’t indicate that it didn’t know the answer and that a human would have to help if I supplied an e-mail address. It would have been more helpful had it done so in a more straightforward and honest fashion.

I must have missed the instructions for how to restart the conversation. Perhaps it would be helpful for the bot to actually tell you these when struggling as it was to answer. However, I would have thought that it would not be that difficult to factor in a restart from a statement like “Will we start again?”. However, I’m not sure I would want to restart and go around in circles again in any event!

I’m not sure that I need to reach out to the bot’s designers before posting an episode of an actual conversation with a chatbot. I am simply demonstrating what such a conversation is like and the limitations that chatbots may have as a result. It seems clear that they can only deal with what they have been programmed to deal with and that won’t always help the person chatting with them. Indeed it is likely to just lead to frustration.

Thomas G. Martin:

You actually quoted the instructions on how to restart in your article, “If you ever get stuck, don’t worry, you can type in the word ‘restart’ to start over. ”

Brian Inkster:

But clearly well through the conversation those instructions were by then lost on me. As clearly was the “end” one as I assumed, wrongly, that “goodnight” might achieve that result in a more chat like way. Again this simply highlights the robotic nature of chatbots that so far have been a big turn off for me.

Thomas G. Martin:

The issue is one of expectations. A chatbot can be useful for its intended purpose. In this case, we built the bot for the main GLH site the best we could for the most important use case (i.e., somebody getting started with wanting to participate as an attendee or host). GLH had been receiving hundreds of inquiries for the same information that they couldn’t physically handle manually. LawDroid succeeded in handling the burden of those repetitive questions and thousands of messages for most people for the intended use case. And we still built in the ability to manually field questions that did not fall within the ambit of the covered FAQs.

Brian Inkster:

So you should have low expectations when using a chatbot? That is certainly my experience to date.

The Golden Ticket to #JDHorizons

By | April 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Loo Law April Fool

By | April 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

 Carry on at Your Convenience - Loo Law April Fool

Legal Tech entrepreneur Sidney James – exposed!

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

Flushed for Success: Loo Law Launches

By | April 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But who are the loo lawyers? James explained:-

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

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

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

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

No point putting the horse before the cart.

So today’s launch is purely for lawyers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James continued:-

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

I said:-

Maybe ‘Lav Law’?

James responded:-

What?

I elaborated:-

‘Lav Law’ short for ‘Lavatory Law’?

James retorted:-

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

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

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

Reactions on Social Media

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

And on LinkedIn:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Drew Long: What a load of pants! 😉

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The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field ~ Reviewed

By | March 15, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hype Hurts: Steering Clear of Dangerous AI myths at GlenLegal

By | March 8, 2018

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

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

Well done GlenLegal!

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

More of this is required as the year progresses.

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

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

London Legal Hackathon bend the rules?

By | March 3, 2018

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

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

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

The criteria in London was:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The definition of “expect” includes:-

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

The definition of “anticipate” includes:-

  • regard as probable; expect or predict.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One other interesting point that Orlando revealed was:-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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