Recent headlines in the The Mail Online and The Telegraph suggested that a (now ex) Barrister (who tweets as @Geeklawyer) had been struck off for inappropriate tweeting.
One year ago yesterday, on 1 January 2011, The Time Blawg materialised.
A brief, but handy, guide to aspects of the Law of the Time Lords and other cosmic civilizations
As a blawger you must be prepared to be put in the stocks from time to time with other blawgers hurling comments at you that you may find to be rotten.
A debate on Law Firm Mergers was held at the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow on 5 September 2013.
Austin’s view was that it was “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” (John Milton – Paradise Lost). As an aside Steven Raeburn told us, via Twitter, that in the Star Trek episode ’Space Seed’, Milton is referenced by Khan and quoted by Kirk.
Anyway, back to planet earth and Austin was telling us that running a law firm was not about being a good lawyer. Management and business skills were equally important. A recurring theme in posts on this blog. If you deal with the business aspects of running a law firm you will have a better business. Austin was of the opinion that you should look inward and see what you can improve within your own firm before you consider merger as an option – or the last throw of the dice. Many mergers are to do with safety, security and making the best of a bad lot. None of us make the best out of clients that we can. If your starting-off point for running a law practice is your client’s best interests, you can’t go far wrong, as long as you see that term and its meaning in its widest context.
Gilbert Anderson knows law firm mergers first hand: his firm, Andersons, merged with DAC Beachcroft. He believes that the merger has benefitted the firm’s clients. If the clients benefit then the firm does through client retention and more work. The benefits have been an ability to deliver a wider and better added value service to clients. This has in turn produced more work.
With insurance being Andersons core work (80% or so) and insurers reducing their panels of solicitors then merger was perhaps inevitable. They had a number of key clients with DAC Beachcroft and a merger enabled them to offer cross border services within the UK. This may also be true of the merger announced this past week of Scottish law firm Simpson & Marwick with international law firm Kennedys. This is the latest in a series of Anglo-Scottish mergers following on from the recent mergers of Shoosmiths with Archibald Campbell & Harley, DWF with Biggart Baillie, Pinsent Masons with McGrigors and TLT with Anderson Fyfe. There have been less notable purely Scottish mergers but one in recent times was Burness with Paull & Williamsons.
Gilbert Anderson mentioned boutiques emerging in niche areas and then merging with larger firms. My own view is that boutiques may be better off remaining independent and not merging. John Flood joined in, via Twitter, to comment that boutiques “can foment more boutiques!” I have made reference before on this blog and will do so again to John Flood’s post on The Rise of Boutiques? Again on Twitter Matthew Denney thought if boutiques merge then they risk losing the reason they existed in the first place. Continuing the Twitter debate, Jon Busby tweeted “merging, I suspect, is the end of the ideas road for firms”. Some more from Jon on mergers can be found on his blog at Legal 2.0: Digging a hole? Back to Twitter and Simon Arkell tweeted “for a boutique, merging could lose identity and will not necessarily fix financial woes”.
Back in the Royal Faculty (rather than on Twitter) and Walter Semple pointed out that most of the law firm mergers we have seen in Scotland in recent years have been driven by the banks and not necessarily the desire of the firms involved. As Steven Raeburn put it in a tweet: “They have all been panic takeovers, with the exception of Burness-Paull & Williamsons”. That exception to the general rule was, Steven reckoned, ”just a good, organic business fit that both wanted but neither needed”.
Andy Todd tweeted: “more time will be spent talking about the new name than new opportunities”.
Discussion took place over the lack of investment by law firms in their future. New entrants (ABS) will reinvest profits in their future. If we keep the model we have now we won’t get anywhere. There is huge potential. We must do something rather than giving up. We must climb down from a position of perceived superiority and start again from a different mindset. Indeed, as I blogged in my last post, we must do - don’t just talk. If law firms did so then they may find that they have less need to consider a merger.
What do you think?
I attended Reinvent Law in London on Friday. It had the same organisers (Daniel Katz and Renee Knake of Michigan State University College of Law in partnership with the University of Westminster) and style as LawTech Camp London 2012. Basically the same concept but with a new name.
So pretty much every tweeting legal is here at #ReinventLaw – nice full room, great atmosphere
— Mark Smith (@intchallenge) June 14, 2013
I enjoyed LawTech Camp London last year so was looking forward to it. On the whole it delivered again this year although I did hear noises from some who thought last year’s event was better. Perhaps it was more novel to us last year and so was more compelling first time around? What I particularly like about Reinvent Law London is the North American dimension. Many of the presenters were from the other side of the pond bringing some fresh ideas to this side of it. They probably think the same but the other way around.
“Technology is not the solution, people are.” Steve Jobs #ReinventLaw
— The Time Blawg (@TheTimeBlawg) June 14, 2013
There was a packed schedule with 24 speakers to get through. Many of these were in the short (6 minutes long) ‘ignite’ format. I am not going to attempt to review all 24 talks. What I will do is mention a few that caught my attention in one way or another. This does not mean those are any better or worse than ones I do not mention – simply they were more my thing.
Craig Holt, Chief Executive of QualitySolicitors, was first up. I had tweeted before the Conference that I was a bit surprised to see QualitySolicitors on the Bill. Were they not old news by now? Renee Knake when introducing Craig did confess that she had been attempting to get him to speak at a conference for several years and he had eventually said yes.
QualitySolicitors may have been fresh and of interest to many of our North American friends in the audience but I suspect most from this side of the pond had already heard about QualitySolicitors ad nauseam. I am as much at fault for that with several blog posts on The Time Blawg about QualitySolicitors and another coming your way soon.
However, not to be too unfair to Craig Holt he still made some interesting points in his talk – although the solution to most is in the hands of law firm owners willing to effect change and it does not follow that this means being part of a branded umbrella organisation.
Craig discussed services sold by law firms as often being a mystery box. You don’t really know what you are getting or how much it is going to cost you. Craig used the analogy of lawyers being like taxi drivers with the meter running (I have a blog post on that lined up for The Time Blawg).
QualitySolicitors have a Research & Development Department that calls other solicitors to assess the service being provided by them. Craig played us a recording of one such call where the solicitor couldn’t tell the caller what a divorce would cost. This same theme came up in later talks as a reason why people don’t like to engage a solicitor.
The problem is with the law firms and not with the lawyers Craig told us. As law firms (pre ABS) are owned by lawyers might there not be some fault at lawyer level I wonder? Craig thinks that law firms need to be reinvented so that lawyers can be adored. He showed us a slide of the word lawyer changing to adored one letter at a time:-
Lawyer > Sawyer >Sawder > Sadder > Ladder > Lander > Gander > Gender > Render > Reader > Header > Headed > Healed > Sealed > Scaled > Scared > Scares > Scores > Scorns > Acorns > Adorns > Adores > Adored
One step at a time was a theme that ran through several talks including Craig’s one. It is not necessarily about the next big thing but taking small steps that together build into something greater than the parts. Jon Busby has blogged about Improving. I also believe that many law firms could do well to improve on where they are currently at, a little step at a time, rather than attempting to completely reinvent themselves overnight.
Speaking of Jon Busby, he was quoted by Craig:-
If I had to pick just one central theme for the future of legal services delivery it would be this; Lawyers will delegate more routine process to the customer (free) leaving them to focus on the high value intellectual stuff (paid for). That delegating will be enabled by technology and driven by you and me.
That, said Craig, is what QualitySolicitors are doing by way of their tie up with Legal Zoom. The sceptic in me wonders if this will be as fruitful as their tie up with WH Smith (no mention of that one at Reinvent Law!).
However, to be fair again to QualitySolicitors, at least they are experimenting and whilst some of those experiments will fail others will, in all probability, work out for them. Legal Zoom, with proper execution, has more to offer their members than WH Smith ever did. It may not be the case though that each of their ventures is right for each of their member firms. That is, no doubt, a difficult balancing act for the umbrella organisation to play as it decides what its next step will be.
The very clear thrust of Joshua Kubicki’s afternoon talk was “Reinvention is Doing Not Talking” and at least QualitySolicitors are doers as well as talkers. The need to do is the punchline in my recent reviews on both Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century and Tomorrow’s Lawyers.
Moving onto the ignite sessions, it was the one by Lah Leutrim Ahmeti that kept me (and I think most of the audience) entranced. His presentation was about the ‘UrLaw app’ which would be an app that allows you to access consumer contract terms, engage a solicitor and settle disputes all from your mobile phone.
What was impressive about this presentation was the fact that the presenter never opened his mouth once. Instead he did a robotic dance and mime to accompany his slides. If this was the law industry equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent he would have earned a wink from Simon Cowell. I trust a video of it will be posted soon.
Mark Smith also provided a very engaging presentation. He told us the story of Amy Li from her birth to becoming General Counsel at IBM. It held our attention and the punch line was that she achieved this success without any formative training in the law.
— Larry Bridgesmith (@lbridgesmith) June 14, 2013
Martin Langan guided us through how his online service, Road Traffic Representation, works. It has a free diagnostic tool which, once you have answered relevant questions, provides advice on possible outcomes and penalties if convicted. It also allows you to access telephone advice and instruct a barrister if required.
Barristers are impressed by the level of detail in the instructions they receive via the system – often better than being instructed at the last minute by a solicitor with a “here is the file, get on with it”.
We weren’t naval gazing with Martin. We were seeing the law reinvented today. Martin hinted that he would be moving the system into other areas of legal practice.
Electronic brief automatically generated by website – looks like great quality brief – would love to get sent one like this!! #reinventlaw
— Lorna Borthwick (@lorna_borthwick) June 14, 2013
Alice de Sturler (aka Nic H. Vidocq or Vidster or @Vidocq_CC) gave a talk on “Using Blogs to Give Cold Cases a Web Presence”. Some of the audience may have been surprised to learn that Vidster is a women. Until now Alice has blogged at Defrosting Cold Cases anonymously and the persona adopted by her appeared, on the face of it, to be male.
“Be more innovative with existing technology” -Alice de Sturler on giving cold cases a web presence. Fantastic. #Reinventlaw
— Ciara O’Neill (@CiaraOneill7) June 14, 2013
What I enjoyed about Alice’s talk was that this showed what can and is being done using the world wide web and social media on a practical level. Lawyers can learn much from others that are more advanced in their use of available technology. More practical examples of this ilk wouldn’t go amiss at future Reinvent Law conferences.
The title of Richard Susskind’s talk, which rounded off the day, was “The Past, Present and Future of AI + Law”. Very much in keeping with the theme of this Blawg so pleased to be able to journey back and forth in time with Richard in his Tardis. We heard about Richard being involved in the development in 1988 (when I was still a law student) of a computerised diagnostic tool: Latent Damage Law – The Expert System. Richard had expected 25 years later for there to be many more systems like this. There are some (we heard about Road Traffic Representation earlier) but not that many. Richard thinks the reason it didn’t happen was because of hourly billing. There was no need in law firms for efficiency. As we know that is now changing. Richard discussed the 4 stages of acceptance of technology:-
Many law firms are still nowhere near stage 4.
Like last year #Reinventlaw gives you glimmer of understanding just how much tech will change legal services. We have only just started
— Neil Rose (@legalfutures) June 14, 2013
Thanks to #ReInventLaw my lunch was tea and sweet pastries.
— Zeribe Nwachuku (@ZeribeNwa) June 14, 2013
Last year in my review of LawTech Camp London 2012 I mentioned the lack of nourishment of the edible kind. Thankfully with a little help from LexisNexis we had this year not only pastries at our tea breaks but also wine, beer, spirits and canapés at the after conference reception. Well done. Also the sponsorship element did not colour the ethos of the conference in any way. The LexisNexis slot was an informative and interesting talk much like all the others and in no way felt like an advert break.
For those in need of even more refrehments there was a Twegal Tweetup organised by Shireen Smith at a nearby pub after the Reinvent Law reception.
The next Reinvent Law
Reinvent Law is going to New York in November 2013. New York criminal defence attorney, Scott Greenfield, reckons Reinvent Law requires “balance instead of just cheerleaders“.
— Scott Greenfield (@ScottGreenfield) June 15, 2013
Scott is not going to pitch a talk and wait for votes. He has, however, made an offer to talk if invited but thinks there will be no takers. I do hope Renee and Daniel make that call. It would add a very interesting dimension to Reinvent Law New York. I would book a flight for it.
On 19 June I will be in Edinburgh speaking about my law firm’s experience of moving our entire IT system to the cloud at a Conference organised by Denovo Business Intelligence in conjuction with RSM Tenon, Inksters and RISE. This is the programme:-
Scottish Legal Conference
Maximise Fee Income using Intelligent Cloud Computing
09.30am, 2.00pm or 5.30pm
Claim CPD Time
Recent research has shown that most legal firms are not capitalising on their fee income. Yet most law firms focus on new client capture whilst not charging accurately or timeously for the work already carried out.
This is due to a variety of factors such as:-
Lack of accurate time records, outsourcing to third parties such as law accountants, lengthy time delays between case completion and billing, fee disputes with clients, lack of interim billing, excessive discounting of fees and the list goes on……………………………
How can your law firm CAPITALISE on these opportunities?
At this conference we will answer this question. We will look at practical methods which will enable you to harness your already existing billing potential.
Angela Mitchell CA CTA, Tax Director, RSM Tenon, will discuss tax tips and planning opportunities for legal practices in order to reduce partners’ exposure to higher rates of income tax.
Brian Inkster, Inksters Solicitors, will present his practical experience of implementing “Intelligent Cloud Computing” and the positive impact this has had for his firm.
James Henigan, Managing Director, RISE, will present a summary of the Rise cloud platform (DataCenter on Demand) and their partnership with Denovo, focusing on adoption trends of the SMB marketplace and why companies should not be fearful of trusting their data to cloud based infrastructure and the inherent benefits that can be realised by doing so.
Margaret Buchanan of Denovo Business Intelligence, will demonstrate a cost-effective way to outsource the burden of managing and maintaining hardware and software platforms, by showing live access to “the cloud“ and by using a couple of work type examples demonstrate WIP Limits being reached, Accurate Charges being Captured, Automated Production of Bills and automation of government forms and documents.
The Conference is at the Apex International Hotel, 31-35 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HS on 19 June. The programme is repeated in three slots (9.30am, 2.00pm and 5.30pm) during the day so you can choose the time that suits you best. You can book to attend here: Maximise Fee Income using Intelligent Cloud Computing
I was shocked and deeply saddened to hear yesterday morning that Elizabeth Miles had passed away over the weekend.
Elizabeth was one of my very early connections on Twitter – way back in the pioneering days of 2009. She was an active participant in the Virtual Twitter Parties organised by Chris Sherliker and when those turned into Real Life Tweetups she would travel down to London from Bristol whenever she could to be there. She was at the first big Twegals Tweetup (Lex2011 Tweetup) where I first had the privilege to meet her in person. I last saw her at The Trial of Charon QC in November. We had attempted to meet up when I was in Bristol in February but it did not prove possible to do so. At the time I expected that I would soon see her again at a Twegals Tweetup in London. Sadly that was not to be.
Over the short time I knew Elizabeth she became a true Twitter friend. We had fun exchanges on Twitter and more serious chats about legal IT. We would sometimes have more indepth discussions via LinkedIn messages. She made a generous donation to Habitat for Humanity when my wife and I undertook the Global Village Challenge to Argentina in 2009 and supported our endeavours through tweets and retweets on Twitter. Elizabeth participated in Inksters Christmas Hat wearing including an out of season photo in September having uncovered the hat when moving to new offices. In 2010 I tweeted to all of my followers: “A word of wisdom please for Trainee Summer School. Preparing talk on IT use by Trainee Solicitors. What would you tell them ?” Elizabeth did better than a 140 character tweet in response – she wrote an entire blog post!: 9 Things To Tell Trainee Lawyers About IT. That ended up forming a good part of my lecture to the Trainees and essential reading in the homework I prescribed for them. Elizabeth and I sat on a park bench together in a Jon Harman JibJab #FollowFriday video and danced the Monster Mash in another one.
Elizabeth liked a good debate and would truly engage on Twitter in a way that social media was meant for. She was thoughtful and caring and never used Twitter to directly advertise her company or its products. By just being @IkenCEO she did that without trying.
She no doubt had many other talents that those who knew her better than me could tell you about.
The name of Elizabeth’s company, Iken, is derived from the Scottish verb “to ken” meaning “to know”. The word is related to the adjective “canny” which describes someone who is wise, perceptive and incisive. Elizabeth was certainly one ‘canny’ lady who I had the pleasure ‘to ken’. She will be sorely missed and I extend my condolences to her family, who Elizabeth loved “to bits” [Twitter Bio], including Andrew, Edward, Tiddlyompompom and Alice.
Update – 17 April 2013
Elizabeth’s daughter, ‘Tiddlyompompom’, has created a page on her blog to list and link to tribute blog posts to Elizabeth: Mum
A service celebrating the life of Elizabeth will take place at Victoria Methodist Church, BS8 1NU at 2pm on 26th April 2013. All are welcome.
As a tribute to Elizabeth, her family are raising money in her memory for two charities close to her and the family’s heart: SANDS and St Peter’s Hospice. Donations can me made via Virgin Money Giving
I remember enjoying the TV series The Tomorrow People. It gave (in the 1970s) a glimpse of a possible future where the next stage of human evolution (Homo superior) had emerged. Now, with Tomorrow’s Lawyers, Richard Susskind does that for lawyers. Although, Richard does not, as yet, envisage those lawyers having psionic powers such as telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation like the Tomorrow People had!
Richard has, of course, been telling us what the future holds for some time now with The Future of Law (1996), Transforming the Law (2000) and The End of Lawyers? (2008). His predictions have often been spot on.
This latest book, as Richard acknowledges, condenses many of the thoughts that appeared in The End of Lawyers? into a more manageable form. I certainly found it an easier and quicker read. As a result the messages it contains are perhaps conveyed more forcibly.
Richard sees efficiency and collaboration as two winning strategies to help cope with the more-for-less challenge facing law firms. There is no doubt that in most law firms there will be more efficient ways of doing things. Creating such efficiencies is a constant process in my own law firm (Inksters) and we still have a long way to go before we are as efficient as I know we could be. Collaboration by clients coming together to share the costs of certain types of legal services is an interesting concept. Whilst Richard gives examples of banks and in-house legal departments he thinks that this philosophy could equally extend to small businesses and individuals. We will have new look legal businesses serving communities of legal users rather than individuals or organisations on their own. On the topic of collaboration I think much could be said for more and better internal collaboration within law firms. Lawyers are notoriously bad for the lack of collaboration and cross-referrals within their own four walls. This is not what Richard means when he looks at collaboration but I think the concept can and should be widened by law firms who are serious about their future to include internal collaboration.
Richard Susskind does not see much of a future (beyond 2020) for most small law firms in liberalised regimes. However, later in the book we are told that two kinds of traditional lawyer will still be in play for the foreseeable future. These will be the ‘expert trusted advisers’ (whose bespoke work cannot be standardised or computerised) and the ‘enhanced practitioners’ (who are skilled and knowledgeable rather than deeply expert but enhanced by modern techniques of standardisation and computerisation and often the legal assistant to the expert trusted adviser). Therefore presumably those small law firms who concentrate on providing legal advice in areas that require expert trusted advisers and enhanced practitioners will prosper. John Flood has written about this in The rise of Boutiques? So perhaps we should not write off the small law firms just like that. But many will have to look at what their offering consists of and possibly adapt or die.
Richard tells us about the new jobs for lawyers that we will see emerge: The legal knowledge engineer, the legal technologist, the legal hybrid, the legal process analyst, the legal project manager, the ODR practitioner, the legal management consultant and the legal risk manager. Renee Knake has perhaps recently suggested a ninth: the lawyer as trusted curator. Although that role as curator could be an add on for some of Richard’s expert trusted advisers. I certainly see a role in a law firm for a legal journalist to produce content for the law firm’s websites, blogs and social media channels. Some law firms (e.g Pinsent Masons) already have employees in such dedicated roles.
Concentrating on short term profitability rather than long term strategic health is a problem Richard Susskind sees in law firm management. We just need to look at recent casualties in both England and Scotland to see the reality of the situation. But will we see a shift in philosophy to senior partners regarding themselves “as temporary custodians of long term and enduring businesses rather than short-term investors who want to bail out when the price is right”. We might need to if the closure (in some cases of merger, effective closure) of law firms is to halt. In any event there is also no real opportunity anymore for many to “bail out when the price is right”. The problem of law firm partners siphoning off all the profits (in some cases, especially in the past, sums in excess of the profits as assisted by a bank’s willingness to provide excessive overdrafts) and reinvesting little if anything in the firm’s future leaves many firms unmarketable. As Richard comments elsewhere in his book “for much of the legal market, the model is not simply unsustainable; it is already broken”.
Richard mentions the use of generic services such as LinkedIn or legal tools such as Legal on Ramp for collaboration between say a client and their panel of law firms. I wonder whether Yammer could be a good fit for this purpose.
Online legal services will, Richard believes, “liberate the latent legal market”. I am sure that this is correct but in addition to that latent legal market online legal services can and will, I believe, fire up and provide services to the existing legal market. Lawyers can and should be using online for the benefit of (and to retain) existing clients and not just for ones that they thought they might never have had otherwise.
IT enabled courts are discussed by Richard. As I recently blogged the use by the Scottish Land Court of fairly basic but effective technology is perhaps something for other courts to take a leaf out of.
With regard to video conferencing in courts, all of the Scottish Sheriff Courts are fitted with such technology. At my own law firm we use Sheriff Court video conferencing when we can. However, one of the difficulties we have experienced is the reluctance of some Sheriffs to use it. ‘Irrational rejectionism’ again perhaps! It probably needs the Scottish Court Service to remove much of the discretion on the part of Sheriffs and issue guidance on when and how the technology should be deployed.
Richard thinks that major legal publishers (such as Thomson Reuters) and legal know-how providers (such as the Practical Law Company) will be potential employers for tomorrow’s lawyers. It is interesting to note that since the book was written it was announced that Thomson Reuters are taking over the Practical Law Company. Thus we are already seeing law publishers becoming legal know-how providers!
Richard fears that we are training young lawyers to become 20th Century lawyers and not 21st Century lawyers. No doubt about it with, perhaps, little chinks of hope such as my lecture on IT and Marketing in the Legal Profession to the Business Ethics Finance and Practice Awareness course of the Diploma in Legal Practice at Glasgow University. That was two years ago and whilst well received by the students back then (one told me it was the most memorable lecture of the year) there has been no call by the powers that be for me to repeat it. Perhaps there is ‘irrational rejectionism’ at play again with it being seen as too radical by the current course providers.
I know that, in more recent times, the University of Strathclyde has introduced lectures on social media for their students and the College of Law produced video casts on that topic for their students. No doubt more is being done elsewhere but I rather think very much at the fringes.
Richard Susskind considers that tomorrow’s lawyers should perhaps study “other disciplines – such as management, computing and systems analysis – prior to embarking on a legal career”. Should, I wonder, we have courses that combine such disciplines with law?
One question Richard prompts tomorrow’s lawyers to ask prospective employers is “what is the formal process by which your firm monitors emerging technologies and evaluates their potential for various practice areas?” At the moment for young lawyers keen to secure a traineeship questions of this type may, unfortunately, raise a few eyebrows and possibly lead to being rebuffed by most of today’s law firms. Perhaps tread carefully with such questions unless research prior to interview shows the potential for receptiveness.
Richard finishes his book by telling tomorrow’s lawyers that their “elders will tend to be cautious, protective, conservative, if not reactionary. They will resist change and will often want to hang on to their traditional ways of working, even if they are well past their sell by date.” Richard goes on to point out that “in truth” tomorrow’s lawyers are on their own. He urges them “to forge new paths for the law, our most important social institution”. The difficulty, however, for most young lawyers in that environment is the inability to do so. They may have to put up with it for a few years to get a grounding in the law and then break free on their own.
Whilst aimed at tomorrow’s lawyers (presumably the law students and trainee solicitors of today) Richard Susskind’s latest book contains messages that it may not be too late for the older generation of lawyer to grasp and, if so, perhaps could induce change within their existing law firms before it is too late. However, with ‘irrational rejectionism’ prevalent amongst lawyers perhaps that is too much to ask for!
As I said about Mitchell Kowalski’s book, Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century, with Tommorow’s Lawyers don’t just read it and hope it never happens. Much of it is already reality and much more will become reality. If you want to be one of tomorrow’s lawyers read it, digest it and, most importantly, act on it. Richard Susskind hopes you will “want to be one of the pioneers” rather than respond defensively (“how can we stop this happening?”). I, for one, am in the pioneer camp. Join me for the ride if you dare.
Buying the Book
I recently spent three days in Shetland at a crofting law hearing before the Scottish Land Court to determine the boundaries of a croft. This was the first time I have seen a court use modern technology (other than video conference links) to aid the presentation of evidence and speed up the court process.
Productions (or at least some key maps of the 101 documents ultimately lodged with the court) had been scanned and were held on a small laptop. This was connected to a projector with a large screen forming the back drop to the Court which had been set up in the Town Hall in Lerwick. The Land Court is a peripatetic court and when it is not sitting in Edinburgh goes on circuit around Scotland to deal with its business. The surroundings of the Town Hall in Lerwick being much grander than many of the places that the Court has sat in.
As evidence was led key productions were projected onto the large screen for all parties involved and the Court to see. With the aid of a laser pointer the solicitors, witnesses and members of court could point out relative features on the maps. This made it much easier to understand the evidence quickly and clearly than just relying on verbal descriptions in relation to paper copies sitting before all concerned. I was impressed by the foresight of David Houston, the member of the Land Court who has introduced the use of this technology to the Court. Very simple to implement but very effective in use.
With the advent of the new Crofting Register and the possibility of an increase in boundary dispute cases (as highlighted in No Ordinary Court: 100 years of the Scottish Land Court) the Land Court may find itself using this technology on a more regular basis.
Moncrieff v Jamieson may have ended up a little shorter than 39 callings of the case at Lerwick Sheriff Court, including 10 days of evidence and 4 days of closing submissions, had that Court utilised such technology.
It made me think about how this technology could be extended to further benefit the workings of the Land Court (or indeed any other court). Perhaps all productions could be scanned in by the Court as a matter of course and stored on a secure web server enabling parties to the action to access these without the need to copy productions between one another. An online inventory of productions that was continually updated would give parties clarity as to the numbering of productions (often a matter of confusion with agents giving their own referencing, the court adding a unique reference and there also being a running production number).
Perhaps this could result in solicitors and the members of the Court sitting with iPads or, in my case at least, a Surface before them and accessing the documents when in court without the need to leaf through large ring file binders. This could also avoid the surcharge made by Flybe/Loganair on oversize hand luggage when flying to remote parts of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
I will keep you updated at The Time Blawg should the Scottish Land Court take up my suggestions! In the meantime if you have any experiences of any courts anywhere using technology in any way then do let me know.
Law firms need to be run like a real business is the main message expertly conveyed by Canadian lawyer Mitchell Kowlaski in Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century.
The book is written as a story about fictional law firm Bowen, Fong and Chandri, PC. It follows General Counsel of Kowtor Industries considering outsourcing legal services to the firm, the induction of a new recruit, solicitor Mark Reynolds, to the firm and tells us about the make up and role of the external Board of Directors.
The style of the book reminded me of business development books such as The Go-Giver, Millionaire Upgrade and The monk who sold his Ferrari (to name but three). To see a business development book written in this style by a lawyer for lawyers is refreshing. The ideas conveyed in it are not necessarily revolutionary (I had been reading about them and implementing some of them at my own law firm, Inksters, before now) but will be to many and are now condensed into a readily digestible and entertaining format.
Unless you have been hiding in splendid isolation or burying your head in the sand (many lawyers do) over the past few years you could not avoid being at least vaguely aware of legal services outsourcing (in the book carried out in India and the Philippines), cloud computing (which my law firm adopted over a year ago) and value pricing. These were perhaps the main three advantages over competitors seized by Bowen, Fong and Chandri. The book also hints at the possibility of Alternative Business Structures in North America (something that we are all too aware of, or should be, in the UK).
Mitch considers that the traditional law firm partnership model is doomed to failure. This is due to “the collective action dilemma”. This is where you have a group of people all acting in a perfectly rational way for their own interests in the short term. This is all too clear to see in many law firms and the difficulties that many have found themselves in during recent recessionary times. The solution that appears to be adopted by many such firms, when in difficulty, is to merge with a law firm more financially stable but who operate in exactly the same way as they did rather than reconstituting themselves in the style of Bowen, Fong and Chandri.
Mitch thinks that value pricing is the way forward. Most law firms in the UK do have fixed prices for various services (e.g. domestic conveyancing) but there is still an adhesion to time and line charging in many spheres such as litigation and executry (probate) work. I do, however, wonder whether a complete move to value pricing should not retain an element of time recording from a management perspective. Might it not be a good idea to monitor the time spent on a job to see if you can maintain the time involved within the value you priced it at? Time recording should not necessarily be all about the billable hour but also ensuring time is spent on important non-chargeable activities such as marketing and professional development. Mitch, however, reckons that a complete freedom of tracking time creates a cultural shift for the common good of the firm.
Bowen, Fong and Chandri do not hire student or junior lawyers. They see this as a costly and unproductive exercise for law firms to undertake. They “do not hire reams of lawyers to see which ones sink or swim. That is a stupidly inefficient and ineffective way to do things and yet firms continue, like lemmings, to follow the same practice year after year. No other business runs that way”. There could be some truth in this. However, if every law firm adopted this policy there could come a time when there are no trained lawyers with experience to employ! I also believe that law firms can gainfully employ law students whilst they are still at University, glean their ability to swim at an early stage and, if appropriate, provide them with a traineeship. That trainee could become a great asset to the firm as an assistant solicitor further down the line in a way that a lateral hire (not accustomed to the forward thinking ways of their new firm) may never be.
The new recruit at Bowen, Fong and Chandri gets virtual training using a computer simulated game in which he is an Avatar. However, no mention of Bowen, Fong and Chandri using social media or the internet to market themselves and gain new business. Perhaps it was taken as read that a firm like this would already have that well covered. Alternatively, perhaps Mitch does not see such activities as being fundamental to avoiding extinction as a legal practice. Many social media Gurus see it as a paramount consideration in our ‘always on’ age.
However, all in all, Mitch gives lawyers plenty of food for thought. Even small firms (and that includes sole practitioners) can take a lot from this book which tells the story of a big law firm. Whilst you might not be about to open your own outsourcing centre in India or the Philippines there are perhaps areas of your work or administration that could usefully be outsourced to third party providers.
I commend the book to any lawyers serious about their future. But don’t just read it, act on it. In his preface Mitch refers to Richard Susskind’s book The End of Lawyers? being “politely received by many lawyers in Canada, then promptly put on their bookshelves – unread. The lack of innovation and thoughtfulness in Canadian law firms continued without a step”. I rather fear that the same fate may unfortunately await Mitch’s book. Or is the timing of this book more apposite?
Buying the book
Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century by Mitchell Kowalski (ISBN: 978-1-61438-298-0) is published by and available from the American Bar Association. It is also available in the UK from Amazon.