LawFest 2014: Something rather special

LawFest logo

I go to a fair few legal conferences every year and often report about them on here. When I saw early tweets about LawFest it was clear that something very different, from the legal conference as we know it, was forming. I had to go to Cheltenham and experience it. So non ‘legal’ did it look that I persuaded my wife (who is an architect and not a lawyer) to join me.

On arrival at The Parabola Arts Centre in Cheltenham on Friday evening we were given wristbands not name badges. We were welcomed with drinks. There were familiar faces to catch up with and new ones to get to know (including my first face to face encounter with a cigar smoking bear).

Then through to the theatre for an introduction from Paul Gilbert.

LawFest - Paul Gilbert

He told us that LawFest did not carry CPD points:-

Collecting CPD is not personal development, is not learning, is not anything except a small tick in a largely irrelevant box.

Paul set out his vision of LawFest: a place to be involved, to think, talk and connect.

Then Fiona Laird asked us all to write a four line poem entitled ‘Forgotten’. She gathered them in. She congratulated us on our creativity. She then ripped the poems up and put them in a bin. This she said alleviated our fears that she might read them out. Not sure if it prepared us fully for the fact that the following day we would be creating stuff and reading it out!

My poem, for what it is worth, is:-


I have forgotten

how to write  a poem

Shall I be forgiven?

Can I write another?

Saturday morning started with some live jazz with JCJazz to get us in the swing. We were welcomed by Paul who then began a conversation with Tracy Edwards MBE, sailor, entrepreneur and leader.

Tracy insisted that there was nothing special about her. Sailing around the world arose from a drunken evening in a pub. She did, however, reveal that when she sets herself a goal the thought of failure drives her to succeed.

Hilary Gallo, Steve Chapman and Kay Scorah provided an interactive session to introduce themselves and their fringe sessions. This included a Chinese whispers type session on stage involving actions rather than words with the end result being a very lost message:-

[Kay Scorah on the left started the physical Chinese whisper and shows us what she did whilst John Miller on the right was last to see the whisper and shows us what was lost in translation!]

We discovered that we see things differently through one eye than through the other. We were made aware of how we put our underpants on and how we might do so differently the next morning.

In small groups we created stories one word at a time. This was certainly not a ‘normal’ legal conference and it set the tone for the fringe sessions throughout the day. There were three different streams of activity to pick and choose from. You could dip in or dip out as you pleased. It was impossible to take in everything that was going on but I will give you a flavour of what I experienced.

Theatre director, Fiona Laird, made us find our voice. Through breathing and sound exercises we all sounded much better an hour and a half later than we did at the outset.

LawFest - Fiona Laird

Steve Chapman unleashed the genius within us with a personal creative workout. His six mantras were:-

  • Mad, Bad & Wrong
  • Be Obvious, Be Altered
  • Say “Yes” (to the mess)
  • Fail Happy
  • Embody it
  • Make others look good

We each had to create an innovation from two randomly selected words written by others on post it notes.

LawFest - Pig Park

I got ‘pig’ + ‘park’ so created a pig theme park with inter alia roller coasting pigs, pig dodgems, mud baths and stalls selling bacon butties.

Unfortunately I missed Steve Cross on stage (above) on embracing humour in our lives. But I did go to his workshop on turning off your internal editor, how to make a pattern then break it for laughs, body language and using stand-up to build confidence. There was some very funny moments created by the attendees. It reminded me of my trial at the Edinburgh Fringe and how law and comedy can indeed mix. Steve plans to put on a standup show in London featuring lawyers:-

A break from interactive sessions allowed me to take in a poem from Richard Moorhead’sThe Word Museum‘ read by an actor and directed by Fiona Laird. This made up for missing the earlier session that day with Richard on the evolution of ethics and on Leveson (again informed by actors). I couldn’t express the poetry session any better than Paul Gilbert did in his personal reflection on LawFest:-

My personal reflection is this – When a professor shares a poem he has written that touches his heart, that is then picked up and carried by actors, gently placed before a hushed audience for their quiet contemplation, and it then touches their hearts; in that moment we learn about the power of words, of sharing, of loving, of speaking and of listening …then that is truly a moment to cherish.

Next it was back to an interactive session with Hilary Gallo: Changing chairs to have better conversations. In one to one sessions with other attendees we explored blocking conversations and also encouraging them. We also experienced how you can get someone to move with you without words.

Then a cup of tea was called for in advance of the pre concert drinks.

LawFest - cup cakes

I have already mentioned some of the sessions I didn’t manage to take in. Although I saw Tracy Edwards in conversation with Paul Gilbert I missed a session where you could meet, chat and explore making a difference, change, leadership. I also missed Tracy together with Craig Hunter (ParalympicsGB 2012 Chef de Mission) for reflections on realising potential. There was a conversation with Craig earlier in the day on leadership and team building. Charles Grimes (development expert and musician) had a session giving lessons on leadership in music. Kay Scorah had a workshop on beyond words: Co-creation and co-operation. I also missed the conversation with Stephen Jackson (music director) on how choirs work, the music and the role of the music director. There was a lot going on but as I said earlier impossible to take it all in, even with a Tardis ;-)

After drinks it was time for the Cheltenham Bach Choir. One of the foremost choral societies in the South West of England having performed at the BBC Proms and at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. A lovely way to finish the day.

LawFest - Cheltenham Bach Choir

Although the day was not quite over. There were more drinks to be had. More connections to be made.

We were the last men standing. But we carried on well into darkness. Eating, drinking, thinking, talking and connecting.

After LawFest and not particularly linked to it I saw this tweet from Julian Summerhayes quoting Seth Godin:-

This made me reflect that we perhaps learned a fair bit about relations, stories and magic at LawFest. Will that magic continue in 2015? Paul Gilbert in his personal reflection on LawFest says:-

Will there be a #LawFest 2015? May be, but not definitely. There was #LawFest  2014 not because it was tweeted, planned, talked about or made, but because you came. From just one tweet a few months before to the thing it became, it only happened because you came. There will only be #LawFest 2015 if you come again.

It is clear from the tweets in response to this blog post that Paul need not worry. We will definitely come again and more will undoubtedly join us. Paul has created something rather special in LawFest.

Paul said there would be no feedback forms at LawFest and if we tweeted anything bad about it he would block us ;-)

I will give my own feedback with suggestions for LawFest 2015 (and risk being blocked by Paul). For a first time event LawFest was remarkably well organised. My comments should be seen as little tweaks to improve very slightly on an incredible start.

  • Festival goers are often tree hugging vegetarians. A little more vegetarian, even vegan (dare I say it), food choice would not go a miss.
  • Those tree huggers like their herbal teas too :-)
  • Have longer breaks for everyone when no sessions/workshops are ongoing. I have said before that legal conferences (I know this was not one) are often all about the people. More chance to connect socially with the people there during the day would be welcome.
  • Let us know who will be there. I realised after the event via Twitter that some people I knew from social media or through other connections were in attendance. Had I known in advance I would have tracked them down. Absence of name badges (deliberate to make it less conference like) meant it was not always easy to know who was who. Send out a list a day or two before or even hand one out with the programme on the day.

Very minor niggles for something that was rather special. See you at LawFest 2015 :-)

Reinvent Law London 2014 – It’s all about the people

Reinvent Law London 2014 - It is all about the people

I usually write a review of Reinvent Law London: having done so for the first such event, when it was called LawTech Camp London 2012, and the second, Reinvent Law London 2013. This year I was speaking at Reinvent Law London 2014. I have already posted on here my talk on ‘Improving‘ and the Tweets relative to that talk. I am not going to do a full review of the event this year. Many others have already done a very good job of that. I will list the reviews and other related blog posts that I have picked up on at the end of this post. If I have missed any out let me know add I will add them in.

What I am going to do is simply add some reflections on this year’s event. I thought it was the best one yet. Not because I was speaking at it ;-) but because I met and chatted with many more delegates than at the previous ones. Maybe that was because I was a speaker and more people approached me at break out sessions than might otherwise have been the case. There was the hard core of regular London Twegals with whom it is always nice to catch up with. But there was a very large number of new connections made and interesting ideas exchanged. This went on well into the evening with a group of us, from several different countries, retiring to a bar for food and more drinks following the LexisNexis official drinks reception.

Reinvent Law has its critics, including at times myself. Whatever one might say about the content (generally thought provoking if often lacking in breadth and balance) it does pull in an interesting global audience that it is a pleasure to be part of. It’s all about the people and I will be back next year for that reason alone.

I will also make the same promise I did last year and fly across the pond to attend the next Reinvent Law NYC if the organisers bite the bullet and invite Scott Greenfield to speak at that event. As I heard at an inbound marketing conference earlier this week:-

Now for those reviews / blog posts on Reinvent Law London 2014:-

ReInvent Law London 2014: Storify, tweets, and resources (by Robert Richards)

ReInvent Law London 2014: Tweets visualised on TagsExplorer (by Jon Harman)

ReInvent Law in pictures (by Sarah Plaka)

10 things you might have missed at #ReInventLaw (by Sarah Plaka)

ReInvent Law London 2014: Talks in Tweets via Storify (by LXBN)

ReinventLaw London 2014 – a reflection (by David Gilroy)

The future of law tops the agenda (by Shannon Sweeney)

ReinventLaw London: One does not simply start a new law (by Joanna Goodman)

Improve or ReinventLaw: the question is now (by Ivan Rasic)

ReInventLaw London Event Report (by Alex Hobbs)

Law Firm Leadership + ReInvent Law London 2014 (by Lloyd Pearson)

ReInvent London 2014 (by William Barns Graham)

Lawyers, roles and identity (by Mark Gould)

Not innovating? (by Jon Busby)

Reinvent Law London 2014 (by Exigent Group Ltd)

ReInvent Law Londen: Law + tech + design + delivery (by Christ’l Dullaert)

40 Speakers-A Reinvent Law Day (by Kenneth Grady)

Photo credit: LexisNexis

Tweets on Improving a Law Firm

Brian Inkster - Improving - Fun - Reinvent Law London 2014

My last post was on what I said about improving a law firm at Reinvent Law London 2014. This post is on what others said on Twitter about my talk. Interest seemed to be piqued most on pop-up law and having fun. Two of the more novel concepts for lawyers perhaps!

Photo credit: LexisNexis

Improving for Reinvent Law London 2014

Brian Inkster - Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014

On 20th June I did a 6 minute Ignite talk at Reinvent Law London on Improving. Here are the slides together with a transcript of the talk (it possibly didn’t go exactly like that on the day!)

1. Introduction

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 01
I am Brian Inksters. Founder of Inksters Solicitors: A law firm with its headquarters in Glasgow, Scotland and offices in Inverness, Wick and Portree.

2. Improving

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 02
Jon Busby reckons that lawyers are trying to reinvent themselves into something they will never be instead of improving on what they actually are. Something valuable that is just a bit broken and well worth fixing. Someone needs to rescue them. Not sure if that someone is me. But today I will show you how I have reinvented my law firm, Inksters, through gradual improvement.

3. Identity

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 03
When I set up Inksters 15 years ago I drew up my own logo with the help of my wife. 4 years ago we rebranded with the help of a designer. Now the Inksters forward pointing arrow runs through all of the organisation: from business cards, social media avatars, the reception desk to the bespoke toilet signage (I will let you ponder that one).

4. Environment

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 04
Improve your working environment. Make it somewhere your staff are proud of and want to work in. Inksters recently moved into a new purpose designed HQ in the heart of Glasgow. I believe there is still a place for bricks as well as clicks in the law firm of the future. A visitor to the Inksterplex last week said he thought he had walked into a design studio.

5. Web Presence

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 05
Improve your web presence. Inksters own a large number of legal related domains. Some of these are currently in use many soon will be. We now have 4 websites with a 5th launching very soon and 3 dedicated separate blogs. We ensure that the content on all of these is valuable content that is genuinely useful.

6. Social Media

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 06
Improve your social media presence. We have more twitter accounts at Inksters than people. We tweet in convoy. We meet up with those we tweet with when we can. We forge relations in the traditional networking way but using Twitter as an accelerator. Through those connections many different types of business opportunities arise.

7. Marketing

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 07
Improve your marketing. Inksters post out paper Christmas hats rather than cards at Christmas time and recipients tweet photos of themselves wearing them. Sometimes from far flung places like the Ice Hotel in northern Sweden. This can go on for months with summer beach photos not being uncommon! The best entries win a prize.

8. Geographical Reach

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 08
Improve your Geographical reach. Inksters have offices located throughout the remoter parts of Scotland. Back office support is provided from Glasgow through the use of technology. Thus there is no duplication of staff in the satellite offices. Each is manned by one solicitor specialising in a particular area of law.

9. Way you work

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 09
Inksters have a serviced office and living apartment in Shetland. Think Regus offices meets Fraser Suites combined and condensed into one unit. We call it OfficeLodge. Solicitors can live and work from OfficeLodge when in Shetland. Otherwise we operate it as a separate business and let it out to other business travellers.

10. Pop-up Law

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 10
Take law to your clients. At Inksters we do pop-up law. Whether that is setting up a wills kiosk in a branch of Barnardo’s in Glasgow or taking crofting law seminars to crofters in a village hall in North Uist. Yesterday and today we have a crofting law stand at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh. I am flying to Edinburgh in the morning to man it over the weekend.

11.The Cloud

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 11
Improve the way you work by getting on the cloud. Inksters are completely cloud based. We have no servers in any of our offices and no software on any of our Personal Computers. They are simply a gateway via the internet to our systems stored on servers in the RISE data centre. We also use cloud based digital dictation enabling work to be created and produced anywhere.

12. Service – Communication

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 12
Improve your service through communication. At Inksters we have a VOIP phone system. All calls to satellite office numbers are routed to Glasgow. The solicitors in the satellite offices are extensions on the phone system. Outwith normal office hours our Estate Agency calls (solicitors in Scotland are commonly also Estate Agents) are routed to a call centre.

13. Online Payment

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 13
Improve the way you get paid. Many solicitors are just catching on to the fact that maybe they should accept payment by debit or credit card. But why not accept payment online? At Inksters we have been doing so since 2008. Clients can pay us when it suits them best – perhaps in the evening or at weekends. It will speed up your cash flow and ease your cash room administration.

14. Legal Process Engineering

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 14
Improve your efficiency through legal process engineering. At Inksters we have a dedicated legal process engineer. Their role is to map all of our processes and to streamline them, make them efficient and integrate them into our cloud based case management system. That will drive and create real efficiencies that are paramount in the more for less world that we now live in.

15. Consultants

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 15
Improve your business model with self employed consultants. At Inksters we provide all the back office support and technology to enable such consultants to concentrate on the law and let us take care of running the business. Some ‘virtual’ firms have been established on this basis but I believe it is a model that will work best with some bricks and mortar.

16. Corporate Social Responsibility

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 16Improve your Corporate Social Responsibility. Give something back to the community you work in. Last year we Sponsored the Scottish Ensemble to take them to Shetland to perform Seavaigers: A story about a sea journey from Dundee to Shetland. The Kudos we have received from the local community for so doing has been tremendous.

17. Fun

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 17Improve the fun you have. Law and lawyers can be seen as a bit boring by some. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Lighten up a bit and have some fun in your work and with your work colleagues. Last summer I was put on trial for a laugh at the Edinburgh Fringe. The charges against me were ones of high treason for having my sights on the Scottish Crown. Team Inksters had a good laugh at my expense.

18. Legal Skills

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 18Don’t forget your skills as a lawyer. The latest legal app or other gizmo will never be a substitute for honing your legal skills. Keep studying the law. Better still write, blog and speak about your area of expertise. Become the Go-To expert in your field. Carve a niche and excel at it. Market that fact through the web, videos and social media.

19. Reinvent

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 19By gradual improvement in everything you do as a lawyer and in your business you may just discover that you have reinvented your law firm. You will have created a firm that people enjoy working in. A firm that clients want to instruct. A firm that is moving forward and ever adapting with the world around it. A place that is no longer broken but thriving.

20. Contact

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 20

My contact details

N.B. The presentation is also available on slideshare:-

Photo credit (main image): LexisNexis

Did the cost of legal IT kill Clearspire?


I and others have been writing on this Blog of late about the Legal IT curve. My view was that Big Law is so behind the legal IT curve and this could be detrimental to its future. However, this past week a New Law firm, Clearspire, who, on the face of it, was well ahead on that legal IT curve closed its doors. Why it folded is not clear.

One reason could be its spend on legal IT.

It would appear that this spend was $5 million and involved two and a half years of research and development. For a law firm with 25 lawyers that is $200,000 per lawyer spent on IT. The aspirations of Clearspire were much greater than a firm of 25 lawyers. In January 2013 the stated aim was to “expand its nontraditional legal services model across the country with the addition of 50 to 100 former BigLaw lawyers each year for the next five years”. That didn’t happen. If it had then the spend per lawyer on legal IT would have gone down considerably from that $200,000 figure.

However, $5 million seems one heck of a lot of money for any law firm (especially a new start) to be spending on legal IT. What was special about this IT? I have not been able to glean a lot about its USP if it even had one. I found an article that suggested CORAL, the system developed by Clearspire, provided a “highly secure technology platform to collaborate real time with clients and team members, post questions, review briefs, and more”. Perhaps we need to know what the “and more” is as everything else can already be done with off the shelf platforms at a fraction of the cost. As Carolyn Elefant said in a comment to that article:-

What is so revolutionary about Clearspire?  I have been implementing flat fees, client plans and online secure portals for at least a decade as have many of my solo and small firm colleagues.

It has been suggested that CORAL did not even assist document management!

The Clearspire business model which involved amongst other things “no central physical office, but regional centres and a powerful ‘best-in-class enterprise IT platform’” is one being played out by other NewLaw firms but perhaps with substantially less spend on the IT element. With legal IT providers having invested huge sums in perfecting proven legal IT systems over the years is there really any need for a NewLaw firm to reinvent the wheel?

Such systems (especially the cloud based ones) can now be purchased on an affordable per user basis allowing the IT to grow as the law firm grows rather than the IT having to pay for itself once the law firm reaches a critical mass, which seems to have been the Clearspire model. What law firms need to spend time and money on is making sure these off the shelf systems are working to their full potential within their own four walls (even if that is virtual walls).

So in my view Clearspire may have got it wrong with the huge investment in its own legal IT system. It is not the start of the end of NewLaw but perhaps a lesson for would be NewLaw firms. Law Firms survive on providing legal services to customers (aka clients). Law firms, new or old, need to concentrate on that. Technology is a tool to assist that process. When setting up a law firm I wouldn’t try to create a PC or phone from scratch. Pier Giorgio Perotto and Alexander Graham Bell beat me to it. The same is true of legal IT systems. There are plenty out there that work very well indeed. Usually it is the law firms or individual lawyers within those law firms that are simply not using the systems anywhere near to their full potential.

Arising from the Clearspire ashes appears to be CORAL. The law firm has gone but the legal IT will live on. As Mitchell Kowalski states:-

So, while some will mourn the loss of a New Law trail blazer, the fact that Clearspire will remain as a legal IT company and grow, bodes well for lawyers across the world.

Perhaps. But what is unique about CORAL? If it didn’t sustain the pilot NewLaw firm Clearspire does it really bode well for lawyers across the world? I am told we will will find out at the end of the Summer.

The Clearspire website tells us:-

Our law firm was a laboratory– a proof of concept that demonstrated just how innovative today’s lawyers can be. In the process, we redefined client satisfaction, lawyer efficiency, and pioneered the model for the future of legal services delivery.

Now, the time has come to scale.  We’re  taking Clearspire to the next level with a mission to empower not a law firm, but all law firms.

We are actively working to ready our class-leading Legal Services Delivery Platform for you!  Stay tuned to these pages in the coming weeks and months for updates on our global deployment of The Next Revolution.

If it didn’t empower one law firm how will it empower all law firms? But perhaps ‘The Next Revolution’ will have a price tag less than $200,000 per lawyer ;-)

I have made assumptions in this post. I had to as there is no information yet from the horse’s mouth as to why Clearspire folded. I may be wrong. Whether I am or am not do you think law firms should create their own legal IT systems from scratch rather than buy in existing third party ones?

NB: This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Legal IT curve. See also:-


Improving at Reinvent Law


I am speaking at Reinvent Law London on 20 June 2014. The title of my talk is ‘Improving’, inspired by a blog post of the same name by Jon Busby : Improving.

The truth is that lawyers are trying to reinvent themselves into something they will never be instead of improving on what they actually are.

The premise of my talk is that you might be able to reinvent your law firm by improving it a bit at a time. I will look at real life examples from my own law firm, Inksters, in the presentation.

This will be stuff from the coal face that I think is often missing from legal futurist and technology conferences where the focus tends to be on star gazing to 2034 rather than what can actually happen today.

A quick look at the 24 speakers announced so far suggests that perhaps only 4 are practicing lawyers and I think I might be the only UK based one of those.

I have long been a campaigner for Scott Greenfield to be invited to talk at a Reinvent Law Conference.

Looks like that day has yet to come.

I will see what I can do without Scott on 20 June. Whether I dance solo remains to be seen! Book your free ticket (or give a donation when you do so) to the event now to find out: Reinvent Law London 2014 Tickets

Lawyers doing business online: From Click to Client Conference

Legal Futures Click to Client Conference

I have been a bit critical of late of legal technology and legal futurist conferences that are looking far into the future and not concentrating on what can actually be achieved by law firms here and now. It is refreshing therefore to see the programme for Legal Futures’ next event: The NatWest mmadigital From Click to Client Conference in London on Monday 16th June 2014. I do, of course, have to declare an interest as I am one of the speakers. So my advance write up may be a bit biased. But when you look at the line up it is on the whole real coal face practitioners who have actually been using online technology to improve their businesses. Other lawyers can learn a lot from these pioneers. It is not pie in the sky stuff about what we might or might not be doing in 2034 (I hope to have retired by then!).

The Click to Client Conference will look at developing a digital strategy. Who better than Tessa Shepperson and Paul Hajek to be on the panel for that session. I have referenced both of these digital legal pioneers a number of times in posts on this blog. You will also hear about the golden rules of digital marketing and ‘Find a Solicitor’ websites. Steve Kuncewicz and I will be looking at making the best of social media. A bit more futuristic perhaps, but nonetheless a reality in play today, will be sessions on legal intelligence meets artificial intelligence and also a look through the google glass. So all in all a practical look at technology lawyers can be using today and could be using tomorrow (not the distant future) to enhance their practices.

This is a must attend Conference for any lawyers with an interest in using online technology to grow their business. There is an early bird price if you book before 30th April of £199 plus VAT. That sounds like a good deal to me. BOOK NOW and reboot your law firm. I look forward to seeing you there!

Big law, small law, new law, old law… it’s bigger than that

Big law, small law, new law, old law.... it's bigger than that

Guest Post by Ben Wightwick

Firstly, thank you to Brian for inviting me to write a guest post as part of the Legal IT curve series. I was asked to contribute to provide the perspective of a legal IT vendor. Before I start, I must clarify that I am blending my vendor hat with one that has just under 10 years experience in an IT department at a “big law” firm in London. HighQ, the company I now work for, has been selling “cloud” and progressive enterprise cloud collaboration tools and solutions to law firms for the last decade.

First of all I’d like to say that I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t matter what type of law firm you work for or how you classify it. It’s bigger than that. I think all firms, businesses and organisations inside and outside of the legal vertical face very similar challenges. On the flip side of that same coin, all organisations have the same opportunities. These challenges and opportunities come at a time when technology is changing and influencing our personal lives while leaving a bitter taste within the enterprise. Not 10 years ago it was only within the enterprise that we had access the latest software and devices. It was the enterprise where we saw the most innovation. This has changed forever – you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. I now have access to more innovation in my pocket via my smartphone than most enterprise software applications. Enterprise software has become stale, and this is not unique to legal.

According to Ray Wang of Constellation Research, “in the shift toward dominating digital disruption, CIOs can only move as fast as their organization’s DNA will allow while driving transformation.” When we review that statement and apply it to a law firm dynamic we come up against the single most important factor in the law firm technology debate: law firms are and always will be risk averse. As Ray puts it, it’s in their DNA. Just look at the technology adoption lifecycle which quotes five phases of adopters:

Innovators – - Early Adopters – - Early Majority – - Late Majority – - Laggards

In almost all instances, law firms will be in the Late Majority or Laggard phases of technology adoption. This is because many or most are resistant to change as written by Larry Bridgesmith. There are of course, people, teams and entire firms outside of these two categories but by and large it’s an accurate assessment.  A risk averse stance will, in my mind, delay law firms (large and small) from progressing and moving forward. It could mean they miss opportunities and expose themselves to greater long term risks associated with survival.

Law firms need to be more agile. Whilst some manage this, the majority have focused on infrastructure and keeping the lights on while doing little to influence or transform the business. There have obviously been reasons for this. Many CIOs’ budgets have been cut in the last five years, even in “big law”. Arguably this has prevented innovation or an attempt at early mainstream adoption of technologies, ultimately firms have had to make do. There has been a wide spread consolidation of the market in the form of mergers and experiments with outsourcing. This all contributes to a lack of tangible forward motion in technological advancement.

Of course there are great examples of law firms using technology to drive efficiency and productivity. Those firms who are looking at technology as an enabler are making the charge forward. Those who are driving forward look at their assets and assess each based on what they can do today and on their potential to deliver in the future. This is all common sense, but many either don’t have the time to focus on it or focus on other more “important” things. Law firms of any size need technology to be simple and scalable. When you talk about adoption you should be aiming for limited IT involvement or training. This, I feel, is the primary role of the future CIO.

Currently there are, broadly speaking, four types of CIOs: Chief Integration Officer; Chief Innovation Officer; Chief Infrastructure Officer and Chief Intelligence Officer. All CIOs will fall into one of these main camps. Many will be more than competent in the rest, but they each have a natural alignment. Many in legal are not able to focus on innovation for reasons given above, but the future needs of the workforce will ultimately become a priority. Gartner talks about the transition from CIO to Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and predicts that 25% of organisations will create such a role. I can see this being a long way off within legal but very valid, the merging of roles and perception of the traditional functions in a law firm. The current CIO role will primarily be keeping the lights on and the CDO will be more strategic, aligned with revenue and client success and retention.

In my opinion it doesn’t depend on your business model or your size. Of course it might be easier to be more agile in a smaller more nimble firm but it also depends on whether your management team see technology as an enabler not a cost centre. It also depends on whether they can see beyond legal technology, and whether they value the human network of the organisation and want to allow it to thrive.

So what is the current state of play in legal IT in “big law”?  Investment in technology within law firms up to around 2008/9 was largely internally focused. Focused on the business. There are rafts of legal specific applications from practice management systems to document management platforms and search tools. Almost all the Top 200 law firms have something or other in the majority of the categories (as seen in the LegalIT Insider Top 200 UK charts). But what this chart doesn’t tell us is how well are these products adopted? How well are they aligned to business processes? Has benefits realisation been a core part of project delivery? Are lawyers using them or are they bypassing them? Has business services requirements been included? How much shadow IT is being used? These are all questions to which many will have similar answers, I bet.

Taking risks is an important part of running a business. You will always fail. It’s amazing how quickly you can recover and learn from those failures and jump back on the horse if you are prepared to fail. I was at a legal marketing conference last week where the keynote speaker was Kat Cole and she talked about failure, taking risks, making hard decisions for the survival and ultimate success of her business Cinnabon.

Law firms are going to have to take some risks, this is inevitable.  Many are under pressure from the wider market, changes in business structures, and client demands. Not exploring other ways of doing things because “we’ve always done it like this and look where it’s got us” is almost negligent. It doesn’t matter whether you categorise these factors affecting your business as challenges or opportunities or both. People, teams and firms need to realise they aren’t just delivering “tech”, they are potentially delivering a change enabler. It’s important to understand and focus on the impact of technology on the business and its employees (not just lawyers) and provide just as much emphasis on the people using the technology.  The day this happens, we’ll be moving in the right direction.

Technology with a focus on the human network is the key, which allow greater innovation and enable wide change. A digitally proficient workforce (not millenials), the right culture and open approach to risk and innovation will drive the new ways of working.

Law firms like many other organisations are risk averse and are resistant to change, this resistance to change is ultimately a risk in itself to which some may not survive. Each firm has to focus on it’s people and is in control of it’s own ability to change and adapt. It’s up to them.

Ben Wightwick

Ben Wightwick

About the Guest Blogger: Ben Wightwick is an experienced technology professional and consultant with over 10 years legal, social and content publishing technology solutions experience.

Ben is client focused and enjoys working closely with clients and colleagues to ensure the successful delivery of technology solutions which help clients derive the most value from their investment in HighQ software.

Ben has many different roles and is involved in many areas of the business including; writing, speaking, consulting, marketing, social media presence, defining strategy and other areas of general business improvement.

Ben’s primary role however is “Product director” of HighQ Publisher. This includes managing all aspects of the product from; managing new and existing clients, designing new functionality, project implementations and innovation for the future of the platform.

Main Picture Credit: Iain Mackay

NB: This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Legal IT curve. See also:-


LawTech Futures 2014: The one with the http regret

Sir Tim Berners Lee at LawTech Futures 2014

“You better explain the World Wide Web to them Tim as they may not have heard of it”

Yesterday was LawTech Futures 2014 – The Future of Legal Technology (Europe’s largest legal technology event). The last two years I was invited to attend, went and wrote reviews: LawTech Futures 2012 Reviewed: The Search for the Holy Grail of Legal Technology Conferences has Begun! and LawTech Futures 2013 Reviewed: The one with the neocortex. This year I must have fallen off the invite list. So no review I am afraid but just a few comments generated via Twitter from this side of Hadrian’s Wall.

Legal Conferences (especially Futuristic / Technology ones) are usually well covered these days on Twitter. Indeed sometimes you can glean as much about the Conference from Twitter as actually being there e.g. LawTech Camp London 2012: In Tweets.

That was, unfortunately, not to be the case yesterday. There were quite a few tweets from vendors telling you to come to their stalls for free giveaways. Riverview Law, Jeremy Hopkin’s daughter and I have a particular penchant for flashing green bouncy balls (sorry… an in-joke from last year). But there were very few tweets about the actual content of the Conference. Indeed the official Conference Twitter account could only muster four and those were just about the venue filling up. I was left not knowing what the future of legal technology holds. It was the keynote by Sir Tim Berners Lee that got most tweet coverage. We found out in particular that:-

But then that had already been predicted by Jon Busby on Twitter last week:-

So Twitter at least told us what was going to happen at the Conference before it did. Maybe just as well I hadn’t made the trip to London this year to find that out. Although Jon Busby tells me that Sir Tim’s http regret was widely publicised elsewhere and he picked it up in Wired last month. Other startling insights on the world wide web included:-

Why so little LawTech Futures Conference Tweets this year? I tweeted with Jason Plant about that:-

So very little in the way of tablets, smart phones and tweets at a legal technology conference. I can only deduce that the audience was therefore dominated by Big Law (and if Eversheds attended they left their iPads at home). Big Law does, of course, need to attend these conferences because Big Law is so behind the Legal IT curve ;-)

On the Legal IT curve debate see also:-

Photo Credit: Yasmin Andrews

Law Firms should steal

Law Firms should steal

The National Museum of Scotland – Where lawyers congregated to learn how to steal

I attended the annual Law Society of Scotland Dinner at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh last night. Law Society President, Bruce Beveridge, joked of lawyers gathering amongst dinosaurs, fossils and sharks. It was a magnificent setting for what was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The dinner was excellent as was the after dinner talk by Hamish Taylor. A talk that encouraged law firms to steal. Not from their clients I hasten to add. But to steal ideas from businesses outwith the legal sector.

Hamish Taylor has a winning record of driving innovation and change at companies such as Proctor & Gamble, British Airways, Eurostar and Sainsbury’s Bank. Hamish has been dubbed the “master thief” by the Inspired Leaders Network for his track record of stealing ideas from one environment to use in another. He gave examples of going to a luxury yacht manufacturer to design the flat beds in First Class at British Airways and asking Disney to sort out the queueing system at Heathrow Airport.

The message was to look outside the legal sector and see what ideas you can steal from other businesses to use within your own law firm. Sage advice. When I set up a visiting base in Shetland for solicitors from my own law firm, Inksters, to work out of, I stole from the serviced apartment industry (e.g. Fraser Suites) and the serviced office industry (e.g. Regus) combined the two and created OfficeLodge. We won an Innovation award for it in 2007.

I wonder if there are many examples in actual practice of law firms stealing ideas from other sectors?

Picture Credit and link: Venue Hire at The National Museum of Scotland