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.

Hack the Law to Reinvent the Wheel?

By | March 1, 2018

Hack the Law to Reinvent the WheelMy last post on ‘Lawyers and coding‘ was written as the Global Legal Hackathon was underway. We now have the results.

As I watched proceedings via Twitter, with specific reference to the London event, I was of the view that I was seeing solutions to ‘problems’ that possibly didn’t really exist and the wheel often being reinvented. Also blockchain was in vogue for no real reason other than perhaps to feed the current hype surrounding it.

A healthy debate then took place over on LinkedIn when Richard Tromans announced the London winners:-

The winners of the #GLH2018 >>> Pinsent Masons team led by Orlando Conetta.
>>> Big congrats to the team which created a Blockchain platform for partner voting on internally developed project ideas. Excellent work also by the five other teams.

Stephen Allen then enquired:-

Are you able to explain why Blockchain was the correct platform?

Richard didn’t appear to know the answer as he didn’t respond.

However, one of the Judges, Joanna Goodman, commented:-

Yes, in this specific case, it was, even though it might not be for every firm.  Of course it’s not the only approach to the law firm innovation dilemma…

Arlene McDaid joined in:-

Interested to learn why a voting system among a finite and defined group of trusted, identified parties benefits from blockchain (a way to reach consensus among mutually distrusting parties) – a centralised solution could provide the anonymity and security (blind signature schemes, for example) for considerably less cost than a blockchain solution.

Graeme Bodys, CEO of nooQ, joined in the debate too:-

Blockchain does seem overkill to me for this scenario. We provide innovation platform for idea voting, commenting and debate. We also provide option for anonymous voting too. We find legal partners esp drawn to our visual interface as being a time strapped and conscious industry we just show personalised decisions required for each individual.

Joanna Goodman came in again:-

A voting system is interesting for the partnership model because the blockchain element helps to accelerate decision-making and preserves independence – i.e. it gets around organisational politics.

I threw in a cheeky comment:-

Arlene McDaid It could be said that law firm partners are often “mutually distrusting parties” 😉 However, even where that is the case  I agree that using blockchain is still over egging the ‘problem’. I am at a loss to see why a large partnership has all their partners voting on innovation ideas. Surely a recipie to destroy any real innovation. Is that how you do it at Hogan Lovells Stephen Allen, FRSA?

Stephen replied:-

We use this great thing called email…..

But for innovation we like to go rogue.

Interestingly, on Tuesday past, The American Lawyer published an article entitled “The Death of the Law Firm Partnership Vote?” In that article it is suggested that with an eye on efficiency, law firms are ditching old methods for a more corporate form of governance. It is pointed out:-

A group of professionals focused on innovation in law firms were sitting around a table at a recent conference in London when one wryly remarked, “Partnership votes? Who does those anymore?”

It was an apt statement to be made in London, where law firms are typically more committed than their U.S. counterparts to running their operations like their corporate clients. And it was equally appropriate that the comment came from a group focused on innovation in law firms, something much more easily accomplished when only a small group of yeas are needed.

Again this echoes my point about the relevancy of the ‘problem’ the winning team sought to solve.

Alex G Smith entered the fray:-

I’m surprised none of the ideas/collaboration platforms got a mention before putting ideas on a blockchain like Spigit, Wazoku, Ideas Drop or Crowdicity used by a decent slice of corporate world, with clarity, auditable, built-in stages and mentors  … usually the first thing a product manager checks is whether the wheel already exists before accidentally reinventing it. Several firms have used such platforms. I’m sure immutable ideas are better than non-immutable ones.

look at the end results here – Teams China smashing it out the park using real tech https://globallegalhackathon.com/round-one-winners/ – mostly it seems by avoiding blockchain bingo and focusing on hard tasks like understanding legislation and knowledge graphs.

Things then got a little heated between Stephen and Joanna but all was resolved with agreement that they meet to discuss over coffee.

Joanna also said:-

I will write about why blockchain, and why we felt that application of blockchain worked in that context.

I look forward to seeing that when in print as it will no doubt add much to this debate.

Joanna did make the very valid point that as judges they were constrained with the entries before them and the competition criteria.

That criteria 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.

They had to pick a winner and the blockchain partner voting solution was the best of the pick. Fair enough. But also fair enough for spectators to question the validity (not of the judges decision) of the use of blockchain if it was just being used for the sake of it.

Joanna also made the valid point that the participants were giving up their time, energy and resources all weekend to try and develop something new. Hats off to them.

I wouldn’t dismiss the idea of participating in such an event myself but I am unsure if we need to have such an emphasis on AI and blockchain rather than simply technology. These events do somewhat feed the AI/blockchain hype I have highlighted before.

Joanna, however, believes:-

that routinely criticising people for trying to use emerging technology is unimaginative and demotivating. These people aren’t just playing AI/blockchain ‘bingo’ they are curious, and interested to explore what’s new.

I accept that participants are curious and interested to explore what’s new. But were they forced into playing AI/blockchain ‘bingo’ by the criteria set by the event itself and is that a good or a bad thing?

I know Orlando Conetta who led the winning team. I have seen him at a Legal Hackers event at Glasgow University. We sometimes bump into one another in the café below the Inksterplex in central Glasgow. He does not appear to have entered the fray so far but I would be interested to hear his views. Perhaps he and I will chat over a coffee sometime soon in Glasgow whilst Joanna and Stephen are doing the same in London. We can perhaps then expand upon the debate further on here.

Thomas Pauls, Client Experience Consultant at LexisNexis, commented:-

The winning team mentioned blockchain being a solution to a problem they had yet to identify during the pitching session on Friday.

I’m not sure they did with the solution presented.

We found the process really enjoyable and defiantly worthwhile, but it did seem to be more of a PowerPoint off.

I personally was expecting teams to be showcasing products that they had made in the allotted time.

Maybe that was my lack of understanding and reading the judging rubric I can defiantly see what Team P and M won so no complaints from me.

So rather confusing now – was the winning solution a blockchain one or not?

I was rather surprised that the competition was a “PowerPoint off”. I too had assumed that, with coders on the teams, a prototype would have been produced and demonstrated at the event. Is that not what a hackathon is all about?

Wikipedia suggests it is:-

A hackathon (also known as a hack day, hackfest or codefest) is a design sprint-like event in which computer programmers and others involved in software development, including graphic designers, interface designers, project managers, and others, often including subject-matter-experts, collaborate intensively on software projects.

The goal of a hackathon is to create usable software. Hackathons tend to have a specific focus, which can include the programming language used, the operating system, an application, an API, or the subject and the demographic group of the programmers. In other cases, there is no restriction on the type of software being created.

If the goal is to create usable software that is surely not PowerPoint. Was it a case of too many lawyers and not enough coders on the teams?

There is plenty of fit for purpose technology out there that can be used out of the box by lawyers without them needing to build their own.

I am also of the view that lawyers should avoid ‘a Clearspire‘ and not necessarily build their own.

However, that does not mean that we should not have hackathons to explore and find solutions to problems where no existing legal technology exists.

But do we need to clarify the purpose and criteria for such hackathons to make them better and reduce criticism of them?

Does AI/blockchain need to be the be all and end all of these events?

Should the goal actually be to create usable software rather than a PowerPoint presentation?

Should judges consider the relevancy of the actual ‘problem’ the team is seeking to solve and give scores according to such relevancy?

It only takes a quick Google search to see if your idea has already been implemented before. Should such Google disclosure be a mark down criteria in the judging process in future hackathons to avoid wheel reinventions?

What do you think?

Reactions on Social Media

In addition to the comments in the comments section below 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:-

NB Frank Jennings was one of the four judges at the London Legal Hackathon

NB Richard Moorhead has also left a comment in the comments section of the blog post below.

And on LinkedIn:-

Joanna Goodman:

This is worrying in a way, it is almost judging the event by proxy. You were in London and you could have attended the judging, but instead you are choosing to judge the event, it’s premises, and what it should be vicariously online. Personally, I don’t think this reflects very well on you, but that’s my personal view.

Stephen Allen:

So, let me be 100% clear.

I have simply asked ‘why blockchain’? I am not questioning the judges decision. I am not saying it’s the wrong platform. I am curious why it was chosen.

I am curious for two reasons:

1. I will be asked why was blockchain was used and could it be something that would work for us?
2. I have judged a couple of hackathon events and the decisions as to why an option was chosen are more interesting than the end solution.

So, I await the article in this state of curiousity.

Brian Inkster:

Joanna Goodman

I am sorry you feel that way.

Whilst I was in London I was there for other purposes and I am afraid I couldn’t attend the judging.

In the digital world we live in it is usual to view events from afar online and take views on them. People do that all the time particularly on Twitter and LinkedIn. I have done so for years with posts on www.thetimeblawg.com.

My blog post simply took a debate that had already begun on Twitter and LinkedIn and built upon it.

I highlighted valid points made by you in the debate to date and looked forward to your further comments. I raised questions that the exploration of can only seek to enrich future legal hackathons.

I am heartened that the organisers of the Global Legal Hackathon have referred to my blog post, on Twitter, as being a “Wonderful critique”.

This is all I set out in my blog posts to do: create some critical thought about issues concerning the past, present and future practice of law and maybe, like the participants of the hackathons seek to do, bring about meaningful change.

I am not criticising the event, the judges or the decision. I am simply expressing my views and hoping that others will engage and benefit from them.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Stephen Allen.

I agree that there can be no suggestion that the judges decision is being questioned.

I, like you and several others, asked the “why blockchain?” question as soon as we saw it.

It is a very reasonable question to ask. So I too await the article that perhaps will answer it with the same state of curiosity.

Thomas Paul:

Totally agree, as a participant in the event, that the best team won as per the judges rubric. I certainly don’t think this is being questioned.

As my quote states we had a great time and found the event worthwhile and enjoyable.

The question I had at the time and it seems others do too, was why blockchain. This was one of the questions I wanted to raise on the day but was unable to do so with the 5 minute Q&A time limit.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Thomas Pauls. I think that adds another question to my list: Should Legal Hackathons have longer than a 5 minute Q&A time limit?

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Nir Golan:

Thanks for sharing Tom Braegelmann. What a great post by Brian Inkster. A few weeks ago, we had a long discussion on LinkedIn about the hype around hackathons and their real “effectiveness” in solving real problems:

https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6366959996839739392

It is astonishing that the criteria for the solutions that were presented at the hackathon in London was that they needed to be based on emerging technologies (AI, blockchain, bots etc.. ). Again, more focus on the tech used than solving a real problem. So disappointing. So much good can come out of these hackathons. Who cares what tech is used/if tech is used so long as we find a solution to an aching problem. That is the goal at end of the day, no? Isn’t that the purpose of hacking? Innovation?

Lawyers and coding

By | February 24, 2018

BBC Micro Computer - Lawyers and CodingI revealed in my recent post on ‘Hack the Past : How the Legal Profession knew nothing about Technology‘ that I taught myself some basic coding on a BBC Micro computer way back in the early 1980s. My need/desire to code since has been non existent although I experienced a little bit of it for fun at a Legal Hackers meet up in Glasgow last year.

My view is: if I need coding done I will hire in an expert to do it. I wouldn’t expect a lawyer to do it. Just like I wouldn’t expect a coder to represent me in a court of law.

I saw this tweet which sums it up nicely and which I can relate to in my crofting law world:-

I hope at the Global Legal Hackathon (taking place this weekend) that real coders are doing the hacking with some input (but not coding) from the lawyers and their clients.

As Jordan Furlong said, in his opening talk to the Ottawa Legal Hackathon last night, it is this collaboration that is important:

You’ve got the entire orchestra coming together and saying “what are we going to play guys? What are we going to pull together tonight and tomorrow and the next day and next week and next year to make this work better?”

We can solve the legal profession’s problems if we work together. If we are building on what everyone brings to the table. We need everyone around the table because we need to learn from each other, we need to teach each other what we need to know.

We need to build something which is greater than the sum of its parts. Something that individually we can’t pull together but if we pull ourselves together in one place and talk and program and write things on these cool white boards then we will actually start making our way towards the solutions that we need.

Looking at the introductory slides by David Terrar for the London Legal Hackathon it looks like teams will be expected to be made up of:-

  • Lawyer
  • Application developer, coder
  • Designer
  • Graphics expert
  • Marketing expert
  • Business Person

So a good mix for the orchestra if indeed teams follow that mix. I hope that the Business Person also takes on the role of client in the team otherwise an important ingredient mentioned by Jordan Furlong may be missing.

The Global Legal Hackathon “expect ideas using technologies like AI, Machine Learning, Chatbots, Blockchain, or the Internet of Things”.

I get that at a Hackathon, where coding is the thing, that is to be expected.

For your average law firm a design thinking day: avoiding building the technology but looking at process and incremental improvements is likely to prove more meaningful, long lasting and successful.

Reactions on LinkedIn:-

There has been a lot of debate in relation to this post on LinkedIn where I asked the question “should lawyers code?” To keep these together with the post itself I have copied the comments here:-

Arlene McDaid: Are you up for some more coding Brian? Philip can take the coding on your mobile session.

Philip Hannay: A BBC micro computer! Hah, come on Brian show your real age. It was an abacus…

Arlene McDaid: You sponsoring Philip?

Abacus Programming for Lawyers

Philip Hannay: Arlene what’s that all about?

Arlene McDaid: Humour 🙂

Brian Inkster: Arlene McDaid I think the little coding that Philip Hannay and I did last year was enough to reafirm to me that I can leave that to the experts.

Brian Inkster: Philip Hannay You will have to get a team of your Legal Engineer™s onto this. They will be well trained in abacus programming by Arlene McDaid and moving onto BBC Basic before you know it.

Brian Inkster: Philip Hannay Well when I started school there were no PCs and not even electronic calculators in use. I remember an older brother who was in secondary school when I was in primary school getting a very large electronic calculator – the first one I had ever seen. So yes I started life in the age of the abacus but as I highlighted in my earlier post http://thetimeblawg.com/2018/02/11/hack-the-past-how-the-legal-profession-knew-nothing-about-technology/ I (like other Gereration Xers and Baby Boomers) have seen many advances in technology and can appreciate what technology can do for us in a way that might be lost on millennials.

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Yvonne Nath: I am sitting in Toronto at the #GlobalLegalHackathon right now and there is a trademark attorney who was a programmer in his past life. His ability to communicate ways for applying tech to legal to address business needs is wonderful.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Yvonne Nath. Lawyers who are also programmers may find a niche and a future in Legal Technology development. But do you think all lawyers should be able to code well? Also does it take a knowledge of coding (rather than an interest in and understanding of technology) to be able to communicate ways of applying tech to legal to address business needs?

Yvonne Nath: Programmers who understand legal, as well as lawyers who can program, can certainly specialize as Legal Technologists.

As for non-programmer lawyers, No, I do not believe lawyers need to be able to code, but perhaps if they can think like a coder when approaching challenges, that may help them come up with innovative approaches. They can at least be able to meet technologists in the middle to explain processes and goals in a way a technologist might see them. For example, building a risk analysis tree using conditional statements… or mapping a process to identify where technology can remove a bottleneck.

Perhaps we just need more legal hackathons!

Brian Inkster: Thanks again Yvonne Nath. I wonder whether coding is really a skill one needs to set out a risk analysis tree or to process map? These things can of course be done by non coders and then bring in the coders if need be. Although often process mapping is simply an important step to use existing technology that is at your fingertips more efficiently without any further coding input being required.

I am unsure whether more legal hackathons is the answer. There may be some overthinking going on at them with the emphasis on AI and blockchain. Simpler wins are possibly being overlooked as a result.

Yvonne Nath: Brian Inkster, thank you for leading this critical thinking…I would agree that coding is not needed for process mapping and risk analyses. I guess I was just trying to say that being able to think like a coder (if-then statements for risk analyses) allows one to communicate better with technologists (not coders, exclusively). Being able to think in different languages helps open up channels of creative thinking which, in turn, can lead to innovative approaches to solving problems.

Yvonne Nath: What are you thinking with respect to “simpler wins”?

Brian Inkster: Most lawyers Yvonne Nath have very analytical minds and are good at risk analysis (although maybe too risk averse). If they apply themselves to creative thinking (which they probably don’t do enough of) and there are ways to prod that out of them (e.g. design thinking) then that can lead to innovative approaches to solving problems without coding having to feature.

Brian Inkster: On ‘simpler wins’ Yvonne Nath I was thinking incremental improvements that don’t involve bells, whistles and the hype surrounding AI and blockchain e.g. http://thetimeblawg.com/2014/07/04/improving-for-reinvent-law-london-2014/

Yvonne Nath: Brian Inkster, right on w/r/t coding not being an essential capability of lawyers, but I would say that events such as hackathons are successful platforms for inspiring risk-taking and creative thinking!

Brian Inkster: Possibly Yvonne Nath. But often I see the wheel being reinvented. I might expand on that in a full blog post on The Time Blawg.

Yvonne Nath: I look forward to reading your blog, Brian Inkster, and hope Philipa Jane Farley elaborates on how her coding background has helped her in her law career. Here is an article from Robert Ambrogi today in which he reflects on hackathons: “Whatever the actual applications it bred, the Global Legal Hackathon created a kind of legal technology good karma, and that karma is likely to fuel even further cooperation and innovation in law on a global scale.”

On Hackathons And Karma

Philipa Jane Farley: Yvonne Nath Thank you for the mention. Currently I’m working in the privacy law space and change within organisations (not just surface level compliance) and before that more in the compliance space where contract review was a large part of the job. My work invariably lands up in a space where I am an interpretor between board level or ‘the bosses’ and the IT department or between legal and IT.  IT may need to say that they cannot do something but they can’t say it in a way that is understood and then again, they sometimes need to understand that something has to be done whether they are fully prepared for it or not so at that stage I can step in and help them adjust the way that they need to approach an issue.  To explain, I don’t just have a coding background but it grew into IT management, too.  Now, in the privacy law space when working with systems within organisations I have an intuitive (and well grounded) understanding of how things work so it cuts down audit times drastically and makes reporting richer.  I also have a better understanding of how an organisation would be connected up in terms of external systems so when doing 3rd party discoveries, we manage in an audit to get it all out in the open.

Philipa Jane Farley: Yvonne Nath On the other side, coding is problem solving and simplyifying, making things better and teamwork all rolled into one.  Bringing those values into the law space allows for a fresh approach and creativity in thinking.  Privacy by design is a great little crossover niche for people who have law and coding.

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Ann-Maree David: Great post Brian and thanks for sharing comments by Jordan Furlong as well.  It takes a long time and a lot of effort to become a great lawyer.  Better we hone our collaboration skills early on so we can work with the experts in so many other areas including coding and design and let everyone achieve their full potential.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Ann-Maree David. A good way of expressing it.

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Cameron Hodgson: Interesting point. There seems to be increasing opportunities for learning anyway, eg on futurelearn.com; at least for some of the background to it. Best wishes

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John O’Gorman: Should lawyers code? That’s what they do now, isn’t it? They just don’t do it for computers… they take a perfectly straight forward piece of content and transmogrify it into gobbledegook! 😀

I’m just not sure if that’s a transferable skill.

Bruce Laidlaw: To be serious: a well written contract or escrow agreement is very similar to coding.  It is structured, references common sections where appropriate, etc.  A badly written   contract is just like bad code: repetitious, jumbled, hard to follow and even harder to change in one place without breaking it in another.

Thomas Lukasik: Bruce.. given your analogy, it would be great if they just had some good debugging tools 😉

Bruce Laidlaw: Thomas Lukasik, I don’t see any reason why they couldn’t have an analysis tool that would show references and links.  In data management there used to be a tool that would read contracts, extracting the ‘will’, ‘shall’ and ‘must’ phrases for example.

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Tara Taubman-Bassirian: You should be at the Global Hackatin

Brian Inkster: I could have been as I was in London all weekend! However, I had other fish to fry. I saw from Twitter that you Tara were there and thanks for keeping me up to date in tweets with what was happening on the ground as it happened.

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Adam Manning: Always delighted to see a photo of a proper computer 🙂

Brian Inkster: They don’t make them like that anymore Adam Manning 🙂

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Dominic Jaar: Lawyers, as most other professionals, should code. Coding is the literacy of the 21st century.

Decades ago, lawyers could read and write, while the majority could not… Now, the majority can leverage technology while most lawyers can’t.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Dominic Jaar. Reading and writing always was and remains an important part of being a lawyer. However, I find it difficult to see how coding now might be as important.

We all use technology every day without knowing or needing to know how it was coded. We are not about to re-engineer our smart phones, our PCs, laptops, tablets or the software that runs on them. Others make them to make our lives easier – we just need to know how to use them.

The same, as far as I can see it, is true of legal technology. Leveraging that has nothing to do with being able to code but is all about embracing and using.

Gordon Leigh: The first industrial revolution was about mechanisation. The business owners at that time didn’t need to become mechanical engineers to use this new technology. They just needed an understanding and an imagination to see how it could apply to their business.

I met a lawyer a while ago who told me “if you’re smart then you’re a doctor or a lawyer, so if anyone is going to build something it should be us.” Useful progress is made by collaboration and integration of different disciplines – not from self-idolisation.

Of course, I’m passionate about programming, and I think everyone (who is interested) should have a go. As Philipa Jane Farley has already said, it gives great transferable skills in engineering thinking and creativity – however playing around is not the same as building industry-ready software, and it would be a mistake to assume that people can successfully adopt a second profession simultaneously.

Dominic Jaar: Hi Brian Inkster,

Thanks for your reply.

My vision is that providing legal advices, drafting pleas and contracts, etc. is the historical way of providing legal services. Moving forward, as many have already recognized, such services will be delivered through physical and logical assets that ensure compliance by design.

If my prediction is accurate, given lawyers’ legal and ethical obligations, I’m suggesting they should be able to develop, or at least QC and audit, these assets to properly discharge of these obligations. In any case, I would not be comfortable as a mere end user relying on a third party black box.

Cheers!
Dj)

Dominic Jasr: Hi Gordon Leigh,

Without repeating my comment to Brian Inkster, I would suggest that your answer, while appealing prima facie, is based on a premise that I do not support : programming is complex. Perhaps at some point it was true and in some areas it still is, but overall these pockets of complexities seem to be shrinking as programming is being simplified by the day. In fact, many programmers now rely on public libraries and are master copy-pasters. Furthermore, somehow supporting my theory that coding is the 21st century literacy, many schools now teach kids to code and will see them joining the work force with capabilities that will be stronger than that of digital immigrants who have learned later in their life.

That being said, I certainly understand that it may be scary to current programmers to see new entrants in their market.

Gordon Leigh: Thanks for replying Dominic Jaar.  IT in general, and software development in particular, is an industry which seems to suffer disproportionately from the Dunning-Kruger effect.  Although a lawyer can piece together a contract by copying and pasting clauses from online resources, I would assume that at some point the lawyer must have an actual understanding of what they are doing, not least because I don’t want to pay £200 per hour for someone whose skills amount to reading and writing.

A lot of the projects I have worked on have been to try to tidy up the mess created by people who think that programming is easy.  You might have something that starts off looking like it works, but try maintaining a million lines of code a few years down the line when it was written by someone who didn’t understand how to write maintainable code.  Although crap developers have created the impression that it is normal for applications to be flaky and throw up errors all the time, it causes significant harm to the businesses which are trying to rely on this software.

If you’ve got 5 mins, take a look at this interesting post about “the Expert Beginner”: https://www.daedtech.com/how-developers-stop-learning-rise-of-the-expert-beginner/

Dominic Jar: Thanks for the good laugh Gordon and the interesting post on the expert beginner!

I agree that we need to improve code quality, and would dare to suggest that, perhaps, lawyer (who are trained at over documenting and reviewing) coders could play a role to pursue this noble objective. In fact, if you look at different laws, you will see that their structure and documentation is akin to some code. Interestingly enough, some of these laws are embbeded in what is referred to as Codes…

Brian Inkster: Thanks Dominic Jaar and Gordon Leigh for your insights. Having weighed them up I’m with Gordon on this one. I’ll stick to legal codes and let the software coders do what they are expert in.

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Allen Woods: Noooooooooo…..  Burn the heretic.. Make them learn 8086 assembler first…

Brian Inkster: Allen Woods You must be older than Philip Hannay thinks I am!

Allen Woods: Ooh chasing 63 from the wrong side….  But  seriously, There is a lot of stuff that is said in  respect of the impact of GDPR that I find is astounding in terms of the level of technical ignorance it displays.  It means that people really don’t understand what us geeks  get up to.. And that is increasingly and untenable position.  And I would  suggest that learning to code is one of those things that an awful lot of lawyers would do  well to learn about..  And it does not have to be that expensive to do either…  Learning to write the odd word macro for example would be fine (and by that I do not mean using the recorder..  Because then people might just begin to get what a game changer the GDPR is….

Brian Inkster: I have difficulties with word macros but I have someone in the office who is a whiz with them 🙂

Allen Woods: Hee…  Over the past 10 years I have had tto read and understand several US Acts of Congree,, four Acts of Parliament and the GDPR….  Revenge is sweet…..

Philipa Jane Farley: Allen Woods As long as you never have to wade through the UK’s IP law (in particular the Copyright Act….) There would be cause for payback if that was the case.

Allen Woods: Well now…  That too is something I have had to dabble in and I have an atomised searchable copy of that in my library of atomised documents….  Soooo, get coding….    you too can do that…

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Gordon Leigh: I agree with this. It takes a long time to become a competent programmer. Getting started is deceptively simple. Writing useful software is more advanced than “hello world”.  Lawyers should learn about technology and how their business could evolve with this technology, but then entrust implementation to people who have spent years honing their skills. I can write something that looks like a contract, but no lawyer would advise me to do that. Why is this any different?

Ann-Maree David: Great post Gordon.  The real skills we should all be honing are collaboration and communication so we can work in multidisciplinary teams.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Gordon Leigh. Well expressed. If it does take 10,000 hours to really master a skill as Malcolm Gladwell suggested in ‘Outliers’ you would be better mastering the one skill you are really going to need in your area of work. For a lawyer that will be the law (or more likely specific legal niches in the area that they practice in) : for a programmer that will be coding.

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Isabelle Lajeunesse: I am personally between the two philosophies. I think today’s lawyers need to understand technology better. We can not represent our clients without a clear understanding of what they are doing. However, I’m not sure that all lawyers need to code unless you have real talent. To make an analogy with the medical world, my friend can read and know all the details of a surgery but if I need an operation, I want a real surgeon, not someone who reads on the subject or who practice medicine from time to time.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Isabelle Lajeunesse. And to continue that analogy you might not want the heart monitor you are attached to during the surgery to be a new one that your surgeon has decided to build because he can make a better one than the existing tried and tested expert systems.

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Philipa Jane Farley: I was a coder in a life before law school. It is invaluable to me now.

Brian Inkster: Thanks Philipa Jane Farley. I would be interested to hear more about how coding has been invaluable to you as a lawyer. Can you eleborate? Whilst you came from a coding background before doing law do you think that all lawyers should or need to also be coders?

Philipa Jane Farley: Hi Brian Inkster thank you for the mention.  I elaborated more above with Yvonne Nath. I don’t necessarily think that all lawyers should or need to also be coders as for some it doesn’t fit well.  If you consider the values you can bring into the law space (creative collaboration whilst sticking to a set of acceptable standards, problem solving whilst simplyfing), then I see a better fit for what coding brings to law.  With regards to having a more technical insight, it would help to have a basic understanding of systems but to acknowledge the fact that hiring in an expert who can translate would be best (as you mention in your article).  I do love the correlation in the tweet you embedded. However, my father was a farmer who could build tractors so 🙂

Brian Inkster: Thanks Philipa Jane Farley for elaborating and clarifying your thoughts. There will always be niches that a coding lawyer like you will beneficially find themselves in. Just like a Chinese speaking English lawyer might find such a niche. Glad you agree that all lawyers do not need to be coders just like all lawyers don’t need to speak Chinese. You clearly take after your father! I knew a farmer who built planes and fish gutting machines. Also a baker who improvised with baking machines to make them better. These are special and unique people who liked to get their own hands dirty implementing their ideas. A lawyer can have ideas of how to improve things using tech but can always hire in the people whose hands will get dirty implementing it.

Philipa Jane Farley: Absolutely agree with that Brian Inkster

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In response to an article by The Lawyer entitled ‘Coding – a skill all lawyers should have?‘, highlighted on LinkedIn on 3 August 2018 by Alex G Smith, I reposted on LinkedIn this blog post with the result of further interactions:-

Nir Golan: Wrote about this a couple of months ago also.. I tend to agree with Brian Inkster and Alex G Smith on this. I don’t think the future of lawyers is coding. They will need to be tech savvy and doing some coding for curiosity could be good for opening their minds and developing creativity skills but lawyers should leave coding to those that specialize in coding and focus on being open minded, collaborative, empathetic lawyers whom understand their clients and  work closely with professionals from other disciplines (including coders) to create creative pragmatic solutions for their clients. Important to stay focused.

Jon Busby: I don’t see any mileage for the legal profession to generically learn to code. I wouldn’t take the time to go to law school if I wanted to know the legal implications of something. I’d go and ask (and pay) a lawyer to do that because that is what they do.

My other add is, do they actually need to be tech savvy? Maybe they just use stuff because it is easy to use and don’t use stuff because it’s a bit shit.
If that is pen and paper or a device so be it, what works for the individual user is key. I couldn’t live without post-it notes on my desk, (technically I could, it would be a bit sad if I couldn’t). Not exactly tech savvy. Or maybe they use stuff like an iPhone because the savvy bit has all been removed by good design.

Most stuff usually fails because it is crap design and most crap design is made by people who think they have the solution, obsess about it but fail to understand the granularity (often hidden) of the problem. Time and time again I see vendors try to map the client onto their solution rather than the other way round.

Alex G Smith: Been a while since the last Jon Busby bomb but that’s special … ‘solutions looking for problems’, too much of that in legaltech

Jon Busby: It’s dress down Friday Alex G Smith 😉 I remember this debate a few months back and I laughed then like I did when there was whole debate about which blinking hashtag to use for legaltech. I mean talk about a slow news day. Mind you still not the best. One ‘innovation guru’ spoke the other day about an idea to donate a $ to charity every time you open Instagram. That would probably wipe out IG overnight.

Nir Golan: Jon Busby re the tech savvy part, well if they want to be able to use the systems and tech and data that Alex is designing for them the lawyers would be need to be tech savvy. Also in my experience, it also depends on who your clients are and what industries they are from. If their biz involves any tech, you would need to be knowledgeable about their industry and biz and be tech savvy in order to provide the services and solutions they need. I see tech knowledge as a must in the future of lawyers working with tech based systems and clients.

Brian Inkster: I think Jon Busby that as an Innovation Manager in Shoreditch Alex G Smith can dress down daily rather than wait for Friday 😉

I don’t think Nir Golan that tech savvy is essential as long as they are simply trained well in the use of the system at hand. Perhaps with that training the savviness will come. Do we need to be tech savvy to use Microsoft Word, to use an iPhone or to operate a remote control for our TV? Sometimes the tech can be intuitive and need little training. Other times (and true of a lot of legal tech) training will be required. That training will vary from system to system and it annoys me when I hear about needing to start the legal tech training at law school. What system are they going to be trained on and to do what? Given that law school is far removed from the workings of a law firm I find it difficult to imagine how any real meaningful legal tech training could be given at that stage.

Alex G Smith: Brian Inkster today’s retro hipster t-shirt. I expect that the t-shirts we wear will soon be parts of press releases into the press

Nir Golan: Brian Inkster agree with you re the “legaltech” studies at law school. Don’t see the need for that at this point. Not sure what they teach there. .. Focus should be on other skills.

Nir Golan: Alex G Smith you should come to Israel. You’d feel right at home. Startup nation after all..:)

Brian Inkster: The Law Society of Scotland  appear to believe that it is a good idea to run coding courses. I sincerely hope law firm’s are not sending their solicitors on these. https://www.lawscot.org.uk/news-and-events/events/?cat=23564

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Joanna Goodman: Surely not all lawyers! Great if it helps some techie lawyers engage better with their technology clients and understand their products. And great if it means they can help build better tech/online resources for their firm and its stakeholders. But surely requiring ‘all’ lawyers to code would be moving away from the core purpose of a law firm. What’s the point of good lawyers who are not wired that way learning a technical skill they won’t use?

However, if a law firm wants to built its own technology, and that is a very big ‘if’, they need skilled coders to work with tech-savvy lawyers who understand what can and cannot be achieved – and product managers. It’s back to the Susskind argument about lawyers thinking that they can learn everyone else’s job as a sideline.

Brian Inkster: A big ‘if’ indeed Joanna Goodman. My view is that law firms shouldn’t be building their own legal tech for reasons given here: http://thetimeblawg.com/2014/06/07/did-the-cost-of-legal-it-kill-clearspire/

Alex G Smith: That’s exactly what Dave and I say … technology isn’t just the code, it’s the product, the user experience, the data model, governance, etc etc. Starting to see the agile thing poke through into daily interactions which pushes the cross functional approach … it’s all going in the right direction at last.

Joanna Goodman: Yes! technology isn’t the code, it’s the product! At last, from someone in a law firm!

Alex G Smith: Joanna Goodman from the weird product manager hanging out in a law firm! Spent the day writing product propositions that involve all the Lego blocks like people, process, value, technology, data.

Nir Golan: Alex G Smith if there is something that I think lawyers should take from products it’s not the coding part it’s the ability to first spend time listening to the client understanding the problem and finding the right human-centered solution. Emphasis on human. A solution that would serve/create value for the client and its biz not the lawyer. The PM mindset and applying this approach to legal. The coding part is marginal and irrelevant in my opinion.

Cindy Morgan-Olson (Head of Global Public Relations & Analyst Relations at NICE Actimize): Lawyers have enough to focus on and stay on top off..and technology is moving way too fast for them to manage.

Joanna Goodman: exactly!

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Adrian Camara (CEO at Athennian): People that start with coding to build a product don’t know how to build a product.

Alex G Smith: Welcome to the start-up world.

Joanna Goodman: Have you ever worked in a start-up, Alex? genuinely interested as I have only known you at Lexis and Reed Smith

Alex G Smith: Joanna Goodman I’m spending a fair bit of time coaching product management at present with several curious and open start ups.

Joanna Goodman: Cool, but that isn’t skin in the game, Alex G Smith  – they can be curious and open, but if the business isn’t viable, they will still go under when the incubation period/funding runs out.

Alex G Smith: Joanna Goodman that’s fine. If I was doing a start up I wouldn’t do it in legal. There are lots of questions around the model, I find it very bizarre esp around the incubation funding. It’s taken me a long time to get my head round it. The best start ups hire in product people asap which was the original point on the string. Many are getting in sales and marketing ahead of product. We’re in the middle of the storm now, we’ll should all sit down and decompress say this time next year on how to do it better in the next cycle.

Brian Inkster: Most surely do go under Joanna Goodman?

Joanna Goodman: I’m not sure I would choose legal either – I would certainly not choose contract automation or analysis as the marketplace is very crowded and I believe this will become ‘business as usual’. IMO, the best start-ups have an original idea + good management. There are some legal start-ups that are interesting, but are held back by their management – i.e. leadership that is better at presenting at conferences than strategic thinking

Brian Inkster: Many start ups don’t appear to realise that document automation has been around for 20+ years. This no doubt goes for other existing legal tech also. They are not going to be able to teach their grannies to suck eggs.

Tom Glod (Founder and CEO at MakeShyft R.D.A): I think sometimes that can be the right move….but since 99% of founders don’t have such unique ideas that its hard to do it wrong ….. startups have to build the business surrounding the product at least simultaneously.  But also its easier to get others on board if you have something to show them ….. if u have only an idea and nothing tangible….. its so much harder to influence others to join. just my 2 cents…i don’t disagree or agree per se.

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Graham Digby  (Senior Product Development Lead at LexisNexis):

Code? No.
Standardise? Yes.

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Jeremy Hopkins: Er, no.

Alex G Smith: Yep. So no plans at BM for a learn to code course … I know an agency with a cookie cutter programme that will cost you the earth!  (edited)

Jeremy Hopkins: Actually, I haven’t checked. Either way, what nonsense.

Alex G Smith: I know … the funniest thing is CodeAcademy has been free for years and is fun so JFDI if you have any interest… one “consultant” I heard put something together on something already free and easy to do! https://www.codecademy.com

Jeremy Hopkins: Ah thanks. My kids will be interested, if they’ve not done it already…

Alex G Smith: they’ll be all over Scratch at school … https://scratch.mit.edu/projects/237703434/

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Jonathan Maskew: Alex, to code must be the way 👍👍

Alex G Smith: 20 year career in tech, can’t code. I’ve done some code academy and I can read xml … but tech is more than code … it’s just problem solving and logic!

Brian Inkster: Jonathan Maskew Did the Barristers at Clerksroom code Billy Bot? 😉

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Ben Wightwick: I don’t know how to code and I am responsible for building products lawyers and law firms use……. I can however talk ‘tech’ and know how to speak in the right terms to the right audience.

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Nilema Bhakta-Jones: (Chief Executive Officer at Alacrity Law): There are numerous products in the legal sector built with little or no client involvement. So many products don’t need lawyers to know how to code but they do require the simple skill of actually listening to the problem. Of the 50+ GCs and in–house teams we have spoken with this summer so many indicated they had no engagement in the design of a product, were not asked to be involved in user testing and subsequently asked to use the product they did not ask for and which fails to resolve fundamental problems. No wonder there are so many ‘zombie’ and redundant tech products sitting on the balance sheet of firms and companies being written off by FDs.

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Dr William Higgs (Legal Practitioner (Barrister-at-Law) | Forensic Engineer PhD | Structured Finance consultant | University Lecturer): Its a no brainer. YES. If only to understand Smart Cx and for credibility.

Brian Inkster: Credibility in whose eyes?

Dr William Higgs: Credibility of the actual ‘real’ software engineers who will develop the software to drive advances in this area. I think we are fooling ourselves if we think, even for one moment, that lawyers will actually code software products that will be ultimately used in practice. For instance, would we let a lawyer near the flight control software of an Airbus or a medical device? I have coded flight control systems as part of my undergraduate training as an aerospace engineer and its difficult, even for those who are 10-15 year programmers (read: proper computer science trained grads with industry experience under their belt).

Dr William Higgs: Now, as a barrister, I am baffled by talk around town, mostly non-technically trained lawyers and ex-lawyers, touting propositions about lawyers coding products. Please, enough with the hype, lets leave that task to those who actually know what they are doing – if only as a liability mitigant for lawyers and law firms alike. I am staggered by the number of law firms in Sydney who are all fooled by artificial intelligence and seem to think that they need to invest millions in training lawyers to code or even develop software to doing something radically new. This is better left to Universities and is free. Its a distraction. I once overheard a partner of one of the big firms say that lawyers should be fee earners, not fee burners; that about sums up the sentiment.

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Gordon Cassie (CTO at Closing Folders): It would beneficial for all kinds professionals to have some basic experience coding, just like most professionals have basic experience with algebra, physics, chemistry, etc. from mandatory school curricula. Lawyers should have enough basic understanding of programming to understand high level discussions about how computer systems work (e.g. not “the internet is a series of tubes”) and identify circumstances where computers can provide an immense amount of value (e.g. not manually drafting hundreds of nearly identical documents).

Brian Inkster: I think that immense amount of value can be identified without any knowledge of coding. Just show a lawyer the output of a well set up and functioning case management system and it will quickly become apparent to them.

Irfaan Premji (Technologist): So, wait. Tubes or no tubes?

Brian Inkster: I think the tubes part can be covered without being a coder too. High level discussions about how computer systems work are not essential. The important thing for the lawyer at the end of the day is that they have a tool that helps them do the work they need to do for their client and they know how to use it. How it was created is irrelevant if they are trained how to use it properly. Use doesn’t involve coding knowledge.

Gordon Cassie: A better example is encryption.  The average discussion around encryption is woefully uninformed about what it is and how it actually works.  If everyone learned in school how to work with basic encryption primitives the discourse around regulation of encryption would be so much more sophisticated.  Perhaps more importantly, lawyers might use encryption in more comprehensive ways to protect their clients’ private communications.

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Alex Heshmaty: The idea that lawyers should learn to code seems to be part of the hype and noise around legal tech, similar to the constant talk of AI transforming legal process. We may get lawyer-coder hybrids, but increased generalisation usually reduces specialisation, so I doubt this will catch on, unless the theory is that everyone will need to learn to code at school, just as they need to learn how to read and write in non-tech code…

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Eddie McAvinchey (Lawyer • Financier • Risk Manager • Strategic Enabler): There just isn’t a need for lawyers to have coding skills.  By all means, if they wish to change career and become an IT professional then yes it will be pretty important. But it is not all that different an argument than saying that someone who wants to work in the car industry doesn’t need to be able to build a car.
More important are:
– understanding the issues that clients are facing in their legal budgets and the speed/efficiency that they need to see more of in the delivery of services (not coding related)
– understanding where the law firm operating processes can be streamlined through adopting technology or other process improvements/enhancements (not coding related)
– understanding the competitive landscape to know how to stay ahead of or in step with the competition (not coding related)
If the innovation team in a law firm is going to produce new technology and is staffed with lawyers then coding is very important there, but for a typical lawyer – the key is still legal knowledge, being as commercial as possible and having an understanding of the existing available technology.

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Mark Lassiter (Attorney/Arbitrator/Mediator/Resolutionary at The Lassiter Law Firm): Coding deals with LANGUAGE. When two people of different cultures meet and don’t speak the same language they need a TRANSLATOR- one who can speak both languages. Law is at the crossroads where two cultures now intersect: the traditional, “guild” practice of law, and the emergent automated legal services delivery systems wrought by IT. If the two are to “blend” or form a new synthesis to bring Value to society, then we must have translators with “one foot in each” such culture. Not everyone is (nor should they be) a translator, but we must have some. Further, the future practice of law will need fewer ASSOCIATE ATTORNEYS, but more ALGORITHMS – better yet, both. LegalZoom just got $500,000,000 in new funding. I imagine if it could find a 1,000 competent computer programmers with law degrees it would love to hire them. Even if lawyers don’t become coders, they must still appreciate the IF, THEN, ELSE way that coders think so they can grasp the kind of “design thinking” required to communicate client needs to the programmers. A course in coding in law school would have been more helpful to me than most of the law school courses I took…

Alex G Smith: Technology is just principles and even at present these principles are changing with the large scale move to agile and service design (user centric design –> design thinking –> service design –> systems design). Remember in most industry there is also a large divide between the business people/management and IT/technology/’coders’ – my entire career and that of good product managers. Maybe the issue is/was that lawyers see themselves serving the business people (with the cheque book, the coders usually don’t have the cheque book) and not having to interact with the coders. the good news is that business structures are changing and therefore the good lawyers will be the ones that realises this and become more translators and the ones that get that agile is cross functional skills based. This is way more important a change than code class to their function function. as i said you can do code academy for free on the internet, c 10 hours a course.

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Martyn Wells (IT Director): There is too much bad code already in Legal IT with most firms still trading on legacy PMS platforms created using pre social media technology. Why teach a grown up to be a toddler again?
We need some proper, contemporary and fit for purpose products in the legal IT space first! I think this is a decade relevant question, and 2030 the time to action it.
Right now, I’d rather not see utilisation rates get smashed whilst Senior Associates are googling Code Project to solve a tricky binding dilemma in their shiny UI tool.
How long before it goes the other way, and coders are more qualified than lawyers to give clients advice?
I wouldn’t hire a greengrocer to fix my boiler, would you?

Joanna Goodman: yes, exactly

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Paul Ryan (Director at Focis): I think answer on this may be to move devs one step further back to coding tools that allow lawyers to implement process and automation  and remove a layer of analysts. Similar to providing a data model for non tech business users to derive what they need providing workflow and document compilation tools that those closest to process can continually evolve would be huge step forward. Ironically it was the dream of many case management tools around late 90s. Any interested solicitor or paralegal could create a working solution after a weeks training (and some time set aside afterwards). Then the tools got more complicated again.

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Matt Fiske-Jackson (Business Development Manager at Practice Evolve): There has always been a close correlation between Law and IT, some universities even offer a dual Law and IT degree and in 20 years in the sector, I’ve lost count of the number of experienced lawyers who have transitioned into the IT sector very successfully allying knowledge of what law firms actually do, with the technical expertise to implement systems to support and enhance this work.
Today we would call that the perfect business analyst and while high value fee earning lawyers within firms should not be burning the midnight oil coding systems, it is without any doubt of value that they have a close understanding of what their chosen technology can bring to the firm and assist with leveraging this to their best advantage and return on IT investment.
Certainly throughout the implementation phase of a new technology it is critical that this investment from both legal and IT resource is harnessed to ensure that real and tangible gains are made from the change in technology.
When fee earners see Practice Evolve for example, the excitement at the possibilities for improvement and the ease of achieving it, is obvious and carrying that enthusiasm and involvement through into Projects is essential.

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Lahcene Guerrouj (Manager, Content Marketing Strategy EMEA at Salesforce): Coding imply maintenance, support and update + deep expertise.  Naaaah, too much of an effort unless coding is your true love.
There are many solutions out there that are customizable, well maintained which get all the update needed included in the package. I’d go with the one that offer the biggest potential for growth, the one that if my plan work would not require a painful migration.

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Clare Brown (Topic Specialist (Law) at Vable): When a lawyer can do a nice Boolean search, I’ll recommend a coding MOOC 🙂

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Nilema Bhakta-Jones (Chief Executive Officer at Alacrity Law, Lawyer, Mom, Mentor, Speaker, Philanthropist and Panellist): There are numerous products in the legal sector built with little or no client involvement. So many products don’t need lawyers to know how to code but they do require the simple skill of actually listening to the problem. Of the 50+ GCs and in–house teams we have spoken with this summer so many indicated they had no engagement in the design of a product, were not asked to be involved in user testing and subsequently asked to use the product they did not ask for and which fails to resolve fundamental problems. No wonder there are so many ‘zombie’ and redundant tech products sitting on the balance sheet of firms and companies being written off by FDs.

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Paul Ward (Chief Innovator at Innovation Playbook and Growth Marketer): lawyers should DEF. code because they are so good at DIY when it comes to business management, marketing, HR and marketing.  They should also do brain surgery and be astronauts.