Reinvent Law London 2013 Reviewed: DO – don’t just talk

Reinvent Law London 2013 Reviewed

I attended Reinvent Law in London on Friday. It had the same organisers (Daniel Katz and Renee Knake of Michigan State University College of Law in partnership with the University of Westminster) and style as LawTech Camp London 2012. Basically the same concept but with a new name.

I enjoyed LawTech Camp London last year so was looking forward to it. On the whole it delivered again this year although I did hear noises from some who thought last year’s event was better. Perhaps it was more novel to us last year and so was more compelling first time around? What I particularly like about Reinvent Law London is the North American dimension. Many of the presenters were from the other side of the pond bringing some fresh ideas to this side of it. They probably think the same but the other way around.

There was a packed schedule with 24 speakers to get through. Many of these were in the short (6 minutes long) ‘ignite’ format. I am not going to attempt to review all 24 talks. What I will do is mention a few that caught my attention in one way or another. This does not mean those are any better or worse than ones I do not mention – simply they were more my thing.

Craig Holt, Chief Executive of QualitySolicitors, was first up. I had tweeted before the Conference that I was a bit surprised to see QualitySolicitors on the Bill. Were they not old news by now? Renee Knake when introducing Craig did confess that she had been attempting to get him to speak at a conference for several years and he had eventually said yes.

QualitySolicitors may have been fresh and of interest to many of our North American friends in the audience but I suspect most from this side of the pond had already heard about QualitySolicitors ad nauseam. I am as much at fault for that with several blog posts on The Time Blawg about QualitySolicitors and another coming your way soon.

However, not to be too unfair to Craig Holt he still made some interesting points in his talk – although the solution to most is in the hands of law firm owners willing to effect change and it does not follow that this means being part of a branded umbrella organisation.

Craig discussed services sold by law firms as often being a mystery box. You don’t really know what you are getting or how much it is going to cost you. Craig used the analogy of lawyers being like taxi drivers with the meter running (I have a blog post on that lined up for The Time Blawg).

QualitySolicitors have a Research & Development Department that calls other solicitors to assess the service being provided by them. Craig played us a recording of one such call where the solicitor couldn’t tell the caller what a divorce would cost. This same theme came up in later talks as a reason why people don’t like to engage a solicitor.

The problem is with the law firms and not with the lawyers Craig told us. As law firms (pre ABS) are owned by lawyers might there not be some fault at lawyer level I wonder? Craig thinks that law firms need to be reinvented so that lawyers can be adored. He showed us a slide of the word lawyer changing to adored one letter at a time:-

Lawyer > Sawyer >Sawder > Sadder > Ladder > Lander > Gander > Gender > Render > Reader > Header > Headed > Healed > Sealed > Scaled > Scared > Scares > Scores > Scorns > Acorns > Adorns > Adores > Adored

One step at a time was a theme that ran through several talks including Craig’s one. It is not necessarily about the next big thing but taking small steps that together build into something greater than the parts. Jon Busby has blogged about Improving. I also believe that many law firms could do well to improve on where they are currently at, a little step at a time, rather than attempting to completely reinvent themselves overnight.

Speaking of Jon Busby, he was quoted by Craig:-

If I had to pick just one central theme for the future of legal services delivery it would be this; Lawyers will delegate more routine process to the customer (free) leaving them to focus on the high value intellectual stuff (paid for). That delegating will be enabled by technology and driven by you and me.

That, said Craig, is what QualitySolicitors are doing by way of their tie up with Legal Zoom. The sceptic in me wonders if this will be as fruitful as their tie up with WH Smith (no mention of that one at Reinvent Law!).

However, to be fair again to QualitySolicitors, at least they are experimenting and whilst some of those experiments will fail others will, in all probability, work out for them. Legal Zoom, with proper execution, has more to offer their members than WH Smith ever did. It may not be the case though that each of their ventures is right for each of their member firms. That is, no doubt, a difficult balancing act for the umbrella organisation to play as it decides what its next step will be.

Reinvent Law London 2013 - J Kubicki - Do

The very clear thrust of Joshua Kubicki’s afternoon talk was “Reinvention is Doing Not Talking” and at least QualitySolicitors are doers as well as talkers. The need to do is the punchline in my recent reviews on both Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century and Tomorrow’s Lawyers.

Moving onto the ignite sessions, it was the one by Lah Leutrim Ahmeti that kept me (and I think most of the audience) entranced. His presentation was about the ‘UrLaw app’ which would be an app that allows you to access consumer contract terms, engage a solicitor and settle disputes all from your mobile phone.

Reinvent Law London 2013 - Robotic Dance and Mime

What was impressive about this presentation was the fact that the presenter never opened his mouth once. Instead he did a robotic dance and mime to accompany his slides.  If this was the law industry equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent he would have earned a wink from Simon Cowell. I trust a video of it will be posted soon.

Mark Smith also provided a very engaging presentation. He told us the story of Amy Li from her birth to becoming General Counsel at IBM. It held our attention and the punch line was that she achieved this success without any formative training in the law.

Martin Langan guided us through how his online service, Road Traffic Representation, works. It has a free diagnostic tool which, once you have answered relevant questions, provides advice on possible outcomes and penalties if convicted. It also allows you to access telephone advice and instruct a barrister if required.

Barristers are impressed by the level of detail in the instructions they receive via the system – often better than being instructed at the last minute by a solicitor with a “here is the file, get on with it”.

We weren’t naval gazing with Martin. We were seeing the law reinvented today. Martin hinted that he would be moving the system into other areas of legal practice.

Alice de Sturler (aka Nic H. Vidocq or Vidster or @Vidocq_CC) gave a talk on “Using Blogs to Give Cold Cases a Web Presence”.  Some of the audience may have been surprised to learn that Vidster is a women. Until now Alice has blogged at Defrosting Cold Cases anonymously and the persona adopted by her appeared, on the face of it, to be male.

What I enjoyed about Alice’s talk was that this showed what can and is being done using the world wide web and social media on a practical level. Lawyers can learn much from others that are more advanced in their use of available technology. More practical examples of this ilk wouldn’t go amiss at future Reinvent Law conferences.

Reinvent Law London 2013 - Richard Susskind - AI & Law

The title of Richard Susskind’s talk, which rounded off the day, was “The Past, Present and Future of AI + Law”. Very much in keeping with the theme of this Blawg so pleased to be able to journey back and forth in time with Richard in his Tardis. We heard about Richard being involved in the development in 1988 (when I was still a law student) of a computerised diagnostic tool: Latent Damage Law – The Expert System. Richard had expected 25 years later for there to be many more systems like this. There are some (we heard about Road Traffic Representation earlier) but not that many. Richard thinks the reason it didn’t happen was because of hourly billing. There was no need in law firms for efficiency. As we know that is now changing. Richard discussed the 4 stages of acceptance of technology:-

  1. Nonsense
  2. Silly
  3. Interesting
  4. I knew it all along

Many law firms are still nowhere near stage 4.

Refreshments

Last year in my review of LawTech Camp London 2012 I mentioned the lack of nourishment of the edible kind. Thankfully with a little help from LexisNexis we had this year not only pastries at our tea breaks but also wine, beer, spirits and canapés at the after conference reception. Well done. Also the sponsorship element did not colour the ethos of the conference in any way. The LexisNexis slot was an informative and interesting talk much like all the others and in no way felt like an advert break.

For those in need of even more refrehments there was a Twegal Tweetup organised by Shireen Smith at a nearby pub after the Reinvent Law reception.

Twegal Tweetup - London 14 June 2013 (last men sitting)

Last Twegals sitting (Left to Right): Zeribe Nwachuku, Daniela Valdez, Stefano Debolini, Brian Inkster and Amit Sharma (Photo by: Jonathan Lea)

The next Reinvent Law

Reinvent Law is going to New York in November 2013. New York criminal defence attorney, Scott Greenfield, reckons Reinvent Law requires “balance instead of just cheerleaders“.

Scott is not going to pitch a talk and wait for votes. He has, however, made an offer to talk if invited but thinks there will be no takers. I do hope Renee and Daniel make that call. It would add a very interesting dimension to Reinvent Law New York. I would book a flight for it.

[Photo credits: Main photo (header): Daniel Katz – Reinvent Law; Do: Lexis Nexis UK; UrApp: Computational Legal Studies; AI and Law: Computational Legal Studies; Twegal Tweetup: Jonathan Lea]

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