Law Society launches Lawscot Tech but what is it?

By | October 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The responses were that:-

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

and

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

and

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

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

Law Society of Scotland to launch legal technology incubator

to

Law Society set to drive innovation in legal technology

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reactions on Social Media

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

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

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

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

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

Alex G Smith:

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

Brian Inkster:

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

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

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

Paul Ryan (Director at Focis):

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

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

Brian Inkster:

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

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

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

Tony Petersen re our chats

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Paul Ryan (Director at Focis):

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

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

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

Brian Inkster:

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

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

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

Paul Ryan (Director at Focis):

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

Brian Inkster:

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

Paul Ryan:

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

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

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

Brian Inkster:

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

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

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

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

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

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