Is the mist starting to clear around Lawscot Tech?

By | December 19, 2018

Is the mist starting to clear around Lawscot TechI’ve already written a couple of posts about LawScot Tech:-

You will note therefrom a certain degree of scepticism.

However, happy to learn more and be convinced of the possible merits of this initiative, I went along to their meeting in Edinburgh last week.

This was the last of four meetings organised by the Law Society of Scotland “to get the ball rolling” (the first three being held in Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow respectively).

The Edinburgh event had speaking:-

  • The Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Keen of Elie, speaking in his capacity as member of the LawTech Delivery Panel (an initiative sponsored by the Ministry of Justice and the Law Society of England & Wales).
  • John McKinlay, Head of DLA Piper’s UK Intellectual Property and Technology practice and convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Technology and Law Committee.
  • Helena Brown, Head of Data at Addleshaw Goddard and vice-convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Technology and Law Committee.
  • Paul Mosson, Executive Director, Member Services and Engagement, Law Society of Scotland.

Lord Keen started speaking about AI and blockchain. I rolled my eyes. He told us about smart contracts in cargo transport being developed: smart containers monitor goods during transport.

Lord Keen told us that digitalisation of legal process is happening in Singapore faster than most places. Car accident claims there are all done digitally.

He told us that in England digital portals have already been developed for small claims and other areas. We will see more of it.

IBM apparently have an audit check for AI systems to identify if there is bias in these systems. Legitimacy must be tested. I pondered whether what we really need is a check for whether a system is really AI or whether it’s owners/promoters are just AI washing!

We then had John McKinlay and Helena Brown tell us what Lawscot Tech was all about.

Apparently the legal profession want to get involved in Legal Tech. I don’t think that is anything new. The ability to do so has always been there if you put your mind to it. I’ve been doing so for well over 20 years. I appreciate, however, that many lawyers will need some help on that front and an initiative like Lawscot Tech could play a part here.

There was recognition that we already have Legal Tech! Well nothing like stating the obvious. We had Legal Tech when I started my traineeship in 1991 and it was certainly around before that. Maybe we do need to remind new lawyers and Law Society staff of this as sometimes it seems that we have just entered the age of Legal Tech enlightenment. I blogged about that earlier this year: Hack the Past: How the Legal Profession knew nothing about Technology.

We were told that AI systems need to be educated. This takes time. But apparently we are seeing good results in Scotland. Amiqus and SnapDragon being mentioned in the same breath. But are they really AI systems? I don’t think Amiqus profess to be an AI system whilst SnapDragon mention on their website being AI-enhanced. Both appear to me, but I may be wrong, to be essentially search systems.

What about the legal technology firms that are Scottish and been operating for 20+ years? They weren’t mentioned.

We were told that there were mental health benefits to the legal profession by being able to use Legal Tech by pushing advice out at times that suit clients. I wondered whether there was a counter argument that machines pushing out advice (especially of the type currently available from legal chatbots) would mean a need for human backup to step in at anytime to save the day when the chatbot can’t cope?

Lawscot Tech follows the model employed by FinTech Scotland.

Lord Keen then mentioned Parker: The GDPR chatbot from Norton Rose Fulbright. I imagine he has never used it. A very simplistic chatbot that asks a few questions to determine whether you need to comply with GDPR and when you inevitably do simply states “Would you like to speak to my team members about what you need to do?” Hardly cutting edge or very useful legal tech.

Lord Keen also said it would be good to see Lawscot Tech develop a legal incubator in Scotland. Paul Mosson clarified that there was no immediate plans for this, although that may come. It is more about collaboration at the moment.

Collaboration apparently to build better platforms to then compete. We were told that many platforms were very basic at the moment. This to me demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the platforms and capabilities actually currently available.

Alex G. Smith seeing my tweets on this point commented on Twitter:-

Good luck to Scottish collaboration platforms … Sharepoint and MS 365 might save you a lot of money and meet ups (and the impact of free pizza on personal health) if people just use what they already have.

What do we need these ‘platforms’ to do that they can’t do at the moment? Again the Why? needs to be asked as highlighted in previous posts on this topic.

Also on the general question of collaboration Alex G. Smith suggested:-

You should all just get a shared Slack or WhatsApp group.

To which I responded:-

Tried that many moons ago with a Yahoo group for the Law Society of Scotland Communications Group. No one used it to communicate and the group fizzled out!

It was suggested that if law doesn’t move into technology then technology will move into the law. Again this statement ignores the fact that legal technology is nothing new.

Then a University Professor in the audience gave the most interesting perspective on the issue of the morning and brought us all back down to earth.

He pointed out that he has seen AI in law through his whole career. That is a long time he told us pointing at his grey hair. Today we are only marginally better at what we were doing years ago. We must be careful not to repeat past mistakes. We can’t be driven by exciting new tools. 

Alex G. Smith commented on Twitter:-

Most of the exciting new tools are faster file saving tools and then search engines …

Information retrieval was used from 2000 to 5 years ago and was essentially AI. We don’t realise how much of established legal technology we are using.

An academic paper from 2014 says most AI systems are basically just spread sheets.

It was also pointed out by the Professor that new legal start ups are usually bought out by the legal publishers.

MarrsioFootball asked the question on Twitter:-

Big question(s): will publishers turn competitor? Have they already?

Alex G. Smith responded:-

The ‘publishers’ have already done much of what the start-ups are doing in their R&D teams for the last 10 years. They will either release this or acquire strategic assets (one of things, not multiple) to complete their strategies/follow lawyer buying trends.

Then Paul Mosson told us that Lawscot Tech don’t want to block legal innovation in Scotland with a prescriptive approach. He mentioned that the Law Society of Scotland has a commercial programme with legal technology companies (I assume he meant those that pay them to be ‘promoted’ as part of their member benefit scheme) but that Lawscot Tech is separate from that. This may have been an attempt to address the concerns over this expressed by me in my earlier posts about Lawscot Tech.

I previously blogged:-

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.

Clearly they are not going to scrap their member benefit scheme. It makes them money. It would appear that as long as certain legal tech providers pay them they can access the ‘member benefit scheme’ without necessarily any due diligence on how good the legal tech is, what benefits that tech may have to members or indeed whether there is any track record of members actually using the technology in question!

However, how Lawscot Tech can separate this from what they are up to is beyond me. There are clear conflicts of interest arising from it that the Law Society of Scotland will have to deal with daily in trying to promote the Lawscot Tech initiative.

Not surprisingly the four legal technology providers in their member benefit scheme are all part of the Lawscot Tech community. However, that community still does not have listed within its membership the main legal technology companies in Scotland who provide legal technology solutions to most of the members of the Law Society of Scotland.

Paul Mosson advised that the last few months of Lawscot Tech had been about raising profile. Not about the people they know. They have already been speaking to them over the years. It has been about who they don’t know. Not about locking out but bringing people in. Next year they will go into workshop mode. They want to have a library of problems to tackle.

So are the ones they “know” the ones who are in the member benefit scheme already? Do they know the companies already who have been about for 20+ years and if so why are they not part of the Lawscot Tech community already?

Indeed at the meeting in Edinburgh I didn’t detect any legal technology companies in the room. Representatives all appeared to be from either law firms (mostly the very big ones) and from Universities. So if the legal technology companies are not in the room where are they?

After the Edinburgh event I heard a suggestion that the main Scottish Legal Tech providers may not be jumping into Lawscot Tech as they already have the connections they need with law firms and don’t need the Law Society of Scotland to connect them up. If so Lawscot Tech won’t achieve much. They need to get those players in the room.

But maybe the global aspirations of Lawscot Tech are more important. We heard from Paul Mosson that they are currently having an open dialogue with Singapore. Lets hope that doesn’t lead to jollies to Singapore like the recent Zurich and Vienna excursions! I think they should connect up the dots properly in Scotland before they start looking further afield.

Alex G. Smith, on Twitter, thought it maybe:-

looks like Scotland LegalTech is actually going to qualitatively research what it needs (101 Needs) rather than the randomiser of VC start-up hit and hope (like ‘England’ or is that ‘London’).

Will certainly be good if that is how it pans out.

In the new year Lawscot Tech will be looking for applications within the legal profession to join their Advisory Board. Five positions are available to presumably add to the existing six board members. Do they really need a board of eleven people to organise workshops involving lawyers and legal technology vendors? Could the Law Society CPD & Training section not organise that?

We heard from the floor that an issue at the moment is getting AI trained on data in law. Law firms are all doing their own thing. Paul Mosson confirmed that collaboration on data is a number one item for Lawscot Tech.

To that point Alex G Smith tweeted in response:-

Open up case-law data (make it free), get your legislation/regulations as consolidated xml and work out rules for anonymising contract data. Fix your end to end legal data supply first (may take a few years but will save time long run). #IAbeforeAI

We also heard from Paul Mosson that the Law Society of Scotland will be providing an online course so people in law firms are using Word, Excel etc properly. Yes, starting with the basics is a good idea and Lawscot Tech could learn from that approach.

So by the end of the meeting in Edinburgh I was a little bit clearer on what Lawscot Tech was all about. But the initial concerns raised in my earlier posts remain and have not been alleviated. In particular there remain an awful lot of important players in the legal technology sector in Scotland missing from the table. Something needs to be done to remedy that if Lawscot Tech is to have any credibility within the profession. Also the Why? still needs to be asked. Maybe that will be the purpose of the planned workshops in the new year.

It will be interesting to see how Lawscot Tech pans out in 2019 and I will keep you updated as and when I am aware of further developments.


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