The Law Society of Scotland have not done very well in recent times with their legal technology initiatives. I remember fondly the days of their Nothing but the Net Conferences when they ran well informed legal technology events. That was more than a decade ago. Ten plus years later and they are foundering with initiatives that appear to be all about generating funds for their own coffers (and maybe helping some select mates who help to line those coffers too). Such initiatives appear to have nothing to do with enhancing technology as a whole for the proper benefit of their members or all the companies that provide, or could provide, technology solutions to the Scottish legal sector.
Previous posts by me on Lawscot Tech include:-
- Law Society launches Lawscot Tech but what is it?
- Lawscot Tech meet and go global!
- Is the mist starting to clear around Lawscot Tech?
Their latest initiative is, unfortunately, yet another very ill thought out one that demonstrates, yet again, how far out of touch they are with what is actually happening in the offices of the law firms that they are supposed to represent.
This is their Accredited Legal Technologist scheme launched this past week.
They state that this is:-
A new specialism in legal technology recognising one of the most exciting developments of the last few years has been the flourishing of new legal roles such as legal process engineer, legal analyst, legal technologist. We believe that this trend will continue and intensify over the coming years. To help the development of this new profession, we are launching a new professional status called: Accredited Legal Technologists.
They go on to state that:-
To begin with we are opening the accreditation to Scottish solicitors and accredited paralegals who can demonstrate a good level of experience in legal technology.
Although it appears that their vision is for this to become a global accreditation! As I have said before they should really concentrate on doing things properly on their own turf rather than looking forward to foreign jollies.
It costs £300 + VAT to be accredited for three years. At the end of those three years you will be invited to seek re-accreditation and no doubt tapped for another £300 or more + VAT.
When you apply you will be asked to provide evidence of your knowledge, skills and achievements by answering questions, providing the names of two referees, and uploading a CV. The technology employed by the Law Society of Scotland can’t cope with versions of Microsoft Word introduced from and after Word 2007 (DOCX) for such CVs so do ensure you save in an older version (pre 2007 DOC) or convert to PDF before uploading! Perhaps the Law Society of Scotland will, through this initiative, be able to locate a technologist to assist them in updating their 12 year old technology 😉
The questions you must answer “yes” or “no” to are:-
- Do you regularly present externally on your areas of legal technology expertise? This may be at a university or via CPD/CLE for lawyers/legal technologists.
- Do you write on this area in textbooks, websites, or legal/legal technology publications?
- Are you the organisational lead on legal technology projects (as opposed to being a member of the team. Team members will generally be considered as enablers)?
- Would peers in other organisations recognise you as a genuine leader in the field?
- Are you responsible for the strategic development of technology projects within your organisation?
- Do your colleagues and/or clients regard you as highly knowledgeable and expert in your area(s) of legal technology expertise? Do they seek out your guidance on complex matters?
- In your area(s) of legal technology expertise do you have knowledge, skills and experience that would be regarded as significantly above the ordinary?
I could answer yes to all of those questions so could potentially get the accreditation but I won’t as I could spend that £300 in better ways. Also I don’t see myself necessarily as a ‘Legal Technologist’ so wouldn’t particularly want that badge.
It is not clear how many answers in the negative, if any, would exclude you from the accreditation. This is a self certification scheme and as long as it is “strong” (I assume that means lots of yes answers to the foregoing questions) you will be accredited. If not immediately “strong” you might still be accredited after references have been obtained and, if need be, the application referred to an expert advisory panel (it’s not clear who the members of that panel are).
Artificial Lawyer reported yesterday that Sam Moore, Innovation Manager at Burness Paull, had become the first such ‘Accredited Legal Technologist’. Remarkably Sam became so within just a few hours of the scheme launching on 25 September. This shows that the Law Society of Scotland has a very efficient process in place for obtaining two references (if thought necessary to do so – maybe not in this case), assessing and approving all information provided and obtaining payment before issuing the accreditation.
Artificial Lawyer also reported, as did the Legal IT Insider, that the Law Society of England & Wales have no intention of following the Law Society of Scotland with such a scheme. Their Scottish counterparts will be glad about that given that they want their scheme to go global!
So what is wrong with the Accredited Legal Technologist scheme?
It is currently only open to “Scottish solicitors and accredited paralegals”. Those are not the people who are, or in many cases should be, on the whole the legal technologists in law firms. You will find in most law firms (especially larger ones that have such dedicated roles) that Directors of IT or the like are not solicitors or accredited paralegals. Whenever I go to proper legal technology events I am always completely outnumbered by these non-lawyers (if I dare use that word) in the room. And so it should be.
My own law firm, Inksters, was very possibly the first law firm in the world to employ someone with the title Legal Process Engineer. Other law firms subsequently adopted that title and that term is now reasonably common place as is evidenced by the Law Society of Scotland using it in their introductory blurb about the new legal roles that might benefit from this accreditation. Inksters’ first Legal Process Engineer was a law graduate but not a Scottish solicitor or an accredited paralegal. Our current Legal Process Engineer is likewise not a Scottish solicitor or an accredited paralegal. Neither of them would therefore be eligible (despite their trailblazing status) to apply for accreditation by the Law Society of Scotland as a Legal Technologist. That fact alone is ridiculous and makes a complete mockery of the scheme.
Indeed to my knowledge very few solicitors (and I would imagine the same to be true of accredited paralegals) are dedicated legal technologists. Yes there will be law firms (especially smaller ones) where solicitors and possibly paralegals are dealing with IT implementation along with (and as a small part of) their other work which will mainly consist of doing fee earning legal work.
Sam Moore is probably fairly unique (especially in Scotland) in being a solicitor who has transitioned from doing legal work to being a dedicated legal technologist. He is the first and may (as a result of the current restrictions on accreditation) be the only Accredited Legal Technologist in Scotland for some time. Not sure if he will therefore benefit much from the “exclusive Accredited Legal Technologist events and networking opportunities” that the Law Society of Scotland promise to deliver.
The reality is that this accreditation scheme, if thought to be necessary/beneficial, should never have been restricted to Scottish solicitors or accredited paralegals in the first place. It should have been open from day one to all persons working in Scottish law firms who fit the criteria of a legal technologist. That might have enabled the formation of a community of Accredited Legal Technologists (assuming a willingness to pay for the privilege) that simply will not exist under the current regime.
The other main issue is having to pay for the privilege of being accredited. Solicitors already pay significant sums for being members of the Law Society of Scotland and initiatives such as these should be part and parcel of that membership fee for them and/or their staff.
But pay to play is clearly the name of the game when it comes to the Law Society of Scotland and their legal technology initiatives. This is true of Lawscot Tech where they have an inner circle (community as they call it) of legal tech providers who have paid for the privilege of being either an approved supplier or, in at least one case, a strategic partner. It is clear that to be an approved supplier the usefulness of the technology to the profession, its compliance with the Law Society of Scotland’s own rules and regulations and whether any members of the Law Society of Scotland are currently even using it are all irrelevant if the right number can be written on a cheque.
This, like paying for the Accredited Legal Technologist badge (or not being let in for not being a Scottish solicitor or accredited paralegal), creates a split community. It also creates lots of conflicts of interest for the Law Society of Scotland.
There is no inclusion, transparency or diversity (three of Lawscot Tech’s six values) in the Accredited Legal Technologist scheme. The other three values (purpose, creativity and clarity) may be open to question as well.
If the Law Society of Scotland are ever to be a serious player in assisting their members with Legal Tech they need to drop the pay to play model and actually adopt the values they claim to have and open up their accreditation scheme to all legal technologists who work within Scottish law firms and not just solicitors or registered paralegals.
Reactions on Social Media
There have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn and on Twitter.
Nir Golan (General Counsel & Head of Global Legal Ops @ Attenti):
How does this work in terms of incentivizing collaboration between diverse skills in the firm? You will now have accredited legal technologists and non? The fact that products managers, business professionals and other innovation people can’t be accredited legal technologists is a huge miss and goes against the cross collaboration that firms really need and can benefit from in order to truly evolve and innovate.
Good point Nir Golan. Think the problem is that The Law Society of Scotland has got caught up in the hype surrounding #LegalTech and thinks it is the be all and end all. In the process they ignore all the other skills that make up and are essential to a law firm. Whilst you say that there will be Accredited Legal Technologists and non, I make the point that even most legal technologists can’t be accredited because on the whole they are non-lawyers (if I dare use that word – but in this context that is what the Law Society unfortunately clearly means). But indeed why stop at accrediting legal technologists and why not accredit other specialisms that are not the preserve of lawyers (although if they did that they would presumably only award them to lawyers who had moved into those roles!). It’s a mess but for the reasons you give better not seeking such accreditation for one particular function when it is not available for any of the others that are together essential for collaboration to make the law firm work as a whole.
Sam Moore (Innovation Manager):
I’m not sure who the LSS needs permission from to accredit non-members, but I hope they get it soon. Maybe they don’t actually need permission from anyone, but they currently lack the infrastructure to provide access to non-members? I don’t know, we’d have to ask them I suppose. I certainly hope it happens though – as Brian mentions in his blog, I don’t really need the accreditation at my career stage – it’s the more junior technologists who could really benefit from this, but currently can’t unless they happen to be a paralegal (as Brian says I think I might currently be the only active solicitor who would meet the other criteria)
Sam Moore I may be wrong but I wouldn’t have thought they would need permission from anyone to accredit non-members. They would in effect be accrediting employees of members as indeed they do with accredited paralegals. I can’t see how they “currently lack the infrastructure to provide access to non-members”. Whilst they have chosen to do this particular application for accreditation via the members portal they didn’t have to do that. All other specialist accreditations are dealt with by paper application. This one could and probably should have followed the established convention. Were you not involved in any way with the discussions surrounding the setting up of this scheme given that you are on the LawscotTech Advisory Board? Not sure that specialist accreditation should be aimed at junior technologists. It is a requirement of all other specialisms accredited by the Law Society of Scotland that you must have at least 5 years experience in the area of specialism in question (used to be 7 years but was relaxed recently to 5 years). The Legal Technologist specialism strangely does not appear to have any such period of experience attached to it. That appears to be a mistake?
Brian Inkster as an outsider, I honestly don’t understand the point of all this nor the need for it other than making more money off its members. And on top of everything just creates more tension between the lawyers and the other professionals and stifles the collaboration and innovation law really needs.
Nir Golan As an insider (or at least as a member of the Law Society of Scotland) I also don’t understand the point of all of this nor the need for it other than them making more money off their members. I agree that it unfortunately just creates more tension between the lawyers and the other professionals and stifles the collaboration and innovation law really needs. As I say in my blog post it creates a split community. Not something I want my membership organisation to be doing. They are usually in lawyer protectionist mode and unfortunately this seems to be part and parcel of that now way outdated mindset.
Brian Inkster this accreditation is basically this. A great effort to change nothing protect the guild/lawyers and put on a nice “Legaltech” sign of innovation theatre.. such a shame when what is really needed is to break down those walls and bring in outside influence, skills, perspectives, and experience. #innovationtheatre
A picture is worth a thousand words. This sums up LawscotTech nicely.
Alex Hamilton (CEO of Radiant Law):
Brian Inkster Nir Golan It’s about time we required accreditation to dabble in post-it notes. I applaud this development.
And while we are at it, please can you stop using the term “Innovation Theatre” until I’ve finished my round of talks this month. It’s the only joke I’ve got.
Alex G Smith (Global RAVN Product Lead at iManage):
Alex Hamilton accreditation in post-it notes would require not using the term #legaldesign … and the only question would be “do you recognise that you are doing nothing different to any UX or SD professional in any other industry”
Amit Sharma (Approachable senior solicitor helping SMEs with commercial property and business law):
Sounds like many accreditations, meaningless and self serving (in terms of money in). The LS CQS scheme had been found misleading by the ASA, and when I wrote to the LS about wanting a refund (why would I pay for them to tell me what I know, I know?). I got a wish washy reply and had no time. If I did I would have taken it to court.
Indeed Amit Sharma. If you know what you know do you need a badge to tell you and others so? Usually others can make their minds up from other evidence that is clear for all to see.
Anthony Kearns (Managing Consultant, Performance and Leadership):
Ironically, a law degree is the least relevant qualification for the adaptations we need to make to remain relevant to our clients and the societies we serve. We would be better served by regulators accrediting Legal Inclusivists. Bad idea, end of!
Sam Moore (Innovation Manager):
I think the British Computer Society should offer a similar certification from their members, and if I was recruiting for a legal technologist I’d likely value that more than a legal recognition. But then that of course leaves out people who aren’t a member of that society either, so plenty of highly skilled individuals wouldn’t be helped by that. That’s the core limitation of all certification schemes though, not all who get it necessarily deserve it, and not all who deserve it necessarily get it.
Sam Moore Unfortunately, given the way that this particular scheme has been set up very few of those who deserve a certificate will actually get one! You may possibly be the sole holder for some time. For the avoidance of any doubt I do think that you deserve such accreditation (based on the criteria as set – although I will come back later in another comment to consider that criteria more fully) but I think the way the scheme has been set up to exclude anyone who is not either a solicitor or an accredited paralegal is a complete nonsense.
Paul Ryan (Data Integration, Analytics and Process Automation):
Sam Moore very true! I can’t recall the number of Microsoft Accredited professionals I’ve interviewed over the years and thought “How did this happen?”
Paul Ryan best IT guy I ever employed was self-taught and had no MS accreditation but he knew how to find knowledge and was awesome with other humans.
Alex G Smith (Global RAVN Product Lead at iManage):
Anthony Kearns I’ve got no qualifications post a history degree in 1997. In my former role I’d be liking to bring in professionals like UX and product folks as well as devs. Looking for experience. The industry needs to bring in external skills desperately and not sure this makes us more appealing. They will have entirely different professional qualifications or be self-taught.
Alex G Smith It is this fact that unfortunately appears completely lost on the likes of the Law Society of Scotland who appear to think the business of law revolves around solicitors only. It doesn’t. They need to wake up and smell the roses.
Alex G Smith arguably the very best thing for the profession is to continue to boost the message that non lawyers can end up being partners, and to keep challenging firms with all-lawyer Boards to reconsider that model. Basically we need more Kerry Westland’s!
Sam Moore we can boost that message and make those challenges but the fact of the matter is that, like Accredited Legal Technologists, non-lawyer partners in law firms will be very thin on the ground for the foreseeable future. That is because the thinking that most law firms apply to such matters mirror the thinking employed to date by the Law Society of Scotland over Accredited Legal Technologists. Thought leadership on such matters needs to be driven from the top and the Law Society of Scotland changing its staid ways would be a good starting point.
I can certainly think of a couple of non lawyers who are active in Scottish legal tech for major firms who really should be eligible. The bar may well be too high and/or too specific, and hopefully that will become apparent when take up is very low!
Alex G Smith:
Agree and they may not have ever done any law degree etc. Mark Smith did an amazing presentation at Reinventlaw 2014 on this that sadly didn’t make the videos. Respecting professionals for their skills and how they acquired them is key. There are some interesting skillsets that need possible ‘special legal training’ like handling data (like the eDiscovery folks do). Otherwise it’s giving context to the domain to other professionals (i’ll not rise on the non-lawyer tag) … worth connecting to say Adam Curphey on skills education and what he did at BPP. Career paths from other parts of the ecosystem, as well as lawyers stepping away from practice, but they are all raised by being an industry that attracts great talent in product management, knowledge management, UX, developers, data science. Banks etc are a very long way ahead of us. Agree they should start to gain senior positions and are firms that appreciate that. Equally they may not be motivated by the partnership idea, they benchmark differently in terms of careers, salaries etc etc.
Alex G Smith agree that this is critical to our adaptation and a major blind spot. I encouraged the students at HLS this week to embrace epistemological humility. Key to this is to acknowledge not only the limits of what you know but also the assumptions and beliefs embedded in how you know what you know. Legal education is very effective at deeply embedding assumptions about knowledge and expertise and not all of these are useful any more.
Alex G Smith:
I learnt most of what I would loosely call my skill set and understanding/evolution (because things change so fast, currently immersed in agile having grown up in hacking waterfall) from professionals around me, project managers, UX designers, UX researchers, product people, development leads, architects. Mostly ozmosys and doing with them … that’s what’s missing in legal, this. The more and more we trying to internally hack this, the more it becomes clear … then you go to a Bank and see 100+ service designers who are not ex-bankers but people who will hop industries, learnt in government digital service etc.
Alex G Smith #epistemologicalhumility
Paul Ryan (Data Integration, Analytics and Process Automation):
I perhaps don’t share your view entirely. There are elements of this that are a decent step in the right direction to long terms bigger change (happy to expand on that but won’t bore on just now).
However I do ageee making it only available to Lawyers and paralegals, albeit with a view to extending, is a little insular and condescending to those that have taken extensive technology qualifications and university study as well as building extensive experience in the sector. Unless there will be a technology regulator soon offering a “legal specialist” award on the same basis?
“Do you know the difference between a pursuer and a defender”
“Do you know any latin?”
“Are you a little difficult to live with?” *
Congratulations! You’re In.
(my partner is a solicitor. I’ll deal with the consequences! “)
Sam Moore (Innovation Manager):
I agree entirely – this has *started* life as just another of the LSS’s many available specialisms for practioners, of which there’s about 30 I think. They’re all assessed in the same way, they all cost exactly the same fees to apply etc. The only difference is that this one might actually be of interest beyond the profession, which the Society clearly recognises as they mention on the application page that eligibility will be changing in future. That’s why it’s available to who it’s available to, and that’s why it costs what it costs, not some sinister plot or intentional snub to non lawyers. The Society simply doesn’t have the *remit* to accredit non members.
Sam Moore All of the existing specialisms (before the Accredited Legal Technologist came along) for practitioners are assessed in the same way and they do all cost exactly the same in fees to apply. But that is unfortunately not the case with the new Legal Technologist accreditation which is very different indeed from all others. I have already stated that for those pre-existing accreditations you must be practicing in that specialism for at least 5 years (used to be 7 years) whereas for this new accreditation there is no required period of practice in the area of technology at all. That can’t be right. Furthermore, this new accreditation is done online and effectively self-certified. That is not the case with all others. They involve submitting very detailed information about your practice history in the area of specialism with detailed references to all relevant cases/matters you have worked on (the advice given and why it was unusual/exceptional), other relevant work, teaching and authorship and training attended. Two detailed references must be obtained by the Law Society of Scotland from appropriate referees.
These are on prescribed forms detailing the standard of technical competence, attention to detail, standard of work, honesty/integrity, decision making ability and communication skills. Details must be given of the working relationship with the applicant, how long you have known them, the applicant’s major strengths, their ability to work under pressure and meet deadlines and any other comments. This is a huge contrast to the new Legal Technologist accreditation where just the names and e-mail addresses of two referees are requested but only followed up if deemed necessary. Furthermore, the pre-existing accreditations all go to a panel of specialists for scoring. Whereas the new Legal Technologist accreditation appears to involve a simple approval (presumably just by a member of administrative staff) based on the self-certification given.
An advisory panel is only involved if your application is not strong or happens to be 1 in 10 randomly selected to be checked in this way! The new scheme therefore does not appear to be robust like the one used for all other accreditations and will, as a result, be more likely to be open to question and derision. Turning to the question of cost this new scheme (for a much simpler process) is £300 + Vat for 3 years whereas the other (more involved process) is £300 + Vat for 5 years. Again no consistency. Thus this scheme and the criteria attached to it must be called into question and the badge you have purchased from them unfortunately does not stand up well alongside their other accreditations. Perhaps Rob Marrs or Paul Mosson (who appears to have vanished from my LinkedIn feed!) from the Law Society of Scotland can explain to us on here why the difference. As covered in a previous response I can’t see why there is no remit to accredit non-members but again perhaps Rob or Paul will clarify this for us.
Sam Moore (Innovation Manager):
If I could answer one question in particular which your blog raises of me personally – I think the turnaround time of hitting ‘apply’ to being approved was so fast because a) as you yourself say in the blog it wasn’t hard to see I was qualified so checking on my references was probably considered unnecessary, and and b) it was day one of the process going live and I assume there wasn’t a queue of applications to read at that point. In fact there probably isn’t a queue now either!
Sam Moore As detailed in a previous response I think the quick turnaround was due to the lack of robustness in this particular self-certification scheme compared to their other panel scored accreditation schemes.
Jonathan Maas (Discovery/disclosure veteran with over three decades of high level experience in both hard copy and electronic evidence):
Well said, sir!
Thanks Jonathan Maas – more has now been said since!
Alex G Smith (Global RAVN Product Lead at iManage):
Great debate going on around this article and the comments around what skills the legal profession needs to train, acquire, bring in from outside. This is going round is circles but we’ll get there. We just have to look at our clients’ industries for where the inspiration should be … and stop tagging the prefix ‘legal’ onto established methodologies.
David Faith (Solicitor and Contracts Officer, University of Strathclyde):
Have to say, this seems like a rather targeted blog given there is only one accredited Legal Technologist in Scotland – who you’ve named.
I also found some of the criticism a bit hard to follow. Brian, are you against the idea of accreditations in general, the idea of having Legal Technologist accreditation in particular, or just this specific approach to Legal Technologist accreditation?
If you think the whole thing is pointless then surely there’s no need to say anything further? If you think it’s fundamentally a good idea but the process needs to be improved, surely a tone of constructive criticism could be achieved?
David Faith Targeted at the Law Society of Scotland and not at Sam Moore as you seem to imply. It’s no secret that Sam is the first Accredited Legal Technologist as that fact was accompanied by some public fanfare last week. It would have been rather odd for me to have written the blog post without mentioning Sam. Before I knew Sam had been accredited, but when I saw the Law Society of Scotland launch this scheme, I tweeted “So much wrong with this as with #LawScotTech. Where to begin?! I will blog about it in due course. @LawScot don’t have a clue when it comes to #LegalTech”. Thus clearly aimed at the Law Society of Scotland and not at Sam who finds himself the unfortunate Accredited Legal Technologist in the cross-fire between me and the Law Society.
I am sorry that you find the criticism in the blog post hard to follow as I think my position is fairly clearly brought out therein and fully expanded on in all the comments I have engaged with on LinkedIn (as all now reproduced at the end of the original blog post). I am not against the idea of accreditations in general or the idea of having a Legal Technologist accreditation in particular. I am against the specific approach taken by the Law Society of Scotland to Legal Technologist accreditation. My final paragraph sums that fact up fairly clearly when I say that I think the Law Society of Scotland should “open up their accreditation scheme to all legal technologists who work within Scottish law firms and not just solicitors or registered paralegals.”
If I thought the whole thing was pointless I would have said so. I didn’t. I have made it fairly clear (or so I thought) that this new accreditation scheme is, very strangely, more or less a self-certification scheme compared with the very robust and very accountable (with checks and balances) system in place for all other accreditations. I have covered this in detail in three sections in a detailed response on here to a comment by Sam Moore. I have drawn comparisons between the two very different schemes and asked why the difference. I have suggested that Rob Marrs from the Law Society of Scotland may be able to shed some light on this and await with interest his response. As a pioneer in the introduction of legal technologists to legal practice I am certainly seeking to be constructive. I live in hope that the Law Society of Scotland will take on board my criticisms and improve this accreditation scheme in the manner that they surely need to do.
And on Twitter:-
Lorna Jack @lornabjack (Chief Executive of the Law Society of Scotland):
Will ask colleagues to get back to you re all the issues you raise in your Blog. To be clear although there is excitement on this internationally – @Lawscot seen as leading in tech – we’ve focused on our own members 1st using our well trodden Specialist accreditation approach
Thanks Lorna. Excitement is often fuelled by hype. You then need to look behind the curtain. Many don’t. @Lawscot does have a “well trodden” specialist accreditation approach. I would say robust. Seems odd that this particular accreditation strays from that well trodden path.