Big Law and the Dinosaurs

Big Law and the Dinosaurs

Does Big Law face the same fate as the Dinosaurs for not embracing Legal IT?

Nicole Black has referenced my post on Big Law is so behind the legal IT curve in her post for Legal IT Professionals on Why large law firms face extinction by irrelevancy. Nicole states:-

For some time now, I have encouraged law firms to embrace change or pay the price of irrelevancy. It’s been my contention that because of the wide scale proliferation of mobile and cloud computing, 21st century legal consumers expect more from their legal counsel than ever before. They are used to instantaneous access to information and are more discriminating and demanding. They seek affordable, convenient, 24/7 access to legal representation using the latest technologies.

Nicole is of the view that law firms need to pivot with the changing times to succeed:-

When it comes to pivoting, large law firms seem destined to fail since, by their very nature, they are: 1) large, 2) precedent-based, and 3) run by lawyers. As a result, large firms are slow to change and cling to doing things the way they have always been done. I base this conclusion on 2 things: conversations with IT representatives from large firms and survey results regarding large law firms’ use of emerging technologies such as cloud and mobile computing.

Nicole makes reference to me stating that Big Law has invested heavily in non-cloud based technology and needs to “sweat their expensive IT investments” before they can justify a move to the cloud:-

And therein lies the problem – large law firms are too invested in legacy systems of the past and are thus too big and clunky to pivot. Not to mention the fact that their in-house IT staff have no incentive to encourage change. To do so would mean the loss of many of their current job functions.

Nicole concludes:-

So for now, the game plan for large firms seems to be to stick to the status quo. Let’s just hope their decision to change at a snail’s pace doesn’t lead them down the same path as the dinosaurs. Because when it comes right down to it, pivoting, while sometimes a painful process, is far better than extinction by irrelevancy.

Nicole’s post has caused quite a reaction as can be seen from the stream of comments generated. Big Law I reckon don’t like being compared to the dinosaurs. I would like to take a look at some of those comments.

Rob W (the first one) – there are two in the debate – states:-

Any law firm, or other serious business concern for that matter, that uses public cloud is foolish. There is too much threat to the security of confidential data from the NSA, USA PATRIOT Act, British Intelligence, etc.

Rob W (a different one) – there are as I said two in the debate - states:-

I don’t think anyone would argue that Cloud is compelling as a next-generation platform, but most of it is in no way ready for the complexities of today’s law firm when a needs assessment is properly completed.

So there are security issues, law firms are complex and the cloud is not ready yet for those complexities. I am unsure what those complexities are. Rob W (a different one) does not elaborate. I accept that services such as Dropbox and public cloud offerings from Google, Amazon or the like are not suitable for law firm usage. Indeed law firms in the UK cannot by law use such services as the cloud servers involved are not necessarily located in the European Union. But that is not what Nicole or I are talking about. We both know that there are specialist service providers out there with tailored cloud solutions for law firms that meet stringent legal and security requirements. If law firms talk to the right people they can have a cloud solution now that ticks all the boxes in any needs assessment. And those right people are certainly not the ‘snake-oil salesmen’ that David Edwards makes reference to. Law firms implementing such a cloud solution are likely to find their data is more secure than it would be if held within their own office walls.

Doug Carner states:-

Cloud computing is a tool, not a destination. Before embracing any technology, one must evaluate the costs and benefits, and not just with regards to money and information security. While good, the article did not adequately detail how the cloud would provide better service to the client and/or greater efficiency for the firm, versus their current use of a VPN and centralized file servers.

Disseminating such information was not the purpose of Nicole’s article. Such information can easily be found elsewhere and was probably taken by Nicole as already read. I covered many of these issues in 2011 in Law Firm in the Cloud.

Roy Allen/Lawgistics should perhaps also read my blog post from 2011. If he does it might not be as simple to him as:-

This magical “cloud” that makes all things better does not exist. All the cloud does is move the servers somewhere else.

LC asks:-

how attorneys would, for example, perform document reviews which are done using very specific types of applications in the cloud, review transcriptions, enter time, etc.???

The answer is simple. These tasks can all be done in the cloud. I do them. If you can do it on a server in your office you can do it in the cloud. If your legal software provider can’t move you into the cloud it is time to consider an alternative provider as your IT people may just be cavemen (to maintain Nicole’s dinosaur analogy!).

LC also thinks that the cloud can’t work globally where you have law firm’s operating in different jurisdictions with different levels of security requirements e.g. the EU is higher in its requirements than the USA. This is something I have not had to give much thought to as my law firm, Inksters, is based within Scotland and subject only to the regulations of the Law Society of Scotland. Our cloud solution is based within the UK and complies with EU regulations. I would have assumed, although I may well be wrong and I have not researched this point, that if you were a global law firm you could house your cloud servers in the jurisdiction with the highest security requirements and that would satisfy those with the lower ones. I stand to be corrected on this if my view is too simplistic.

The bottom line from Nuno Brito Lopes is:-

Do not let evolution make you lose sight of the defining features of being a Lawyer.

Being a Lawyer and using technology to fulfil that function in better and more efficient ways are two different things. I fully agree that technology will not necessarily make you a better lawyer but you may well serve your clients better by embracing it. You may also evolve yourself and not face extinction.

John Mancini thinks that:-

Most successful big firms, and there are a lot of them, are successful because of their deep bench of talent. Good lawyering trumps cloud architecture any day of the week.

Small Law firms, Boutique Law Firms and NewLaw firms do not lack legal talent. This is one thing they share with Big Law firms, a fact brought out by George Beaton in NewLaw New Rules. Good lawyering coupled with state of the art agile legal IT will trump good lawyering coupled with prehistoric (keeping up Nicole’s dinosaur analogy!) legal IT any day of the week.

The thing that strikes me most when reading through the negative comments that Nicole received is that Richard Susskind was right. Many lawyers (and Richard has commented that this is a trait particularly common in large law firms) are irrational rejectionists. They reject ideas before giving them a chance. They possibly, for that reason, do indeed face the fate of the dinosaurs.

NB: This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Legal IT curve. See also:-


Legal IT and agility

Legal IT and Agility

Is NewLaw more agile as a result of Legal IT use?

In response to my post on Big Law is so behind the Legal IT curve Jeffrey Brandt has posted his thoughts on the PinHawk Blog. He hones in on the question of agility:-

I will take exception to one of the things [Brian Inkster] said, “There is an acknowledgement that the cloud makes NewLaw ‘as agile, if not more agile, than Big Law’. I think much more agile.” It does not. Agility has little to do with the platform, and much to do with how you use it. There are agile firms who use premise equipment. There are awkward/sluggish/lethargic/stiff/clumsy firms using the cloud. People, process, work flows – these are where your agility is created. Choosing only the technology will fail every time.

I agree. However, the point being made originally in Briefing Magazine’s Legal Technology in 2014 (which I quoted only part of) was really emphasising the fact that, via the Cloud, NewLaw now has access to enterprise level technology that once was the preserve of BigLaw. This gives them, perhaps more correctly, the ability to be agile using such technology in a way that was not previously available to them. the same is true of Small Law of course. It also gives them the many advantages (often ones of agility) over office based Legal IT that I outlined when my own law firm, Inksters, moved into the Cloud. Some of these do come with simply being in the Cloud. But yes… agility will be increased substantially with how you then use your cloud platform. I rather think that NewLaw is tuned into this fact and may well be more agile in implementing that use than Big Law ;-) There will, however, no doubt be “awkward/sluggish/lethargic/stiff/clumsy firms” using the cloud just as there are and will continue to be “awkward/sluggish/lethargic/stiff/clumsy firms” using systems located within their own offices.

Paul Caris, CIO of Eversheds, said in the Briefing Interview that I was quoting from:-

The management and managers of law firms need to look at how they are going to compete when the technical competitive edge is gone, and when all [legal businesses, new and old,] are on a level playing field.

In my opinion it may not be a level playing field that the future holds but one where proactive cloud adoption and agile use thereof by NewLaw has left Big Law well behind the Legal IT curve and less able to compete with them.

NB: This post is part of a series of blog posts on the Legal IT curve. See also:-


Legal Technology is not all about tablets, cloud and getting there first

Legal Technology is not all about tablets, cloud and getting there first

You don’t have to be the first

Guest Post by Rupert Collins-White in reply to Brian Inkster’s post on Big Law is so behind the Legal IT curve

Are big firms failing because they’ve not adopted certain technologies? When I was at uni one of my housemates read the I Ching (yes, the whole thing), but the only line I remember with total clarity from his regurgitation of this is that ‘not acting is acting’. In other words, not doing something is doing something.

We should take these words seriously when thinking about whether business ‘should’ have adopted technologies.

However – if you don’t want to read this post in full, here is an executive summary of my thoughts on this:

  • Seeing progress in legal IT as being solely around individuality/consumer-focused technologies like mobility and cloud is wrong-headed, or at best highly narrow.
  • There is no such thing, really, as ‘legal IT’.
  • Small law firms are also, in many ways, rubbish at IT adoption.
  • IT adoption, as a non-focused measure, is also rubbish.
  • In some areas of leveraging clever IT – areas that I’d argue that are very important – Big Law is doing surprisingly well, and certainly better than smaller firms.
  • Legal has also suffered in terms of IT because it’s failed to allow non-lawyer IT leaders to have real power.
  • Many industries have failed to leverage technologies that would be great for them – legal is not alone in that.
  • Legal hasn’t failed to adopt certain technologies just because it’s antediluvian (thought that is often a reason) and doesn’t like tablets – there are bigger reasons behind it.
  • Legal, big and small, can be really bad at some areas of IT other than straightforward adoption of technologies – such as information security. Because of that, I’d say that it might be a blessing it hasn’t hurled itself into the cloud.
  • Legal has been let down by being served by too many small suppliers, supplier market fragmentation and the upset of recent consolidation. That’s not really affected small law. Now that there are fewer large legal-focused IT vendors, mainly using enterprise standards or basing their solutions on major IT backbones (Dynamics, SOA etc) I think we’ll see much more ‘innovation’ in Big Law because a feeling of security surrounds development.

Now, for those of you with adult attention spans, let’s get on with some myth-bashing.

Reading Brian Inkster’s post about whether big law firms are better at IT than smaller firms gave me an overwhelming feeling of that moment in Groundhog Day when the alarm clock clacks over every morning.

For my sins, which must be many and various, I’ve spent 15 years now either writing directly or indirectly about technology – consumer and enterprise. I was writing about how IT directors should be real board-level people, and calling for CIOs in UK business, back in 1999 at IT Week magazine. And here we are.

Brian’s post about how ‘far behind’ big law firms are in terms of technology struck a chord with me, because a) I agree that legal business is an industry that has yet to make the most of the incredible information technologies that have been created or developed over the last 15-20 years, but b) I don’t agree that this is represented by whether legal has adopted wholesale cloud technology or tablets or suchlike.

Some initial thoughts about why this ‘small law’ view of ‘big law’ is wide of the mark:

1. Attitudes to information security in legal, big and small, really are far behind the business curve. Some examples: Dropbox. Un-encrypted email. Lax protocols on teleconferencing. A delusion that client files held on-premise are safer from hacking/intrusion than holding them in a data centre. Did I mention Dropbox?

2. About how we described the future of cloud in larger law firms in Briefing magazine:

When I wrote in our interview with Eversheds’ CIO Paul Caris that ‘cloud is probably the future for law firms’, I meant that it’s probably the future for all or most services and solutions.

That’s a BIG call. I don’t think for a moment it’s possible to say whether cloud will be the way any particular solution will be delivered in future, let alone all or almost all solutions. I certainly think that most of the talk about how it’s inevitable that cloud is the future is premature, to say the least.

3. A ‘failure’ to adopt technologies is hardly the preserve of legal. There are so many examples of businesses or whole sectors have not adopted technologies that would be really great for so them – eg presence, unified comms. And simply not adopting something compared to somebody else isn’t a crime in and of itself.

4. I don’t think law firms, even big ones, have really given IT leaders the level of status or power that they need to reform legal business. I’m not saying this is true of all big firms, or even all firms. But legal needs more CIOs, with more power.

But to get to Whether Big Law Really Is So Behind The Legal IT Curve…

I don’t agree with Brian – not because he’s plain wrong, but because I don’t think you can measure success or failure by whether some firms have adopted IT.

Let’s break that down into an ordered list, because legal.

1. Getting some perspective

i) It’s not accurate to describe the picture of IT ‘adoption’ in legal as a split between big and small (or ‘new’) law. It’s not accurate, in my opinion, to talk about IT adoption in this general way at all. It’s not really right to talk about legal IT – because there’s no such thing as ‘legal IT’ (there, I said it). There’s just IT. We’re in legal. We use what fits. Often we have to tailor it some. There really are hardly any genuinely legal-only solutions.

‘Legal IT’ is just another anachronism attempting to divide the world into law and non-law, into lawyer and non-lawyer. Talking about legal IT is just another variant of one of the Big Problems legal business has – that it’s truly different, that somehow there’s an IT just for legal. This was much more true a few years ago than it is now, and it was only a partial truth then. I’ll still use the phrase ‘legal IT’ in this post, because it’s an idea that’s embedded – but it’s not really true, and I think it causes problems rather than solving them.

ii) The IT businesses focused on legal have fitfully tried to change the platforms firms work in, but there’s been limited interest in taking on the innovations offered, when they have been offered. So far, so Inkster.

But, almost in the background, vendors have paid the price for a grander misstep, which is leading them to a future that I think will be really productive for their client firms:

There are now fewer IT vendors playing for legal’s dollar or pound than there were even three-to-five years ago, and those vendors are generally larger. Most of the interesting new entrants to ‘legal IT’, IMHO, are those selling new kinds of products (or new to legal), like collaboration tools, social media tools and suchlike. There are also some ‘new’ vendors in the ‘big IT’ space, eg PMS/CMS, though even these are generally parts of bigger businesses, repurposing stuff to legal.

IT vendors specific to legal have all but disappeared, and that’s a good thing. Legal just isn’t a big enough market to support real innovation on its own. I think this lesson is being learned across the supplier side of the equation.

The reality is that today’s legal solutions are becoming a lot more like solutions in other industries. They are becoming less specific, as legal businesses learn how to work like businesses in other sectors. Newcomers are based on enterprise grade backbones (Lexis One, Avanade et al). SAP is back in the picture with Shoosmiths and other, bigger names to come.

Big Law is also a much faster adopter of customer relationship management and business intelligence than ‘small’ law – though one marketing director joked to me recently that legal will never buy Salesforce until it changes its name (to Partnerforce, perhaps – Mark, I told you I would publish first).

And there, I think, is the real problem with law when it comes to IT.

2. Where law is challenged when it comes to IT

i) The big problem is that law sees itself as different to everything else. We know this. As many have said, it’s really just a business sector whose product is legal advice.

But law is significantly different in a few key ways compared with many sectors/industries, to which we might be unwittingly and erroneously comparing it when looking at ‘IT adoption’. It operates on a relatively unusual high-value/low-number employee set-up. Firms often have loads of direct owners that also carry out work. Many law firms, therefore, operate what I think is an arguably defunct business structure that actively disincentivises IT investment.

In my opinion, having lots of partners who are remunerated by taking all the profits out of the business every year kills investment appetite and risk-taking approaches to innovation more than any need to sweat assets or other challenges. It’s the number one barrier to IT adoption, because it denies the business the capability to invest in the future.

Not only that, those making IT business cases in legal also have to sell investment to owners who simply will never see the ROI, because they will cash out before it happens. Short-termism rules. Many, many law firms cannot truly ‘think’ like companies – to think of a future of the corporate body, rather than partners – and so they will not be able to compete in IT innovation with companies. That is the real IT-related threat of the new entrants – and it’s embedded in the firms themselves.

ii) Law firms are almost entirely non-enterprise grade in manpower size, but some are enterprise grade in revenue and operational needs. Many of the global 200-300 could or should use enterprise ERP software such as Oracle, SAP etc, but they don’t. They should have adopted ERP solutions ages ago, but didn’t. The reasons for that IMHO are varied, but many of them lead us back to 2(i).

Therefore, most people in the legal sector, which is an insular one, by and large, have never seen first-hand the immense benefits (and occasionally equally large downsides) of enterprise-grade IT. Many lawyers would not understand the benefits of it even if they had seen it. It’s no great surprise, then, that they fail to adopt some of the more interesting and potentially useful consumer-crossover technologies, such as tablets and cloud.

This is an area that smaller firms really can have the same solutions as Big Law – because ERP-style solutions are becoming available, via the cloud, on SaaS models. But do small firms need them? Really? If they adopted them, does that mean they’re ‘ahead’?

iii) Law has been failed by a (historically) fragmented vendor sphere and this has impacted Big Law far more than Small Law. I’m not saying the vendors have been bad, necessarily, but by too many vendors and a lack of (direct) interest by the biggest players, such as SAP, MS, Oracle etc. It’s also failed to push vendors to really innovate, or to adopt their most innovative solutions.

Those vendors that engage with legal did not or could not press upon their clients the advantages of ‘new’ technologies such as cloud computing. The reasons for this range from fear of the unknown to more of 2(i).

iv) Brian mentions in his post about how far behind big firms are in using social media to generate attention/PR/visibility/revenue/work/etc. I’d say it’s true that big law firms don’t really know what social media can do for them, but that’s really a business issue – do corporate clients care about social media presence?

I’d suggest that possibly the big problem with law and social media is that law doesn’t  easily understand the world in terms of individuals and consumers. Big Law doesn’t really focus on individuals except if they are particularly wealthy or litigious, in a social media-focused way. Events and dinners, yes. Namechecking a GC on Facebook, no.

That’s not to say there isn’t enormous opportunity on social media platforms for law firms – but I think most of the examples they get given by knowledge people or marketing or PR agencies aren’t right for what they do, or aren’t fully formed.

Here’s an example: I used to work for the Law Society Gazette (I told you my sins were many), and while there – this was 2009/10 so I’m not talking about pre-Facebook days – solicitors would write to us and send adverts calling out for participant firms in group actions.

I always wondered why on earth firms didn’t mine social media platforms heavily for group action participants directly. I still think that. But of course we in Europe don’t have US-style class actions with their punitive damages – so the driver to adopt technological routes to market is far less than in the US.

That point relates directly to what I think are some of the bigger reasons law firms haven’t needed to, haven’t been able to, or should not be at the same point in ‘IT adoption’ as small law.

And social media might be a much better tool for BD for firms as a tool rather than a marketing channel – using monitoring tools to measure the reputation of and risk for clients, rather than telling the world about the firm. Maybe they are (Eversheds is) – but you wouldn’t see it as much as a firm that calls for business on Twitter every day.

3. Show me some positivity, Rupert

i) I’m genuinely surprised by how far legal has come in terms of BYOD and use of tablets, etc. So what if, by SME firm standards, tablet use in legal is still small? This is a straight economies of scale argument. Apple doesn’t really do bulk discounts. It’s barely cared about enterprise sales as a discrete ‘thing’ until very recently. Apple makes most of the tablets in play in UK legal business, especially ones bought or chosen by users. Rolling out 500 iPads is big money! And therefore I refer you once again to 2(i).

But tablet use and even BYOD in all its flavours is taking off in Big Law, and I think it’s astounding how little time it’s taken for this to happen, if you look with enterprise eyes and you look at other IT adoption rates in the past, or compare legal to any risk averse area (government, financial services, eg) that trade in sensitive data. The big IT suppliers to legal are, across the board, building the next iterations of their solutions for mobile and tablet.

Through enterprise eyes, in the less than four years since the iPad reinvented tablet computing for most people (the iPad turns four on 3 April 2014), a huge amount has changed. Many firms are still working out how to ditch Windows XP – the idea that one of them has 500 iPads is, frankly, bleeding edge to point of blackout.

If you think about legal’s adoption of tablet computing in relation to Gartner’s generic ‘hype cycle’ chart, which is probably as realistically useful as the chart on the blog post that started me writing this post (ie, not really), legal business has gone from technology trigger to slope of enlightenment in under four years. That’s incredible.

Gartner Hype Cycle Curve

ii) There is nothing wrong with sweating IT assets. You would be a profligate fool if you did anything contrary to that. Big business has long buying cycles, Big Law equally so (especially considering 2(i)).

Until recently, the Windows dev cycle was five years just to make a product, and it was accepted that businesses would stay on an OS and related platforms (eg Office) that they understood for years after that. That’s a 10-year run for a multi-solution offering like Windows/Office. But, since Facebook, we now suddenly expect legal business to be straining to hurl itself into the constant-renewal, data-anywhere cloud model. It’s unrealistic.

iii) Moreover, this argument shouldn’t be about ‘IT adoption’ – it’s about the commercial drivers to change and innovation in IT use in legal, which are contextual and distinct by market and segment.

US firms, for example, will find it easier to adopt cloud solutions in law firms than the UK for many reasons, but mainly because US data laws are shoddy compared to the EU, and because Snowden/NSA. Offshore firms, for example, are probably never going to go the cloud, because their client data must stay within certain places.

UK and UK-based international firms are under larger commercial pressures compared to many US firms, and living in lower-growth environments. They’ve been pushed into being much analytically capable when it comes to using tools like business intelligence and sophisticated reporting, and many people say that they’re more fundamentally corporate than many US firms. However, the US market, being more insular, has turned more to market/competitive intelligence and benchmarking than has the UK (or so I hear).

So the rate of IT adoption, I propose, is a poor measure – especially when applied to a really clunky benchmark like big or small law. Much better to think about which kinds of firms, and where, have adopted technologies and why.

Here’s an example:

US firms might be much more willing to put data in the cloud because the US is the unsafe place firms in other jurisdictions, eg ours, want to avoid putting data into when it goes in the cloud. A real world example is Eric Hunter’s firm, Bradford & Barthel, which gets a lot of airtime as a Google Apps law firm. B&B cannot, and in its current form, should not exist in the UK – because information is stored with Google (as far as I understand it).

Does this mean that Big Law is ‘behind the cloud curve’? Not necessarily. The curve, such as a thing could be, must relate to its context.

4. In conclusion, because this has to end somewhere

Big Law isn’t ‘behind the curve’ of legal IT. It might well be behind the curve in terms of many information technologies more generally, but it pretty much embodies ‘legal IT’, so it can’t be greatly behind itself.

Big Law is miles ahead of many SME firms when it comes to adoption of some technologies and processes and methods. It’s less developed than smaller firms in others.

It’s false to think about IT adoption in general when one means quite specific sets of technologies or advances or methods of delivery, such as cloud.

Big Law firms are much like any big company (though, importantly, sometimes more like very big companies than companies their own size in terms of headcount), in that they have big IT systems they’ve paid for and they can’t turn on a dime – or even on a half-decade timescale.

Legal really could do so much with so many new technologies, and it’s failing to do that – but it’s not size that’s the primary cause of that failure.

My thanks to Brian for making me think harder about what I write about than I normally do – and for the space to reply on The Time Blawg.

Rupert Collins-White

Rupert Collins-White

About the Guest Blogger: Rupert Collins-White is a director and head of content and community for Legal Support Network and editor of Briefing and Legal Practice Management magazines.

Image Credit: Gartner Hype Cycle Graph: Jeremykemp at en.wikipedia

NB: Captions added by The Time Blawg Editor

NBB: This is the second in a series of Guest Blogs on Big Law, Small Law and IT. See also Big Law Little Law by Mark Gould.

Big Law Little Law

Big Law Little Law

Big Law does not necessarily have to follow Little Law

Guest Post by Mark Gould in reply to Brian Inkster’s latest blog post on The Time Blawg

I am generally nervous about technology evangelism because evangelists tend to assume that their preference should be the same for all, without considering that different people have different needs and perspectives. The sterile debate between Mac fans and Microsoft users has mutated into an equally pointless dialogue of the deaf between iOS devotees and the Android camp. I prefer to see this proliferation of powerful operating systems, apps and hardware as a fantastic opportunity for people to choose exactly the right combination to match their needs.

I had a similar reaction to the recent blog post asserting the laggardliness of Big Law, by comparison with smaller firms.

It is true that larger firms have taken time to wake up to the opportunities of newer technology. But the same is true of many large organisations. Yes, larger law firms are moving slowly from Windows XP to Windows 7 (not even Windows 8). This migration mirrors that of their large clients in financial services and other sectors. There are good reasons for this dilatoriness. Consider the following, for example.

As firms become more complex — both in terms of work done and sheer numbers of employees and business units — the interaction of systems, databases, software and hardware becomes increasingly difficult to disentangle. Systems adopted over many years can seriously reduce the ability to make choices that are straightforward for smaller businesses or for individuals. Moving to Windows 7 is not a simple question of getting Dell to deliver new PCs. It is a major project with significant dependencies — any one of which could directly affect client service. It is no wonder that IT departments tread very cautiously in this respect.

Caution is also a watchword when considering moving to the cloud. The vagueness of the term ‘the cloud’ in this context is less than helpful, but I assume it encompasses the storage of data on servers that are not directly controlled by the firm. That proposition is a risky one for firms that have to worry about abiding by regulatory burdens over and above those imposed by their own regulator (the SRA or Law Society of Scotland, for example). Clients in regulated businesses (such as financial institutions) will often demand that their advisers work to the same standards as they are bound to by their regulator. More generally, concerns about market abuse and disclosure mean that firms operating at this level can only make decisions to work in a different way (even when new technology is not involved) after serious consideration. Information security and regulatory compliance are increasingly serious concerns.

Even if there were no technological or regulatory hurdles to overcome, should larger firms be adopting new tools as soon as they are available? Possibly, but only if they serve a valid business purpose. There are always lots of shiny opportunities that could be followed up, but most firms will not have unlimited resources to explore all of these. It takes time to work out which will bring the biggest benefit; that is where larger firms will appear to fall behind their smaller counterparts. Inksters can move more quickly because it is essentially more agile, and because instinctive decisions can be tested much more easily.

The legal market (in England & Wales, at least) is becoming increasingly diverse. There are firms owned by a company listed on the Australian Stock Exchange. There are firms using a business model akin to barristers’ chambers. There are firms using Alternative Business Structures to bring non-lawyers into partnership. There are high-performing boutique firms. And there remain some firms that will continue much as they have for decades. All of these will be more or less successful. There will also be some that fail — but I think it is unlikely that the proximate cause of many of those failures will be an excess of caution about new technology.

The diversity of legal structures and market choices will push different firms to choose different models for their technology platform, to ensure that they are best place to serve their clients well. The outcome of those choices cannot be critiqued by a simple adoption curve for one technology. A more appropriate critique needs to take account of how well client demands are being met. It is almost impossible to do that looking from the outside.

Mark Gould

Mark Gould

About the Guest Blogger: Mark Gould is Head of Knowledge Management at Addleshaw Goddard. This blog post reflects Mark’s personal views and not necessarily those of his firm. As Head of Knowledge Management Mark is responsible for finding, developing and promoting ways in which people in the firm can make the most of their own and other people’s knowledge. In addition to managing knowledge activities for the firm, in June 2011 Mark took on responsibility for leading the firm’s 20 Professional Support Lawyers (PSLs) as a team, focusing them on delivering improved profitability for the firm and their practice groups. Before moving into the central KM role in September 2006, Mark was a Professional Support Lawyer in the firm’s Competition, Trade & Regulatory group, looking after the team’s know-how and training needs, and developing client relationships in the through knowledge support. Prior to joining Addleshaw Goddard, Mark was a Lecturer in Law at the University of Bristol (1989-2001) and the University of Hull (1988-1989), teaching undergraduate and postgraduate subjects including Public Law, Jurisprudence and EU Law.

NB: Images, captions and credits inserted by The Time Blawg Editor

Big Law is so behind the legal IT curve


Big Law is so behind the legal IT curveWhen I did my legal IT predictions for 2014 I hadn’t read the latest editions of Legal IT Today (Issue #4) or the Briefing from the Legal Support Network on Legal Technology in 2014. If I had I may have been a little more conservative about what the future holds especially in so far as it relates to Big Law.

When I am referring to Big Law here I am probably doing so in the traditional sense of the larger law firms rather than the BigLaw business model referred to by George Beaton in NewLaw New Rules. That business model can include smaller law firms who operate along traditional law firm lines. Not all of those are as behind as Big Law is when it comes to legal IT, although many certainly still will be.

Legal IT Today and Legal Technology in 2014 Briefing are probably more aimed at Big Law and have, on the whole, contributions from and about Big Law. The picture both paint of the future of legal IT is one that I recognise from several years ago. But then I come from Small Law or perhaps NewLaw.

I hadn’t quite realised how far behind the legal IT curve Big Law is.

Apparently cloud is “probably the future for legal”. Probably! It is undoubtedly. But it is clear that Big Law is way behind Small Law / NewLaw on that front. I was writing on this blog about my law firm’s move to the cloud in 2011.

There is an acknowledgement that the cloud makes NewLaw “as agile, if not more agile, than Big Law”. I think much more agile.

However, there is a report on a NewLaw firm that set up as recently as 2011 but decided to “stay on the ground and invest in [their] own heavy duty servers” because the document management system they set their sights on could only unleash its full power if it was installed on the firm’s own hardware. I think I would have moved my sights elsewhere fairly quickly!

An article on the cloud tells us that lawyers will be able to work using any connected device. Will! They can. I do.

These articles come from interviews with Chief Information Officers or IT Partners at Big Law. All who are in law firms that are clearly several years behind when it comes to cloud technology.

It is, however, recognised that the problem is that Big Law has invested heavily in non-cloud based technology and needs to “sweat their expensive IT investments” before they can justify a move to the cloud.

So I clearly need to revisit my 2014 predictions on the cloud as I now think Big Law will be speaking about it for years to come and it will not become as ubiquitous as quickly as I predicted.

Apparently Eversheds now have 500 iPads in circulation and it is therefore assumed by the Legal Support Network that the idea has worked. I, on the other hand, would imagine that for most of the 500 users their iPads are nothing more than a plaything perk rather than workhorses bringing real benefit to the law firm. This will be especially true if you are not fully in the cloud where tablet access would at least be somewhat beneficial. It would be interesting to see facts and figures on the actual Return on Investment.

When the iPad first came out Lev Grossman wrote in Time:-

While it’s a lovely device for consuming content, it doesn’t do much to facilitate its creation. The iPad shifts the emphasis from creating content to merely absorbing and manipulating it. It mutes you, turns you back into a passive consumer of other people’s masterpieces.

Walter Isaacson in his biography of Steve Jobs commented on this:-

It was a criticism Jobs took to heart. He set about making sure that the next version of the iPad would emphasize ways to facilitate artistic creation by the user.

I don’t think Steve Jobs had lawyers in mind when he did so ;-)

However, many tablets have evolved into mini-laptops (at least those that have their own keyboards) and might now be a more all rounded device for a lawyer to whom screen size is not essential whilst working.

It would appear that at least one Big Law firm is “looking at Windows 8.1, the Surface and Windows phone”. No need to waste time looking – get on and buy! It is beyond me why any law firm would not be buying Microsoft when it is already so ingrained within the legal profession and actually works well for it. Seduction and perceived prestige over function and practicalities leads to a law firm biting at Apple.

Another area where Big Law is clearly way behind the curve is social media:-

Social media has been on our radar for a while.

That while must be about five years or so!

It is perhaps apt when looking at law firms to quote William Gibson:-

The future is already here — it’s just not very evenly distributed.

Image credit: Diagram (adapted by The Time Blawg for this post with the addition of law firm references) by Craig Chelius (private communication with Craig Chelius) [CC-BY-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons:

NewLaw New Rules Reviewed

NewLaw New Rules Reviewed

“Like butterflies in the Amazon, virtual and crowd-based professional
services firms are starting to disrupt. They are leading the rise and rise of
new types of firm–and NewLaw, business model.” [George Beaton: NewLaw New Rules]

New Law New Rules by George Beaton, which was officially launched at Reinvent Law NYC, is a conversation about the future of the legal services industry.

It is a ‘thread’ book that grew out of a blog post by George on ‘The rise and rise of the NewLaw business model‘. That post sparked a torrent of comments and replies. These form the basis of this crowd sourced e-book supplemented and linked with other posts, tweets and George’s narrative.

George uses the terms ‘BigLaw’ and ‘New Law’ to refer to business models. BigLaw and NewLaw do not refer to the size of the firms or when they were founded. BigLaw and NewLaw are distinct and fundamentally different business models.

BigLaw for George is the business model underpinning the operations of traditional law firms. It applies to law firms of all sizes, except solo and micro firms. Whilst the book does not explore solo and micro firms in any detail I would suggest that many such firms may well have the attributes that George gives to NewLaw.

We are told that the BigLaw business model is built on six elements:-

  1. Attraction and training of top legal talent.
  2. Leveraging of these full-time lawyers to do the bulk of the work serving clients.
  3. Creation of a tournament to motivate the lawyers to strive to become equity partners (the idea of a tournament is akin to Roman gladiator contests and the subject of Marc Galanter and Thomas Palau’s seminal book Tournament of Lawyers).
  4. Tight restrictions on the number of equity owners.
  5. Structuring as a partnership.
  6. High hourly rates (which is or at least until very recently has been possible because of the mystique associated with legal advice)

NewLaw on the other hand shares possibly only one of these characteristics, namely the attraction of top legal talent.

In all other respects the NewLaw business model is different. The investors are seeking returns on capital and are separate from the producing staff, so leverage and the tournament are not present. Certainly some, even many of the staff, have a financial interest in the success of their business, but as an asset, not to maximise equity partners’ profits each year. The balance sheets of NewLaw business models are as important as the income statements.

And – most importantly – fees are fixed in NewLaw. The provider, not the client, absorbs the risks of under-estimation and poor matter management.

The conversation in the book revolves between these two models with thoughts, comments and predictions on both.

We hear of disruption and of changes that are structural not cyclical.

There is a suggestion that firms that are less suited to handling highly complex matters might be more at risk from NewLaw competition. This may be true of what are real high complex matters. However, in my experience, BigLaw often over complicates reasonably straightforward transactions. It puts a team of half a dozen lawyers in three departments onto a ‘commercial’ transaction that any competent conveyancer could carry out on their own. When clients begin to realise that NewLaw can simplify the process rather than mystify it then BigLaw may have more to fear than some of the contributors to NewLaw New Rules suggest.

The advantage NewLaw has over BigLaw in adapting technology is discussed where BigLaw have legacy systems that still have to run their course. I will explore this in some detail with reference to Small Law (which could well equate to NewLaw) in my next blog post.

Steven Tyndall thinks NewLaw will better use technology because:-

BigLaw typically asks ‘How can I use technology to do what I do better?’ Whereas NewLaw simply asks ‘How can it be done better?’. The first question results in sustaining technology. The second question does not just reference technology; it is an intrinsic component.

We are told by Peter Carayiannis that client power is reshaping the BigLaw business model:-

Those firms that recognise adaptation is the key to survival and everything revolves around providing the best value to the client will benefit.

The lawyers of the future will also be reshaping things:-

The bottom line is that Gen Y mocks the billable hour and will not spend a career toiling on a billable hour basis. These young professionals have been told they are knowledge workers and that they can work wherever and whenever and need not be fixed to a single location.

Discussion takes place about the need for lawyers to actually change the way they practice law. As Ron Friedmann referencing Jordan Furlong points out:-

90% of what 90% of law firms do today is the same as it ever was. And that’s generous.

BigLaw is training lawyers for New Law. Will NewLaw ever train their own? Although as Jordan Furlong highlights the training may not be as appropriate as it should be:-

Large law firms are facing a near-complete transformation of their business models and are mostly ill-equipped to see this process through. Large firm associate training is designed to produce law firm employees, not entrepreneurial lawyers of the future.

Richard Susskind warns:-

If one leading law firm breaks rank and delivers world-class service at significantly lower cost, using alternative methods of sourcing, then the market will change irreversibly.

It is suggested by George Beaton that for BigLaw firms based on business as usual, profit-per-partner will halve within ten years. From anecdotes I have heard concerning BigLaw (at least in the UK or certainly in Scotland) I though that had already happened to many during the recent recession. A further halving in the next 10 years could therefore to many be a quartering from where levels once stood.

Discussion takes place that specialist boutiques ranging in size from a handful of partners to maybe 20 or 30 will form de novo or by breaking away from large firms. I have referred to this a number of times in the past on this blog with reference to the post by John Flood on ‘The Rise of the Boutiques?‘. This may well result in more and not less law firms as some predict the future of law holds. As John Flood also blogged ‘Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom‘.

Karl Chapman won’t be investing anytime soon in a traditional law firm:-

But, taking a ten-year view I wouldn’t invest in a traditional law firm; the competition (which is well capitalised and run like businesses) has only just started to flex its muscles. As Reagan said ‘you ain’t seen nothing yet’.

Ken Grady thinks that:-

Strong, smart, nimble players will survive; slow, inward-focused and tradition-bound players will struggle and disappear

Peter Kalis from within BigLaw thinks that some (not all) the contributors to New LawNew Rules are “glitterati among the membership of ABLAC”. Apparently ABLAC is the acronym for Attack Big Law at Any Cost. Peter makes it clear that he is in the business of serving clients not selling books and he provides a robust defence of the BigLaw business model and its survival. It is likely that with him at the helm his firm has a good chance of survival. However, many other BigLaw firms may not be so fortunate to have a Chairman who actually considers the threats that NewLaw pose. Indeed potential ignorance on that front amongst BigLaw partners is something that comes out in the book.

Richard Susskind in his forward to NewLaw New Rules states:-

This is mandatory reading for anyone who is interested in legal businesses of the future.

I would second that.

George Beaton must be congratulated for putting NewLaw New Rules together. It is the start of a conversation/debate that I am sure is set to continue as NewLaw firms come and go (not all will survive) and BigLaw firms adapt, change, do nothing, vanish or survive.

I have highlighted excerpts from NewLaw New Rules that particularly caught my personal attention. There are many more contributors to the book, in addition to those specifically mentioned by me, with plenty to say on the topic. There is detailed analysis contained in the book that will appeal to a broad range of people involved in the legal industry from TinyLaw to BigLaw and to those already part of or contemplating NewLaw.

NewLaw New RulesGeorge Beaton has very kindly offered to give readers of The Time Blawg a free copy of NewLaw New Rules. This offer is available until 15 March 2014 only.

To receive your complimentary copy of NewLaw New Rules:-

> Go to Smashwords by clicking on that link
> Register with your name and email address
> Search for NewLaw New Rules
> Click on the title
> Enter this coupon number AN37P
> Your free copy will download

Note: This free copy must be downloaded by 15 March 2014 – the offer expires after this date. If you miss the free offer you can, of course, still purchase NewLaw New Rules via Smashwords or  Amazon UK or Amazon USA and no doubt also at Amazon’s other international sites.

Note about the author: George Beaton is a Legal services industry specialist, Business adviser to law firms, Leader of strategy and research consultancies serving professional services firms, Author, Commentator and Keynote speaker. George is a Partner in Beaton Capital and an associate professor at the University of Melbourne.

Reinvent Law NYC: A view from across the pond

Reinvent Law NYC

A new dawn for law in NYC?

I was in Glasgow, Scotland yesterday and not New York City, USA. I would have been in the latter attending the Reinvent Law Conference had the organisers invited Scott Greenfield to talk. I gave that promise following Reinvent Law London in 2013. It was not to be despite my proding. So instead I followed the hashtag on Twitter. Not the same as being in the room but it gives you a flavour.

I particularly liked the sketchnotes of the Conference from Margaret Hagan.

I am very much a supporter of the ethos behind Reinvent Law. I enjoyed attending LawTech Camp London 2012 and Reinvent Law London 2013. It is good to see boundaries being stretched and ideas about the future of law formed. Perhaps it gives us hope. I am sure that I will continue going to such events in the future. It is usually a good social event too. I would have met many Twegals (legals who tweet) in New York City. Scott Greenfield still went along for the ride despite the speaking snub.

It would have been nice to have said hello to Scott and to others in person.

Whilst perhaps not as extreme in my views, or ways of expressing them, as Scott Greenfield (‘a survivor’s tale‘) I do agree with him that balance is required and is often lacking at these legal tech / futurist conferences.

This is also true of the LawTech Futures Conferences held annually in London since 2012.

Gizmos doth not a lawyer make. It can be a tad worrying to see the image portrayed to young lawyers being one that involves only technology as the future of law with little or no regard to the art of advocacy or indeed any other skills that a lawyer traditionally is should be equipped with.

Those skills take years of practice and honing. We may yet reach a stage where a computer takes over – but we are a little bit away from that yet.

Donning Google Glass will not make you the next Petrocelli. This fact is often ignored. Largely I believe because those preaching don’t have those skills (they may well have Google Glasses). They are non-practicing ‘lawyers’.

To invite up on the stage some actual practicing lawyers would give balance and a dose of reality. Not a bad thing for the young lawyers of today.

And don’t think some practicing lawyers (even Scott Greenfield) don’t get IT. Scott is a blogger that leaves most all lawyers in the shade. He is a blawgoneer. There is much for the aspiring lawyer to learn from Scott. I am not so sure about the AOL desktop though!

Many sole practitioners (solos as I think they call them in the States) are way ahead of Big Law when it comes to IT (a theme that I intend to continue in future blog posts). Those attending Reinvent Law conferences could learn a thing or two from what is actually happening to improve efficiencies and client experiences within ‘Small Law’.

There was also apparently a dearth of women contributing to Reinvent Law NYC.

I am sure if the organisers had asked Nicole Black, Betsy Munnell, Stephanie Kimbro and Carolyn Elefant (to name but four) to speak they would have been happy to oblige. Next year perhaps?

One of the better Futurist conferences I have attended in recent times (‘Evolution or Extinction’) was actually held in Scotland and what made it so was the number of coalface practitioners telling us how they had advanced or were advancing their real life businesses. Traditional law firms can adapt and thrive. There is a lot for law firm partners and new start-ups to learn from such experiences. If they attend or tune in to hear that is!

Reinvent Law may need to consider adapting itself. There are things you will not currently hear at Reinvent Law. There are things that perhaps you should be hearing. A balanced view will give Tomorrow’s Lawyers a better start in legal life and a much healthier future than a one sided view will.

I have been accused of “mixing good old traditional values with an innovative approach to delivering legal services”. You can mix the two. You should mix the two. That is what I call Forward Thinking Law.

Reinvent Law is a fairly new kid on the block. I am not knocking it. I think it has something to offer. But the organisers should perhaps pay attention to the crowd and let it develop. Originally the talks were crowd sourced. That did not happen in New York City. Perhaps a retrograde move? Perhaps one designed to keep some speakers out? But even when crowd sourced many potential good talks were excluded as those who did most canvasing usually got in. Perhaps a first come first up approach – open up the invites and list the talks as they are entered on the web? Have some invited speakers too (and please do invite Scott Greenfield this time and a few other practitioners from the coalface, especially solos/small law). Perhaps a quota for women to address the gender imbalance? Expand the focus. Oh… and don’t forget the coffee and WiFi.

I might call along Reinvent Law London 2014 to see if Reinvent Law reinvents itself. Or…


Future Law: IT and Legal Practice Predictions for 2014

Businessman Predicting 2011 with Crystal Ball

Looks a lot like 2011. Lawyers are slow adopters after all.

A couple of days ago I looked back to what happened in 2013. Today I will look forward to what might happen in 2014.

I first made legal IT predictions in 2011 on this blog. I will for 2014 follow the same format and topics (with perhaps some extra ones thrown in at the end).

Social Media

Future of Social Media for Lawyers

I see a blue bird tweeting

I didn’t blog at all about social media in 2013. This was a stark contrast from previous years on this blog. Perhaps this means social media has become more accepted and common place amongst lawyers and there is less controversy and hype surrounding it. Or have we just got fed up writing about it! I did, however, participate in a video in 2013 for Sweet & Maxwell on Social Media for Legal Professionals.

Nicole Black has given her predictions for 2014:-

First, let’s take a look at social media. Clearly this is a phenomenon, not a fad, despite many lawyers’ assertions to the contrary over the years. It’s obviously not going away and for that reason, lawyers are now flocking to social media in droves. That trend will continue and lawyers’ participation in social media will increase markedly in 2014.

LinkedIn will be the gateway drug, as it has always been, with Facebook coming in second. Participation on both of those platforms will continue to rise. Twitter will also see a slight rise in usage, although not nearly as dramatic of an increase as the other two.

But the true winner with lawyers next year will be Google Plus. I believe that platform has truly come of age and many lawyers will begin to prefer it for online interaction over all others.

In 2011 Nicole was also favouring LinkedIn and Facebook over Twitter. Google+ didn’t exist back then. I disagreed with Nicole then and would do so again. LinkedIn is deadly boring, Facebook I have managed to avoid and Twitter is the social media channel that keeps giving. If lawyers want to choose one to concentrate on Twitter is, in my humble opinion, the clear winner. For networking and opportunities of all kinds it has to be Twitter. If lawyers are going elsewhere they are lost or misguided.

My Twitter story of 2013 didn’t involve the law but The Pogues. My friend and fellow Shetlander, John Abernethy, was on Mastermind with his specialist subject being The Pogues. I tweeted, whilst watching the TV programme, that I knew John. The Official Pogues Twitter Account noticed this and tweeted asking me if I could get John in touch with them. We followed one another and sent DMs with me texting John (who is not on Twitter) and DMing his replies to The Pogues. The end result was 4 free tickets to see The Pogues in Glasgow in December.


There are similar legal practice related stories that I could tell about Twitter in 2013 but they are all less exciting than that one! The fact is Twitter works and sometimes in weird, wonderful and unexpected ways. Some benefits of Twitter (including having a ‘Twitter’ phone conversation with me!) were recently set out in a blog post by Dr Renginee Pillay on ‘A Very Personal Musing : An Ode to My Twitterati’.

I recently read that Facebook is ‘dead and buried’, replaced by simpler networks. The following exchange of views on this took place on Twitter (would that have happened on Facebook, LinkedIn or Google+ I wonder?):-




I probably need to spend a bit more time on Google+ to judge it properly. Initial impressions are that it does not give you anything like the immediate connectivity that Twitter does.

So my prediction for 2014 is that Twitter will remain the best social media platform for lawyers but that won’t stop many mistakenly thinking that LinkedIn (or even Facebook!) is the place to be.

There were less Twegal Tweetups in 2013 than in the previous two years. I hope that we will see more of these in 2014.


Future of Blawging

I see nothing new!

Back in 2011 I said it was going to be the year of the Blawgs. It wasn’t. Neither was 2012 or 2013. Nicole Black in her 2014 predictions doesn’t mention blawging at all. She did in 2011. There are not a lot of blawgs out there that have not been about for a while. It is great to see Charon QC back (after illness kept him away and prevented his Red Jag Tour) on top form blawging in his inimitable style.

Law Firm website blogs (which have no doubt increased in number) generally peddle general legal news stories rather than bespoke blawgs. Some might even be flawgs.

I created a Crofting Law Blog in 2013 and see scope for more niche legal blogs like this. It was referenced by MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) on a number of occasions in debates in the Scottish Parliament during the passage of a Crofting Amendment Bill. Lucy Reed had her Pink Tape Blog quoted in a Court Judgement in 2013. So Blawgs are now getting attention in high places. All the more reason for lawyers to blawg.

New blawgs that have recently piqued my interest include the one I mentioned earlier by Dr Renginee Pillay: Myriad Musings and one by Jon Busby which combines his photography of Faces of Law with his subjects sharing their stories to connect up the past, present and future of law.

My 2014 Blawging prediction is exactly the same as it was in 2013. You can read that here: The Time Blawg – Two Years On (Part 2: Blawging). Perhaps in 2015 I will, like Nicole Black already has, stop making predictions about Blawging!


Despite the fact that YouTube is the third most visited website in the world and the second most popular search engine after Google, the use of videos by law firms remains in its infancy. It will, I predict, remain so in 2014.

Defero Law showcase law firm videos on their site and also had a competition in 2013 for the best law firm TV advert.

My own law firm, Inksters, managed to produce one video in 2013: A Christmas message to tie in with our now traditional Christmas Hats:-

We have three more videos currently in production at Inksters that we will be releasing in 2014.

One interesting video project to keep an eye on comes from Jon Harman #projectmayhem. Here is the taster video with more promised in 2014:-

Legal Documentation Online

Not a lot more than previous years appears, on the face of it, to be happening on this front. But perhaps more is going on in the background than meets the eye. Last year I mentioned LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer making the transition from the US to the UK. One year on and as reported at LegalFutures: LegalZoom soft-launches in UK as Rocket Lawyer outlines plans for major growth. Perhaps 2014 will be the year that this area starts to take off in the UK but I rather think the impact of it will only start to be seen two or three years down the line.

Cloud Computing

After some initial resistance lawyers now appear to be accepting the benefits of cloud computing. I have not heard the excuses for not adopting it in 2013 that I did in previous years. More lawyers are definitely taking it up as they upgrade their IT systems and this trend will continue in 2014 and beyond. In a few years it will be ubiquitous and will no longer feature in annual predictions. Indeed it may well get scored out by me as a topic in 2015.

Mobile Devices

Future of Legal Technology

Where did the Apple go?

More people in the world now have access to mobile phones than to toothbrushes. So it follows that law firms need responsive design websites that can be accessed on mobile devices. There will be a slow move towards this as law firms upgrade their existing websites but don’t expect a rush in 2014.

Paisley Sheriff Court in Scotland has taken the retrograde step of banning the use of iPads by lawyers. I hope this is an isolated case and more courts do not follow suit in 2014.

Whilst the use of smartphones and tablets will continue to rise amongst lawyers I do believe that often these devices are best for consuming information rather than producing documentation. Also lack of WiFi and poor 3G signals within courts can limit their usefulness if indeed the court has not already banned their use.

Many lawyers still have to cotton on to the fact that a Surface may stand them in better stead than an iPad. I don’t think that will change dramatically in 2014.



What about Google Glass? Well a trial lawyer is the USA is trying it out. I don’t predict much take up by UK lawyers in 2014.


Future of QualitySolicitors

Nova Scotia perhaps?

Last year I predicted that my law firm, Inksters, would have more offices in Scotland by the end of 2013 than QualitySolicitors. We opened two new ones in 2013 giving us four in total. That is four more than QualitySolicitors have in Scotland. I predict that the same will be true by the end of 2014.

Last year Jordan Furlong predicted that QualitySolicitors would “expand its operations from the UK to Canada, offering franchise business support to solo and small-firm lawyers and beginning the transformation of the Canadian consumer law sector”. Jordan did say it was his “long shot”. Perhaps QualitySolicitors need to crack Scotland and become a UK brand before they head to Nova Scotia!

Law Firm Leadership

However, I will give Jordan Furlong his dues on his 2014 prediction (not a long shot) concerning law firm leadership:-

2014 will be last call for leadership in law firms. Most firms have spent the past several years continually kicking the can a few feet down the road, instituting short-term measures and stopgap solutions to keep profits steady and partners away from the kill switch. The weakest lawyers have now been culled, the least powerful staff have been fired, the most obvious mergers have been concluded, and the shiniest baubles on the free-agent lateral market have been pursued and signed. That’s it. There’s nothing left in the tactical arsenal. All the time outs have been used up.

Firms are now standing face-to-face with the hard truth they’ve been trying their best to avoid: their business practices have rendered them uncompetitive. They pay more lawyers than they need to burn up more resources than necessary to produce services of undistinguished quality at an arbitrary, inflated, cost-plus price point. Many of these issues are rooted in a lawyer compensation system that, in the immortal words of Stephen Mayson, “pays out too much too quickly to the wrong people doing the wrong thing.”

Law firms need new business practices better adapted to a highly competitive, increasingly sophisticated legal market heavily infiltrated by process and technology. Re-engineering the business practices of a multi-million-dollar professional services firm with dozens if not hundreds of autonomous owners is an extraordinarily difficult task, and only those firms with equally extraordinary leadership and culture will pull it off. 2014 is the year we start finding out which firms have leaders who can rise to this massive challenge — by counting the increasingly rapid downward spirals of those that don’t.

We will, I also predict, be unfortunately counting those downward spirals in 2014.

What do you think?

What do you think 2014 has in store for IT and legal practice?

Note: My law firm, Inksters, became, in May 2009, the founding Scottish Member firm of QualitySolicitors. This was before QualitySolicitors became the branded organisation that it is today. We decided not to rebrand as QualitySolicitors Inksters but instead left QualitySolicitors and are building our own unique brand Inksters. I believe that QualitySolicitors could be a good fit for certain high street law firms but was no longer the correct direction for Inksters to pursue. My comments on this blog are not related in any way to Inksters one time membership of QualitySolicitors and if considered in any way to be critical should be taken in the constructive sense.

The Practice of Law in 2013

The Practice of Law in 2013

The Time Blawg was three years old on 1 January 2014.

It is now, at this time of year, traditional for me to look back over the past year on The Time Blawg with my reflections and thoughts on the past, present and future practice of law. So here goes.

In 2013 I blogged less on The Time Blawg than I had done in the two previous years. Indeed last year my review of 2012 was done in 4 parts! This year my review of 2013 will easily fit into one blog post (I will do a second post on my predictions for 2014 as I usually cover that at this time of year also). The reason was not a waining interest in the past, present and future practice of law or of blogging in general. On the contrary my energies have been channelled into the future of my own law firm, Inksters. I have opened two new offices (in Wick and Portree) and moved the firm to a much larger new Glasgow HQ (affectionately known as the Inksterplex!) all in 2013. I will hopefully get around to blogging about the why and how of what Inksters are up to at The Time Blawg in 2014.

I also started a new blog in 2013 on crofting law (a niche area of law that I specialise in) with 37 blog posts being contributed by me to it since it began in March. So I was a bit distracted from The Time Blawg. I did have some ideas for posts and a few were drafted but never finalised. I wanted to write more about my experiences of the Surface. I had more to say about QualitySolicitors. I have been promising for some time a follow up on my experiment. I may find time later in 2014 to make amends. Until then what did I manage to cover on The Time Blawg in 2013? Well it was mostly reviews of Legal Technology / Futurist Conferences I attended or books I had read.

First up in February was Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century – Reviewed. I commended this book by Mitchell Kowlaski to any lawyers serious about their future. But I suggested that they don’t just read it but act on it. A theme that was to emerge in other posts throughout 2013.

In April I reported on some simple but effective technology being employed by the Scottish Land Court at hearings. It also made me think and ponder on the Blawg about what else the courts could be doing to utilise technology and create efficiencies.

April also saw me review Richard Susskind’s latest book ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’. I finished my review with this paragraph:-

As I said about Mitchell Kowalski’s book, Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century, with Tommorow’s Lawyers don’t just read it and hope it never happens. Much of it is already reality and much more will become reality. If you want to be one of tomorrow’s lawyers read it, digest it and, most importantly, act on it. Richard Susskind hopes you will “want to be one of the pioneers” rather than respond defensively (“how can we stop this happening?”). I, for one, am in the pioneer camp. Join me for the ride if you dare.

April was a month of sadness when I heard of the death of Elizabeth Miles. I put my thoughts down in a blog post about ‘a true Twitter friend’.

Whilst I did not blog about it at the time 2013 saw the sad loss of others I had become acquainted with through Social Media.

Gianni Sonvico

Gianni Sonvico

In November Gianni Sonvico’s body was found in the Thames. Gianni was only 23 and had just been called to the Bar. He was a young lawyer with a bright future ahead of him. That future was very sadly brought to an end. I had the good fortune to meet Gianni once when a few of us went out for a curry in London after a Twegals Tweetup. It was a very amusing and memorable evening.

November also saw the untimely death of Paul McConville at the age of 47. Paul was well known for his blog: Random Thoughts Re. Scots Law. I met Paul only once when he visited me to pick my brains on something. He was a very likeable and intelligent lawyer. I think we picked one another’s brains that day. Ian Smart, who knew him much better than I did, blogged on Paul McConville’s passing.

The anonymous editor of Blawg Review died in October. Not many had met Ed or knew who he was. He did a great job over the years in bringing law blogs to the attention of many by encouraging blawgers to write blawg reviews. In recent times these reviews had unfortunately dwindled in number. Not because there were less blawg posts to review but because, I think, there were a limited number of blawgers willing to put in the time and effort to write the reviews. I know, having done one for UK Blawg Roundup (The Time Travel Edition), that it is a time consuming task. I do, however, now regret not writing a review for Blawg Review. Ed asked me and I said I couldn’t at the time but would do so at a future date. I didn’t realise the future for Ed was not going to be a long one. Some of the stalwarts of Blawg Review created a final edition in Ed’s memory. Starting with Scott Greenfield’s post, each chapter linked to the next, before returning to the post by Colin Samuels on Blawg Review and “closing the loop one last time”.

In April I attended the biggest legal technology event in Europe. I blogged about it:  LawTech Futures 2013 Reviewed: The one with the neocortex. On the ‘neocortex’ keynote talk by Ray Kurzweil I blogged:-

For most lawyers struggling to decide whether to upgrade to Windows 8 from XP (having missed Windows 7) or just wait for Windows 9 it was all a bit too Dr Who.

In June I was speaking in Edinburgh about Cloud Computing for Law Firms.

Also in June I was at the Reinvent Law conference in London. I blogged about that: Reinvent Law London 2013 Reviewed: DO – don’t just talk. Again the clear message was “Reinvention is Doing Not Talking”. The next Reinvent Law conference was at that time planned for November 2013 in New York City. That was subsequently postponed to February 2014. New York criminal defence lawyer, Scott Greenfield, reckons Reinvent Law requires “balance instead of just cheerleaders”. The organisers of Reinvent Law New York City have an excellent opportunity to include that balance by inviting Scott to speak. I said I would book a flight for it if they did. Alas they have not done so as yet despite my proding:-



In a recent blog post on ‘Innovation – of course, it’s what we all do, isn’t it?’ Paul Gilbert said:-

We have created a sort of pointless coin toss – “heads” we talk of change endlessly, but “tails” let’s defend the status quo. All this tossing about has resulted in two very irritating side-effects. The first is the rise of the “thought-leader” – a small self-appointed cohort of media savvy preeners, masticating the bleedin’ obvious and expectorating platitudes. The second irritant is the rank NIMBY-ism of so many lawyers; they sit, metaphorically arms folded across their chests, demanding that others impress them with innovative thinking failing which they conclude they must be doing just fine…

Finally the endless chatter about change has paralysed our ability to think for ourselves. The epitome of this nonsense is the evermore flaccid agenda for over-hyped conferences on change/new thinking. These are empty vessels devoid of anything more compelling than half-hearted networking…

Sometimes the networking is the best part of these conferences. Meeting Scott Greenfield in person would have made Reinvent Law NYC a worthwhile event to attend. I know, roughly, what his talk would probably have been about. Others might have benefited from hearing that also.

In September I attended a debate on Law Firm Mergers at the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow. Was it “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven”? In 2013 we saw plenty of law firm partners in Scotland handing over the keys to law firms in England. We are likely to see more of that in 2014.

Evolution or Extinction for law firms?

That brings me nicely onto the last post of 2013. A conference on Evolution or Extinction for law firms organised by the Law Society of Scotland. One thing that set this conference apart from some of the others I attended in 2013 was the high percentage of speakers who had been there (some were still there), done that and bought the T-Shirt. They brought actual experiences from the coal face of running and growing very successful law firms. A lot can be gleaned from such experiences. Conference organisers don’t always appreciate that. I finished my blog post with this paragraph:-

So will we lawyers evolve or face extinction? I have no doubt, as we heard at the conference, that there are many opportunities to evolve if you have the resolve to do so. But those not prepared to adapt may well face extinction. A look around the room or a read through the delegate list showed that the evolutionists were preaching to the converted. Those that are likely to face extinction don’t know it yet. They were not there to hear why.

I do believe that there are benefits to be had from such conferences even if it is just confirming that you are on the right track in what you are doing within your own law practice or in benefiting from those networking opportunities mentioned earlier. Occasionally you may even pick up an idea or two that you can adapt or apply for the benefit of your own law firm. This will be especially so if the speakers have real life experiences to impart. The important point is to act and do following the conference. I will no doubt report on more legal technology / futurist conferences in 2014 but that does not look like it will include Reinvent Law NYC. I’ll book my flight when they book Scott Greenfield.

Evolution or Extinction for Law Firms?

Evolution or Extinction for law firms?

Are lawyers destined for the museum?

On 24 September 2013 I attended the annual flagship Law in Scotland Conference organised by the Law Society of Scotland. This year the conference was held in Glasgow and theme was Evolution or Extinction.

President of the Law Society of Scotland, Bruce Beveridge, opened the conference by telling us “It is the species that is most adaptable to change that will survive” (a quote or misquote of Darwin). We were told that whilst optimism in the legal profession is low the fact of the matter is that the number of solicitors is at an all time high, unemployed solicitors are comparatively low in number and there are more traineeship opportunities. From a recent recruitment exercise at my own law firm, Inksters, it was heart breaking to see the number of applicants who were unemployed. From the number of CVs we get each week from aspiring trainees and knowing who have and have not got traineeships within my tutorial group at the Diploma of Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow I think that traineeship opportunities need to be much better. Perhaps comparisons were being made with numbers two or three years ago but I would be surprised if they could be compared with  pre-recession days.

The first keynote of the day was delivered by Richard Susskind who was introduced as a technology geek for having a Blackberry and an iPhone. However, Richard is probably simply evolving his mobile phone usage as the former becomes extinct! Richard’s talk was very similar to the one he gave  recently at Reinvent Law London. I have also reviewed his most recent book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers, on this blog. Some points I particularly noted, this time around, as I tweeted were:-

  • Can decompose any piece of legal work – then what is the most efficient way of doing each bit. Meeting the more for less challenge.
  • If there is going to be cannibalisation you want to be the first to the feast – discussion on Lawyers on Demand.
  • We are training 20th Century lawyers not 21st Century ones.

Richard gave many examples of different ways of working in today’s legal world. Many were from England or the USA. There were no Scottish examples other than perhaps the latest outsourcing venture from Ashurst in Glasgow. Are Scottish firms behind the curve? Are we always a few years behind our English neighbours?

Ahead of the conference Richard told the Journal of the Law Society of Scotland why tomorrow’s lawyers can expect a world radically different even from the changed times of today: Moving up the gears.

Richard Susskind - Law in Scotland 2013

Richard suggested that the last time he spoke at a Law Society of Scotland Conference (2009) no one had heard of Twitter. Not quite correct. I specifically recall tweeting from that conference and interacting with CharonQC about the lack of any mention of Twitter at it! Facebook, I recall, was flavour of the day back then and/or the next big thing. A search through my Twitter archive reveals the relevant tweet from 9 May 2009:-

But it is true that very few lawyers were using Twitter in 2009. My Twitter archive shows that 9 delegates at the 2009 conference were on Facebook. The figure today (although it was not asked) is likely to be considerably higher. A poll of hands showed 20% of the delegates were now (at the 2013 conference) using Twitter. When Stephen Gold asked the same question in the afternoon only two hands (including my own) went up. So a good few Twegals (lawyers who tweet) must have flown from the conference early.

On the subject of Twitter: at the outset of the conference I asked @LawScot what the hashtag for the conference was. In the absence of any reply I made up my own: #lssconf (shorthand for Law Society of Scotland Conference and in keeping with the previous evening’s official #lsssgm: Law Society of Scotland Special General Meeting). Later in the morning I noticed @LawScot tweeting using the hashtag #LawinScotland. By then I had tweeted quite a bit using my own hashtag. It was also a good bit shorter which is always a good idea with conference hashtags. So I kept using it. A suggestion for next year would be for the Law Society of Scotland to fix on and advertise an official hashtag before and at the conference. How about simply #LawScot or, if need be, #LawInScot?

Dragons Den at Law in Scotland 2013

A Dragons’ Den style session saw a panel pitch to the audience (the Dragons) ideas for the future health and wellbeing of Conveyancing in Scotland. This covered standardisation of documentation, a quality assurance scheme, one central universally used online dealing room, greater collaboration between the Scottish Property Centres and overcoming conflict of interest concerns. The latter seemed to get the Dragons vote, possibly as a result of the vote against separate representation the previous evening.

Eric Wright of The Business Champions Limited had a practical session on how to negotiate with your bank. An important area for any law firm in these days of squeezed finance. The message was one of being organised and prepared. You need good housekeeping, planning and to prepare thoroughly. You should speak to your accountants, know your numbers and be a smart operator. Although Eric didn’t say it I was thinking that it was those types that always get the backing they are looking for when they go into the Dragons’ Den. Same principle whether it is private equity or bank loans you are after.

Eric continued with questions to ask yourself: What do you really need? Can you service the debt? What security is available? Eric pointed out that it was better to have a deal than no deal! But don’t threaten your bank as to do so is likely to result in a ‘lose’ situation. I know from recent personal experience in obtaining funding for Inksters‘ continued expansion and in particular our new Glasgow HQ that Banks do, understandably, want a significant amount of detail, facts and figures. Present them with that and if it all adds up chances are you will get the backing that you need. We certainly did and refurbishment of our new offices are currently well underway thanks to the Bank of Scotland.

Another session on banking had two bankers, James Oliver and Scott Foster, from The Royal Bank of Scotland tell us how to manage the bank manager. There was a degree of overlap with what Eric Wright had been telling us and I was wondering as to the benefits of having both sessions at the same conference. A couple of points that I noted that perhaps were not covered by Eric were (1) are you still using only 30% of your computer systems?; and (2) the benefits on cash flow of accepting credit card payments. It is a certain that most lawyers are using only a small percentage of the computer power at their disposal. I know that at Inksters we could be doing much more than we currently are with the systems we have. However, we are constantly working on improving on and increasing that usage. It takes time, planning, buy-in and resources. But well worth it when you see the systems deliver results for you. On the second point it amazes me that some law firms are not in this day and age taking credit card payments. It is a no brainer. We have been doing it at Inksters for at least a decade and online via our website since 2008. I can’t see how you can run a business today without offering card payments.

Forster Dean logo explained at Law in Scotland 2013

Greg Shields told us how we could compete with the big brands. Greg was CEO of Forster Dean – the largest high street law firm in the UK – for the past 7 years and has recently founded I always like presentations from those that have been at the coal face and can tell of their real life experiences. Some highlights from Greg’s talk that I tweeted at the  time:-

  • Sole practitioners are very entrepreneurial people.
  • You may be the owner of the law firm but not necessarily the right person to manage it.
  • Surround yourself with excellence. Stay away from negative people.
  • Consider a non-executive director.
  • If I was starting a law firm now it would be with an Apple Mac and an iPhone: you can do it all in the cloud. [My add: ... perhaps with a Surface + Windows Phone ;-)]
  • Recognise what people are doing around you. Staff are your biggest asset. [My add: So true. However, I recall a law firm senior partner telling me they were a liability!]
  • Have some fun.
  • Read The future beyond brands – lovemarks by Kevin Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi.
  • Forster Dean new branding done through online crowdsourcing of designers. Low cost for good design.
  • Black associated with death – possibly why QS use it! [My add: Ahmm... we use it at Inksters to good effect :-) With colour splashes too ;-)]
  • Inspired a removal of the barriers between lawyer and customer.
  • Secretaries were much better at social media than lawyers were. [My add: Greg doesn't tweet. I think he should]
  • If innovative other companies want to work with you.

I have read Bruce MacEwen’s blog at Adam Smith, Esq for some time and was looking forward to hearing him speak. He didn’t disappoint with the second keynote of the day: ‘Growth Is Dead: Now What?’ Some highlights, again as tweeted by me at the time:-

  • 60% of law firm owners not confident about their own future.
  • Treat your business like a business.
  • Other law firms but more dangerous are “substitutes”.
  • If clients like the substitutes they won’t return in a hurry to the traditional law firm.
  • Obscure logo on law firm  websites and guess which is which. Not easy. All the same.
  • Greatest threat = Complacency.
  • Psychology of lawyers is unique – Sceptical and not resilient.
  • Have to be optimistic.
  • What’s the one single thing that every law firm must have? A = clients.
  • Alternative fees are your new best friend.
  • Must manage costs – have the data from historical transactions.
  • The more client touch points the better to keep them and avoid attrition.
  • The best way to predict the future is to invent it.
  • Grant permission to innovate (and to fail).
  • Have a R&D budget for your law firm.
  • Law firm partners shoot down any ideas of change.
  • Older law firm partners want steady as you go towards their retirement. Younger ones want a plan.
  • Technology is relentless. ABS models to come will be unlike anything we have ever seen. US won’t stop it happening there.

Bruce MacEwen’s book ‘Growth Is Dead: Now What?’ was given out to delegates at the conference so I am looking forward to reading that.

Ros Taylor was the third keynote speaker of the day with ‘Ten commandments for success’. She had interviewed many of the most succesful business people in the world. She told us that a leader’s behaviour influences profitability by + or – 15%. Successful people are good at what they do. They don’t have personal goals but business ones. Networking, surprisingly perhaps, is not a priority. They do, however, possess great interpersonal skills. Her research shows that consistently these people have the following attributes:-

  1. Problem solve.
  2. Deliver the goods.
  3. Want to win.
  4. Relate.
  5. Trust the team.
  6. Destress.
  7. Love change.
  8. Know yourself.
  9. Love to make a deal.
  10. Confident.

shapesRos also had us drawing our own train with the people who have most influenced us on it. Most forgot to put themselves on the train – driving it. This could have been a significant omission apparently. We also found out what type of person we were: based on whether we liked a square, rectangle, triangle, circle or squiggle! I am a triangle if you were wondering. That makes me a leader apparently. It should also mean that I drive a sleek sports car. I don’t. I catch that train I’m not driving instead! See: What shape is your personality?

You can always rely on Stephen Gold for a good talk on managing your law firm. Stephen has been there, done that and bought the T-shirt. He transformed Golds from a Glasgow suburban sole practice to a cross-border market leader that merged with Irwin Mitchell. I always enjoy a chat with Stephen and it was good to hear his words of wisdom at the conference on ‘Take the High Street! Success, not just survival in the new normal’. These, again as tweeted by me at the time, are:-

  • We as legal practitioners need a clear vision that is achievable and affordable.
  • We take a pride in technical ability but fundamental is that sale has to come first.
  • Didn’t practice law for last 20 years. Spent it winning work and managing relations.
  • Many lawyers do not aspire to be rainmakers.
  • No longer the case that if you have a pulse and a practising certificate you can make a decent living.
  • Good lawyers + astute business people = successful law firm.
  • Service more important to client than technical ability. What gets you ahead re. competition is a brilliant service experience.
  • Take it for granted that a lawyer will know the law.
  • Can you make an appointment with your lawyer on your iPad of an evening – are you really accessible.
  • Phone a lawyer. Get “what is it concerning”? Why?
  • Use Skype for client meetings.
  • … Use paypal to get payment for that meeting before the Skype call.
  • Anybody can do online. Invest properly in a great website. Done properly will repay the investment several times over.
  • Importance of having real ambition and understand growth as much about changing mindset. About energy and open-mindedness.
  • Successful law firms invest time and money in people who are non-lawyers but experts in areas required as a business.

Another successful Glasgow lawyer is Austin Lafferty. Again with him you get the coal face stories and he is still chipping away at that coal. He wrapped up the conference well with ‘Not just surviving, but thriving. A High Street blueprint for success’. Once more you get Austin’s words of wisdom by way of my tweets:-

  • Lot of work will come from existing clients but building external connections will reap more.
  • Branding to do with client experience. Front office: is it a mess? Old pot plant, files of papers, crushed coke can?
  • Clients not wondering about quality of legal advice. Is he wearing the same old jumper and is his office still smelling of curry?
  • Solicitors don’t like change or being made to change.

The conference was brought to a close (as it was opened) by President of the Law Society of Scotland, Bruce Beveridge. My review covers all the sessions at the conference that I went to. There were, however, other streams and so my apologies to those speakers whose talks I have not covered but I couldn’t have been in two or more rooms at once unless I had used my Tardis and it has been playing up of late ;-)

So will we lawyers evolve or face extinction? I have no doubt, as we heard at the conference, that there are many opportunities to evolve if you have the resolve to do so. But those not prepared to adapt may well face extinction. A look around the room or a read through the delegate list showed that the evolutionists were preaching to the converted. Those that are likely to face extinction don’t know it yet. They were not there to hear why.

[Image Credits: Dodo in a lawyer's wig from The Lawyer Witness: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - inserted into gallery scene using PhotoFunia; Dragons' Den Chairs: ©BBC]