Improving at Reinvent Law


I am speaking at Reinvent Law London on 20 June 2014. The title of my talk is ‘Improving’, inspired by a blog post of the same name by Jon Busby : Improving.

The truth is that lawyers are trying to reinvent themselves into something they will never be instead of improving on what they actually are.

The premise of my talk is that you might be able to reinvent your law firm by improving it a bit at a time. I will look at real life examples from my own law firm, Inksters, in the presentation.

This will be stuff from the coal face that I think is often missing from legal futurist and technology conferences where the focus tends to be on star gazing to 2034 rather than what can actually happen today.

A quick look at the 24 speakers announced so far suggests that perhaps only 4 are practicing lawyers and I think I might be the only UK based one of those.

I have long been a campaigner for Scott Greenfield to be invited to talk at a Reinvent Law Conference.

Looks like that day has yet to come.

I will see what I can do without Scott on 20 June. Whether I dance solo remains to be seen! Book your free ticket (or give a donation when you do so) to the event now to find out: Reinvent Law London 2014 Tickets

Lawyers doing business online: From Click to Client Conference

Legal Futures Click to Client Conference

I have been a bit critical of late of legal technology and legal futurist conferences that are looking far into the future and not concentrating on what can actually be achieved by law firms here and now. It is refreshing therefore to see the programme for Legal Futures’ next event: The NatWest mmadigital From Click to Client Conference in London on Monday 16th June 2014. I do, of course, have to declare an interest as I am one of the speakers. So my advance write up may be a bit biased. But when you look at the line up it is on the whole real coal face practitioners who have actually been using online technology to improve their businesses. Other lawyers can learn a lot from these pioneers. It is not pie in the sky stuff about what we might or might not be doing in 2034 (I hope to have retired by then!).

The Click to Client Conference will look at developing a digital strategy. Who better than Tessa Shepperson and Paul Hajek to be on the panel for that session. I have referenced both of these digital legal pioneers a number of times in posts on this blog. You will also hear about the golden rules of digital marketing and ‘Find a Solicitor’ websites. Steve Kuncewicz and I will be looking at making the best of social media. A bit more futuristic perhaps, but nonetheless a reality in play today, will be sessions on legal intelligence meets artificial intelligence and also a look through the google glass. So all in all a practical look at technology lawyers can be using today and could be using tomorrow (not the distant future) to enhance their practices.

This is a must attend Conference for any lawyers with an interest in using online technology to grow their business. There is an early bird price if you book before 30th April of £199 plus VAT. That sounds like a good deal to me. BOOK NOW and reboot your law firm. I look forward to seeing you there!

Big law, small law, new law, old law… it’s bigger than that

Big law, small law, new law, old law.... it's bigger than that

Guest Post by Ben Wightwick

Firstly, thank you to Brian for inviting me to write a guest post as part of the Legal IT curve series. I was asked to contribute to provide the perspective of a legal IT vendor. Before I start, I must clarify that I am blending my vendor hat with one that has just under 10 years experience in an IT department at a “big law” firm in London. HighQ, the company I now work for, has been selling “cloud” and progressive enterprise cloud collaboration tools and solutions to law firms for the last decade.

First of all I’d like to say that I’m of the opinion that it doesn’t matter what type of law firm you work for or how you classify it. It’s bigger than that. I think all firms, businesses and organisations inside and outside of the legal vertical face very similar challenges. On the flip side of that same coin, all organisations have the same opportunities. These challenges and opportunities come at a time when technology is changing and influencing our personal lives while leaving a bitter taste within the enterprise. Not 10 years ago it was only within the enterprise that we had access the latest software and devices. It was the enterprise where we saw the most innovation. This has changed forever – you can’t put the genie back in the bottle. I now have access to more innovation in my pocket via my smartphone than most enterprise software applications. Enterprise software has become stale, and this is not unique to legal.

According to Ray Wang of Constellation Research, “in the shift toward dominating digital disruption, CIOs can only move as fast as their organization’s DNA will allow while driving transformation.” When we review that statement and apply it to a law firm dynamic we come up against the single most important factor in the law firm technology debate: law firms are and always will be risk averse. As Ray puts it, it’s in their DNA. Just look at the technology adoption lifecycle which quotes five phases of adopters:

Innovators – – Early Adopters – – Early Majority – – Late Majority – – Laggards

In almost all instances, law firms will be in the Late Majority or Laggard phases of technology adoption. This is because many or most are resistant to change as written by Larry Bridgesmith. There are of course, people, teams and entire firms outside of these two categories but by and large it’s an accurate assessment.  A risk averse stance will, in my mind, delay law firms (large and small) from progressing and moving forward. It could mean they miss opportunities and expose themselves to greater long term risks associated with survival.

Law firms need to be more agile. Whilst some manage this, the majority have focused on infrastructure and keeping the lights on while doing little to influence or transform the business. There have obviously been reasons for this. Many CIOs’ budgets have been cut in the last five years, even in “big law”. Arguably this has prevented innovation or an attempt at early mainstream adoption of technologies, ultimately firms have had to make do. There has been a wide spread consolidation of the market in the form of mergers and experiments with outsourcing. This all contributes to a lack of tangible forward motion in technological advancement.

Of course there are great examples of law firms using technology to drive efficiency and productivity. Those firms who are looking at technology as an enabler are making the charge forward. Those who are driving forward look at their assets and assess each based on what they can do today and on their potential to deliver in the future. This is all common sense, but many either don’t have the time to focus on it or focus on other more “important” things. Law firms of any size need technology to be simple and scalable. When you talk about adoption you should be aiming for limited IT involvement or training. This, I feel, is the primary role of the future CIO.

Currently there are, broadly speaking, four types of CIOs: Chief Integration Officer; Chief Innovation Officer; Chief Infrastructure Officer and Chief Intelligence Officer. All CIOs will fall into one of these main camps. Many will be more than competent in the rest, but they each have a natural alignment. Many in legal are not able to focus on innovation for reasons given above, but the future needs of the workforce will ultimately become a priority. Gartner talks about the transition from CIO to Chief Digital Officer (CDO) and predicts that 25% of organisations will create such a role. I can see this being a long way off within legal but very valid, the merging of roles and perception of the traditional functions in a law firm. The current CIO role will primarily be keeping the lights on and the CDO will be more strategic, aligned with revenue and client success and retention.

In my opinion it doesn’t depend on your business model or your size. Of course it might be easier to be more agile in a smaller more nimble firm but it also depends on whether your management team see technology as an enabler not a cost centre. It also depends on whether they can see beyond legal technology, and whether they value the human network of the organisation and want to allow it to thrive.

So what is the current state of play in legal IT in “big law”?  Investment in technology within law firms up to around 2008/9 was largely internally focused. Focused on the business. There are rafts of legal specific applications from practice management systems to document management platforms and search tools. Almost all the Top 200 law firms have something or other in the majority of the categories (as seen in the LegalIT Insider Top 200 UK charts). But what this chart doesn’t tell us is how well are these products adopted? How well are they aligned to business processes? Has benefits realisation been a core part of project delivery? Are lawyers using them or are they bypassing them? Has business services requirements been included? How much shadow IT is being used? These are all questions to which many will have similar answers, I bet.

Taking risks is an important part of running a business. You will always fail. It’s amazing how quickly you can recover and learn from those failures and jump back on the horse if you are prepared to fail. I was at a legal marketing conference last week where the keynote speaker was Kat Cole and she talked about failure, taking risks, making hard decisions for the survival and ultimate success of her business Cinnabon.

Law firms are going to have to take some risks, this is inevitable.  Many are under pressure from the wider market, changes in business structures, and client demands. Not exploring other ways of doing things because “we’ve always done it like this and look where it’s got us” is almost negligent. It doesn’t matter whether you categorise these factors affecting your business as challenges or opportunities or both. People, teams and firms need to realise they aren’t just delivering “tech”, they are potentially delivering a change enabler. It’s important to understand and focus on the impact of technology on the business and its employees (not just lawyers) and provide just as much emphasis on the people using the technology.  The day this happens, we’ll be moving in the right direction.

Technology with a focus on the human network is the key, which allow greater innovation and enable wide change. A digitally proficient workforce (not millenials), the right culture and open approach to risk and innovation will drive the new ways of working.

Law firms like many other organisations are risk averse and are resistant to change, this resistance to change is ultimately a risk in itself to which some may not survive. Each firm has to focus on it’s people and is in control of it’s own ability to change and adapt. It’s up to them.

Ben Wightwick

Ben Wightwick

About the Guest Blogger: Ben Wightwick is an experienced technology professional and consultant with over 10 years legal, social and content publishing technology solutions experience.

Ben is client focused and enjoys working closely with clients and colleagues to ensure the successful delivery of technology solutions which help clients derive the most value from their investment in HighQ software.

Ben has many different roles and is involved in many areas of the business including; writing, speaking, consulting, marketing, social media presence, defining strategy and other areas of general business improvement.

Ben’s primary role however is “Product director” of HighQ Publisher. This includes managing all aspects of the product from; managing new and existing clients, designing new functionality, project implementations and innovation for the future of the platform.

Main Picture Credit: Iain Mackay

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


LawTech Futures 2014: The one with the http regret

Sir Tim Berners Lee at LawTech Futures 2014

“You better explain the World Wide Web to them Tim as they may not have heard of it”

Yesterday was LawTech Futures 2014 – The Future of Legal Technology (Europe’s largest legal technology event). The last two years I was invited to attend, went and wrote reviews: LawTech Futures 2012 Reviewed: The Search for the Holy Grail of Legal Technology Conferences has Begun! and LawTech Futures 2013 Reviewed: The one with the neocortex. This year I must have fallen off the invite list. So no review I am afraid but just a few comments generated via Twitter from this side of Hadrian’s Wall.

Legal Conferences (especially Futuristic / Technology ones) are usually well covered these days on Twitter. Indeed sometimes you can glean as much about the Conference from Twitter as actually being there e.g. LawTech Camp London 2012: In Tweets.

That was, unfortunately, not to be the case yesterday. There were quite a few tweets from vendors telling you to come to their stalls for free giveaways. Riverview Law, Jeremy Hopkin’s daughter and I have a particular penchant for flashing green bouncy balls (sorry… an in-joke from last year). But there were very few tweets about the actual content of the Conference. Indeed the official Conference Twitter account could only muster four and those were just about the venue filling up. I was left not knowing what the future of legal technology holds. It was the keynote by Sir Tim Berners Lee that got most tweet coverage. We found out in particular that:-

But then that had already been predicted by Jon Busby on Twitter last week:-

So Twitter at least told us what was going to happen at the Conference before it did. Maybe just as well I hadn’t made the trip to London this year to find that out. Although Jon Busby tells me that Sir Tim’s http regret was widely publicised elsewhere and he picked it up in Wired last month. Other startling insights on the world wide web included:-

Why so little LawTech Futures Conference Tweets this year? I tweeted with Jason Plant about that:-

So very little in the way of tablets, smart phones and tweets at a legal technology conference. I can only deduce that the audience was therefore dominated by Big Law (and if Eversheds attended they left their iPads at home). Big Law does, of course, need to attend these conferences because Big Law is so behind the Legal IT curve ;-)

On the Legal IT curve debate see also:-

Photo Credit: Yasmin Andrews

Law Firms should steal

Law Firms should steal

The National Museum of Scotland – Where lawyers congregated to learn how to steal

I attended the annual Law Society of Scotland Dinner at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh last night. Law Society President, Bruce Beveridge, joked of lawyers gathering amongst dinosaurs, fossils and sharks. It was a magnificent setting for what was a thoroughly enjoyable evening. The dinner was excellent as was the after dinner talk by Hamish Taylor. A talk that encouraged law firms to steal. Not from their clients I hasten to add. But to steal ideas from businesses outwith the legal sector.

Hamish Taylor has a winning record of driving innovation and change at companies such as Proctor & Gamble, British Airways, Eurostar and Sainsbury’s Bank. Hamish has been dubbed the “master thief” by the Inspired Leaders Network for his track record of stealing ideas from one environment to use in another. He gave examples of going to a luxury yacht manufacturer to design the flat beds in First Class at British Airways and asking Disney to sort out the queueing system at Heathrow Airport.

The message was to look outside the legal sector and see what ideas you can steal from other businesses to use within your own law firm. Sage advice. When I set up a visiting base in Shetland for solicitors from my own law firm, Inksters, to work out of, I stole from the serviced apartment industry (e.g. Fraser Suites) and the serviced office industry (e.g. Regus) combined the two and created OfficeLodge. We won an Innovation award for it in 2007.

I wonder if there are many examples in actual practice of law firms stealing ideas from other sectors?

Picture Credit and link: Venue Hire at The National Museum of Scotland

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: