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.

Blawging

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!

Video

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.

QualitySolicitors

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 Paper.li 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 myblui.com. 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 Duhaime.org: The Lawyer Witness: Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - inserted into gallery scene using PhotoFunia; Dragons' Den Chairs: ©BBC]

Law Firm Mergers

Law Firm Mergers

Merger or Takeover? Mutual or Forced?

A debate on Law Firm Mergers was held at the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow on 5 September 2013.

Chaired by the President of the Law Society of Scotland, Bruce Beveridge, the debate saw differing opinions expressed by the two speakers: Austin Lafferty and Gilbert Anderson.

Austin’s view was that it was “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” (John Milton – Paradise Lost). As an aside Steven Raeburn told us, via Twitter, that in the Star Trek episode ’Space Seed’, Milton is referenced by Khan and quoted by Kirk.

Anyway, back to planet earth and Austin was telling us that running a law firm was not about being a good lawyer. Management and business skills were equally important. A recurring theme in posts on this blog. If you deal with the business aspects of running a law firm you will have a better business. Austin was of the opinion that you should look inward and see what you can improve within your own firm before you consider merger as an option – or the last throw of the dice. Many mergers are to do with safety, security and making the best of a bad lot. None of us make the best out of clients that we can. If your starting-off point for running a law practice is your client’s best interests, you can’t go far wrong, as long as you see that term and its meaning in its widest context.

Gilbert Anderson knows law firm mergers first hand: his firm, Andersons, merged with DAC Beachcroft. He believes that the merger has benefitted the firm’s clients. If the clients benefit then the firm does through client retention and more work. The benefits have been an ability to deliver a wider and better added value service to clients. This has in turn produced more work.

With insurance being Andersons core work (80% or so) and insurers reducing their panels of solicitors then merger was perhaps inevitable. They had a number of key clients with DAC Beachcroft and a merger enabled them to offer cross border services within the UK. This may also be true of the merger announced this past week of Scottish law firm Simpson & Marwick with international law firm Kennedys. This is the latest in a series of Anglo-Scottish mergers following on from the recent mergers of Shoosmiths with Archibald Campbell & Harley, DWF with Biggart Baillie, Pinsent Masons with McGrigors and TLT with Anderson Fyfe. There have been less notable purely Scottish mergers but one in recent times was Burness with Paull & Williamsons.

Gilbert Anderson mentioned boutiques emerging in niche areas and then merging with larger firms. My own view is that boutiques may be better off remaining independent and not merging. John Flood joined in, via Twitter, to comment that boutiques “can foment more boutiques!” I have made reference before on this blog and will do so again to John Flood’s post on The Rise of Boutiques? Again on Twitter Matthew Denney thought if boutiques merge then they risk losing the reason they existed in the first place. Continuing the Twitter debate, Jon Busby tweeted “merging, I suspect, is the end of the ideas road for firms”. Some more from Jon on mergers can be found on his blog at Legal 2.0: Digging a hole?  Back to Twitter and Simon Arkell tweeted “for a boutique, merging could lose identity and will not necessarily fix financial woes”.

Back in the Royal Faculty (rather than on Twitter) and Walter Semple pointed out that most of the law firm mergers we have seen in Scotland in recent years have been driven by the banks and not necessarily the desire of the firms involved. As Steven Raeburn put it in a tweet: “They have all been panic takeovers, with the exception of Burness-Paull & Williamsons”. That exception to the general rule was, Steven reckoned, ”just a good, organic business fit that both wanted but neither needed”.

Andy Todd tweeted: “more time will be spent talking about the new name than new opportunities”.

Discussion took place over the lack of investment by law firms in their future. New entrants (ABS) will reinvest profits in their future. If we keep the model we have now we won’t get anywhere. There is huge potential. We must do something rather than giving up. We must climb down from a position of perceived superiority and start again from a different mindset. Indeed, as I blogged in my last post, we must do - don’t just talk. If law firms did so then they may find that they have less need to consider a merger.

What do you think?

Reinvent Law London 2013 Reviewed: DO – don’t just talk

Reinvent Law London 2013 Reviewed

I attended Reinvent Law in London on Friday. It had the same organisers (Daniel Katz and Renee Knake of Michigan State University College of Law in partnership with the University of Westminster) and style as LawTech Camp London 2012. Basically the same concept but with a new name.

I enjoyed LawTech Camp London last year so was looking forward to it. On the whole it delivered again this year although I did hear noises from some who thought last year’s event was better. Perhaps it was more novel to us last year and so was more compelling first time around? What I particularly like about Reinvent Law London is the North American dimension. Many of the presenters were from the other side of the pond bringing some fresh ideas to this side of it. They probably think the same but the other way around.

There was a packed schedule with 24 speakers to get through. Many of these were in the short (6 minutes long) ‘ignite’ format. I am not going to attempt to review all 24 talks. What I will do is mention a few that caught my attention in one way or another. This does not mean those are any better or worse than ones I do not mention – simply they were more my thing.

Craig Holt, Chief Executive of QualitySolicitors, was first up. I had tweeted before the Conference that I was a bit surprised to see QualitySolicitors on the Bill. Were they not old news by now? Renee Knake when introducing Craig did confess that she had been attempting to get him to speak at a conference for several years and he had eventually said yes.

QualitySolicitors may have been fresh and of interest to many of our North American friends in the audience but I suspect most from this side of the pond had already heard about QualitySolicitors ad nauseam. I am as much at fault for that with several blog posts on The Time Blawg about QualitySolicitors and another coming your way soon.

However, not to be too unfair to Craig Holt he still made some interesting points in his talk – although the solution to most is in the hands of law firm owners willing to effect change and it does not follow that this means being part of a branded umbrella organisation.

Craig discussed services sold by law firms as often being a mystery box. You don’t really know what you are getting or how much it is going to cost you. Craig used the analogy of lawyers being like taxi drivers with the meter running (I have a blog post on that lined up for The Time Blawg).

QualitySolicitors have a Research & Development Department that calls other solicitors to assess the service being provided by them. Craig played us a recording of one such call where the solicitor couldn’t tell the caller what a divorce would cost. This same theme came up in later talks as a reason why people don’t like to engage a solicitor.

The problem is with the law firms and not with the lawyers Craig told us. As law firms (pre ABS) are owned by lawyers might there not be some fault at lawyer level I wonder? Craig thinks that law firms need to be reinvented so that lawyers can be adored. He showed us a slide of the word lawyer changing to adored one letter at a time:-

Lawyer > Sawyer >Sawder > Sadder > Ladder > Lander > Gander > Gender > Render > Reader > Header > Headed > Healed > Sealed > Scaled > Scared > Scares > Scores > Scorns > Acorns > Adorns > Adores > Adored

One step at a time was a theme that ran through several talks including Craig’s one. It is not necessarily about the next big thing but taking small steps that together build into something greater than the parts. Jon Busby has blogged about Improving. I also believe that many law firms could do well to improve on where they are currently at, a little step at a time, rather than attempting to completely reinvent themselves overnight.

Speaking of Jon Busby, he was quoted by Craig:-

If I had to pick just one central theme for the future of legal services delivery it would be this; Lawyers will delegate more routine process to the customer (free) leaving them to focus on the high value intellectual stuff (paid for). That delegating will be enabled by technology and driven by you and me.

That, said Craig, is what QualitySolicitors are doing by way of their tie up with Legal Zoom. The sceptic in me wonders if this will be as fruitful as their tie up with WH Smith (no mention of that one at Reinvent Law!).

However, to be fair again to QualitySolicitors, at least they are experimenting and whilst some of those experiments will fail others will, in all probability, work out for them. Legal Zoom, with proper execution, has more to offer their members than WH Smith ever did. It may not be the case though that each of their ventures is right for each of their member firms. That is, no doubt, a difficult balancing act for the umbrella organisation to play as it decides what its next step will be.

Reinvent Law London 2013 - J Kubicki - Do

The very clear thrust of Joshua Kubicki’s afternoon talk was “Reinvention is Doing Not Talking” and at least QualitySolicitors are doers as well as talkers. The need to do is the punchline in my recent reviews on both Avoiding Extinction: Reimagining Legal Services for the 21st Century and Tomorrow’s Lawyers.

Moving onto the ignite sessions, it was the one by Lah Leutrim Ahmeti that kept me (and I think most of the audience) entranced. His presentation was about the ‘UrLaw app’ which would be an app that allows you to access consumer contract terms, engage a solicitor and settle disputes all from your mobile phone.

Reinvent Law London 2013 - Robotic Dance and Mime

What was impressive about this presentation was the fact that the presenter never opened his mouth once. Instead he did a robotic dance and mime to accompany his slides.  If this was the law industry equivalent of Britain’s Got Talent he would have earned a wink from Simon Cowell. I trust a video of it will be posted soon.

Mark Smith also provided a very engaging presentation. He told us the story of Amy Li from her birth to becoming General Counsel at IBM. It held our attention and the punch line was that she achieved this success without any formative training in the law.

Martin Langan guided us through how his online service, Road Traffic Representation, works. It has a free diagnostic tool which, once you have answered relevant questions, provides advice on possible outcomes and penalties if convicted. It also allows you to access telephone advice and instruct a barrister if required.

Barristers are impressed by the level of detail in the instructions they receive via the system – often better than being instructed at the last minute by a solicitor with a “here is the file, get on with it”.

We weren’t naval gazing with Martin. We were seeing the law reinvented today. Martin hinted that he would be moving the system into other areas of legal practice.

Alice de Sturler (aka Nic H. Vidocq or Vidster or @Vidocq_CC) gave a talk on “Using Blogs to Give Cold Cases a Web Presence”.  Some of the audience may have been surprised to learn that Vidster is a women. Until now Alice has blogged at Defrosting Cold Cases anonymously and the persona adopted by her appeared, on the face of it, to be male.

What I enjoyed about Alice’s talk was that this showed what can and is being done using the world wide web and social media on a practical level. Lawyers can learn much from others that are more advanced in their use of available technology. More practical examples of this ilk wouldn’t go amiss at future Reinvent Law conferences.

Reinvent Law London 2013 - Richard Susskind - AI & Law

The title of Richard Susskind’s talk, which rounded off the day, was “The Past, Present and Future of AI + Law”. Very much in keeping with the theme of this Blawg so pleased to be able to journey back and forth in time with Richard in his Tardis. We heard about Richard being involved in the development in 1988 (when I was still a law student) of a computerised diagnostic tool: Latent Damage Law – The Expert System. Richard had expected 25 years later for there to be many more systems like this. There are some (we heard about Road Traffic Representation earlier) but not that many. Richard thinks the reason it didn’t happen was because of hourly billing. There was no need in law firms for efficiency. As we know that is now changing. Richard discussed the 4 stages of acceptance of technology:-

  1. Nonsense
  2. Silly
  3. Interesting
  4. I knew it all along

Many law firms are still nowhere near stage 4.

Refreshments

Last year in my review of LawTech Camp London 2012 I mentioned the lack of nourishment of the edible kind. Thankfully with a little help from LexisNexis we had this year not only pastries at our tea breaks but also wine, beer, spirits and canapés at the after conference reception. Well done. Also the sponsorship element did not colour the ethos of the conference in any way. The LexisNexis slot was an informative and interesting talk much like all the others and in no way felt like an advert break.

For those in need of even more refrehments there was a Twegal Tweetup organised by Shireen Smith at a nearby pub after the Reinvent Law reception.

Twegal Tweetup - London 14 June 2013 (last men sitting)

Last Twegals sitting (Left to Right): Zeribe Nwachuku, Daniela Valdez, Stefano Debolini, Brian Inkster and Amit Sharma (Photo by: Jonathan Lea)

The next Reinvent Law

Reinvent Law is going to New York in November 2013. New York criminal defence attorney, Scott Greenfield, reckons Reinvent Law requires “balance instead of just cheerleaders“.

Scott is not going to pitch a talk and wait for votes. He has, however, made an offer to talk if invited but thinks there will be no takers. I do hope Renee and Daniel make that call. It would add a very interesting dimension to Reinvent Law New York. I would book a flight for it.

[Photo credits: Main photo (header): Daniel Katz - Reinvent Law; Do: Lexis Nexis UK; UrApp: Computational Legal Studies; AI and Law: Computational Legal Studies; Twegal Tweetup: Jonathan Lea]

Maximise Fee Income using Intelligent Cloud Computing

Intelligent Cloud for Lawyers to maximise fee income

On 19 June I will be in Edinburgh speaking about my law firm’s experience of moving our entire IT system to the cloud at a Conference organised by Denovo Business Intelligence in conjuction with RSM Tenon, Inksters and RISE. This is the programme:-

Scottish Legal Conference
Maximise Fee Income using Intelligent Cloud Computing 
09.30am, 2.00pm or 5.30pm
Claim CPD Time

Recent research has shown that most legal firms are not capitalising on their fee income. Yet most law firms focus on new client capture whilst not charging accurately or timeously for the work already carried out.

This is due to a variety of factors such as:-
Lack of accurate time records, outsourcing to third parties such as law accountants, lengthy time delays between case completion and billing, fee disputes with clients, lack of interim billing, excessive discounting of fees and the list goes on……………………………

How can your law firm CAPITALISE on these opportunities?    
At this conference we will answer this question. We will look at practical methods which will enable you to harness your already existing billing potential. 

Angela Mitchell CA CTA, Tax Director, RSM Tenon, will discuss tax tips and planning opportunities for legal practices in order to reduce partners’ exposure to higher rates of income tax.

Brian Inkster, Inksters Solicitors, will present his practical experience of implementing “Intelligent Cloud Computing” and the positive impact this has had for his firm.

James Henigan, Managing Director, RISE, will present a summary of the Rise cloud platform (DataCenter on Demand) and their partnership with Denovo, focusing on adoption trends of the SMB marketplace and why companies should not be fearful of trusting their data to cloud based infrastructure and the inherent benefits that can be realised by doing so.

Margaret Buchanan of Denovo Business Intelligence, will demonstrate a cost-effective way to outsource the burden of managing and maintaining hardware and software platforms, by showing live access to “the cloud“ and by using a couple of work type examples demonstrate WIP Limits being reached, Accurate Charges being Captured, Automated Production of Bills and automation of government forms and documents.

The Conference is at the Apex International Hotel, 31-35 Grassmarket, Edinburgh EH1 2HS on 19 June. The programme is repeated in three slots (9.30am, 2.00pm and 5.30pm) during the day so you can choose the time that suits you best. You can book to attend here: Maximise Fee Income using Intelligent Cloud Computing

LawTech Futures 2013 Reviewed: The one with the neocortex

Ray Kurzweil Keynotes at LawTechFutures 2013

In 20 years time that mic will be the size of a blood cell and implanted in Ray’s lips.

LawTech Futures 2013 was billed as the biggest legal technology event in Europe. It was a joint venture by Netlaw Media and Charles Christian held on 30th April in the QEII Conference Centre in London. With 40 expert presenters, 3 presentation stages, 800 attendees and displays by over 60 legal technology suppliers it was a big event alright. It also had some big ideas especially from keynote speaker Ray Kurzweil (beware: the Twitter account under his name, with 2035 on the end of it, is a hoax one as some of those tweeting on the day discovered! – You can however follow his company Twitter account: @KurzweilAINews). Perhaps big names like Ray are necessary to draw in the numbers required to fill such a big venue.

The Neocortex

Ray’s talk was fascinating but did it have anything to do with the practice of law in 2013? We learned that by 2033 we could have computerised devices that are the size of blood cells embedded into our brains. These will communicate wirelessly with the Internet enabling our brains to directly tap into AI in the cloud. Thus rather than being limited to around 300 million pattern recognisers in each neocortex (we learned a lot about the neocortex) we will be able to have more – a billion, then tens of billions, then a trillion. My head was exploding at the thought of this! 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.

Biggest Law Firm Challenge

It was suggested that the biggest challenge for law firms is getting lawyers to use IT. Jeffrey Brandt tweeted “Not so much use it, but use more than 10% of it”. However, it was also pointed out that lawyers are being forced to be more productive spurring a demand for legal IT from those lawyers.

Document Assembly

We will also, so Ray told us, by the late 2020s be printing our own food on 3D printers. Will we be printing our own legal deeds? That wasn’t mentioned, but heck we have that technology already. Although another presenter said there had been no real take up in document assembly technology (which has been around for years) due to generational and non-intuitive reasons. When I tweeted this, Jeffrey Brandt responded that it was “more base than that”. He reckoned that it comes down to a lawyer’s attitude: “my work is superior and unsurpassable – my fellow lawyers produce nothing but crap”. Jeffrey went on “It’s huge in large firms. Bigger the firm, typically the bigger the problem”.  Mitchell Kowalski chipped in: “True – and it’s a huge problem because many lawyers are in the profession for an ego boost”.

It was also suggested that we were not yet ready for document automation and that it will not provide a ROI in all cases. Well we should be ready (Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer are) and with well planned and executed implementation ROI should not be an issue. As Mark Smith tweeted “Document volume, complexity and business expectations shape ROI”.

Time Recording

It was asked whether the demise of the billable hour would spell the end of time recording. One provider of time recording software unsurprisingly thinks not. However, I would agree with them in that this is just part of the reason for time recording. Time recording means that you know what it costs to do a piece of work. It helps with tendering for work. It was pointed out that high-profile PI firm failures were possibly due to not knowing how much a piece of work was costing them. Stephen Allen tweeted that it was “entirely” due to this. He went on to tweet that he knew many technologists in the same place: “Business people should run businesses”.

Clients, we were told, are demanding more from law firms – greater transparency. Time recording accuracy is therefore more important. However, the velocity of time recording in law firms is low. The average time for recording time is 5 days after the work has been done! This needs to be reduced. You can get systems that automatically record the time as you do the work. My own law firm, Inksters, does this using Intelligent Time Recording from Denovo Business Intelligence.

To encourage time recording we could, Charles Christian suggested, use Gamification. Some law firms are doing so with perhaps green happy faces for good time recording and red sad ones for bad time recording. Competition between fee earners using a promptitude scale drives and maximises time recording velocity.

Microsoft and RIM (forget Apple)

Future of Legal Technology

Where did the Apple go?

Charles Christian thinks the Microsoft Surface Pro will be a disruption when it launches. Jason Plant kept up the Microsoft theme with the view that we will be taken into the future with Windows 8 moving us to the App world. He also thinks that the Microsoft Surface Pro will be good for law firms. Cost will be an issue but BYOD (if lawyers can be persuaded to buy Microsoft rather than Apple) might minimise that.

Thereza Snyman said the iPad was good for consuming but not creating. The same is probably true of the Surface but may be less so for the Surface Pro. Indeed I am creating this blog post on a netbook with a Surface on the side to review the tweets from the Conference as I do so. Thus creating with my netbook and consuming with my tablet.

Jason also thinks that the BlackBerry 10 secure work space is an ace up RIM’s sleeve that will reverse their recent demise.

No real mention of Apple by Jason other than a footnote for starting the App revolution. Damien Behan wondered if this was reflective of a lack of recent innovation from them.

One presentation on the Demonstration Stage did show us how to review a document on an iPad using a special App. Why not just use tracked changes in word on a Surface or indeed any PC, Laptop, Netbook or Ultrabook with Word loaded onto it?

I, as readers of this blawg will know, firmly believe that lawyers should be embracing all things Microsoft as an extension of their existing Microsoft backbone rather than mixing it up with Apple, RIM or Google. However, some lawyers cannot see beyond their shiny iPads and iPhones and insist on an IT mix that is not ideal in a legal world that does in fact revolve around Microsoft Word. It was good to see the last presenter of the day, Neil Cameron, appear on stage with his Surface and prop it up with its kick stand on the lectern.

However, despite all the Microsoft hype the organisers failed to produce a Microsoft App. They did have iPhone and Android LawTech Futures Apps. Next year perhaps.

Apps

Microsoft Store Apps

Microsoft Store Apps

Speaking of Apps we were treated to the low down of Natasha Rooney’s favourite ones. This included Evernote, Dropbox, Asana, Swype, SwiftKey, Tripit and LastPass. There seemed to be general excitement amongst those who had not heard of Asana: the best to-do list App that Natasha has found. Talks like this one, that tell you what technology people are actually using and why it works for them, are sometimes the most beneficial. One word of caution though for lawyers using cloud based apps: make sure you are not putting client data on servers located outside the EU (see Cloud Computing for Lawyers – Reviewed for more on that). A final tip from Natasha: lifehacker.com is good for finding apps.

Social Media

There was not a lot of social media chat at LawTech Futures 2013. Perhaps it is now accepted and is part of our present rather than the future. A delegate sitting next to me at the start of the Conference felt a need to tell me the Conference hashtag. Egg sucking grannies came to mind! Still a way to go for many law firms though. One presenter pointed out that the “most successful organisations will be the best networked ones”. Those organisations will be those that have mastered social networking especially Twitter which has been described as “networking on speed”.

Blogging and Websites

Not a lot (if anything) on blogging or websites either. Maybe not the fodder for the majority of the audience i.e. IT Directors. Is blogging and website content the preserve of marketers? Without the IT behind them we would not have them. One little blogging comment from the Conference: “If an existing community doesn’t communicate giving them a wiki or a blog isn’t going to help them do it”. A lot of law firms could do well with improving their web presence before they turn their attention to other Legal Technologies. LawTech Futures should not ignore this fact.

We were, however, told that those with an online presence will need Wiki Gardeners or Wiki Gnomes to keep things tidy e.g. tag things, fix broken links etc. So, as was also said, whilst technology might make some jobs redundant it also can create new ones.

Charles Christian also discussed the iTunification of legal content: Slicing and dicing digital content.

Watson and Moore’s Law

We heard again about the old staples of Legal Technology conferences: Watson and Moore’s Law. Maybe time to move on from those. I tweeted that we were seeing many curves at the Conference on exponential growth in IT and wondered if it is a flat line for the average law firm.

Marketing and Business

Apparently law firm partners get marketing more than IT. “Do they!” I tweeted. Others responded: “Hmm really?” and “Still a looooonnggggg way to go”.

“Are lawyers good at business?” one presenter asked. Not many, if any hands went up. The nub point as highlighted by me in recent blog posts on books by Mitchell Kowalski and Richard Susskind. Both futurists who believe law firms need to be run more like any other good business is run.

It was even asked whether law firm partners know the difference between turnover and profit! But in a second breath we heard that cash improvement and profitability is what law firm partners really care about. However, apparently an ongoing problem is lawyers being willing to chase their clients to pay their bills.

As Jason Plant tweeted: “You know what’s struck me (taken a while), what’s happening to legal isn’t new it’s just business. Markets change, biz adapts or fails”.

In-house lawyers

Don Hughes of Hitachi Data Systems discussed the evolving role of General Counsel. The main concerns being compliance and pressure to show in-house lawyers adding value to the business. As the value of in-house lawyers increases to the business the value of legal expertise decreases being a reflection on how business views the law. We were shown figures demonstrating the growth of in-house departments in size and expertise and the decrease in the use of external lawyers. It was predicted that there would be an acceleration in the growth of in-house lawyers, as a necessary step in demonstrating value to business. I hadn’t appreciated that as many as 25% of lawyers in Scotland are in-house.

The Young Ones

If we hadn’t noticed it already we now know, and will be noticing, that today’s young lawyers do cursory searches with it being difficult to get them to do in-depth research. They do, however, apparently like working with others and collaborating.

Anytime, any place, anywhere

Self service is becoming the norm we were told. This will be the way forward for law firms: “anytime, any place, anywhere”.

[Credit: Charles Christian who pointed out at the Conference that things were starting to sound like a Martini advert]

My own view is that self-service is all very well but can be frustrating and annoying at times. I hate using self-service tills at W H Smith and prefer to go to a newsagent that gives me a personal and quicker service. The same will be true of many who engage lawyers. A blended approach is probably the best. Technology to assist the process but a lawyer at hand to guide the way as necessary and give input where only they really can.

We were told that technology in law firms can go all the way to clients. 100% real-time visibility. This will be more expected. That is fair enough and a good use of technology. Such technology has been around for long enough. Is it only now that clients are starting to expect it as part of the service?

Spot the Partner

Last year when reviewing LawTech Futures 2012 I highlighted that getting law firm partners to attend such conferences was the ‘holy grail’ of legal technology conferences. Was there an improvement this year on last? The organisers told me that 33% of attendees this year were from non-IT management roles including CEOs, Managing Partners, Partners and Finance. That was up from 17% last year. The actual percentage who were partners was not disclosed and that 33% could include a number of non IT staff who were not partners. Nevertheless it is heartening to see the increase and I understand that the organisers took on board my comments and actively sought to encourage partner attendance. I never saw a delegate list. Not sure if one was made available. Always good at conferences to see that as you can then make a point of arranging to meet with fellow delegates that you would like to see rather than relying on a chance encounter.

LawTech Futures 2013 (spot the law firm partner)

Game 1: Spot the law firm partner; or Game 2: spot Brian Inkster (could be the same answer as Game 1); or Game 3: spot Jonathan Maas (the real one and not the Beefeater impersonator as seen on a photo in the QE2 Conference Centre lift – click on the photo above to reveal that one!)

Changes for next year

What would I recommend the organisers do differently in 2014? Last year I recommended having the lounge stage in an enclosed area for those that really want to hear the content on offer. The organisers clearly took that on board and the lounge stage this year was indeed enclosed by partitions. A big improvement but you could still hear a fair bit of background noise (especially at lunch time) coming in over the partitions. A fully enclosed separate room would make all the difference. The demonstration stage remained open to the exhibition stands and it was not always that easy to hear the presenters. Again an enclosed or at least partitioned space for the demonstration stage would be desirable. Keep a big keynote or two by all means but see if they can be a bit more relevant to the needs of the audience.

Last year I said LawTech Futures 2012 was very much about ideas but not a lot about practical experiences. The same was, on the whole, true this year. There was, however, this year a question and answer session with a panel of experts that appeared to cover some of the more practical aspects of law firm IT, processes and projects. I unfortunately missed that session in favour of five thought leadership presentations from the ‘Influencers’. I didn’t see many tweets from it either. Matthew Denney tweeted from it: “No point in automating an inefficient system. Look at existing practices”. Good advice. I hope to catch the video of the more practical session I missed when it is hopefully made available by Netlaw Media (Nick Beddows was on hand organising filming for them).  I also, unfortunately, missed Matt McNeill of Google Emterprise speaking on Big Data Analytics. From tweets I saw that session was well received. Again, hopefully, one to catch on video. I think still more could be done at LawTech Futures 2014 with break out sessions on different areas that law firms might want to focus on with practitioners (as well as rather than just vendors) speaking about the pros and cons involved. This could include many of the topics touched upon at LawTech Futures 2012 and 2013: Outsourcing, Virtual Law Firms, Document Management, Mobile Applications, Cloud Computing, Client Satisfaction, Social Media, Website/Blog Content, Fixed Pricing, etc.

There was mention in a tweet from Richard Moorhead about the lack of women presenters. They were indeed a minority with I don’t think any on the main stage and very few (but at least some) on the other stages. Perhaps something for the organisers to redress, if they can, next year.

I enjoyed my day at LawTech Futures 2013. Hats off to Charles, Darren, Frances and their team for making it bigger and better than last year. With a few tweaks (as highlighted above) it could be even better next year.

Green Flashing Bouncy Balls

The exhibitors kept us amused with freebies. I do sometimes wonder about the thought process involved with some of them though. Sundeep Bhatia tweeted a photo of the menagerie that he had collected on the day. Branded cup cakes from Workshare were nice. Jeremy Hopkins and I were happy recipients of those. Although the branding quickly vanished it possibly remains in your mind more than a branded pen that ends up lost in a drawer of many others. Riverview Law tweeted “Which stand has the crystal balls at #LTF2013?”. I responded: “I got a green flashing one” to which Riverview Law rejoined: “Goodness Gracious… hope you have a permit?”. I ended up going back to the K2 stand to collect one for Riverview Law and will deliver it to them when our paths next cross (perhaps on 14th June at ReInvent Law London and/or the Twegals Tweetup afterwards).

Tomorrow’s Lawyers – Reviewed

Tomorrow's LawyersI remember enjoying the TV series The Tomorrow People. It gave (in the 1970s) a glimpse of a possible future where the next stage of human evolution (Homo superior) had emerged. Now, with Tomorrow’s Lawyers, Richard Susskind does that for lawyers. Although, Richard does not, as yet, envisage those lawyers having psionic powers such as telepathy, telekinesis, and teleportation like the Tomorrow People had!

Richard has, of course, been telling us what the future holds for some time now with The Future of Law (1996), Transforming the Law (2000) and The End of Lawyers? (2008). His predictions have often been spot on.

This latest book, as Richard acknowledges, condenses many of the thoughts that appeared in The End of Lawyers? into a more manageable form. I certainly found it an easier and quicker read. As a result the messages it contains are perhaps conveyed more forcibly.

Richard sees efficiency and collaboration as two winning strategies to help cope with the more-for-less challenge facing law firms. There is no doubt that in most law firms there will be more efficient ways of doing things. Creating such efficiencies is a constant process in my own law firm (Inksters) and we still have a long way to go before we are as efficient as I know we could be. Collaboration by clients coming together to share the costs of certain types of legal services is an interesting concept. Whilst Richard gives examples of banks and in-house legal departments he thinks that this philosophy could equally extend to small businesses and individuals. We will have new look legal businesses serving communities of legal users rather than individuals or organisations on their own. On the topic of collaboration I think much could be said for more and better internal collaboration within law firms. Lawyers are notoriously bad for the lack of collaboration and cross-referrals within their own four walls. This is not what Richard means when he looks at collaboration but I think the concept can and should be widened by law firms who are serious about their future to include internal collaboration.

Richard Susskind does not see much of a future (beyond 2020) for most small law firms in liberalised regimes. However, later in the book we are told that two kinds of traditional lawyer will still be in play for the foreseeable future. These will be the ‘expert trusted advisers’ (whose bespoke work cannot be standardised or computerised) and the ‘enhanced practitioners’ (who are skilled and knowledgeable rather than deeply expert but enhanced by modern techniques of standardisation and computerisation and often the legal assistant to the expert trusted adviser). Therefore presumably those small law firms who concentrate on providing legal advice in areas that require expert trusted advisers and enhanced practitioners will prosper. John Flood has written about this in The rise of Boutiques? So perhaps we should not write off the small law firms just like that. But many will have to look at what their offering consists of and possibly adapt or die.

Richard tells us about the new jobs for lawyers that we will see emerge: The legal knowledge engineer, the legal technologist, the legal hybrid, the legal process analyst, the legal project manager, the ODR practitioner, the legal management consultant and the legal risk manager. Renee Knake has perhaps recently suggested a ninth: the lawyer as trusted curator. Although that role as curator could be an add on for some of Richard’s expert trusted advisers. I certainly see a role in a law firm for a legal journalist to produce content for the law firm’s websites, blogs and social media channels. Some law firms (e.g Pinsent Masons) already have employees in such dedicated roles.

Concentrating on short term profitability rather than long term strategic health is a problem Richard Susskind sees in law firm management. We just need to look at recent casualties in both England and Scotland to see the reality of the situation. But will we see a shift in philosophy to senior partners regarding themselves “as temporary custodians of long term and enduring businesses rather than short-term investors who want to bail out when the price is right”. We might need to if the closure (in some cases of merger, effective closure) of law firms is to halt. In any event there is also no real opportunity anymore for many to “bail out when the price is right”. The problem of law firm partners siphoning off all the profits (in some cases, especially in the past, sums in excess of the profits as assisted by a bank’s willingness to provide excessive overdrafts) and reinvesting little if anything  in the firm’s future leaves many firms unmarketable. As Richard comments elsewhere in his book “for much of the legal market, the model is not simply unsustainable; it is already broken”.

Richard mentions the use of generic services such as LinkedIn or legal tools such as Legal on Ramp for collaboration between say a client and their panel of law firms. I wonder whether Yammer could be a good fit for this purpose.

Online legal services will, Richard believes, “liberate the latent legal market”. I am sure that this is correct but in addition to that latent legal market online legal services can and will, I believe, fire up and provide services to the existing legal market. Lawyers can and should be using online for the benefit of (and to retain) existing clients and not just for ones that they thought they might never have had otherwise.

IT enabled courts are discussed by Richard. As I recently blogged the use by the Scottish Land Court of fairly basic but effective technology is perhaps something for other courts to take a leaf out of.

With regard to video conferencing in courts, all of the Scottish Sheriff Courts are fitted with such technology. At my own law firm we use Sheriff Court video conferencing when we can. However, one of the difficulties we have experienced is the reluctance of some Sheriffs to use it. ‘Irrational rejectionism’ again perhaps! It probably needs the Scottish Court Service to remove much of the discretion on the part of Sheriffs and issue guidance on when and how the technology should be deployed.

Richard thinks that major legal publishers (such as Thomson Reuters) and legal know-how providers (such as the Practical Law Company) will be potential employers for tomorrow’s lawyers. It is interesting to note that since the book was written it was announced that Thomson Reuters are taking over the Practical Law Company. Thus we are already seeing law publishers becoming legal know-how providers!

Richard fears that we are training young lawyers to become 20th Century lawyers and not 21st Century lawyers. No doubt about it with, perhaps, little chinks of hope such as my lecture on  IT and Marketing in the Legal Profession to the Business Ethics Finance and Practice Awareness course of the Diploma in Legal Practice at Glasgow University. That was two years ago and whilst well received by the students back then (one told me it was the most memorable lecture of the year) there has been no call by the powers that be for me to repeat it. Perhaps there is ‘irrational rejectionism’ at play again with it being seen as too radical by the current course providers.

I know that, in more recent times, the University of Strathclyde has introduced lectures on social media for their students and the College of Law produced video casts on that topic for their students. No doubt more is being done elsewhere but I rather think very much at the fringes.

Richard Susskind considers that tomorrow’s lawyers should perhaps study “other disciplines – such as management, computing and systems analysis – prior to embarking on a legal career”. Should, I wonder, we have courses that combine such disciplines with law?

One question Richard prompts tomorrow’s lawyers to ask prospective employers is “what is the formal process by which your firm monitors emerging technologies and evaluates their potential for various practice areas?” At the moment for young lawyers keen to secure a traineeship questions of this type may, unfortunately, raise a few eyebrows and possibly lead to being rebuffed by most of today’s law firms. Perhaps tread carefully with such questions unless research prior to interview shows the potential for receptiveness.

Richard finishes his book by telling tomorrow’s lawyers that their “elders will tend to be cautious, protective, conservative, if not reactionary. They will resist change and will often want to hang on to their traditional ways of working, even if they are well past their sell by date.” Richard goes on to point out that “in truth” tomorrow’s lawyers are on their own. He urges them “to forge new paths for the law, our most important social institution”.  The difficulty, however, for most young lawyers in that environment is the inability to do so. They may have to put up with it for a few years to get a grounding in the law and then break free on their own.

Whilst aimed at tomorrow’s lawyers (presumably the law students and trainee solicitors of today) Richard Susskind’s latest book contains messages that it may not be too late for the older generation of lawyer to grasp and, if so, perhaps could induce change within their existing law firms before it is too late. However, with ‘irrational rejectionism’ prevalent amongst lawyers perhaps that is too much to ask for!

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.

Buying the Book

Tomorrow’s Lawyers by Richard Susskind (ISBN 978-0-19-966806-9) is published by Oxford University Press and is available online for £9.99 at Amazon UK and $14.81 at Amazon USA.

Technology and the Scottish Land Court

Scottish Land Court Technology

Modern technology in a historic setting

I recently spent three days in Shetland at a crofting law hearing before the Scottish Land Court to determine the boundaries of a croft. This was the first time I have seen a court use modern technology (other than video conference links) to aid the presentation of evidence and speed up the court process.

Productions (or at least some key maps of the 101 documents ultimately lodged with the court) had been scanned and were held on a small laptop. This was connected to a projector with a large screen forming the back drop to the Court which had been set up in the Town Hall in Lerwick. The Land Court is a peripatetic  court and when it is not sitting in Edinburgh goes on circuit around Scotland to deal with its business. The surroundings of the Town Hall in Lerwick being much grander than many of the places that the Court has sat in.

Laser Pointer in the Scottish Land Court

The laser marks the spot

As evidence was led key productions were projected onto the large screen for all parties involved and the Court to see. With the aid of a laser pointer the solicitors, witnesses and members of court could point out relative features on the maps. This made it much easier to understand the evidence quickly and clearly than just relying on verbal descriptions in relation to paper copies sitting before all concerned. I was impressed by the foresight of David Houston, the member of the Land Court who has introduced the use of this technology to the Court. Very simple to implement but very effective in use.

With the advent of the new Crofting Register and the possibility of an increase in boundary dispute cases (as highlighted in No Ordinary Court: 100 years of the Scottish Land Court) the Land Court may find itself using this technology on a more regular basis.

Moncrieff v Jamieson may have ended up a little shorter than 39 callings of the case at Lerwick Sheriff Court, including 10 days of evidence and 4 days of closing submissions, had that Court utilised such technology.

It made me think about how this technology could be extended to further benefit the workings of the Land Court (or indeed any other court). Perhaps all productions could be scanned in by the Court as a matter of course and stored on a secure web server enabling parties to the action to access these without the need to copy productions between one another. An online inventory of productions that was continually updated would give parties clarity as to the numbering of productions (often a matter of confusion with agents giving their own referencing, the court adding a unique reference and there also being a running production number).

Perhaps this could result in solicitors and the members of the Court sitting with iPads or, in my case at least, a Surface before them and accessing the documents when in court without the need to leaf through large ring file binders. This could also avoid the surcharge made by Flybe/Loganair on oversize hand luggage when flying to remote parts of the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

I will keep you updated at The Time Blawg should the Scottish Land Court take up my suggestions! In the meantime if you have any experiences of any courts anywhere using technology in any way then do let me know.