Lender Exchange Fiasco

The Computer at Lender Exchange says No!

The computer at Lender Exchange says No!

Lender Exchange is a secure portal for lenders to manage their conveyancing panels. It is operated by Decision First, a joint venture between title insurance company First Title and Decision Insight. Law firms must pay a fee (ranging from £285 to £995 per annum depending on the size of the practice) to use the portal. Lender Exchange was imposed on the legal profession when it launched in the UK on 4 August 2014. The first lenders making it mandatory to use Lender Exchange to be on their conveyancing panels are Lloyds Banking Group (which includes retail mortgages for Bank of Scotland, Birmingham Midshires, Halifax, Lloyds Bank and Scottish Widows Bank) and Santander.

Law firms must input and keep up to date on Lender Exchange a plethora of information such as each solicitors previous employment history covering at least a period of 10 years. Practicing certificates and Professional Indemnity Insurance certificates must be uploaded to the system annually. Much of the information that each law firm must spend time and effort inputting into the system is readily available from the Law Society of England & Wales, the Law Society of Northern Ireland and the Law Society of Scotland. These Law Societies repeatedly offered to provide the data free to lenders but their offer was refused without any explanation. Des Hudson, when he was Chief Executive of the Law Society of England & Wales, said that the result was:-

A single commercial provider has been given a powerful position and the potential to control the dynamics of the conveyancing market and introduce needless cost to the detriment of consumers.

Lender Exchange state on their website:-

We’ve been working hard with banks and building societies to deliver a service which makes the lives of conveyancers across the UK easier when dealing with lenders on panel related issues… we aim to make the process of applying for panel membership and updating lenders on changes in your businesses easier, quicker and more cost effective (for law firms and lenders alike).

Well that was certainly not my experience of Lender Exchange yesterday.

I received an e-mail from Lender Exchange that read:-

Further to our previous emails regarding outstanding information and/or documents, our records indicate that the requested action has still not been taken.

As 28 days have elapsed since our initial request and despite several reminders, you have failed to supply your firm’s PII or a reason for this continued delay, your firm has now been suspended from the following panel(s):

Lloyds Banking Group

Your access to Lender Exchange remains active at this time, however you will need to contact the appropriate lender(s) directly to discuss your panel status with them.

I couldn’t understand this as I knew that I had updated all the information requested on the secure portal in advance of the deadline date previously given to me by Lender Exchange.

I assumed they had an administrative glitch in their systems.

I phoned them up.

I told my story to the lady who answered the phone. Having done so she advised me that she had nothing to do with Lender Exchange. She was in another department of Decision First and if the Lender Exchange phone lines were busy they overflowed to them. I was to phone back in a few minutes when hopefully someone at Lender Exchange would answer the phone before it went through to the overflow again!

I waited a few minutes and phoned back. To my relief it did not overflow this time but was answered by a lady actually employed by Lender Exchange. I told her my story. Yes she could see that I had uploaded all the information that I had to onto the system but I had not pressed the “Submit Firm Details” button. This was on a different page from the one I had updated the information onto and after updating the information I was supposed to know to go to that page (no alert supplied to do so) and press the correct button. There are actually two buttons next to one another on the relevant page: “Update Firm Details” and “Submit Firm Details”. Although I was actually in my mind updating firm details and had previously submitted firm details I was not to use the Update button but only the Submit one. So having been talked through this confusing system I pressed the submit button.

Having now resolved the administrative/technical issues caused by the Lender Exchange system I assumed my law firm was no longer suspended from the two lenders’ panels. No I was told. My law firm remained suspended and I had to take it up direct with the lenders in question to see if they were willing to reinstate. I asked to speak to her manager.

The manager showed me no sympathy. The Lender Exchange secure portal was proven to work and I should have used the 64 page user guide available online if I was unsure how to operate it! A very quick glance at the user manual suggests it is aimed at the first registration process and not the actual updating of information once registered. However, the manager reiterated that my inability to use the Lender Exchange systems properly meant my law firm was suspended from the two panels in question and there was nothing more she could do about it. If I wanted reinstated I had to contact the administrators of the panels in question direct.

Now I would class myself as very computer literate and technologically savy. If I couldn’t follow how to use the Lender Exchange online portal correctly how were the many solicitors who are less computer literate fairing?

Anyway, the prospect of achieving the work on my desk I planned to deal with on Friday afternoon was fading fast. I now had the prospect of phoning two lenders before me.

Both panel administrators were very pleasant indeed and a nice change from my encounter with Lender Exchange.

I learned from both that they had no forewarning or any knowledge that Lender Exchange were issuing such e-mails! Thus Lender Exchange had intimated suspension to law firms on behalf of but without the authority or consent of the lenders!

Apparently 50 such e-mail were issued to law firms by Lender Exchange yesterday and 250 are scheduled to be issued during the forthcoming week.

I was reassured by both panel administrators that my law firm had certainly not been suspended from their panels and I was to simply ignore such communications from Lender Exchange. This was comforting indeed but should Lender Exchange not have ascertained this before being so adamant with me that suspension had taken place? The Lender Exchange portal still shows my firm’s panel status as suspended today. No doubt I will have to spend a good part of the forthcoming week getting them to amend that status to reflect the actual fact that suspension never took place at all.

No, Lender Exchange certainly does not make the lives of conveyancers across the UK easier when dealing with lenders on panel related issues and it does not make updating lenders on changes in your businesses easier, quicker and more cost effective (for law firms and lenders alike). It is a complete and utter fiasco and the lenders need to sort this mess out. I trust the Law Societies will be lobbying them to do so and hopefully, this time, the lenders will sit up and take notice.

Now I have got that out of my system I will be spending the remainder of today, Saturday, doing the work that Lender Exchange prevented me from doing yesterday afternoon.

What do you think of Lender Exchange?

Picture Credit: The image used is © BBC from the television series Little Britain

Lawyers and Social Media + Personal Branding for Law Students

Personal Branding for Law Students

Can anyone hear me?

I gave a talk today on Lawyers and Social Media to the students on the Diploma in Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow School of Law. My talk emphasised the importance of personal branding for young lawyers which can and should start whilst still law students. I pointed out that lawyers had to tell the world who they were and what they were doing. No one else would necessarily blow their trumpet for them. Who else might know the importance of the case they had just won? However, rather than using a loudhailer to do so IT and in particular the Internet was now the best tool for this purpose.

I asked the students if they knew who Stuart Baggs was. He was, of course, one of the contenders on series 6 of The Apprentice who referred to himself as ‘The Brand’. He also said he was a big fish in a small pond and was told in no uncertain terms that he was not a brand nor a fish.

I suggested that the students are at the moment small fish in a large internet pond that they need to grow in.

But as Richard Susskind has said:

Most lawyers are pathologically late adopters of IT. Despite promising, early successes, until the worth of an emerging technology is proven beyond reasonable doubt it will not generally be embraced by the legal world.

It was, however, heartening to see that of the 100+ students in the lecture theatre nearly all of them were on Facebook (maybe no surprise there) but with one half to two-thirds being on Twitter and the same on LinkedIn. Slightly less (but a fair number) were on Pinterest. These statistics compare favourably to a similar poll I did to the class of 2011 when whilst almost all were on Facebook only 4 were on Twitter and 7 on LinkedIn. That was a class of 165 students.

In 2011 Google+ didn’t exist. In 2014 only one law student pioneer had signed up to it. None of them were on Ello and only one student had even heard of it. No one was broadcasting on YouTube.

One student was quick to join Twitter immediately after the lecture:-

When I was preparing my presentation I was scratching my head to think of any current law students in Scotland who were blogging. So I asked Twitter for help:-

I was pointed in the direction of a few political student bloggers. No doubt elements of law in there but on the whole Scottish referendum heavy. Some Australian student law blogs exist. A few in England (e.g. Lawyer in the Making, Raising the Bar, The London Law Map and Matthew Hopkins – The Witchfinder General) but, alas, I could not find any in Scotland. This was in stark contrast to the position in 2011 when Michelle Hynes (Glasgow University), Alistair Sloan (Stirling University) and the Anonymous Scots Law Student (Strathclyde University) were all blogging. Michelle and Alistair still do. The Scots Law Student stopped it would appear when they were no longer a student. Michelle and Alistair have both since gone onto great heights by becoming employees of Inksters 😉 In both cases their blogging and social media activities caught my eye and led to them being offered positions at my law firm.

A new law student blogger, Paul Cruikshank, did appear just before today and as a result of me tweeting about the dearth involved:-

Paul was at the lecture today and I had the pleasure of meeting him.

I also took the students through my own law firm’s online strategy including a discussion on Tweeting in Convoy, Tweet-ups, Inksters Give, Inksters Christmas Hats, Trial Inksters and the Inksterplex (which now has #inksterplex on the front door).


How many law firms have a hashtag on their front door?

The benefits of blogging on this blog, the Crofting Law Blog and elsewhere was highlighted. The result of this strategy I explained was becoming a bigger fish in the internet pond.

The talk finished with a quote from US Attorney Betsy Munnell commenting on my post on Law Firm Twitteratigate:-

Clearly, and the data in your post makes this point many times over, young lawyers need to teach themselves how to use social media for their careers. They cannot wait for their firms to catch up–not if they wish to build self-sustaining practices, not if they wish to survive this economy and the coming revolution in the delivery of legal services.

Note: This lecture formed part of the Business, Ethics, Finance and Practice Awareness course of the Diploma in Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow School of Law.

Law Smash: Lawyers do stand-up comedy

9 Lawyers do Stand-Up

Did you hear the one about the….

On 9 October 2014 I was in London for Law Smash. Nine people associated with the law in one way or another took to the stage at the basement bar in the Star of Kings to do stand-up comedy for the first time.

The comedians for the night (pictured above from left to right and in order of appearance) were: Jeremy Hopkins, Simon Harper, Tim Bratton, John Miller, Rachel Agnew, Sean Jones QC, Daphne Romney QC, Myles Jackman and Laurie Anstis.

Law Smash was organised and compered by Steve Cross and was a spin off from LawFest.

The comedy we heard at the Star of Kings included tales of social media, bed & breakfasts, death, lying like politicians, star trek toilets on trains, life as a QC, Pulp Fiction analogies, the path in life we may have taken and bestiality. So a good mixture of topics and not a huge amount directly to do with the law, which was probably a good thing. The routines and delivery were top class across the board. They created a lot of laughter from the audience.

I am no stranger to comedy performances with my own show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013. But there I was surrounded by professional comedians with me being the butt of their jokes. I did have to think up, hopefully, funny retorts on the hop. But it was nothing to what being on stage on your own must be like. Terrifying I expect. All nine acts at Law Smash pulled it off remarkably well and appeared like polished professionals. Well done to them all and I am looking forward to Law Smash 2015 already. Steve Cross asked me at the end of the night whether I would be up for performing at Law Smash next year. I will sleep on it for now!

The night ended with a turn by professional comedian Tiernan Douieb. There was then a chance to catch up with some friends old and new over drinks.

All in all an excellent night out. I would give it 5 stars.

Law Smash was a fundraiser for the National Youth Arts Trust, who work to make the arts accessible to kids from disadvantaged backgrounds. All the profit made went to them.

Update: Jeremy Hopkins has published audio of his routine. Enjoy:-

Update 2: Audio of John Miller’s routine now also available. More to enjoy:-

Update 3: Audio of Sean Jones QC’s routine now available as a result of his #billablehour pledge (see: Lawyer’s Billable Hour raises over £100,000 in 3 days to help refugee crisis)


Tods Murray is no more – Another Scottish law firm bites the dust

Tods MurrayIt was very sad to hear of the demise yesterday of another well known Scottish law firm. Tods Murray was formed in 1856 and by 2014 was ranked the 14th top Scottish law firm by The Lawyer based on turnover of £12.4 million. The Scotsman reported in January 2014 that Tods Murray grew its pre-tax profits to £2.5 million in the year to 31 March 2013 from £2.3m in the previous 12 months. But apparently such turnover and profit was not sufficient to keep the wolves from the door. It should be born in mind that, as reported in The Scotsman in November 2011, financial returns at Tods Murray had fallen from a high in 2007 when turnover hit £22.5m and gave the firm a net profit of £8.6m. Tods Murray went into Administration yesterday and was immediately acquired by Shepherd & Wedderburn. Whilst the 160 or so Tods Murray staff are transferring immediately to Shepherd & Wedderburn reports suggest that an initial 50 redundancies are likely.

Tom MacLennan and Iain Fraser, partners with FRP Advisory, were appointed as joint administrators to Tods Murray. As reported in The Journal of the Law Society of Scotland, Mr MacLennan said:

Tods Murray had exhausted every option to turn the business around, and was faced with an unsustainable gap between high fixed costs and income. Administration was the only alternative for the firm, but we are delighted that Shepherd & Wedderburn has acquired the Tods Murray business, and will provide the partners and staff with a stronger platform from which to service their clients.

The demise of Tods Murray was in stark contrast to the news announced just over a week ago when Caroline Shand joined the firm as partner from global law firm Nabarro. The Daily Record quoted Tods Murray, executive partner David Dunsire, saying:

It is a very exciting time just now.

Confidence has been regained in the economy and clients are looking for opportunities.

We are delighted to welcome Caroline to bolster our top level service and legal guidance to the real estate finance market.

We have an unparalleled team and we are very much looking forward to the future.

David Dunsire was apparently  unaware that Tods Murray would no longer exist just over one week later.

Rumours of a possible administration at Tods Murray circulated back in 2009 with David Dunsire having to write an open letter to the Scotland on Sunday in March of that year:

We have heard that we are on our bank’s ‘at risk’ register, that partners have refused to inject more cash into the firm and that we are, indeed, about to go into administration. All of this is totally untrue. The firm is financially stable.

In January 2013 Tods Murray were apparently bouncing back with David Dunsire telling The Scotsman:

We have taken steps over several years to restructure and build a lean and effective practice which leaves us well placed, I believe, to emerge from this recession stronger and fitter as we have done with others during our 150 year history.

In an article published in 2009, entitled ‘Lawyers ponder the future as knife is wielded‘, Ian Fraser wrote:

One source said that Scotland’s law firms are currently in “no man’s land”. While dealmaking and all the other boom-time activities dried up long ago, they are still awaiting the “tipping point” — when a spate of corporate restructuring and widespread insolvencies starts to fill the void. For some of the over-stretched firms, the wait might just prove too long.

It clearly did for Tods Murray.

Tods Murray joins other high profile law firm casualties in Scotland in recent times such as Ross Harper and Semple Fraser. Other Scottish law firm names that have vanished through merger with larger English firms include Biggart Baillie, McGrigor Donald (latterly known as McGrigors) and Dundas & Wilson.

I don’t imagine for one minute that this is the last we have seen of such casualties. Why though are these problems besetting large long established law firms? I may consider that in more detail in a future blog post. In the meantime your views are welcome.

LawFest 2014: Something rather special

LawFest logo

I go to a fair few legal conferences every year and often report about them on here. When I saw early tweets about LawFest it was clear that something very different, from the legal conference as we know it, was forming. I had to go to Cheltenham and experience it. So non ‘legal’ did it look that I persuaded my wife (who is an architect and not a lawyer) to join me.

On arrival at The Parabola Arts Centre in Cheltenham on Friday evening we were given wristbands not name badges. We were welcomed with drinks. There were familiar faces to catch up with and new ones to get to know (including my first face to face encounter with a cigar smoking bear).

Then through to the theatre for an introduction from Paul Gilbert.

LawFest - Paul Gilbert

He told us that LawFest did not carry CPD points:-

Collecting CPD is not personal development, is not learning, is not anything except a small tick in a largely irrelevant box.

Paul set out his vision of LawFest: a place to be involved, to think, talk and connect.

Then Fiona Laird asked us all to write a four line poem entitled ‘Forgotten’. She gathered them in. She congratulated us on our creativity. She then ripped the poems up and put them in a bin. This she said alleviated our fears that she might read them out. Not sure if it prepared us fully for the fact that the following day we would be creating stuff and reading it out!

My poem, for what it is worth, is:-


I have forgotten

how to write  a poem

Shall I be forgiven?

Can I write another?

Saturday morning started with some live jazz with JCJazz to get us in the swing. We were welcomed by Paul who then began a conversation with Tracy Edwards MBE, sailor, entrepreneur and leader.

Tracy insisted that there was nothing special about her. Sailing around the world arose from a drunken evening in a pub. She did, however, reveal that when she sets herself a goal the thought of failure drives her to succeed.

Hilary Gallo, Steve Chapman and Kay Scorah provided an interactive session to introduce themselves and their fringe sessions. This included a Chinese whispers type session on stage involving actions rather than words with the end result being a very lost message:-

[Kay Scorah on the left started the physical Chinese whisper and shows us what she did whilst John Miller on the right was last to see the whisper and shows us what was lost in translation!]

We discovered that we see things differently through one eye than through the other. We were made aware of how we put our underpants on and how we might do so differently the next morning.

In small groups we created stories one word at a time. This was certainly not a ‘normal’ legal conference and it set the tone for the fringe sessions throughout the day. There were three different streams of activity to pick and choose from. You could dip in or dip out as you pleased. It was impossible to take in everything that was going on but I will give you a flavour of what I experienced.

Theatre director, Fiona Laird, made us find our voice. Through breathing and sound exercises we all sounded much better an hour and a half later than we did at the outset.

LawFest - Fiona Laird

Steve Chapman unleashed the genius within us with a personal creative workout. His six mantras were:-

  • Mad, Bad & Wrong
  • Be Obvious, Be Altered
  • Say “Yes” (to the mess)
  • Fail Happy
  • Embody it
  • Make others look good

We each had to create an innovation from two randomly selected words written by others on post it notes.

LawFest - Pig Park

I got ‘pig’ + ‘park’ so created a pig theme park with inter alia roller coasting pigs, pig dodgems, mud baths and stalls selling bacon butties.

Unfortunately I missed Steve Cross on stage (above) on embracing humour in our lives. But I did go to his workshop on turning off your internal editor, how to make a pattern then break it for laughs, body language and using stand-up to build confidence. There was some very funny moments created by the attendees. It reminded me of my trial at the Edinburgh Fringe and how law and comedy can indeed mix. Steve plans to put on a standup show in London featuring lawyers:-

A break from interactive sessions allowed me to take in a poem from Richard Moorhead’sThe Word Museum‘ read by an actor and directed by Fiona Laird. This made up for missing the earlier session that day with Richard on the evolution of ethics and on Leveson (again informed by actors). I couldn’t express the poetry session any better than Paul Gilbert did in his personal reflection on LawFest:-

My personal reflection is this – When a professor shares a poem he has written that touches his heart, that is then picked up and carried by actors, gently placed before a hushed audience for their quiet contemplation, and it then touches their hearts; in that moment we learn about the power of words, of sharing, of loving, of speaking and of listening …then that is truly a moment to cherish.

Next it was back to an interactive session with Hilary Gallo: Changing chairs to have better conversations. In one to one sessions with other attendees we explored blocking conversations and also encouraging them. We also experienced how you can get someone to move with you without words.

Then a cup of tea was called for in advance of the pre concert drinks.

LawFest - cup cakes

I have already mentioned some of the sessions I didn’t manage to take in. Although I saw Tracy Edwards in conversation with Paul Gilbert I missed a session where you could meet, chat and explore making a difference, change, leadership. I also missed Tracy together with Craig Hunter (ParalympicsGB 2012 Chef de Mission) for reflections on realising potential. There was a conversation with Craig earlier in the day on leadership and team building. Charles Grimes (development expert and musician) had a session giving lessons on leadership in music. Kay Scorah had a workshop on beyond words: Co-creation and co-operation. I also missed the conversation with Stephen Jackson (music director) on how choirs work, the music and the role of the music director. There was a lot going on but as I said earlier impossible to take it all in, even with a Tardis 😉

After drinks it was time for the Cheltenham Bach Choir. One of the foremost choral societies in the South West of England having performed at the BBC Proms and at the Symphony Hall, Birmingham. A lovely way to finish the day.

LawFest - Cheltenham Bach Choir

Although the day was not quite over. There were more drinks to be had. More connections to be made.

We were the last men standing. But we carried on well into darkness. Eating, drinking, thinking, talking and connecting.

After LawFest and not particularly linked to it I saw this tweet from Julian Summerhayes quoting Seth Godin:-

This made me reflect that we perhaps learned a fair bit about relations, stories and magic at LawFest. Will that magic continue in 2015? Paul Gilbert in his personal reflection on LawFest says:-

Will there be a #LawFest 2015? May be, but not definitely. There was #LawFest  2014 not because it was tweeted, planned, talked about or made, but because you came. From just one tweet a few months before to the thing it became, it only happened because you came. There will only be #LawFest 2015 if you come again.

It is clear from the tweets in response to this blog post that Paul need not worry. We will definitely come again and more will undoubtedly join us. Paul has created something rather special in LawFest.

Paul said there would be no feedback forms at LawFest and if we tweeted anything bad about it he would block us 😉

I will give my own feedback with suggestions for LawFest 2015 (and risk being blocked by Paul). For a first time event LawFest was remarkably well organised. My comments should be seen as little tweaks to improve very slightly on an incredible start.

  • Festival goers are often tree hugging vegetarians. A little more vegetarian, even vegan (dare I say it), food choice would not go a miss.
  • Those tree huggers like their herbal teas too 🙂
  • Have longer breaks for everyone when no sessions/workshops are ongoing. I have said before that legal conferences (I know this was not one) are often all about the people. More chance to connect socially with the people there during the day would be welcome.
  • Let us know who will be there. I realised after the event via Twitter that some people I knew from social media or through other connections were in attendance. Had I known in advance I would have tracked them down. Absence of name badges (deliberate to make it less conference like) meant it was not always easy to know who was who. Send out a list a day or two before or even hand one out with the programme on the day.

Very minor niggles for something that was rather special. See you at LawFest 2015 🙂

Reinvent Law London 2014 – It’s all about the people

Reinvent Law London 2014 - It is all about the people

I usually write a review of Reinvent Law London: having done so for the first such event, when it was called LawTech Camp London 2012, and the second, Reinvent Law London 2013. This year I was speaking at Reinvent Law London 2014. I have already posted on here my talk on ‘Improving‘ and the Tweets relative to that talk. I am not going to do a full review of the event this year. Many others have already done a very good job of that. I will list the reviews and other related blog posts that I have picked up on at the end of this post. If I have missed any out let me know add I will add them in.

What I am going to do is simply add some reflections on this year’s event. I thought it was the best one yet. Not because I was speaking at it 😉 but because I met and chatted with many more delegates than at the previous ones. Maybe that was because I was a speaker and more people approached me at break out sessions than might otherwise have been the case. There was the hard core of regular London Twegals with whom it is always nice to catch up with. But there was a very large number of new connections made and interesting ideas exchanged. This went on well into the evening with a group of us, from several different countries, retiring to a bar for food and more drinks following the LexisNexis official drinks reception.

Reinvent Law has its critics, including at times myself. Whatever one might say about the content (generally thought provoking if often lacking in breadth and balance) it does pull in an interesting global audience that it is a pleasure to be part of. It’s all about the people and I will be back next year for that reason alone.

I will also make the same promise I did last year and fly across the pond to attend the next Reinvent Law NYC if the organisers bite the bullet and invite Scott Greenfield to speak at that event. As I heard at an inbound marketing conference earlier this week:-

Now for those reviews / blog posts on Reinvent Law London 2014:-

ReInvent Law London 2014: Storify, tweets, and resources (by Robert Richards)

ReInvent Law London 2014: Tweets visualised on TagsExplorer (by Jon Harman)

ReInvent Law in pictures (by Sarah Plaka)

10 things you might have missed at #ReInventLaw (by Sarah Plaka)

ReInvent Law London 2014: Talks in Tweets via Storify (by LXBN)

ReinventLaw London 2014 – a reflection (by David Gilroy)

The future of law tops the agenda (by Shannon Sweeney)

ReinventLaw London: One does not simply start a new law (by Joanna Goodman)

Improve or ReinventLaw: the question is now (by Ivan Rasic)

ReInventLaw London Event Report (by Alex Hobbs)

Law Firm Leadership + ReInvent Law London 2014 (by Lloyd Pearson)

ReInvent London 2014 (by William Barns Graham)

Lawyers, roles and identity (by Mark Gould)

Not innovating? (by Jon Busby)

Reinvent Law London 2014 (by Exigent Group Ltd)

ReInvent Law Londen: Law + tech + design + delivery (by Christ’l Dullaert)

40 Speakers-A Reinvent Law Day (by Kenneth Grady)

Photo credit: LexisNexis

Tweets on Improving a Law Firm

Brian Inkster - Improving - Fun - Reinvent Law London 2014

My last post was on what I said about improving a law firm at Reinvent Law London 2014. This post is on what others said on Twitter about my talk. Interest seemed to be piqued most on pop-up law and having fun. Two of the more novel concepts for lawyers perhaps!

Photo credit: LexisNexis

Improving for Reinvent Law London 2014

Brian Inkster - Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014

On 20th June I did a 6 minute Ignite talk at Reinvent Law London on Improving. Here are the slides together with a transcript of the talk (it possibly didn’t go exactly like that on the day!)

1. Introduction

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 01
I am Brian Inksters. Founder of Inksters Solicitors: A law firm with its headquarters in Glasgow, Scotland and offices in Inverness, Wick and Portree.

2. Improving

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 02
Jon Busby reckons that lawyers are trying to reinvent themselves into something they will never be instead of improving on what they actually are. Something valuable that is just a bit broken and well worth fixing. Someone needs to rescue them. Not sure if that someone is me. But today I will show you how I have reinvented my law firm, Inksters, through gradual improvement.

3. Identity

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 03
When I set up Inksters 15 years ago I drew up my own logo with the help of my wife. 4 years ago we rebranded with the help of a designer. Now the Inksters forward pointing arrow runs through all of the organisation: from business cards, social media avatars, the reception desk to the bespoke toilet signage (I will let you ponder that one).

4. Environment

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 04
Improve your working environment. Make it somewhere your staff are proud of and want to work in. Inksters recently moved into a new purpose designed HQ in the heart of Glasgow. I believe there is still a place for bricks as well as clicks in the law firm of the future. A visitor to the Inksterplex last week said he thought he had walked into a design studio.

5. Web Presence

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 05
Improve your web presence. Inksters own a large number of legal related domains. Some of these are currently in use many soon will be. We now have 4 websites with a 5th launching very soon and 3 dedicated separate blogs. We ensure that the content on all of these is valuable content that is genuinely useful.

6. Social Media

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 06
Improve your social media presence. We have more twitter accounts at Inksters than people. We tweet in convoy. We meet up with those we tweet with when we can. We forge relations in the traditional networking way but using Twitter as an accelerator. Through those connections many different types of business opportunities arise.

7. Marketing

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 07
Improve your marketing. Inksters post out paper Christmas hats rather than cards at Christmas time and recipients tweet photos of themselves wearing them. Sometimes from far flung places like the Ice Hotel in northern Sweden. This can go on for months with summer beach photos not being uncommon! The best entries win a prize.

8. Geographical Reach

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 08
Improve your Geographical reach. Inksters have offices located throughout the remoter parts of Scotland. Back office support is provided from Glasgow through the use of technology. Thus there is no duplication of staff in the satellite offices. Each is manned by one solicitor specialising in a particular area of law.

9. Way you work

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 09
Inksters have a serviced office and living apartment in Shetland. Think Regus offices meets Fraser Suites combined and condensed into one unit. We call it OfficeLodge. Solicitors can live and work from OfficeLodge when in Shetland. Otherwise we operate it as a separate business and let it out to other business travellers.

10. Pop-up Law

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 10
Take law to your clients. At Inksters we do pop-up law. Whether that is setting up a wills kiosk in a branch of Barnardo’s in Glasgow or taking crofting law seminars to crofters in a village hall in North Uist. Yesterday and today we have a crofting law stand at the Royal Highland Show in Edinburgh. I am flying to Edinburgh in the morning to man it over the weekend.

11.The Cloud

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 11
Improve the way you work by getting on the cloud. Inksters are completely cloud based. We have no servers in any of our offices and no software on any of our Personal Computers. They are simply a gateway via the internet to our systems stored on servers in the RISE data centre. We also use cloud based digital dictation enabling work to be created and produced anywhere.

12. Service – Communication

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 12
Improve your service through communication. At Inksters we have a VOIP phone system. All calls to satellite office numbers are routed to Glasgow. The solicitors in the satellite offices are extensions on the phone system. Outwith normal office hours our Estate Agency calls (solicitors in Scotland are commonly also Estate Agents) are routed to a call centre.

13. Online Payment

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 13
Improve the way you get paid. Many solicitors are just catching on to the fact that maybe they should accept payment by debit or credit card. But why not accept payment online? At Inksters we have been doing so since 2008. Clients can pay us when it suits them best – perhaps in the evening or at weekends. It will speed up your cash flow and ease your cash room administration.

14. Legal Process Engineering

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 14
Improve your efficiency through legal process engineering. At Inksters we have a dedicated legal process engineer. Their role is to map all of our processes and to streamline them, make them efficient and integrate them into our cloud based case management system. That will drive and create real efficiencies that are paramount in the more for less world that we now live in.

15. Consultants

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 15
Improve your business model with self employed consultants. At Inksters we provide all the back office support and technology to enable such consultants to concentrate on the law and let us take care of running the business. Some ‘virtual’ firms have been established on this basis but I believe it is a model that will work best with some bricks and mortar.

16. Corporate Social Responsibility

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 16Improve your Corporate Social Responsibility. Give something back to the community you work in. Last year we Sponsored the Scottish Ensemble to take them to Shetland to perform Seavaigers: A story about a sea journey from Dundee to Shetland. The Kudos we have received from the local community for so doing has been tremendous.

17. Fun

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 17Improve the fun you have. Law and lawyers can be seen as a bit boring by some. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Lighten up a bit and have some fun in your work and with your work colleagues. Last summer I was put on trial for a laugh at the Edinburgh Fringe. The charges against me were ones of high treason for having my sights on the Scottish Crown. Team Inksters had a good laugh at my expense.

18. Legal Skills

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 18Don’t forget your skills as a lawyer. The latest legal app or other gizmo will never be a substitute for honing your legal skills. Keep studying the law. Better still write, blog and speak about your area of expertise. Become the Go-To expert in your field. Carve a niche and excel at it. Market that fact through the web, videos and social media.

19. Reinvent

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 19By gradual improvement in everything you do as a lawyer and in your business you may just discover that you have reinvented your law firm. You will have created a firm that people enjoy working in. A firm that clients want to instruct. A firm that is moving forward and ever adapting with the world around it. A place that is no longer broken but thriving.

20. Contact

Improving - Reinvent Law London 2014 - Slide 20

My contact details

N.B. The presentation is also available on slideshare:-

Photo credit (main image): LexisNexis

Did the cost of legal IT kill Clearspire?


I and others have been writing on this Blog of late about the Legal IT curve. My view was that Big Law is so behind the legal IT curve and this could be detrimental to its future. However, this past week a New Law firm, Clearspire, who, on the face of it, was well ahead on that legal IT curve closed its doors. Why it folded is not clear.

One reason could be its spend on legal IT.

It would appear that this spend was $5 million and involved two and a half years of research and development. For a law firm with 25 lawyers that is $200,000 per lawyer spent on IT. The aspirations of Clearspire were much greater than a firm of 25 lawyers. In January 2013 the stated aim was to “expand its nontraditional legal services model across the country with the addition of 50 to 100 former BigLaw lawyers each year for the next five years”. That didn’t happen. If it had then the spend per lawyer on legal IT would have gone down considerably from that $200,000 figure.

However, $5 million seems one heck of a lot of money for any law firm (especially a new start) to be spending on legal IT. What was special about this IT? I have not been able to glean a lot about its USP if it even had one. I found an article that suggested CORAL, the system developed by Clearspire, provided a “highly secure technology platform to collaborate real time with clients and team members, post questions, review briefs, and more”. Perhaps we need to know what the “and more” is as everything else can already be done with off the shelf platforms at a fraction of the cost. As Carolyn Elefant said in a comment to that article:-

What is so revolutionary about Clearspire?  I have been implementing flat fees, client plans and online secure portals for at least a decade as have many of my solo and small firm colleagues.

It has been suggested that CORAL did not even assist document management!

The Clearspire business model which involved amongst other things “no central physical office, but regional centres and a powerful ‘best-in-class enterprise IT platform'” is one being played out by other NewLaw firms but perhaps with substantially less spend on the IT element. With legal IT providers having invested huge sums in perfecting proven legal IT systems over the years is there really any need for a NewLaw firm to reinvent the wheel?

Such systems (especially the cloud based ones) can now be purchased on an affordable per user basis allowing the IT to grow as the law firm grows rather than the IT having to pay for itself once the law firm reaches a critical mass, which seems to have been the Clearspire model. What law firms need to spend time and money on is making sure these off the shelf systems are working to their full potential within their own four walls (even if that is virtual walls).

So in my view Clearspire may have got it wrong with the huge investment in its own legal IT system. It is not the start of the end of NewLaw but perhaps a lesson for would be NewLaw firms. Law Firms survive on providing legal services to customers (aka clients). Law firms, new or old, need to concentrate on that. Technology is a tool to assist that process. When setting up a law firm I wouldn’t try to create a PC or phone from scratch. Pier Giorgio Perotto and Alexander Graham Bell beat me to it. The same is true of legal IT systems. There are plenty out there that work very well indeed. Usually it is the law firms or individual lawyers within those law firms that are simply not using the systems anywhere near to their full potential.

Arising from the Clearspire ashes appears to be CORAL. The law firm has gone but the legal IT will live on. As Mitchell Kowalski states:-

So, while some will mourn the loss of a New Law trail blazer, the fact that Clearspire will remain as a legal IT company and grow, bodes well for lawyers across the world.

Perhaps. But what is unique about CORAL? If it didn’t sustain the pilot NewLaw firm Clearspire does it really bode well for lawyers across the world? I am told we will will find out at the end of the Summer.

The Clearspire website tells us:-

Our law firm was a laboratory– a proof of concept that demonstrated just how innovative today’s lawyers can be. In the process, we redefined client satisfaction, lawyer efficiency, and pioneered the model for the future of legal services delivery.

Now, the time has come to scale.  We’re  taking Clearspire to the next level with a mission to empower not a law firm, but all law firms.

We are actively working to ready our class-leading Legal Services Delivery Platform for you!  Stay tuned to these pages in the coming weeks and months for updates on our global deployment of The Next Revolution.

If it didn’t empower one law firm how will it empower all law firms? But perhaps ‘The Next Revolution’ will have a price tag less than $200,000 per lawyer 😉

I have made assumptions in this post. I had to as there is no information yet from the horse’s mouth as to why Clearspire folded. I may be wrong. Whether I am or am not do you think law firms should create their own legal IT systems from scratch rather than buy in existing third party ones?

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


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