A reality check on a day in the life of the future lawyer

By | December 27, 2018

Virtual Reality Lawyers Meeting

Will this really be how lawyers conduct meetings in 10 years time?

An article in Raconteur from last month was brought to my attention yesterday on Twitter. It is about ‘a day in the life of the future lawyer‘ (how the life of a leading lawyer will be transformed by legal technology in just a decade).

Well, I had thought that the hype around Artificial Intelligence and Legal Technology was well behind us by the time 2018 was coming to a close. Unfortunately not so.

I will provide my thoughts on this article to give it a much needed dose of reality.

Apparently in this brave new world of the future:-

Being connected through the internet of things means stepping from home to car to office is a seamless data process of arranging the day’s agenda, absorbing the morning news and responding to overnight developments in the practice at overseas offices. A file that needs to be shared with a client has been processed, not just in terms of the content relevance, but also through the most efficient channel.

Does this not happen already today and has for some time? I can move from home to car (to train, plane or boat for that matter) to office seamlessly using the internet. I am always (maybe not as yet on most planes) connected via the cloud to my law firm’s case management system. I have been via a data centre since 2011 and before that for many years using a VPN to the server in my office.

For our future lawyer:-

once in the office, the first duty of the day is to review a client dispute using predictive analytics.

This is perhaps one of the most likely predictions made for our future lawyer to be doing in 10 years time although I reckon they would be delegating the task to someone else in their firm. However, whilst there may be tools available to assist the process, human brain power and experience will still play a big part in any decision making taken. The future lawyer will need to analyse the predictive analytics with care.

A degree of caution is required with such systems. That may improve in 10 years time. At the moment Artificial Intelligence is not bad at telling the difference between cats and dogs (but not between Chihuahuas and blueberry muffins).

AI can't tell the difference between a chihuahua and a blueberry muffin

It does struggle with the “what-if” scenarios. There are a lot of those in law. See:-

Apparently our future lawyer will have:-

a swift cup of coffee, delivered by Gene, the office robot.

In a year when Russia’s most advanced robot turned out to be a man dressed in a robot suit I’ll hold my breath on Gene the robot delivering a coffee to my office desk anytime soon (see The Automation Charade). If you really can’t be bothered to walk to the office kitchen/vending machine for a coffee just buy a Nespresso machine and set it on your desk.

Legal Robot makes coffee - ordering an Uber will be next

Our future lawyer will be:-

joined in the virtual reality meeting room by two enterprise experts, the chief data officer and the head of communications, who are in overseas offices, and a member of the future lawyer’s team, working from home while on paternity leave.

The ability exists today and has for some considerable time for video conferencing. There have been advancements in that technology over the past 50+ years but I doubt those advancements will see us in virtual reality meeting rooms anytime soon.

Whilst the technology exists today to allow virtual reality meetings it is probably not a practical or cost effective option for most. We will no doubt still use telephone conferencing for some time to come as we often do now in preference to video conferencing. Simplicity and ease of use of established technology often trumps new technology.

Virtual Reality Meeting Rooms?

A member of the future lawyer’s team, working from home while on paternity leave, should not be a futuristic concept (at least the working from home bit). It should be perfectly acceptable and a normal option today. Although whilst on paternity leave you shouldn’t really be working!

The Raconteur article quotes Richard Susskind:-

Online is not an alternative to the courts system, it is the courts system. Within ten years, most cases will be resolved by online courts.

Whilst we may see an increase in the use of online systems by the court service I very much doubt that “within ten years, most cases will be resolved by online courts”.

Back to the law firm of the future, in the Raconteur article, where:-

earlier, online court proceedings had not turned up the desired result, so it is time to go for a full hearing.

But first:-

using telepresence, the firm has hired actors to play the court officials and jury as they run through a mock presentation of the case.

Their client may have something to say about the costs associated with that little exercise! Surely they could at least have drafted in the office robot Gene to assist? But, seriously the mock court may have a place to play in the University education of a lawyer but surely is not something an experienced court practitioner need contemplate?


the lawyer of the future … entered the firm’s virtual library to consult some authorities for a case involving a particularly tricky point of law.

No surprise that Westlaw and LexisLibrary will still be in use in 10 years time. Both have been available since the 1970s (then as dial up services). So again not something new for our lawyer of the future.

Our future lawyer then:-

reviews a finance statement on an iPad.

Can’t they do that today?! And surely in 10 years time their iPad will be a thing of fond nostalgic memory as they review a finance statement on a Microsoft ‘Centaurus’ 5?


since the client’s business is processed by blockchain, each part of the client’s concluded workload has been processed for payment using cryptocurrency.

Given that, just this past week, a study of more than 40 projects where blockchain was supposed to make services more efficient has found a success rate of zero, maybe your client’s business simply won’t all be on the blockchain in the future.

Surprisingly our future lawyer ends the day by:-

retiring to bed and pressing the last button of the day… lights out.

Surley no buttons would be pressed and it would simply be a case of saying “Alexa, lights out”. That is if by then Artificial Intelligence does not simply detect our future lawyer has gone to bed and switches the lights off for them. That is perhaps more likely to feature in the day of a life of our future lawyer than anything predicted for them by Raconteur that doesn’t already exist today.

The Raconteur article unfortunately commits most if not all of the seven deadly sins of AI predictions. It is also oblivious to the legal technology that already exists and is in use today.

Let’s revisit this in 10 years time and see where we are really at.

Image credits: Chihuahuas and blueberry muffins – mibrujula.com; Digital Transformation meeting – marketoonist

Is the mist starting to clear around Lawscot Tech?

By | December 19, 2018

Is the mist starting to clear around Lawscot TechI’ve already written a couple of posts about LawScot Tech:-

You will note therefrom a certain degree of scepticism.

However, happy to learn more and be convinced of the possible merits of this initiative, I went along to their meeting in Edinburgh last week.

This was the last of four meetings organised by the Law Society of Scotland “to get the ball rolling” (the first three being held in Aberdeen, Dundee and Glasgow respectively).

The Edinburgh event had speaking:-

  • The Advocate General for Scotland, Lord Keen of Elie, speaking in his capacity as member of the LawTech Delivery Panel (an initiative sponsored by the Ministry of Justice and the Law Society of England & Wales).
  • John McKinlay, Head of DLA Piper’s UK Intellectual Property and Technology practice and convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Technology and Law Committee.
  • Helena Brown, Head of Data at Addleshaw Goddard and vice-convener of the Law Society of Scotland’s Technology and Law Committee.
  • Paul Mosson, Executive Director, Member Services and Engagement, Law Society of Scotland.

Lord Keen started speaking about AI and blockchain. I rolled my eyes. He told us about smart contracts in cargo transport being developed: smart containers monitor goods during transport.

Lord Keen told us that digitalisation of legal process is happening in Singapore faster than most places. Car accident claims there are all done digitally.

He told us that in England digital portals have already been developed for small claims and other areas. We will see more of it.

IBM apparently have an audit check for AI systems to identify if there is bias in these systems. Legitimacy must be tested. I pondered whether what we really need is a check for whether a system is really AI or whether it’s owners/promoters are just AI washing!

We then had John McKinlay and Helena Brown tell us what Lawscot Tech was all about.

Apparently the legal profession want to get involved in Legal Tech. I don’t think that is anything new. The ability to do so has always been there if you put your mind to it. I’ve been doing so for well over 20 years. I appreciate, however, that many lawyers will need some help on that front and an initiative like Lawscot Tech could play a part here.

There was recognition that we already have Legal Tech! Well nothing like stating the obvious. We had Legal Tech when I started my traineeship in 1991 and it was certainly around before that. Maybe we do need to remind new lawyers and Law Society staff of this as sometimes it seems that we have just entered the age of Legal Tech enlightenment. I blogged about that earlier this year: Hack the Past: How the Legal Profession knew nothing about Technology.

We were told that AI systems need to be educated. This takes time. But apparently we are seeing good results in Scotland. Amiqus and SnapDragon being mentioned in the same breath. But are they really AI systems? I don’t think Amiqus profess to be an AI system whilst SnapDragon mention on their website being AI-enhanced. Both appear to me, but I may be wrong, to be essentially search systems.

What about the legal technology firms that are Scottish and been operating for 20+ years? They weren’t mentioned.

We were told that there were mental health benefits to the legal profession by being able to use Legal Tech by pushing advice out at times that suit clients. I wondered whether there was a counter argument that machines pushing out advice (especially of the type currently available from legal chatbots) would mean a need for human backup to step in at anytime to save the day when the chatbot can’t cope?

Lawscot Tech follows the model employed by FinTech Scotland.

Lord Keen then mentioned Parker: The GDPR chatbot from Norton Rose Fulbright. I imagine he has never used it. A very simplistic chatbot that asks a few questions to determine whether you need to comply with GDPR and when you inevitably do simply states “Would you like to speak to my team members about what you need to do?” Hardly cutting edge or very useful legal tech.

Lord Keen also said it would be good to see Lawscot Tech develop a legal incubator in Scotland. Paul Mosson clarified that there was no immediate plans for this, although that may come. It is more about collaboration at the moment.

Collaboration apparently to build better platforms to then compete. We were told that many platforms were very basic at the moment. This to me demonstrated a lack of knowledge of the platforms and capabilities actually currently available.

Alex G. Smith seeing my tweets on this point commented on Twitter:-

Good luck to Scottish collaboration platforms … Sharepoint and MS 365 might save you a lot of money and meet ups (and the impact of free pizza on personal health) if people just use what they already have.

What do we need these ‘platforms’ to do that they can’t do at the moment? Again the Why? needs to be asked as highlighted in previous posts on this topic.

Also on the general question of collaboration Alex G. Smith suggested:-

You should all just get a shared Slack or WhatsApp group.

To which I responded:-

Tried that many moons ago with a Yahoo group for the Law Society of Scotland Communications Group. No one used it to communicate and the group fizzled out!

It was suggested that if law doesn’t move into technology then technology will move into the law. Again this statement ignores the fact that legal technology is nothing new.

Then a University Professor in the audience gave the most interesting perspective on the issue of the morning and brought us all back down to earth.

He pointed out that he has seen AI in law through his whole career. That is a long time he told us pointing at his grey hair. Today we are only marginally better at what we were doing years ago. We must be careful not to repeat past mistakes. We can’t be driven by exciting new tools. 

Alex G. Smith commented on Twitter:-

Most of the exciting new tools are faster file saving tools and then search engines …

Information retrieval was used from 2000 to 5 years ago and was essentially AI. We don’t realise how much of established legal technology we are using.

An academic paper from 2014 says most AI systems are basically just spread sheets.

It was also pointed out by the Professor that new legal start ups are usually bought out by the legal publishers.

MarrsioFootball asked the question on Twitter:-

Big question(s): will publishers turn competitor? Have they already?

Alex G. Smith responded:-

The ‘publishers’ have already done much of what the start-ups are doing in their R&D teams for the last 10 years. They will either release this or acquire strategic assets (one of things, not multiple) to complete their strategies/follow lawyer buying trends.

Then Paul Mosson told us that Lawscot Tech don’t want to block legal innovation in Scotland with a prescriptive approach. He mentioned that the Law Society of Scotland has a commercial programme with legal technology companies (I assume he meant those that pay them to be ‘promoted’ as part of their member benefit scheme) but that Lawscot Tech is separate from that. This may have been an attempt to address the concerns over this expressed by me in my earlier posts about Lawscot Tech.

I previously blogged:-

Perhaps the Law Society of Scotland will also, as part of this, look at scrapping its ‘member benefit scheme’ where a very limited number of legal technology providers are promoted by them presumably because money changes hands to do so. This does not provide members with a true picture of the legal tech landscape in Scotland nor indeed necessarily the best legal technology for them to invest in. It is anything but inclusive and gives the impression of a very private legal tech party/club.

Clearly they are not going to scrap their member benefit scheme. It makes them money. It would appear that as long as certain legal tech providers pay them they can access the ‘member benefit scheme’ without necessarily any due diligence on how good the legal tech is, what benefits that tech may have to members or indeed whether there is any track record of members actually using the technology in question!

However, how Lawscot Tech can separate this from what they are up to is beyond me. There are clear conflicts of interest arising from it that the Law Society of Scotland will have to deal with daily in trying to promote the Lawscot Tech initiative.

Not surprisingly the four legal technology providers in their member benefit scheme are all part of the Lawscot Tech community. However, that community still does not have listed within its membership the main legal technology companies in Scotland who provide legal technology solutions to most of the members of the Law Society of Scotland.

Paul Mosson advised that the last few months of Lawscot Tech had been about raising profile. Not about the people they know. They have already been speaking to them over the years. It has been about who they don’t know. Not about locking out but bringing people in. Next year they will go into workshop mode. They want to have a library of problems to tackle.

So are the ones they “know” the ones who are in the member benefit scheme already? Do they know the companies already who have been about for 20+ years and if so why are they not part of the Lawscot Tech community already?

Indeed at the meeting in Edinburgh I didn’t detect any legal technology companies in the room. Representatives all appeared to be from either law firms (mostly the very big ones) and from Universities. So if the legal technology companies are not in the room where are they?

After the Edinburgh event I heard a suggestion that the main Scottish Legal Tech providers may not be jumping into Lawscot Tech as they already have the connections they need with law firms and don’t need the Law Society of Scotland to connect them up. If so Lawscot Tech won’t achieve much. They need to get those players in the room.

But maybe the global aspirations of Lawscot Tech are more important. We heard from Paul Mosson that they are currently having an open dialogue with Singapore. Lets hope that doesn’t lead to jollies to Singapore like the recent Zurich and Vienna excursions! I think they should connect up the dots properly in Scotland before they start looking further afield.

Alex G. Smith, on Twitter, thought it maybe:-

looks like Scotland LegalTech is actually going to qualitatively research what it needs (101 Needs) rather than the randomiser of VC start-up hit and hope (like ‘England’ or is that ‘London’).

Will certainly be good if that is how it pans out.

In the new year Lawscot Tech will be looking for applications within the legal profession to join their Advisory Board. Five positions are available to presumably add to the existing six board members. Do they really need a board of eleven people to organise workshops involving lawyers and legal technology vendors? Could the Law Society CPD & Training section not organise that?

We heard from the floor that an issue at the moment is getting AI trained on data in law. Law firms are all doing their own thing. Paul Mosson confirmed that collaboration on data is a number one item for Lawscot Tech.

To that point Alex G Smith tweeted in response:-

Open up case-law data (make it free), get your legislation/regulations as consolidated xml and work out rules for anonymising contract data. Fix your end to end legal data supply first (may take a few years but will save time long run). #IAbeforeAI

We also heard from Paul Mosson that the Law Society of Scotland will be providing an online course so people in law firms are using Word, Excel etc properly. Yes, starting with the basics is a good idea and Lawscot Tech could learn from that approach.

So by the end of the meeting in Edinburgh I was a little bit clearer on what Lawscot Tech was all about. But the initial concerns raised in my earlier posts remain and have not been alleviated. In particular there remain an awful lot of important players in the legal technology sector in Scotland missing from the table. Something needs to be done to remedy that if Lawscot Tech is to have any credibility within the profession. Also the Why? still needs to be asked. Maybe that will be the purpose of the planned workshops in the new year.

It will be interesting to see how Lawscot Tech pans out in 2019 and I will keep you updated as and when I am aware of further developments.

Source Conference 2018 : The One with the Board Game

By | November 12, 2018

Source Conference 2018 - Source by SymphonyWhen I first heard, chatting with David Gilroy over a drink, about the plans for the Source Conference by Symphony Legal it certainly sounded like a conference for lawyers with a difference. When I saw the programme advertised this was reaffirmed. I had to go. So I did.

Viv Williams of Symphony Legal, opening the conference, prophesised that the legal landscape is likely to change more in the next 4 years than it has in the past 40 years.

Source Conference 2018 - Viv Williams

Viv Williams – Symphony Legal

Much of the conference perhaps sought to help the delegates who were lucky enough to be there with that change. And such change didn’t, I am pleased to report, involve Artificial Intelligence or Blockchain. Again it was refreshing to be at a conference where hype around legal technology was absent. It was more about the actual human elements involved in running a law practice that are still paramount to succeeding in business today.

The conference was called Source because it was “your source of inspiration, of ideas and of innovation”. As Viv elaborated:-

The pace of change in the legal profession has gathered speed over the last few years with firms reviewing structures and numerous firms looking at stock market flotations. It is more important than ever that we learn new skills from outside the profession that help us to run our practices as a business and not just be better at ‘the law’.

The MC for the day and first speaker was certainly from outside the profession. Jeremy Nicholas is an award winning TV, radio broadcaster and voice of the FIFA video game. He offered FIFA video game style voice overs in the break for someone you knew and their favourite football club. My nephew, who plays the FIFA video game, was over the moon to receive from me the video of Jeremy announcing his goal scoring prowess.

Like me, Jeremy is also an Edinburgh Festival Fringe performer.

Source Conference 2018 - Jeremy Nicholas

Jeremy gave us the 7 top structures for brilliant business presentations. It was interesting to think of some of these I had used (without realising the importance) in my own presentations. Also as the day went on I couldn’t help but clock the structures used by the other presenters and, in addition, the other elements highlighted by Jeremy as good to use when presenting: such as video, audience interaction, props, a poll and freebies. I think I manage to use all of those in my presentation on Lawyers and Social Media + Personal Branding for Law Students where Inksters Christmas Hats feature as props and freebies.

One of the 7 structures is incorporated within the tagline of this blog: The “past, present and future” practice of law. This is where you tell them how we used to do it, how we do it now and how we’re going to do it in the future.

I am, however, wondering how I can incorporate the James Bond structure into my next crofting law talk! This is where you start with something really exciting to grab your audience’s attention. It might not make sense to start with but you’ll explain what it means as you go along.

Source Conference 2018 - James Bond - Moonraker Jump

Jaws discovers his parachute isn’t going to open in the opening scene of Moonraker

Jeremy certainly grabbed the attention of the delegates at Source and held it throughout his presentation. As he did again in the evening with after dinner stories of encounters with Brian Clough, Christopher Lee and an armed man claiming to be Jesus.

One important takeaway from Jeremy’s talk (there were many though) was that when presenting no one is interested in you (the presenter). You need to know your audience but your message is the most important thing.

Then we had an hour and a half session on whether our law firm staff are ready for change. Alicia Sutton, Doron Davidson and Charlie Swan from PCA Law gave a very interactive presentation.

First there was a discussion around change with reference to the Change Curve.

Source Conference 2018 - Change Curve

We were told that we naturally and instinctively look for danger. Lawyers in particular do this making change difficult.

We are often held back by limiting beliefs i.e. a belief you impose on yourself that limits your ability to do things.

We learned about the evolution of trust:-

Source Conference 2018 - TRUST

I trust his parachute will open!

Then the interaction involved a meeting between Doron and Charlie where Charlie was very resistant to change. The audience were asked for views on what could have been done better by both of them. Then they re-ran their meeting with the audience instructed to shout “stop” when something should have been done better. Discussion took place and they re-winded and re-played with the new narrative.

Source Conference 2018 - PCA Law meeting - Doran Davidson and Charlie Swann

Doron Davidson and Charlie Swan of PCA Law

Although an hour and a half long the session held the audiences attention throughout and provided a great learning experience.

But it does take two to Tango. If one party remains staunchly negative can you turn them I pondered. At least with some of the techniques from PCA Law you will stand a fighting chance to do so.

Source Conference 2018 - PCA Law sum up

PCA Law sum up their session in one slide

After a “Wigwam break” (for a Tea and a Pee apparently!) we had a law firm spotlight where we heard three real life stories of law firms adapting to change.

Amongst other wise words, Richard Hill, of the GL (Gregg Latchams) Professional Services Group, told us to “Never underestimate the power of vision” and to “make sure we land the plane on our projects”.

Kristina Oliver discussed the growth of Keystone Law to over 300 solicitors in a short space of time. We learned that this was helped by innovative and cost effective marketing. I liked and could relate to their style from our own marketing initiatives at Inksters.

From Vidisha Joshi of Hodge Jones and Allen we heard that paperlight might work in a law firm but paperless probably won’t: “If you want to see real fear, tell a clinical negligence lawyer that you’re going paperless!” She also discussed not being afraid of taking risks for the future of the business and suggested that lawyers were not always the best people to make business decisions.

Source Conference 2018 - Law Firm Spotlights

Viv Williams. Richard Hill, Vidisha Joshi and Kristina Oliver on stage for the Law Firm Spotlight Session

In a general discussion with the panellists about change in law firms we were told that in staying positive about change don’t be afraid of not being the most popular person in the business.

We were told that change for change sake won’t be bought into. If you are clear about your vision people will get on board. Those that don’t will leave and you will be better off without them.

We had a short sponsors spotlight without whom the conference, like many, would not have been possible.

After a nice lunch it was time to play a board game. Yes, that’s right… two hours to play a game in teams on each table competing against the other teams on the other tables to make the most profit in running your imaginary law firm (think Monopoly for law firms). I did say at the beginning of this post that this was going to be a legal conference with a difference.

Source Conference 2018 - Ready4Business Simulation Game

This was the Ready4Business Simulation Game from theGrogroup. Paul Richmond, Kate Hennig and Simon Dawkins acted as adjudicators.

The team I was in (Bill, Soddit & Writeov) consisted of Paul Hajek of Clutton Cox, Shaun Jardine of Brethertons, Joanne Druce of F Barnes (who in the evening won the best Non-Lawyer of the Year Award), Sangeet Tatem of F Barnes and Dan Hodges of Conscious Solutions. We had great fun trying to work out the rules and balance the books! If Dan’s innovative initiatives to win extra work for us had been allowed we would have been clear winners!

Playing the board game demonstrated the impact on a fictional law firm’s bottom line of pricing decision especially discounting fees. It highlighted very effectively the importance of cashflow and how the impact of small decisions made at all levels within a law firm can make a huge difference to overall financial performance:-

The 5% fee discount, that half hour spent giving free advice, the overdue invoice left un-chased, and the constant failure to record and bill hours accurately – they all add up!

This is something that the managing partners around the table no doubt knew all too well. It is a game that should be played by all employees in a law firm to highlight this to them too.

After another Wigwam break it was the final speaker of the day. Again from outside the legal profession it was Graham Hall of The Insight Edge. He describes himself as a harbour pilot for brands. He has helped brands including Microsoft, Coca-Cola and Nike to identify consumer insights and build them into their brand strategy.

Graham took us through the 7 steps of “Insight”. He told us it was more fun to be different. I could relate to this. My law firm’s first strapline was Just that little bit different.

We were told that “a genuine insight changes the way you do things… they’re dangerous!”

You have to be empathetic. Something highlighted earlier in the day by the PCA Law team. To demonstrate this Graham moved outside the stage/PowerPoint and presented from the opposite side of the room from a step ladder!

Source Conference 2018 - Graham Hall - BBC Test Card

Graham Hill left the stage with the BBC Test Card displaying to move to the back of the hall…

Source Conference 2018 - Graham Hall up a Ladder

… to present from on top of a step ladder

This brought to mind the tip in the morning from Jeremy Nicholas about using props in your presentation.

Viv Williams wrapped up the day and gave a big thank you to Katie Blake for all her hard work organising things.

But things were not over.

We had a black tie evening involving pre-dinner drinks, magic tricks from Harrison Richards, dinner, the Symphony Legal Awards and after dinner stories from Jeremy Nicholas.

Source Conference 2018 - Symphony Awards - Rich Dibbins

Rich Dibbins announces an award at the Symphony Legal Awards whilst Jeremy Nicholas comments on his shoes but not his jacket

The conference then continued the following day (morning only) but unfortunately I had to travel back to Glasgow first thing in the morning for a meeting. Thus I missed a session on getting the best out of technology (don’t think AI or blockchain featured) and a session on aligning finance, business development and marketing.

I very much enjoyed the Source Conference. It was, as billed, different from  the norm.

The norm would probably have speakers with PowerPoint presentations doing 45 to 60 minute sessions with some panel sessions and little audience participation.

There has been a move in recent years to have a lot of speakers at legal conferences all doing shorter (maybe just 10 minutes or so), punchier talks. I like that format too.

However, the Source Conference with longer (one session at 90 minutes and another at 120 minutes) more interactive sessions worked very well. But I think it was the nature of those sessions, including in particular the role playing meeting and the board game, that made it work and really stand out from the norm. It will be interesting to see what they do in 2019.

Image Credits: Moonraker © United Artists; Some images by Symphony Legal if not by me.

Lawscot Tech meet and go global!

By | November 5, 2018

Lawscot Tech go internationalI, and others, raised our eyebrows a bit when Lawscot Tech was formed by the Law Society of Scotland.

It wasn’t very clear what this initiative actually involved or whether the Law Society knew themselves. Questions asked online at that point still remain largely unanswered.

However, some more information has started to emerge online within the Law Society’s website and from tweets at their first meeting with some of their members in Aberdeen.

That Aberdeen meeting on 31 October revealed, from official Law Society of Scotland tweets, that:-

  • The Law Society are actively looking for Scottish firms to get involved with #LawscotTech if you have any questions or want to support legal innovation get in touch with Paul Mosson at the Law Society.
  • Questions being asked of members included: “What process involves the most steps? What takes up the majority of your time? What keeps you up at night? What frightens you? The latter question is very apt for today.” (N.B. the meeting was taking place on Halloween).
  • A question was asked from a local authority solicitor about the role of in-house lawyers in Lawscot Tech. Paul Mosson confirmed that they have a role to play and a position on the Lawscot Tech group will be for an in-house representative.
  • Paul Mosson also confirmed that Lawscot Tech is for everyone within the legal ecosystem: receptionists, administration & IT staff, paralegals, new lawyers, in house lawyers, high street lawyers and larger law firms. I do hope Lawscot Tech appreciate that the legal technology needs of law firms will vary depending on size and services provided. It can’t be a case of one size fits all.

Over at the Law Society’s website more information has been added about what Lawscot Tech is all about:-

LawscotTech is a new initiative by the Law Society of Scotland to stimulate legal technology innovation in Scotland which will deliver practical benefits for those working in the justice and legal sectors and their clients. Lawscot Tech will provide support from concept stage through to taking a product or service to market.

It brings together experts from the legal world and the technology world to work collaboratively. Through our connections, we are well placed to reach out to the legal profession, technology firms, the academic community and other business sectors with similar programmes such as the financial sector (FinTech Scotland).

At its very simplest, we bring relevant people together to consider the challenges facing the legal profession and we try to identify potential technological solutions. By bringing people together with different experiences and expertise and working collaboratively, we hope to spark some creative and innovative thinking. Having distilled the long list of potential solutions into a shortlist, we will take the best of those ideas forward for development and ultimately to market.

This perhaps seeks to address the criticisms in this area expressed by Esther Roberton in her Report of the Independent Review of Legal Services Regulation in Scotland. She states in that Report:-

Another key issue where I found little evidence of a strategic approach was in the area of digital development. There is already significant progress in this field south of the border as well as internationally and in my view the sector in Scotland has yet to waken up to both the threats and the opportunities which this digital disruption presents. There seems to be a lack of joined-up thinking, vision or investment.

ScotlandIS is Scotland’s trade body for the digital technologies industry. They represent and support businesses and organisations creating & delivering digital products and services. The CEO, Polly Purvis, believes that there is scope for a LegalTech equivalent to Fintech Scotland, the body which provides funding, support and infrastructure to help secure Scotland’s place as significant player in the global FinTech movement. She, along with others, believes that Scotland could be leading the way in developing digital services both for providers and directly to consumers, for example using blockchain in property law.

Did the Law Society of Scotland have advance warning of these criticisms when they rushed out Lawscot Tech shortly before the Report was published?

The Lawscot Tech Advisory Board has oversight of all Lawscot Tech activities on behalf of the Law Society of Scotland. Members include:-

  • Paul Mosson, Executive Director, Member Services and Engagement, Law Society of Scotland
  • Amanda Millar, Partner at McCash & Hunter and Law Society Board Member
  • Lynsey Walker, Partner at Addleshaw Goddard and Law Society Board Member
  • Callum Murray, CEO of Amiqus
  • Stephen Ingledew, CEO of Fintech Scotland
  • John McKinlay, Partner at DLA Piper and convener of the Law Society’s committee for Technology Law and Practice

Lawscot Tech’s aims are:-

  1. Facilitate a thriving legal technology environment by bringing together solicitors and their employees with technologists
  2. Through technological advances, improve efficiencies and create competitive advantages for solicitors and clients
  3. Showcase a globally respected hub for legal technology innovation in Scotland
  4. Collaborate with partners in other business sectors throughout Scotland and globally
  5. Engage the Scottish business community’s interest in the legal sector
  6. Stimulate engagement and investment from outwith the legal sector.

On focus they say:-

Any approach is only as good as the problems it wishes to focus on in order to gain traction. We will begin by asking the community to explore three principal areas:-

  • Legal Tech – technology that supports legal advice
  • Reg Tech – IT to support regulatory compliance
  • Deal Tech – IT that streamlines deal-making.

They go on to say:-

If those are the areas that we are concentrating on, then in each instance the output must have:-

  • A well-defined focus on solutions that will drive consumer/client impact
  • Aligned practice and technical expertise than can be leveraged reciprocally (and exported)
  • Consumer/client buy-in and participation
  • A truly collaborative arrangement

Their collaborative approach is based on building a legaltech community. They state that their Lawscot Tech community will involve  –

  • Solicitors
  • Paralegals and others employed in the legal eco-system
  • Scottish and UK prosperity-focussed government agencies
  • Technologists
  • Strategic partners and stakeholders
  • Commerce, finance and industry
  • Law Society of Scotland

The Lawscot Tech values are:-

  • Purpose
  • Inclusion
  • Creativity
  • Transparency
  • Diversity
  • Clarity

Some of these perhaps have yet to be demonstrated. But it is early days and we should perhaps give them the opportunity to live by their values. But do let us call them out if they fail to do so.

Part of the community is (as listed on their website as at today’s date):-

This is a very narrow community when it comes to LegalTech in Scotland. It includes four relative newcomers to the Scottish Legal Tech market and excludes longstanding legal tech providers used by most law firms in Scotland. Unless the Law Society includes such players within their ‘community’ this initiative is a non-starter and will completely contradict their value of ‘inclusion’.

Their starting point appears misconceived and recalls, in my mind, the post I wrote earlier this year: Hack the Past : How the Legal Profession knew nothing about Technology.

Meanwhile three members of that ‘community’, Amiqus ID, Juralio, SnapDragon, plus a fourth, Ulpian Systems (which appears to be the company behind Miso Legal), have been selected to go on a trade mission to Zurich and Vienna this week being led by the Law Society of Scotland.

Supported by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and organised by the Department for International Trade (DIT) and Scottish Development International, the mission is apparently the first of its kind. Held on 6 and 7 November 2018, the attending companies will have the opportunity to meet and pitch to top legal firms in the Austrian and Swiss markets.

According to the Law Society of Scotland:-

The mission strengthens the growing connection between Scottish, Austrian and Swiss markets. This connection has been developing in recent months with leading Swiss private banking group Julius Baer opening Scottish headquarters in Edinburgh, demonstrating their long-term commitment to serving UK and Irish markets.

The four companies representing Scotland will join nine other UK-based LegalTech businesses at the organised events. In Vienna, the event will form part of the Future Law’s LegalTech Conference 2018, and in Zurich, the event has been organised in conjunction with the British Swiss Chamber of Commerce.

Paul Mosson, Executive Director at the Law Society of Scotland, will be speaking during the event, apparently highlighting Scotland’s drive for innovation and best practice in the law sector. He said:-

Scotland has a deep-rooted heritage of innovation and LegalTech is no different. I am convinced that Scotland will emerge as a global leader in this field as it has in FinTech. Our initiative LawscotTech will focus on delivering the right solutions for our members and ensure they can retain their reputation for providing outstanding legal service for clients, in Scotland and around the world, while helping them innovate for the future. I am thrilled to be working with all four companies heading out to Zurich with us on this mission which demonstrate Scottish innovation and entrepreneurialism.

Is the right solution for members of the Law Society of Scotland taking four selected legal technology companies on a trade mission to Zurich and Vienna? Who is paying for that and in particular the involvement of the Law Society of Scotland? Members of the Law Society of Scotland will no doubt wish to know this. As far as I can see, unless I am missing something, there is no discernible benefit to Law Society of Scotland members of such a trade mission taking place.

Indeed, I am not sure if this fits the strategic objective of the Law Society of Scotland to serve:-

We will SERVE our members through a detailed understanding of their needs, providing tools and services which they can use every day.

What was the selection process that resulted in these four particular companies being selected and was the Law Society of Scotland involved in that?

Will these companies now look to expand beyond Scotland rather than building upon and serving their home market in the first instance?

More questions to add to the list about Lawscot Tech.

Maybe they will be answered at the forthcoming meetings following on from the opening event in Aberdeen. Lawscot Tech currently have three more events planned:-

  • Dundee – 12.30 – 2.00pm  28 November, Dundee University Law School
  • Glasgow – 12 noon 29 November, Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow Library
  • Edinburgh – 8.30am – 10.30am 10 December, Law Society office, Atria One

To book your place at one of these events or if you want to get involved in Lawscot Tech in some other way the Law Society of Scotland encourages you to email them at tech@lawscot.org.uk

I will try to get along to one of these meetings (although the dates set are not ideal for me) and if I do I’ll update you on what if anything might be clarified then.


Watch a video of the trade mission produced by The Department of International Trade:-

Reactions on Social Media (LinkedIn)

In addition to the responses in the comments section below there have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn.

To keep the responses together with the original post itself I have copied the comments here:-

Arlene McDaid (Lawyer| Mediator| Legal Tech):  

I / Legal Hackers Scotland co-organised an international legal tech/ innovation conference, which took place in Zurich in April 2017. Had I been made aware of the plans around this trade mission, I would have been happy to share insights on the Swiss legal market, which is very different to that of the UK. Jurisdictions differ greatly in their regulation and appetite to embrace and adopt technology in the delivery of legal services.

Jon Busby (People | Connect | Solve):

I agree Arlene. The buyer mind set in the DACH’s region is very different to the US, UK.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Arlene

This of course demonstrates what the benefits of proper collaboration could be for Lawscot Tech and The Law Society of Scotland.

Perhaps once Lawscot Tech complete their series of meetings, add substantially to the list of their ‘community’ and start engaging fully with all of that community they will benefit from such collaboration in the way highlighted by you.

Only time will tell.


Paul Ryan (Director at Focis):

I’m certainly hoping to get to either the Dundee or Glasgow events. With no disrespect at all to the companies attending the “trade mission” I certainly take your point that the suppliers representing the systems  80% plus of law firms actually use seem under represented. For me the biggest  benefit to members I can see  in this new law tech initiative would be a neutral body driving forward integration and collaboration from Land Registry, to Revenue Scotland to the courts. Law Society are well placed to achieve this. Set the standard for suppliers to meet and assist them in the process and law firms / members and clients  will quickly benefit.

PS if I get invited to an all expenses paid trade mission to Sydney my views are subject to quick shallow change!

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Paul

That integration and collaboration will only work effectively with those major legal tech suppliers on board. It is their systems that integration will be required with – many are of course already integrated.

Likewise the new start-ups will in certain cases wish integration with those major suppliers to increase and enhance adoption of their products. It is a win win for everyone to involve them. How they were not part of the Lawscot Tech ‘community’ at the outset is lost on me.

It appears that the Law Society of Scotland simply do not understand or appreciate the legal tech landscape in Scotland and what systems their members are actually using. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see them promoting and supporting start-ups to reinvent the well worn wheels that already exist.

Whilst you say that the Law Society are well placed to achieve integration/collaboration between the various parties involved how neutral they are is questionable. They will have to ditch the pay to play approach that they have taken to date with Legal Tech companies if they stand any chance of being considered neutral.

For law / firms members and clients to benefit we will need to see more substance to Lawscot Tech in Scotland than jollies abroad.

Being Willy Wonka at #JDHorizons

By | October 31, 2018

Willy Wonka - Brian Inkster (rooftop of Courthouse Hotel, London)I have been meaning for some time (well since 17 May 2018) to write this blog post. Today, being Halloween, just might be an apt time to publish a post about dressing up as someone else.

Readers may recall my post about The Golden Ticket to #JDHorizons (a ‘break the law – make the law’ conference by Janders Dean). Well this is the follow up post I promised to that one.

JD Horizons Golden Ticket

What I didn’t say in that post was that there was small print on the invite to the #JDHorizons Conference (printed on the chocolate bar wrapper). That small print got smaller and smaller the further down the wrapper you got until the last paragraph in the smallest of print read:-

Should any individual delegate wish to participate in the licking or salvation on wallpaper, you will be removed. Because that’s just not cool. You’re not in Willy Wonka’s factory. Come on now. Be serious. Should you wish to attend dressed as Willy Wonka, you will receive a life-long pass to #JDHorizons.

We’re not joking.

If you are going to follow instructions to the letter on a VIP invite you should, of course, actually follow them. I wouldn’t lick the wallpaper at The Courthouse Hotel in Shoreditch (the venue for #JDHorizons) but I would go there dressed as Willy Wonka!

Guising (dressing up in disguise) comes naturally to a Shetlander. We do it at Up-Helly-Aa and at New Year (never mind Halloween).

Naturally if I was going to be Willy Wonka I had to do some research on his appearance. So I read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl and watched all three films. Three films you exclaim! But surely there are only two? No… there are three:-

1. Willy Wonka & The Chocalate Factory starring Gene Wilder.

2. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory starring Johnny Depp.

and….. wait for it…..

3. Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory starring Tom and Jerry.

My Amazon recommendations are still all over the place with children’s books and DVDs several months later! Nanny McPhee & The Big Bang Box Set anyone?

So my detailed research revealed that there were certain items of clothing that any self respecting Willy Wonka must wear if you follow the original author’s description of the eccentric chocolatier:-

He had a black top hat on his head.

He wore a tail coat made of a beautiful plum-coloured velvet.

His trousers were bottle green.

His gloves were pearly grey.

And in one hand he carried a fine gold-topped walking cane.

So as long as I got those key elements correct (or near to as I could) then I could improvise with the rest of the outfit.

Quentin Blake who illustrated Roald Dahl’s books gave Willy Wonka a large bow tie (white with red spots) and a yellow waist coat.

Quentin Blake's illustration of Willy Wonka

Gene Wilder’s Wonka had a brown (rather than a black top hat), a flowery shirt and a golden cravat. Bottle green trousers were abandoned.

Willy Wonka - Gene Wilder

Johnny Depp’s Wonka had a Paisley patterned shirt and a special ‘W’ brooch as a neck piece. His coat was red rather than plum. Bottle green trousers were again abandoned.

Willy Wonka - Johnny Depp

Tom & Jerry’s Wonka looks just like the Gene Wilder one.

Willy Wonka - Tom and Jerry

Indeed the cartoon follows the format of the original film with the addition of Tom & Jerry and some of their chums.

Willy Wonka - Tom and Jerry

What would Brian Inkster’s Wonka look like?

Well I happened to have a long velvet coat in my wardrobe from Ted Baker which I hadn’t worn since my wedding day. It wasn’t plum but a dark blue. It would fit the part though.

My wife is a director at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow so I obtained access to their wardrobe and props room. Black top hat and cane sorted!

I ordered Boodun running gloves online that were a grey colour (if not exactly pearly grey).

Now I just needed bottle green trousers to complete the Dahl look before contemplating other embellishments. So off me and my wife went to Slater Mensware (the Glasgow store being the current record holder for the “World’s Largest Menswear Store” in the Guinness Book of World Records). Surely they would have bottle green trousers.

When I presented the store assistant with my requirements he suggested that they might have every other colour of trouser possible but he didn’t think they had bottle green. It wasn’t a popular colour at the moment. But we could have a look.

So we went with him in search of the all essential bottle green trousers. Alas there were none. However, my eagle eyed wife spotted some tartan trews. They were a dark green and blue tartan. Perhaps a Black Watch tartan. Looked almost bottle green. I would be a Scottish Willy Wonka in London!

By this time the assistant in Slater Menswear was becoming curious as to my need for bottle green trousers. I explained everything much to his amusement. By the time I had tried on the trousers he had retold the story to many of his colleagues one of whom suggested he might accompany me to London as my Oompa-Loompa!

So the core elements to the outfit had been acquired. What else might I add to it.

A trip to Mr Ben Retro Clothing resulted in the purchase of a multi-coloured waistcoat and a paisley patterned cravat (in homage to the Johnny Depp shirt and Gene Wilder cravat not to mention the Paisley snail).

I already had a pair of orange shoes from Camper that were very suitable as Willy Wonka foot ware.

I had patterned coloured socks.

I also already had a nice pair of prescription sunglasses from Niche Optical Tailor. Willy Wonka, of course, donned dark glasses when entering the Television-Chocolate Room.

I had a blue shirt from Thomas Pink. It took cufflinks. I ordered special Wonka Bar ones from Mixed Up Dolly.

I also ordered a ‘W’ Willy Wonka Brooch from Acme Brand Replicas in the US. A replica of the Johnny Depp one. Unfortunately it got detained in customs and didn’t arrive in time for the event.

Willy Wonka - Wonka Brooch

I might wear it as a lapel badge at #JDHorizons 2019! However, even without that I was now Willy Wonka.

Willy Wonka - Brian Inkster

On the way to the venue, in a  taxi, dressed as Willy Wonka the taxi driver enquired as to whether I was the door man at the Courthouse Hotel!

On arrival I checked in at the delegate desk. I was asked my name and responed: “Wonka, Willy Wonka”. For a moment the nice lady checking the delegates in ran her finger down towards the Ws!

I had been wondering how many of the 250 or so delegates had read the small print on the invite and acted upon it. How many Willy Wonkas would be in the room. It soon transpired that there was only one… me!

That is maybe not a big surprise. Although one might have thought lawyers would read the small print they clearly often don’t. They are also risk averse. Dressing up as Willy Wonka to go to a legal conference just might be a step too far.

At my law firm, Inksters, we send out Christmas hats each Christmas with small print on the hat encouraging pictures to be tweeted of recipients wearing the hats with prizes to those who tweet the best pictures following the theme of the year. Many people tweet pictures of them or their children or their pets wearing the hats but very few take in what the theme of the year is and tweet prize winning pictures of that theme.

Some delegates assumed I was a professional actor employed to be Willy Wonka by Janders Dean. One delegate remarked that they had seen me speak at another conference and I didn’t usually dress like this did I?

Willy Wonka - Brian Inkster with ice cream

Justin North’s son who arrived after school to #JDHorizons thought I was the real Willy Wonka. Justin did tell him not to worry as I wasn’t the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang as he presented me with a bottle of Dom Perignon for my efforts.

Willy Wonka - Dom Perignon etc #JDHorizons

It was a lot of fun being Willy Wonka for the day. Revealing the attention to detail of the Wonka Bar cufflinks always went down well.

Willy Wonka - Wonka Bar Cufflinks

So what about the conference you ask? Was it any good? Was it worth going to all that effort to get a free pass to every other #JDHorizons for the rest of my life? Yes and Oh Yes I say. I would have given a review of the conference on here but I don’t think I could better Caroline Hill’s splendid review of #JDHorizons at Legal IT Insider. So please do read that.

But in brief summation: #JDHorizons is very different from other legal conferences. There are more speakers (as Caroline highlights a gender balance of those) packing shorter, punchier talks into the day (that element reminded me a bit of the Reinvent Law Conferences). There is no AI, blockchain, futurist hype allowed or if it was no one even squeaked it. Most of the talks were highly engaging and interesting (Caroline highlights some of the better ones and I would agree with her choices). The conference food and drink was second to none: From Breakfast Martinis to afternoon fizz with cakes, sweets and ice cream in between and a good lunch to boot.

Willy Wonka - Breakfast Martinis at #JDHorizons

Being Willy Wonka went well into the evening with drinks at the rooftop bar at the Courthouse hotel (where the picture of me at top of this post was taken) and a few of us moving onto the Hoxton for drinks into the early hours. Many of the customers at the Hoxton wanted selfies with Willy Wonka although walking around Shoreditch as Wonka I didn’t really feel out of place.

Willy Wonka - Selfies in the Courthouse Hotel #JDHorizons

I go to quite a few law conferences and often review them on here. I have become more select in recent times about the ones I will attend (especially when AI and/or blockchain hype dominate the agendas). Although I commented recently that conferences may have reached a turning point where such hype is concerned.

As the only Willy Wonka life-long pass holder to #JDHorizons I will certainly be making use of it like a pensioner who has just received their free bus pass.

I’m looking forward to #JDHorizons 2019 already. I reckon it should be a condition of entry that everyone other than me has to dress as an Oompa-Loompa! But I doubt many will read the small print and Janders Dean will be lucky to have one Ooompa-Loompa in the crowd. Perhaps that store assistant from Slater Menswear in Glasgow?!

Oompa-Loompas at #JDHorizons

As Willy Wonka said:-

Willy Wonka - A little nonsense quote

See you at #JDHorizons 2019!

Image Credits: Willy Wonka drawing © Quentin Blake; Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Film © Paramount Pictures; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Film © Warner Bros; Tom and Jerry: Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory Film © Warner Bros.

Legal Geek 2018 : The One where Reality overtook Hype

By | October 21, 2018

Legal Geek 2018 - Where Reality overtook HypeOn 17 October I attended the 2018 Legal Geek Conference in Shoreditch, London.

This was the third Legal Geek Conference but my first.

Legal Geek have committed to always being free for legal start-ups and they continue to focus on this.

They have defined a simple ethos for their events:

  • Come to make friends, not to sell
  • Dress comfortably (please, please, no ties). However, The Rt. Hon. Lord Richard Keen dared to be different by wearing a tie!
  • Come to learn and to teach.
  • Look after your fellow law-gends, you may need their help someday.
  • This is your community, please pitch in and help. You will be rewarded.

Apparently the number of delegates attending has doubled each year. 500 in 2016; 1,000 in 2017 and 2,000 in 2018. I suggested this might be called Vestbirk’s Law 😉

With 40+ LawTech start-ups eager to meet delegates and more than 100 international speakers imparting their stories across three stages there was a lot to take in.

I will provide you here with some of my main takeaways from the day.

Following an introduction from Jimmy Vestbirk, and the apparently traditional high fiving amongst delegates, the first speaker of the day was George Biggar of Taylor Wessing. He was one of the four oarsmen who broke the world record for rowing the Atlantic last year. They undertook this feat to raise awareness of mental illness and to raise money for the charity MIND (this year’s conference charity).


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A post shared by 1 Ocean-3,000 Miles-4 Oarsmen (@the_four_oarsmen) on

In his talk George shedded light on mental illness. But he also provided lessons that lawyers/LawTech start-ups can take from a team of four achieving a world record crossing of the Atlantic in just 29 days, 14 hours and 34 minutes. These included support and communication.

George also endorsed incremental improvement. He said:-

Little things make all the difference.

Most successful sports people stress the importance of incremental improvement. The story of Sir Chris Hoy’s success and that of other UK cyclists at the 2012 Olympics demonstrates this. British Cycling’s performance director Dave Brailsford told the BBC how “marginal gains” underpin everything he does:-

The whole principle came from the idea that if you broke down everything you could think of that goes into riding a bike, and then improved it by 1%, you will get a significant increase when you put them all together.

Some legal technology commentators don’t get or understand the importance of this. They see it as black and white. Either you are innovating with a major legal tech development (more column inches, hype and publishing revenue in those) or you are not being progressive.

I spoke about improving at ReInvent Law London 2014. It is certainly not a “tired and self-defeating” approach. It works and my law firm, Inksters, would not be anywhere near where it is today without it.

Those that suggest improving is not progressive have clearly not tried implementing change in a law firm and have no concept of the budgets that might be involved in most law firms (certainly those that are not BigLaw).

If money is no option you could try going big with legal tech overnight but chances are that you might just become the next Clearspire.

Legal Geek - Robot

Beware the shiny new robot Helen Burness!

The fact that big shiny new toys are not always best was highlighted by Caroline Hall in her talk.

These shiny new toys may well end up being shelfware:-

Shmuli Goldberg of LawGeex told us: “Don’t buy LegalTech”. The premise for this surprising statement from a legal tech vendor at a legal tech conference was that lawyers are not implementing the legal tech that they do buy. That in itself, however, is no great surprise to me.

Apparently legal tech adoption by law firms post piloting a product is 92% failure. So just 8% success in adopting legal tech. That leaves a lot of shelfware lying about.

Shmuli said to stop buying legal tech if you are curious about it. But if you have a problem that needs resolved then do buy legal tech that will resolve it. You are then not just buying legal tech but resolving a problem.

The need to automate document production for greater efficiency should, you would think, be a problem that most, if not all, law firms would want to solve. However, Caroline Hill told us that less than one quarter of law firms with 50+ fee earners have automated in a meaningful way. I reckon the reality is much worse if you delved into “meaningful way”. And what, I wonder, is the position with those many law firms with under 50 fee earners? My law firm has a dedicated Legal Process Engineer driving automation but that, I know, is unusual.

Legal Geek - If Innovation Falls in the forrest

In an all women panel chaired by Lisa Young of Axiom it was highlighted by Erica Handling, EMEA GC at BlackRock, that whilst AI used on a specific project saved time and money there was disappointment with how it lived up compared to its promise. Furthermore, some basic tech issues needed to be dealt with first:-

We’re still really trying to get e-signatures and document automation.

Real life problems that will likely be sorted through time by incremental improvement.

Stuart Barr of HighQ (sponsors of the after party) told us to leverage the Legal Tech we already have. Sage words and again refreshing to hear from a Legal Tech vendor. He, like Shmuli Goldberg did, told us we must find the problem needing solved.

Readers of this blog will be well aware that I have little time for Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain or indeed any other legal tech hype at conferences. At the beginning of this year I predicted the trend to over hype legal tech would continue. Indeed that happened at conferences earlier in the year but then exceptions to the rule were noted. Now at Legal Geek 2018 it came as a refreshing change to positively hear the hype called out for what it was. You could literally see some hypsters squirm.

There was a session from Noah Waisberg of Kira Systems entitled ‘Don’t Believe The Hype’.

Noah reckons you can spot the hype on a press release from:-

  1. Unclear customer commitments
  2. Future plans not past achievements
  3. Hiding how it works

I have written about the seven deadly sins of legal AI predictions that you can also use to spot the hype.

Noah threw sequins from the stage with one real diamond amongst them to illustrate the preponderance of hype in legal tech.

Noah more brutally but with great need (and to much applause from me) told legal journalists to “do real journalism”. More squirming in some seats.

There were real journalists at Legal Geek 2018 who do provide independent critical thought in their writing but there were others there who do little other than copy and paste, peddle the hype and pander to their sponsors. A few days later and there is unfortunately no sign of them taking on board Noah’s advice. Indeed, from tweets over the weekend, quite the contrary.

Continuing to bust the hype we had The Two Alexs: Alex Hamilton of Radiant Law and Alex G Smith of Reed Smith.

First up was Alex Hamilton with the Gartner Hype Cycle.

Gartner Hype Cycle CurveWith Legal Tech it can seem at times that we are probably at the Peak of Inflated Expectations and heading towards the Trough of Disillusionment. However, maybe Legal Geek 2018 showed us that we are already past that peak. Realisation has sunk in within the mainstream that things are not what they were previously painted to be. The rose tinted glasses have come off.

Alex Hamilton pointed out that:

Everyone is feeling inadequate about their lack of progress implementing tech improvements … but the reality is no one has done it.

He invited onto the stage Ciarán Fenton who talked about behaviour and subsequently wrote this nice piece: #LegalGeek is an oasis in a desert of behavioural dysfunction.

The other Alex, Alex G Smith, told us that there’s a very boring narrative in the ‘legal ecosystem’ pushed by bad media (highlighted again at Legal Geek!) and bad consultancy:

  • Big Law – bad
  • Old Legal Tech – bad
  • New Law – good
  • Law Companies – amazing
  • In-House Teams – swamped
  • LegalTech – rebel alliance

Legal Tech - Rebel Alliance

We all want Rebel Alliance stickers for our laptops!

Regardless of which one you are you can improve (don’t think Alex used that word but you know that I like it) by getting into a room with no tech in it to do design thinking on white walls with pens and post it notes. You need to find a real problem:-

  • Don’t be led to a problem
  • Understand the problem
  • Don’t start with solutions looking for a problem
  • Solutions are often easy

This was just a taster to design thinking. Legal Geek had, the following day, an entire design conference at which Alex was also presenting and there was, amongst other things, legal design lego workshops. I unfortunately was not able to attend that.

Legal Design Geek - Lego

Lego Workshop at Legal Design Geek

I tried to take in some more design thinking at the main conference where Molly Riggins of Freshfields had a break out session on ‘Implementing design thinking in a law firm’. Unfortunately, this was in a noisy main exhibition space where little could be heard unless you were wearing the headphones supplied. They didn’t have enough of those for the audience and I missed out. It was like being at a silent disco watching everyone dance with no idea what the music they were listening to was. I moved on.

Legal Geek - Freshfields headphones

The Freshfields silent ‘disco’

Next door to the Freshfields stand was Thomson Reuters who were doing interactive brainstorming and whiteboard sessions on ‘Automated Law’. So some real design thinking in action and no need for headphones. I chatted with fellow Scot, Andy Wishart, about the challenges surrounding automation of checklists for document review. He wrote my input onto post-it notes that ended up on the whiteboard. That might just influence the future development of Contract Express. More incremental improvements in practice perhaps 😉

Legal Geek - Thomson Reuters - Automated Law Whiteboard

When it comes to designing Legal Tech you can’t beat a whiteboard and some post-it notes

This blog is about the past, present and future practice of law. When I first started it I blogged:-

Whilst there will be an emphasis in this blog on the present and future practice of law you sometimes have to glance back at the past to see/appreciate the future.

This is exactly what Dana Denis-Smith of Obelisk did in her presentation of the history of legal technology using a sound only PowerPoint. She loves placing all tech in its historic context to avoid making mistakes and ensure maximum adoption. Well worth a listen:-

Christina Blacklaws (President of the Law Society of England & Wales) referenced from the past the TV programme ‘Tomorrow’s World’ and the fact that some predictions they made didn’t materialise but others did. The future is not always what we think it might be.

Looking at that past and context is so important as many in Legal Tech today think it is only just beginning and don’t appreciate the journey we have been and still are on. This is something I highlighted earlier this year in my post: Hack the Past: How the Legal Profession knew nothing about Technology.

This lack of realisation by some was emphasised by a slide in another presentation entitled “The World Has Changed”. That is somewhat stating the obvious!

As someone said to me this was lawyers thinking it “has” changed rather than it’s “always in a state of change”. Of course it is the latter. We are on a journey. Some people take that journey at a different pace. We shouldn’t necessarily criticise that and think we are superior if we are using ‘AI’ when we clearly aren’t or shouldn’t be.

Another speaker asked for a show of hands as to whether the audience wanted to see the status quo remain or real change happen. Eyes were rolled at this point rather than hands raised. Again no understanding of reality.

Thankfully these were a couple of exceptions in a day where reality overtook hype.

Legal Geek - Canadians - Legal Innovation Zone - Ryerson University

Hersh Perlis and Chris Bentley

Two Canadians facilitating real change are Hersh Perlis and Chris Bentley. They appeared on stage in Canadian ice hockey shirts to tell us about the Legal Innovation Zone at Ryerson University in Toronto. I was pleased to see them there and catch up with them afterwards. I met them at the Legal Innovation Zone last year when I was over in Canada for Mitch Kowalski’s book launch: Legal Innovation in Toronto.

Christina Blacklaws, President of the Law Society of England & Wales, announced at Legal Geek 2018 the launch of the LawTech Delivery Panel. This is a team of industry experts and leading figures from government and the judiciary, that has been formed to help the UK legal sector grow and fulfil its potential:-

By identifying both barriers to and catalysts for growth, the panel will provide direction to the legal sector and help foster an environment in which new technology can thrive.

The core membership of the panel is:

  • Christina Blacklaws, President of the Law Society
  • Rt Hon Lord Keen of Elie QC, Justice Minister
  • Rt Hon Sir Geoffrey Vos, Chancellor of the High Court
  • Professor Richard Susskind, Technology Advisor to the Lord Chief Justice
  • Dr Anna Donovan, University College London
  • Rosemary Martin, General Counsel, Vodafone
  • Gary Campkin, TheCityUK
  • Sonya Branch, General Counsel, Bank of England

LawTech UKIt is branded LawTech UK.

With at least two Scots on board (Lord Keen and Professor Susskind) let’s hope that they foster links with The Law Society of Scotland and their latest initiative: Lawscot Tech. Duplication of effort should be avoided if they can be pulling resources.

The LawTech UK panel is gender equal and gender equality was a theme at Legal Geek with many female speakers. This included a Women in LawTech Panel with Ivy Wong, Joanna Goodman, Julia Salasky and Caroline Ferguson. You can read about that session at the Technomancers Legal Tech Blog.

I’ve written a lot about the presentations (and only really covered a small percentage of those) but what about the start-ups? After all I did say at the beginning of this post that the focus at Legal Geek is on the event always being free to start-ups and, of course, showcasing what they have to offer.

There was a session on the Second Stage where you could hear presentations from certain start-ups (bookended by talks by Joanna Goodman and Caroline Hill) but the best way to find out what they were really up to was to go and meet them in the start-up village.

Legal Geek - Start-up Village

Legal Geek – Start-up Village

With 42 start-ups represented in the start-up village and queues at most stands time to get around them was limited at the short breaks available. I only managed to speak with a few but what I saw showed enthusiasm, dedication and problem solving (remember that as an important takeaway from some of the talks).

Although apparently Access to Justice solutions were notably absent:-

With hindsight I should have spent less time in talks and more time with the start-ups. If I go again next year I will certainly do just that.

Kevin O’Keefe was out and about at Legal Geek interviewing founders of some of the Legal Tech companies represented there. You can catch those interviews at legaltechfounders.com.

Legal Geek, in association with Thomson Reuters, produce The Legal Geek Start-up Map which is handy for checking out all the start-ups out there. But there could of course be new ones appearing in between map refreshes.

Legal Geek didn’t feel or look like your typical legal conference. Parts of it reminded me of Dan Katz’s Reinvent Law, Paul Gilbert’s LawFest or Justin North’s JD Horizons (minus the breakfast Martinis but with AI Paisley Snail Pale Ale instead).

Legal Geek - Thomson Reuters - AI Paisley Snail Pale Ale

Tastes more fruity than snail like – Did the AI get it wrong?

I do however have some tips for Jimmy to make next year’s event even better:-

  • More seats please at the main two stages to avoid standing room only. There was plenty of room for them.
  • Loud speakers at the back of the hall in the Second Stage where it was difficult to hear at times.
  • Ask Freshfields to bring more headphones next year for the silent legal tech talks.
  • Move the Law Society Lawn into the Work Room / Quiet Zone. That will enable speakers to be heard and we don’t really need a Work Room / Quiet Zone at a conference.
  • A dedicated tea stall (with a range of teas) to compliment Climpson & Sons coffee stand.
  • More water points. I only clocked one but there may have been more.
  • A brief summary of what the legal start-ups do listed in the conference programme. The programme just had their logos and nothing more. If you want to focus on meeting particular relevant ones at the event you really need to know what they actually do.

These are very minor quibbles for what was a very well organised and enjoyable conference.

And do keep up the good work Jimmy by having speakers that provide reality over hype.

However, Jimmy might have his work cut out organising things next year because if Vestbirk’s Law holds out there will be 4,000 delegates there!

Reactions on Social Media (LinkedIn and Twitter)

In addition to the responses in the comments section below there have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn where I posted:-

I’ve reviewed Legal Geek 2018. I suggest that we have reached a turning point where reality has overtaken hype insofar as Legal Technology is concerned (at least at Legal Tech Conferences!). Do you agree?

To keep the responses together with the original post itself I have copied the comments here:-

Alex G Smith (Innovation Manager at Reed Smith LLP):

The Legal Geek year the hype burst and everyone started talking sense and the start-ups got insight into the reality of change from people at the cutting edge of transformation, cultural change and the need to bridge the gaps the legal ecosystem has opened up, just everyone get talking and more importantly listening. Great summary Brian, great to see you as ever, keep on cutting that edge.


Jan Roggen (Partner at Adhemar.law):

Don’t buy #legaltech  – solve problems.


George Biggar (Senior Associate at Taylor Wessing):

Great summary of LegalGeek Conference 2018.


Adrian Samuel  (Innovation and Client Experience at SO Legal Limited):

Helpful summary thanks Brian Inkster


Alex G Smith (Innovation Manager at Reed Smith LLP):

Thanks Brian – and thanks for picking up on the ‘The Narrative’ in my talk around how we live in silos and need to break those down. Maybe time to Drain the Coffeefilter of the parts of the ecosystem that keep us apart from proactive and shared change. There were a lot of nodding in-house lawyers’ heads in the crowd. I only go to events that are mixed and balanced now, and with some views from outside the bubble. Great to see you as ever. I hope start ups were beating a path to your door to see how you innovated your approach, firm and model.

Joe Reevy (BD Software automation innovator and former partner):

Take a look at crosselerator.com Alex…does just what you are talking about.

Brian Inkster:  

Thanks Alex G Smith. I think events are becoming and will have to become more mixed and balanced or people will, like you and I do, vote with their feet. The same is true of reports on #LegalTech.

Joe Reevy:

It’s always pay to publish as it were. We took a stand against this years ago. We will only attend as exhibitors if free, as speakers if paid (or sometimes free) and we never pay to publish anything in print. I like the Calico legal (well done Pauline Freegard MBA and Katrina Bevan !) idea that we all contribute knowledge etc and are prohibited from on the page selling……


Joe Reevy (BD Software automation innovator and former partner):

nope, not yet (says the man building AI into automated new instruction generation!)

Brian Inkster:

Is AI necessary/essential to achieve the desired result in that product Joe Reevy?

Joe Reevy:  

NO Brian Inkster. It  (Crosselerator.com) works very well without any AI. What AI will add is the ability firstly to PREDICT the needs and likely aspirations of clients (in your metier) and use that to drive ‘we can help you with’ or ‘we’re doing a seminar on’ type messages to people automatically. That will make the firm look really proactive (a HUGE USP) as well as driving in instructions per se.
After that, we want to add pricing automation, so clients/contact can be offered highly targeted service offerings with full price transparency.
To do this in a 10 partner fir would probably be a full-time job for 2 marketers (and you’d need the cooperation of the fee earners). What we’re building will need neither.


David Gilroy (Leading UK digital marketing expert for law firms. Web design, SEO, PPC, social media & CRM. International speaker):

Helen Burness should get a photo credit!  An excellent summary Brian.

Thanks David Gilroy – I’ve now added “Helen Burness” into the photo caption!


Helen Burness (Flexible, enthusiastic legal marketing person. Director at Saltmarsh Marketing):

This is a brilliant write-up on a great day. Who on earth is the grown woman getting a selfie with a mirror man though?! Oh yes. That would be me. 😬

Alex G Smith (Innovation Manager at Reed Smith LLP):

Reputation building! Have screenshot and archived.

Helen Burness:

Alex G Smith #personalbranding

Alex G Smith:


Brian Inkster:

There were two of them. Does Chankubator have a twin?


Tara Taubman-Bassirian (GDPR, Data Protection and IP consultant):

Brian, you could have crossed Ametis Taubman whom you could not have recognised. She is with Introhive.

Interesting approach with regard to Blockchain and AI. You might have noticed the French CNIL and German data authirity’s recent guidance on Blockchain and GDPR. Not an easy one. As for the AI, the French data base of legal cases with a Google kind of search engine is a very useful tool. I especially love the search by the name of the law firm.

Brian Inkster:  

I didn’t know that Tara Taubman-Bassirian. I’ll look out for her next time. Does that French legal case search really use/need to use AI?


Amit Sharma (Approachable solicitor helping businesses with commercial property and business law):

Great write up – I am up for pilotisation – ai reads my docs – provides summary. I review with my experience to read between the lines to advise client.

Brian Inkster: 

Yes, Amit Sharma, no need to worry – you will still be an important part in the process for some time to come.


Peter Connor (Global Change Agent – helping lawyers and compliance professionals transform):

Interesting takeaways from Legal Geek courtesy of Brian Inkster – “Shelfware” software thats purchased at great expense and sits on the shelf unused! Legal Tech adoption 8% in law firms! Just one of many reasons to say that innovation and change is not all about Tech. Legal Design is key.
I would add – Legal Design is often not used to maximum effect and it too is just a means to an end and not the only means. Innovation and change requires a comprehensive and holistic approach following a framework with a clear Vision of new and more effective Way of Working  utilising a range of ‘means” not just tech and not just legal design.

Joe Reevy (BD Software automation innovator and former partner):

Oh gosh does that resonate! 80% of our legalrss clients use the system solely for content provision and don’t access the best of breed social sharing/enews automation/social media management etc built in. Drives us crazy.


Tom Barker (Director of Strategy, Change and Operations at Irwin Mitchell):

One of best / most comprehensive summaries of the LegalGeek conference. Nicki Clegg, Charlotte Wedd worth a read


Alex G Smith (Innovation Manager at Reed Smith LLP):

Brian Inkster and Orsolya Szabó have both fantastically summarised their insights from last week … touching on purpose before technology, on change (however small and nudge) and culture before technology and on designing better experiences and processes. Very honest and human reports that reflect the messages and takeaways I took from so many speakers that at last we have got over the ‘shiny baubles’ bump in the road, onto hard work, hard yards and co-designing with our users. #legalgeek

Orsolya’s here https://lnkd.in/dc52Wa8

Brian’s here https://lnkd.in/dzRK4QQ

Melissa Lyon (Associate Principal at Hive Legal | Winner BD Professional of the Year 2017 | Finalist Legal Innovation Index 2018):

Well said Alex. Brian’s and Orsolya’s fantastic summaries made not being there a bit easier. Also makes me so much happier to see that more of us are now focusing on what matters rather than shiny new toys that don’t necessarily improve the experience for us or our users.

Orsolya Szabó (LegalTech Consultancy | Humanizing Tech in Law):

Thanks Alex for sharing and reinforcing the message!

Alex G Smith:

Not a problem, both of your well written, thoughtful and reflective pieces of a rather chaotic/busy two days were worth putting side by side to reflect that collective moment of commonality we had around the path forward. Thanks for taking the time and mental space to write it.


John Craske (Head of Legal Service Design & Delivery at CMS):

A really good summary of last week’s LegalGeek conference by Brian Inkster.  I really recognise the feeling of reality creeping in above the hype  #legaltech


On Twitter the following tweets were made in response:-

Andrew Neill (@legalIBA):

Great – and very detailed – round up of #LegalGeek by the inimitable Brian Inkster on @TheTimeBlawg

Well worth a read, whether you were there or want to get the essence of the day.


Bram Fokke (@BramFokke):

Great summary of @wearelegalgeek by @TheTimeBlawg


Dana Denis-Smith (@ddenissmith):

Thanks for this fabulous summary of an amazing day @wearelegalgeek last week. And thanks for recommending my talk for a listening history of tech. Making noise without the hype.


Nick Pryor‏ (@NickPryorLaw):

Great review of Legal Geek 2018 from @TheTimeBlawg Still reflecting on easily the best legal tech event of the year. The energy and community buzz are 100

Law Society launches Lawscot Tech but what is it?

By | October 13, 2018

Lawscot Tech - Law Society of ScotlandThe Law Society of Scotland announced on 10 October that they were launching Lawscot Tech to:-

stimulate legal technology innovation in Scotland which will deliver practical benefits for those working in the justice and legal sectors and their clients. Lawscot Tech will provide support from concept stage through to taking a product or service to market.

Paul Mosson, Executive Director of Member Services and Engagement at the Law Society of Scotland, said:

We think there is enormous potential to develop technology-based solutions specifically for the legal sector. There have been great strides made in ‘fintech’ and we think there is scope to look at how we can use technology to resolve issues which are particular to lawyers and legal work.

There has been huge change within the legal sector and it’s no longer enough to have an in depth knowledge of black letter law. Solicitors want to excel at running their business and provide high quality service for their clients. By creating an environment which supports innovative thinking and provides a mechanism to develop tech-based solutions specifically for the legal sector, we will be able to drive innovation which benefits Scottish solicitors and their clients.

Through LawscotTech we will encourage solicitors to articulate the challenges they face and collaborate with technology firms, the academic community and other Scottish businesses to design new solutions.

We plan to support the most promising concepts and work with those involved to deliver them to the market.

The press release from the Law Society of Scotland also stated that they will hold a number of events around Scotland for solicitors and will invite technology companies to join the events. Dates are to be announced.

Some reactions on social media (and discussions I have been party to off line) wondered what this initiative really consisted of. For example:-

Call me cynical but is this just another ‘thing’? Why not work with the long running LegalHackers community in Scotland? They’ve put lots of efforts into engaging both legal and tech industries in Scotland.

The responses were that:-

Everyone’s invited to the party… Law Society Scotland are keen to be the hub with plenty spokes coming out from the middle.


This is the start of the journey. The call is out to work with everyone to move this forward. We work with ten legaltech companies, but we want to open that up further to the ones we don’t work with. That we don’t know about. And if you think we should we doing something, our ears are open. If you’re interested let’s speak.


There’s not much more to share at the minute as its early days, good intentions and good people, a solid start.

During this debate the headline about this initiative on the Law Society of Scotland website changed from:-

Law Society of Scotland to launch legal technology incubator


Law Society set to drive innovation in legal technology

So did they think at one moment they were launching an incubator and the next minute decide that was not what they were doing?

An incubator would be more like the Legal Innovation Zone at Ryerson University in Toronto that I visited last year: Innovation in Toronto

So it perhaps looks like the Law Society of Scotland are just making it up as they go along?

Some have suggested that it looks as though they will just be organising meet ups between solicitors and legal tech companies!

Let’s hope that it involves a bit more than just that. It will need to be all inclusive, with those grass roots legal hackers on board, and have some actual structure and substance to it. Inviting the Scottish Universities to the party should be an essential component too.

Perhaps the Law Society of Scotland will also, as part of this, look at scrapping its ‘member benefit scheme’ where a very limited number of legal technology providers are promoted by them presumably because money changes hands to do so. This does not provide members with a true picture of the legal tech landscape in Scotland nor indeed necessarily the best legal technology for them to invest in. It is anything but inclusive and gives the impression of a very private legal tech party/club.

I will be interested to see how LawScot Tech actually pans out and will provide updates on here as and when the mist begins to clear.

Reactions on Social Media

There have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn. To keep these together with the post itself I have copied the comments here:-

Alex G Smith (Innovation Manager at Reed Smith LLP):

It seems more people throwing round the accelerator/incubator formula without actually asking what is the goal they are trying to achieve …

Jane Treadwell-Hoye (Transformation | Customer – CCXP):

Failing to address the fundamental question – Why? Too many rush to a solution before stopping to ask what is the problem they’re needing to solve. And, once identified, who has the problem, how many have the problem AND are they willing to pay for the solution?

Alex G Smith:

Jane Treadwell-Hoye much of this is driven by corporates wanting a plug and play “innovative arena” and you can now cookie cutter this. In reality you need to find something that works for your Why? Brian’s article asks about where is the why. Sadly it seems to late for England (or London) re legal tech and this culture but maybe Scotland can adjust …

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Alex G Smith and Jane Treadwell-Hoye. I wonder if there is really a problem to solve here. It may be that lawyers just need to know the existing legal tech options open to them rather than any new bells and whistles being invented for them. That should of course not just be ad hoc ‘endorsements’ https://www.legaltechnology.com/latest-news/our-members-werent-consulted-lssa-angered-by-law-societys-clio-endorsement/ I know that I have enough to deal with just implementing properly and effectively the legal tech I currently have never mind adding anything more to the mix. I believe many law firms are actually slimming down the tech they are using for this very reason. But it appears to be very early days for Lawscot Tech so let’s hope they can stop and reflect a bit on all of the comments on here. If so they might, as Alex says, be able to adjust and provide their members with a better offering than what has perhaps developed south of the border.


Nigel Williams (Leading the drive to deliver best in class legal software):

There is a sudden explosion of these type of gatherings/communities but as said already, why? – (in the ‘what purpose?’ rather than ‘why bother?’ context).  As a legal tech supplier I’m interested to engage in these so I can explore putting some of our building-block tech in the hands of innovators (did I really say that?!) to grow ecosystems and evolve solutions more quickly than traditional methods. The response from those that I have contacted is warm but wary, and the suggestion is usually to come along to the event as a regular punter.  So I get the feeling that the headline is created first, with a few ‘players’ identified, and it’ll kick-off with the hope that something useful will come out of it. That’s ok, but I suspect that a good number of these initiatives will simply whither. But keen to play a part if allowed!

Paul Ryan (Director at Focis):

I think the big suppliers would have to have a voice and hopefully from individuals that use that voice responsibly! There’s no escaping the fact that in Scotland and in terms of volume I’d imagine 60%+ of legal transactions depend somewhere on LexisNexis and Thomson Reuters software. Very much an estimate but if anything probably under rather than over. You then look at smaller firms and a huge % of those must sit somewhere on the “Leap” platform. So for all the comments I see elsewhere  of “another legal tech startup” those numbers are pretty staggering for a single industry. I’d imagine picture across UK can’t be so different. We’ve allowed consolidation in the legal tech  supplier market to creep up and it has, in my opinion, started to stifle creativity. Not within the suppliers themselves with some great individuals but in taking a step back, looking at the techology now available, what a legal transaction involves, and asking “how can we do this better for our clients”. That’s I sultomately what a LegalTech hub must focus on.

I think what startup industry there is in Legal tech then tends to be feeder companies working off those big suppliers. We’re in that bracket and very grateful of it (doffs cap!). However I then see the kind of things Arlene McDaid and Callum Murray are doing, with none of that incumbent supplier baggage, and also some of the great tech innovators in the firms themselves like Sarah Blair at Thorntons along with some really talented IT people in other firms and think that’s the stuff we need more off.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Nigel Williams. Indications are that all those interested will be included. Do contact the Law Society of Scotland and ensure that you are. You can then hopefully contribute to the discussion about the why? and beyond that help shape the purpose and effectiveness of Lawscot Tech.

Good points Paul Ryan. As I highlight in my blog post the Law Society of Scotland has, to date, limited its connection to only certain legal tech suppliers (on presumably a paid basis). That needs to change if Lawscot Tech is to be a success. I don’t think in Scotland the “Leap” platform is as big as suggested by you. They are a fairly new player north of the border. The main players I think would be Denovo Business Intelligence formerly Axiom (used by my firm since its inception 19+ years ago) and Lawware. A new legal startup emulating what these companies already do would be fairly pointless. I see many such startups south of the border and elsewhere in the world who seem to lack any knowledge about what they are competing against as they attempt to simply reinvent the wheel. Some guidance on that to startups would be useful. Also it is questionable what new bells and whistles law firms really need rather than just making what is already at their disposal work better and more effectively for them. A Legal Tech Hub should, as you say, focus on such things before it runs away at tangents that will serve no purpose to anyone.

Andrea Perry-Petersen (Churchill Fellow 2019 – Innovating Justice with Effective Solutions):

Tony Petersen re our chats


Paul Ryan (Director at Focis):

I would say I’m curious  and hopeful with still a touch of cynicism. As an actual Lega Tech start up  in Scotland (though formed  from 2 existing legal tech freelancers) we want to make a successful business and use our experience towards the greater good of the industry. In that sense thats ideally suited to a framework to help and encourage small businesses to enter the market with fresh ideas. Scotland has a good track record in this with Scottish Government  funded organisations  Data Lab building such strong connections between universities, startups and bigger established businesses. The same is starting to sprout up around “Fintech”

As I’ve raised elsewhere there is a potential danger when Government / publicly funded organisations crate  selective startups using resource  from publicly funded universities along with publicly funded regulatory bodies. This then swallow up such huge resource it actually creates a barrier to entry for new startups out with the “xxxtech” ecosystem.

However hopefully that can be avoided and, crucially, established innovative independent groups and innovators in Scotland will be involved.

Brian Inkster:

Agreed Paul Ryan. Lawscot Tech have declared their intention to be all inclusive. But they have also stated that they “plan to support the most promising concepts and work with those involved to deliver them to the market”. So who decides what is the “most promising concepts” and how will Lawscot Tech then “work with those involved to deliver them to the market”? Where is the funding for that coming from? I trust not from my Practising Certificate dues! Perhaps there will be a Dragons’ Den type pitch to decide in Atria One (that is the Law Society of Scotland HQ for those not in the know).


Nir Golan (Founder @ Nir Golan & Co. Law | Legal Innovation):

As somewhat of a foreigner here, what I have trouble understanding is why does this body need to create a separate “platform” instead of just hooking up/formally collaborating with Legal Hackers for example? The Law Society probably has very little experience and knowledge in this field. Or is it just looking for an “innovation win/badge”? This creates a segmented ecosystem and this confuses people.. also I believe in “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”. The fragmented “we know better” doesnt work in the long term. Not if you want to build something truly collaborative and sustainable. Law Society brings the members and access to members/pain points, Legal Hackers brings the knowledge, talent, experience, culture, purpose, and startups. If formalized and maintained this could be a huge win. The fragmented let’s reinvent the wheel/startup mindset doesnt work in the long run. Not where its the collaborative knowledge that makes or breaks this thing. Everyone loses here. Some humility would be nice here. Knowing what youre good at and when you need to partner with someone more experienced than you..

Paul Ryan (Director at Focis):

I think it’s come from what has undoubtedly been a huge  success with Data AND more recently Fintech in Scotland and taking that established model and using it on another sector. However I agree perhaps that already existed in the forums you suggest and could be simply brought under or connected to this new initiative.

Brian Inkster:

Thanks Nir Golan and Paul Ryan. Looks like Legal Hackers have now been “invited to the party” but where I come from that might be what is called a ‘Fiddler’s Bid’ https://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/fiddler%27s+bidding –  I would have expected Legal Hackers Scotland https://legalhackers.scot/ to have been an integral part of discussions around Lawscot Tech from the outset. But as I have already said it is early days for Lawscot Tech and perhaps as you say, with a little bit of humility, things can be set in perspective with an all inclusive approach to discussing the why and what before this initiative heads over a cliff. It is also essential that the “party” when it happens does not have a separate VIP room for the chosen few.

Paul Ryan:

Brian Inkster great, let’s see how it all develops. However in the words of Groucho Marx, I’m not sure I want to be a part of any club that would have me as a member!


Peter Nussey (Head Of Business Development, EMEA at ThoughtRiver, AI-enabled Contract Analysis):

As the professional body (recognised brand etc) they are well placed to bring together early stage ventures, who need cash and access to their members, who themselves need anything from basic understanding through to ‘solutions’ (and potentially angel investment opp’s) as well as investors who want deal flow. That  itself is a commercial opp – connecting buyers and sellers – what more is there to know?

Brian Inkster:

That is a very simplistic approach to the issue Peter Nussey. My post and the subsequent comments on here all echo the fact that there is very little known about what Lawscot Tech actually is. Conflicting messages have been issued by them from it being an ‘incubator’ to it being something to drive innovation in legal technology (but presumably no longer an ‘incubator’).

You say they are well placed to bring together “early stage ventures” with their members and investors. Those “early stage ventures” might be likely to be found amongst Legal Hackers Scotland but they have yet to join the party. Anyone interested in this area (as I am) should be given clarity over what the initiative actually involves. That is so far missing. The bringing together you refer to is very unlikely to effectively happen in the absence of that clarity. But as I have already said hopefully the mist will start to clear and this will become more apparent as the initiative moves forward. Hopefully, as that happens, the professional body in question will take on board and address the concerns that have already been expressed.  As they should, of course, do especially when those concerns have been raised by their members.

I have, for the avoidance of any doubt, no problem with the Law Society of Scotland being involved in such initiatives. But as has been expressed, better than by me, by others on here the why? does need to be asked and the answers to that analysed. Also the Law Society of Scotland as a regulator/membership body has to be at least perceived as transparent and neutral.

Paul Ryan’s questions (raised directly with the Law Society of Scotland in another, but related, LinkedIn post) regarding who are the 10 tech companies they are involved with, where listed and what is the selection process remains unanswered. Who is paying for this initiative should also be made clear. How they are actually going about it needs to be known and it needs to be clear that it is to the benefit of their members and that members are actively involved.

You refer to the commercial opportunity of connecting buyers and sellers. I trust you aren’t implying a commercial opportunity for the Law Society of Scotland as they should not be the gatekeeper to vendors selling to law firms. So I think there is a lot more to know and I hope to hear the answers from Lawscot Tech in due course.


Travels through the Blawgosphere #2 : Artificial Intelligence and Law ~ Robots replacing Lawyers?

By | October 1, 2018

Robots replacing Lawyers?

Exterminate… Exterminate… We shall replace the Law Lords!

Way back in 2012 I announced I was doing a new series (Travels through the Blawgosphere) that would be an occasional review of blog posts I had come across relative to the past, present and future practice of law (which is what this blog is all about).

I did say at the time:-

How regular the series becomes remains to be seen. I am not going to promise anything. It will very much depend on what other blawgers produce and I find from time to time.

Well the first episode in the series was posted on 6 May 2012 (Innovation and Law) and there hasn’t been one since! But it is interesting to look back at that post and note that six years later similar debates about innovation in law firms still ensue. If there have been any changes it might be that there is now a lot more law firms with a ‘Director of Innovation’ or the like than there was back then.

It is also interesting to see mention, in my 2012 post, of the faux-law firm Robot Robot & Hwang founded in 2010 as “a legal startup” having a single human partner. Eight years on from the founding of that ‘firm’ and Robots taking over from lawyers is perhaps bigger news than it was back then but probably still as far fetched as it was then.

Two law firm partners - Robot and Robot

Hwang is late again for our partners’ meeting R2D2!

It is the current hype about robots and the law, fuelled by apparent advances in Artificial Intelligence, and blog posts I have seen over the past week on this topic that has resulted in this review of those.

Of great significance in debunking the Legal AI hype is the post The Seven Deadly Sins of AI Predictions by robotics pioneer Rodney Brooks. This is not specifically about Legal AI but just AI in general. It is, however, very relevant to the hype generated around Legal AI. It also actually dates from a whole year ago but it has not dated in any way in that year. I came across it as a result of a tweet concerning a recent interview with Rodney Brooks (which is very worth listening to) that has as its background his post from last year. That tweet came from Tim Harford (whose own views on technology I will also look at in this post).

Brooks thinks the claims that robots will be taking over our jobs anytime soon (particularly in the volumes often cited) are “ludicrous”.

Considering claims that the jobs of grounds and maintenance workers in the U.S. are under threat Brooks points out:-

How many robots are currently operational in those jobs? Zero. How many realistic demonstrations have there been of robots working in this arena? Zero.

He goes on to say:-

Similar stories apply to all the other categories where it is suggested that we will see the end of more than 90 percent of jobs that currently require physical presence at some particular site.

This will be as true of law.

We also all know what happened when a security robot was introduced in a D.C. office building:-

The first deadly sin is overestimating and underestimating. Brooks makes reference to Amara’s Law whereby:-

We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.

This can be seen in countless examples in articles and blog posts concerning AI and law where Robot Lawyers are apparently just around the corner (or already here) and we need to hide behind our sofas quickly for the fear they should instil upon us. A quick Google search returns headlines such as:-

The robot lawyers are here – and they’re winning

Robot lawyers are here!

Rise of the Robolawyers

Law firms of the future will be filled with robot lawyers

‘World’s first robot lawyer’ now available in all 50 states

Yes, Robot Lawyers Are Now A Thing

‘Robots will replace lawyers in court’ says head of Serious Fraud Office

The first two of these articles (the first from the BBC no less) reference Case Cruncher (a ‘robot lawyer’) beating human lawyers in a competition about PPI (payment protection insurance) claims. I have previously debunked this ‘competition’ on the basis that the real lawyers utilised knew nothing about PPI claims!: CaseCrunch v Lawyers NOT Deep Blue v Kasparov

A year later and no real sign of law firms actually using this technology. The CaseCrunch website is all about the competition and press coverage with nothing on there about clients and testimonials.

The other articles reference ROSS Intelligence (an AI research tool), LexMachina (legal analytics software), DoNotPay (a Chatbot that compiles a parking ticket response letter for you) and Xiaofa (a physical robot that is 1.46 meters tall, can move its head and hands and speaks in a child’s voice answering over 40,000 litigation questions and 30,000 legal issues).

The first two of these are tools that assist lawyers in their work and are unlikely to replace them. The third fulfils a function that most people using it would never actually contact a lawyer for (the cost of the lawyer would outweigh the cost of the parking ticket). The fourth is just bonkers.

Chinese Robot Lawyer

Xiaofa: A real threat to lawyers of just a gimmick?

The last headline did not accurately reflect what David Green, director of the Serious Fraud Office, perhaps did predict within the article itself. He was referring to AI being used to sift through evidence in preparing a case not to replace lawyer representation in the court room. So again over sensationalising the actual position with attention grabing headlines.

What these articles are actually saying (if you ignore the hype that surrounds them) is that AI will assist lawyers with tasks that AI can usefully assist them with. It is another tool in the lawyers arsenal along with many other (non-AI empowered) technologies that they currently employ and will in the future employ.

The second deadly sin is imagining magic. As Rodney Brooks cautions:-

Watch out for arguments about future technology that is magical. Such an argument can never be refuted. It is a faith-based argument, not a scientific argument.

Much of the current Legal AI hype falls into the ‘magical’ pot.

Law Firms plan to introduce Heads of Wizardry to replace their Innovation Managers

Law Firms plan to introduce Directors of Wizardry to replace their Directors of Innovation

Alex Hamilton in his tongue-in-cheek open source glossary for the terminology in LawTech refers to magic in his definition of AI:-

Artificial Intelligence: A term for when a computer system does magic. “General” artificial intelligence refers to thinking computers, a concept that for the foreseeable future exists only in science fiction and lawtech talks. “Narrow” artificial intelligence refers to a limited capability (albeit one that may be very useful) such as classifying text or pictures, or expert systems. Discussions of AI that blur general and narrow AI are a good indication that you are dealing with bullshit.

Also suddenly technology that has been with us for years is magically being AI driven when it does not need to be and often probably isn’t.

Document Automation falls into that category. Lawyers have had at their disposal for 20+ years fairly sophisticated document automation technology (no AI required). My generation, of course, apparently knew nothing about legal technology.

The fact is that these systems have been woefully under utilised by most law firms.

However, all of a sudden we now apparently have AI enabled Document Automation. Which won’t in any way increase law firm utilisation but may sell some licences to the uninitiated.

But many of the new kids on the block, who are really just reinventing the wheel, are professing to use AI when they patently are not doing so, e.g.:-

Robot Lisa LinkedIn post on AI washing that was subsequently deleted[N.B. Originally I had an embedded link to this LinkedIn post but unfortunately that post was, within 24 hours, deleted from LinkedIn. That is a great pity because the numerous comments were very relevant and spot on to this debate. They have now been lost. One comment was that this LinkedIn post should be printed out and framed – I have, sort of, now done so albeit online. Oh… the particular “legal AI” thing referred to in the LinkedIn post and the link within that was to Robot Lawyer Lisa.]

This is known as AI washing:-

A marketing effort designed to imply that a company’s brands and products involve artificial intelligence technologies, even though the connection may be tenuous or non-existent.

AI washing appears to be fairly prevalent in the legal technology world. The same problem exists with blockchain:-

I highlighted the practice of Blockwashing in the legal world earlier this year but unfortunately did not know of this definition at that time: Hack the Law to Reinvent the Wheel? and London Legal Hackathon bend the rules?

And if there was ever AI washing going on it must be the AI-brewed Paisley Snail Pale Ale produced by Thomson Reuters.

Rodney Brooks moves onto the third deadly sin, performance versus competence, and points out:-

People hear that some robot or some AI system has performed some task. They then generalize from that performance to a competence that a person performing the same task could be expected to have. And they apply that generalization to the robot or AI system.

Today’s robots and AI systems are incredibly narrow in what they can do. Human-style generalizations do not apply.

Another mistake those reporting on AI in law make over and over again and by doing so they simply fuel the hype.

Chatbots probably fall into this category. We hear that a legal Chatbot has performed a simple task and the next we know they are replacing lawyers. The fact is that Chatbots are currently very limited in what they can do and if AI is supposedly attached to a Chatbot then it is probably in a washing machine set to full spin. For more on that do follow my series on Chats with Legal Chatbots.

Legal Robot makes coffee - ordering an Uber will be next

The fourth deadly sin is suitcase words (words that carry a variety of meanings):-

“Learning” is a powerful suitcase word; it can refer to so many different types of experience. Learning to use chopsticks is a very different experience from learning the tune of a new song. And learning to write code is a very different experience from learning your way around a city.

When people hear that machine learning is making great strides in some new domain, they tend to use as a mental model the way in which a person would learn that new domain. However, machine learning is very brittle, and it requires lots of preparation by human researchers or engineers, special-purpose coding, special-purpose sets of training data, and a custom learning structure for each new problem domain. Today’s machine learning is not at all the sponge-like learning that humans engage in, making rapid progress in a new domain without having to be surgically altered or purpose-built.

A good example of this could be seen in a recent report from Legal Cheek on an event at Clifford Chance’s London office to explore the impact artificial intelligence (AI) is having on the legal profession.

A senior associate in Clifford Chance’s Intellectual Property team explained that AI at its core “is software that is capable of writing its own software”!

Another Clifford Chance associate (a technology, media & telecommunications specialist) said at the same event “Fundamentally, AI is great, it’s cheaper, quicker, better, less troublesome… and you might get better results since AI directors don’t care about bonuses”!

Legal Cheek might want to invite Rodney Brooks along to speak at their next AI and Law event.

Moore’s Law is also debunked by Rodney Brooks when it comes to robots taking over and the fifth deadly sin of exponentials. Brooks says:-

Everyone has some idea about Moore’s Law, which suggests that computers get better and better on a clockwork-like schedule. What Gordon Moore actually said was that the number of components that could fit on a microchip would double every year. That held true for 50 years, although the time constant for doubling gradually lengthened from one year to over two years, and the pattern is coming to an end….

Similarly, we have seen a sudden increase in performance of AI systems thanks to the success of deep learning. Many people seem to think that means we will continue to see AI performance increase by equal multiples on a regular basis. But the deep-learning success was 30 years in the making, and it was an isolated event.

That does not mean there will not be more isolated events, where work from the backwaters of AI research suddenly fuels a rapid-step increase in the performance of many AI applications. But there is no “law” that says how often they will happen.

A similar point was made in a very recent post by Mark Husband on Jason Holt Insights (without perhaps appreciating the point by Rodney Brooks about Moore’s Law coming to an end):-

Moore’s law, conceived in the 1970’s continues to accurately predict the doubling of processing power every two years; if computing power was, in any way connected to or causative of the “End of Lawyers” it would have done so by now!

Moore’s Law has been a constant reference point for legal futurists at legal technology conferences for many years now. They just might have to revisit their PowerPoint slides on this one.

Next up from Rodney Brooks is the sixth deadly sin of Hollywood scenarios:-

The plot for many Hollywood science fiction movies is that the world is just as it is today, except for one new twist.

In Bicentennial Man, Richard Martin, played by Sam Neill, sits down to breakfast and is waited upon by a walking, talking humanoid robot, played by Robin Williams. Richard picks up a newspaper to read over breakfast. A newspaper! Printed on paper. Not a tablet computer, not a podcast coming from an Amazon Echo–like device, not a direct neural connection to the Internet.

It turns out that many AI researchers and AI pundits, especially those pessimists who indulge in predictions about AI getting out of control and killing people, are similarly imagination-challenged. They ignore the fact that if we are able to eventually build such smart devices, the world will have changed significantly by then. We will not suddenly be surprised by the existence of such super-intelligences. They will evolve technologically over time, and our world will come to be populated by many other intelligences, and we will have lots of experience already.

Yet again in the world of AI and law this fits. Look again at the headlines and articles I highlighted earlier. We are given a picture of law firms today with no particular changes other than the Robot Lawyer suddenly descending amongst them.

In the interview with Rodney Brooks I mentioned earlier he also draws out analogies using Star Trek and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Whilst on the topic of Hollywood scenarios, in a post on Lawyers Weekly in Australia, Giri Sivaraman uses Blade Runner analogies to conclude why he is not scared of robot lawyers.

Blade Runner Replicant Lawyers

Are these really replicant lawyers?

Likewise Tim Harford in his post What We Get Wrong About Technology uses Blade Runner and Rick Deckard using a payphone to call the replicant Rachael rather than a smartphone in a similar way to the reference by Rodney Brooks to Richard Martin in Bicentennial Man reading a newspaper rather than reading from a tablet or listening to a podcast.

Harford points out that:-

Forecasting the future of technology has always been an entertaining but fruitless game. Nothing looks more dated than yesterday’s edition of Tomorrow’s World. But history can teach us something useful: not to fixate on the idea of the next big thing, the isolated technological miracle that utterly transforms some part of economic life with barely a ripple elsewhere. Instead, when we try to imagine the future, the past offers two lessons. First, the most influential new technologies are often humble and cheap. Mere affordability often counts for more than the beguiling complexity of an organic robot such as Rachael. Second, new inventions do not appear in isolation, as Rachael and her fellow androids did. Instead, as we struggle to use them to their best advantage, they profoundly reshape the societies around us.

Harford, like Brooks, concludes that Robots will not be taking away our jobs:-

A task-based analysis of labour and automation suggests that jobs themselves aren’t going away any time soon — and that distinctively human skills will be at a premium. When humans and computers work together, says Autor, the computers handle the “routine, codifiable tasks” while amplifying the capabilities of the humans, such as “problem-solving skills, adaptability and creativity”.

The last of the seven deadly sins of AI predictions from Rodney Brooks is speed of deployment. He says:-

A lot of AI researchers and pundits imagine that the world is already digital, and that simply introducing new AI systems will immediately trickle down to operational changes in the field, in the supply chain, on the factory floor, in the design of products.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Almost all innovations in robotics and AI take far, far, longer to be really widely deployed than people in the field and outside the field imagine.

This will be so true in law firms. I have written before about BigLaw having to sweat their legacy technology systems. Whilst some will be dabbling in AI (and I understand this includes some buying an AI license from a Legal AI vendor just to say they have AI even if they are not using it!) it will be a long time before it is embraced to a universal extent. DLA Piper have admitted that they are only using “about 1%” of the overall potential for legal AI technology.

Old Computers at BigLaw

Will AI be compatible with BigLaw’s computer systems?

Much of the actual AI use in law firms today centres around e-discovery. Most law firms (outside BigLaw) are simply not involved in that area. The use case for AI across most legal services that most law firms provide has yet to be demonstrated or proven in any meaningful way. I have previously highlighted this point around AI presentations at legal technology conferences. Such conferences really should have keynotes from the likes of Rodney Brooks.

On the general question about robots taking away our jobs from us (legal or otherwise) it is brought out in the post Every study we could find on what automation will do to jobs, in one chart that:-

In short, although these predictions are made by dozens of global experts in economics and technology, no one seems to be on the same page. There is really only one meaningful conclusion: we have no idea how many jobs will actually be lost to the march of technological progress.

Indeed, where do these predictions come from and what are they actually based on?

So to sum up. There is much hype out there about robots taking over the work of lawyers. Apply the seven deadly sins that Rodney Brooks has so well enunciated to any articles you read on Legal AI to debunk the hype and see the wood from the trees. AI is a tool that lawyers can and will usefully use and which they should only use when it is relevant, necessary and cost effective to do so. There is also much technology currently in their arsenal that they could be using to greater advantage before they consider even looking at AI.

Legal AI hypesters may consider me and “a smattering of militants with a more conservative nature” to be spoilsports “writing off the whole thing as hype”, though we apparently “seem to have been left adrift by reality”. I think Rodney Brooks has nailed the reality on the head and I will happily stick with his viewpoint for now and the foreseeable future.

What do you think?

Image Credits: The Daleks from Dr Who © BBC; C3PO and R2D2 from Star Wars © Lucasfilm; Harry Potter © Warner Bros; and Blade Runner Replicants © Warner Bros

Law is a Buyer’s Market: Building a Client-First Law Firm ~ Reviewed

By | August 15, 2018

Law is a Buyers Market - Building a Client-First Law Firm ReviewedReading the introduction to ‘Law is a Buyer’s Market – Building a Client-First Law Firm’ by Jordan Furlong I began to wonder whether I should simply stop reading and leave it at that.

This is because Jordan warns the reader that he has narrowed down the focus of his book. He was not writing for “NewLaw” competitors to the legal profession. I’m in the NewLaw camp. He “would not address lawyers in sole practice or smaller firms” (which for present purposes Jordan defined as practices with fewer than ten lawyers). I’m technically a sole practitioner and also have just under the ten lawyer threshold set by Jordan in my practice. He also restricts his geographical ambit to North America. So Nova Scotia is included but old Scotland, where I hail from, is not.

However, I decided to persevere as Jordon reckoned that even lawyers like me “can find value here as well”.

Jordan states that his intention is to describe “why the market for legal services has irrevocably changed and how traditional law firms, finding their old practices and procedures no longer effective, can change with it.”

His book, he tells us, “is meant for lawyers, in a way” but “it’s not really about lawyers or law firms it’s about the people and families and businesses that consult lawyers and retain law firms and thereby enter the legal market willingly or otherwise.”

We are reminded that, as Richard Susskind observed, the law does not exist to provide a living for lawyers.

Serving your clients, Jordan tells us, is your North Star. If you follow it he promises that you will not go astray.

Jordan expertly guides us through why the market for legal services has changed in recent times from a seller’s market to a buyer’s market. Factors include technology, the internet, globalisation, regulation, competition and empowerment of buyers. But one over-arching factor that Jordan says should be taken into account was the Great Financial Crisis of 2007-2008.

Then Jordan explores the emergence of lawyer substitutes and the development of law firm substitutes. The result being that lawyers and law firms are no longer the exclusive suppliers of legal services.

However, Jordan’s list of lawyer substitutes would not fill me with much fear in the more regulated (from the lawyers ‘only’ point of view) jurisdictions of Canada and the USA. He acknowledges that these ‘subsitutes’ such as licenced independent paralegals in Ontario are really not competing with but fulfilling a role that traditional lawyers aren’t interested in fullfilling.

Jordan includes various legal technologies in a list of pragmatic substitutes for lawyers. But to my mind (other than perhaps LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer who possibly have had more impact in the States than they have so far at this side of the pond) the ‘subsitutes’ mentioned are simply tools that any lawyer can employ to assist and make themselves more competitive. As indeed my own law firm, Inksters, has done with legal process improvement. As usual I raise my eyebrows at the mention of legal artificial intelligence being a real threat just now as a viable lawyer substitute.

Jordan does, however, fully recognise that lawyers can adopt these technologies to improve their own productivity.

On law firm substitutes we are pointed to examples such as legal process outsourcing (that has perhaps not faired as well as anticipated), flex-lawyer platforms such as Axiom and Lawyers on Demand, the Big Four accountancy firms and ‘NewLaw’ firms such as Radiant Law and Riverview Law (although I was surprised to see OldLaw behemoth Eversheds on Jordan’s list of examples and where does Riverview Law now fit in, I wonder, following it being acquired by Big Four accountancy firm Ernst & Young?).

As Jordan clearly puts it:-

These law firm substitutes have identified the market gap of inefficient, overpriced law firm services, and they’re exploiting it. They’re revealing a dangerous truth to legal service buyers: You can obtain the solutions you need without the overhead costs of the bloated, inefficient law firms that have been doing your work the same archaic way for decades.

This is the real threat to the traditional law firm model. Not only are these substitutes taking work from firms, they’re also transforming that work in the process, making it lighter, faster, more easily tracked, and more accurately measurable.

The last book review I did on this blog was of a book by Jordan’s fellow countryman Mitch Kowalski entitled ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field’. Do read that book for an indepth look at some of these law firm substitutes including, of course, my own law firm, Inksters.

Next Jordan looks at the fall of the traditional law firm. He does so with what seems at first the old analogy about dinosaurs. Is it going to be that old chestnut adapt or die? Not quite. Jordan points out that climate change killed off the dinosaurs. He elaborates:-

Law firms are like dinosaurs. The business climate in which they evolved is changing radically and permanently – and I think they are in serious trouble as a result.

Jordan paints the picture of a traditional law firm and all its known hallmarks. He then tells us why the legal market sees things differently and wants things done in a different way. As Jordan sums it up:-

Efficient, buyer-focused, innovative platforms are exactly what the legal market is now seeking, and it’s finding them in growing numbers. The traditional law firm is constitutionally unable to compete in, let alone dominate, the new legal market. Something will have to replace it.

Jordan then plans to outline what he thinks a new law firm model should look like. But first he addresses what he thinks “is the most fundamental issue facing law firms over the next 10 to 15 years: the steadily diminishing role that lawyers will play in creating and delivering services to clients”.

There is an assumption that you need lawyers to have a law firm. But Jordan reckons that over the next 10 to 15 years this is going to change and “lawyers will no longer be considered essential to law firms’ ability to deliver legal services”.

He gives examples of where this is already happening (although signing a deal to use AI legal tech and actually leveraging its usage may be two different things). No examples are given of straightforward Legal Process Engineering which is an area I believe all law firms should concentrate their energies on before they get caught up in the current hype surrounding AI or blockchain.

Jordon refers to technology-powered products and services as being “productivity engines”. These “enhance the user’s ability to complete a task or reach a solution while reducing the amount of time and money required to achieve that goal”.

Jordan says that today “lawyers generate more than 99 percent of a law firm’s revenue”. I would argue that this would have been the case in the past but is perhaps a higher figure than reality in many law firms today where “non-lawyers” (a term Jordan does not like but still uses for distinguishing purposes) are often fee earners.

But Jordan reckons that “once productivity engines are ubiquitous in law firms, that percentage could conceivably drop below 50 percent”.

What should be borne on mind, but is not necessarily highlighted by Jordan, is that productivity engines have been available to lawyers for many years. Over 20 years ago case management systems were available that could, if employed properly, enhance workflows and productivity.

That lawyers on the whole didn’t employ them in any meaningful way was perhaps a symptom of the billable hour and there being no compelling reason to do so. But as Jordan points out the climate is changing which is perhaps why such tools are receiving more promenance today than they did yesterday. But do remember many of these tools are not new even if the vendors have added an ‘AI’ tag to them (and if they have it may not really be AI and you probably don’t really need AI in most productivity engines in any event).

We are walked by Jordan through a “lawyer-proof” law firm of the future: “firms that don’t rise and fall, as traditional law firms did, with the actions and fortunes of individual lawyers”.

Then Jordan considers how you should understand and act upon the coming “inessentiality” of lawyers. This involves building systems that can meet the market needs of its clients. Those systems must be effective. It matters not whether the people who operate them come with a law degree.

I liked the line “you must think of your law firm as a business entity that helps buyers overcome legal challenges and meet legal opportunities – not as a hotel for lawyers, which is the description to which most law firms answer today”.

Having shown us that in his view (one shared by many including me) the traditional law firm model is no longer sustainable Jordan then turns his attention to “what a new, better, more market-appropriate law firm business model looks like”. This Jordan refers to as the “post-asteroid” law firm.

Jordan considers the question “why do law firms even exist?”. He compares a traditional law firm’s characteristics with those of a typical corporation. The full analysis he gives is well worth studying with a view to making your law firm standards more akin to those of a corporation.

Unlike a corporation, where “the best interests of the company” are paramount, the typical law firm ‘makes decisions’ that are “based on what a small number of its most powerful equity partners consider to be in their own interests”.

The switch from this old style of management to a more corporate one has happened in NewLaw firms as clearly highlighted again and again in the real life examples given by Mitch Kowalski in ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field’.

I liked the game Jordon plays in giving examples of well known businesses and their purpose and then asking you to state your own law firm’s purpose. Having done so he runs through some examples of how lawyers might state their law firm’s purpose before offering what he feels that purpose really should be. I was glad that my thinking on this was in line with his. Do play the game in the book and see how well you fair.

Jordan examines whether law is a business or a profession and concludes that “obviously, it’s both”. It is “a commercial business that deals in professional services”.

He looks at how a law firm should choose its markets and identify the clients it wants to serve. This includes identifying characteristics of “good clients” that you will want to keep and nurture. Jordan doesn’t mention sacking clients. I have read elsewhere that lawyers should sack at least one bad client every week and concentrate only on having good clients. Most will seldom ever fire a client and will put up with the consequences of having bad clients on their books.

Next up is creating a strategy to fulfil your law firm’s purpose. At this point I had to google “Pensacola”! You will have to read Chapter 9 to understand why. You will also in that chapter read an amusing analogy concerning law firm strategic planning and a duck-hunting expedition.

Moving on to look at client strategy Jordan recounts the Black & Decker story (a favourite one amongst legal futurists). This emphasises what the customer really wants. Jordan reveals what a lawyer’s client really wants and how that shapes your client strategy.

The importance of the client experience is emphasised: “Your firm, in the eyes of the market, is defined not by who and what you say you are, but by who you actually are and what you actually do”.

Jordan considers that competitiveness starts with how a law firm does its work – its internal operations and workflow. A topic close to my heart. He states that “few law firms have yet developed the position of Chief Workflow Officer”. At Inksters we did, of course, coin the title of “Legal Process Engineer”: one that has been picked up and used by others since.

The importance of pricing and distinctiveness is also covered as cornerstones of a law firm’s competitive strategy. Again music to my ears. At Inksters our first strapline was “Just that little bit different” and we have always striven to stand out from the same old same old.

The importance of culture within a law firm is examined by Jordan. Drawing from research carried out on lawyers’ personality traits, Jordan concludes that “lawyers tend to be intense, critical, and easily frustrated short-term thinkers who don’t like dealing with other people or taking direction from them. The law firms that lawyers create, own, and operate in their image are not usually delightful workplaces.” Jordan adds a footnote to that: “Throw in lawyers’ deeply entrenched tendency to view themselves as superior to the “non lawyers”  who work for them, and you exacerbate the problem”.

Thankfully, Jordan guides you through what you need to do to change that culture. On that journey you will learn about the “one-firm” firm, culture in the community and generational change (the impact that Millennials are making and will make on your law firm). You will also learn Jordan’s views on the behaviours to encourage and those to have a zero-tolerance towards in order to create a  perfect culture. Compensation should recognise “the multi-dimensional nature of success in a law firm”. Diversity is also an important aspect in all of this.

The role of Associate and Partner are looked at by Jordan as a dying breed. We learn why these roles first existed but how now they no longer need to. Although clearly some lawyers will hanker after the perceived power and prestige that the title supposedly brings, whilst many others realise the burden it can actually be.

Jordan states:

Firms will eventually recognise that “partner” and “associate” are words that no longer convey much meaning, either internally or externally, when it comes to their lawyers. The important step will be for firms to shake themselves free of the legacy burdens of these old job descriptions and to start re-visualising the myriad ways in which lawyers, regardless of their capacity and experience, can add real value to the firms and their clients. That’s the structural and organizational reality for which your firm should start preparing now.

I’m glad to say that I started preparing for this at Inksters a good few years ago now. For how my law firm’s model works without partners or associates see chapter 10 of ‘The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field’ by Mitch Kowalski.

So all this change requires change management from the law firm leader(s). Tell me about it!

As Jordan puts it “changing a law firm can be an undertaking of Kiliminjaro-esque proportions”.

Jordan outlines why lawyers are particularly change averse but gives some tips on how you might turn this around. He also advises you to hold your ground and see change through even if there are casualties along the way. People will leave as a result of change they can’t cope with but invariably your firm will end up better off as a result.

In the final chapter Jordan highlights what a buyer’s market in law means for you. He stresses that:-

From now on, everything that law firms do, plan, price, sell, perform, and compensate has to be geared not towards themselves or their lawyers, but towards the buyers of their services.

Lawyers need to adapt. He doesn’t quite go as far as to say adapt or die. Others have. But perhaps that is implied.

If, having read the foregoing review, you fear the death of your law firm then buying, reading and acting upon Jordan’s advice is the best first step you can take to help cure the ills that might lead to such a death.

At the beginning of this review I pointed out that Jordan was not writing for “NewLaw” competitors to the legal profession nor law firms with fewer than ten lawyers. He also restricted his geographical ambit to North America.

I think Jordan did himself a disservice by claiming these restrictions. I can assure you that his book is just as relevant for those in NewLaw and/or small law firms and/or outwith North America.

As a NewLaw, small law firm proprietor based outwith North America who has been undertaking significant change in his law firm I could empathise with much that Jordan writes about. But I could also see that there is much more still to do. We are always on a journey and Jordan’s book will certainly guide you in the right direction.

You can buy ‘Law is a Buyer’s Market – Building a Client-First Law Firm’ by Jordan Furlong online from Law21. Be prepared to pay post & packing from Canada but don’t let that put you off. The added expense is well worth it. Or if you are happy with just a Kindle e-book (I wouldn’t be) then you can purchase that on Amazon. This is the UK link. If you live outside the UK then do go to your local Amazon site.

Chats with Legal Chatbots ~ Episode 1 : The Global Legal Hackathon and LawDroid

By | July 28, 2018

Chats with Legal Chatbots

Even now we have gone digital you can still wind up a robot!

This is a series I have had in mind for a little while since I experimented, a few months ago, having chats with some legal chatbots. Apparently chatbots are the next big thing.

In my Legal Technology/IT Predictions for 2018 I blogged:-

The big thing in 2018 will be for law firms to start introducing chatbots onto their websites never mind getting actual content on there first for the chatbot to reference.

The fact that introducing a basic search function to their website might be more effective and useful than a chatbot that gets confused with most queries put to it (unless there is a human being operating it) will be lost on most lawyers.

However, if it has not been done already, a legal chatbot will in 2018 be able to order your Uber for you. This will be major news in legal publications but not really a giant leap for the legal profession.

So I thought I would test out a chatbot or two. First up is LawDroid, the chatbot used by the Global Legal Hackathon. I tried to have a conversation with it at the time the Global Legal Hackathon was in full swing and before writing my blog posts linked to or about that event: Lawyers and codingHack the Law to Reinvent the Wheel? and London Legal Hackathon bend the rules?

For the uninitiated it appears to be the norm and perhaps expected (at least in the UK) at a hackathon that the participants will be supplied with pizza. So I thought I would ask LawDroid about pizza.

This is how our chat went:-

LawDroid: Hi [hand symbol]! I’m LawDroid.

What’s your name?

Me: Bond, James Bond.

LawDroid: Hi James Bond!

I’m programmed to provide helpful information for Global Legal Hackathon hosts and attendees.

If you ever get stuck, don’t worry, you can type in the word ‘restart’ to start over. Or, type ‘end’ to stop.

Shall we get started?

Me: Yes

Law Droid: Would you like to learn more about GLH’s Organizers?

Me: No.

LawDroid: Will you be attending or hosting the Global Legal Hackathon in your location?

[presented with Attending or Hosting option]

I was doing neither but selected Attending.

LawDroid: Here are some FAQs for attendees:

What is the Global Legal Hackathon? What is a hackathon? How do I form a team? etc

Would you like to try another option?

Host Info – Attendee Info – Ask a Question

Me: Ask a Question

LawDroid: What issue do you need help with?

Me: Will there be pizza?

LawDroid: So we can follow up with you about your concern, I’ll need a couple of pieces of information.

What’s your email address?

Me: I don’t want you to e-mail me I want you to chat.

LawDroid: Sorry, I didn’t quite get that

Me: Can we continue our chat?

LawDroid: Sorry, I didn’t quite get that

Me: You have not been programmed well have you?

LawDroid: Sorry, I didn’t quite get that

Me: You don’t get very much do you?

LawDroid: Sorry, I’m still not getting that.

Me: Will we start again?

LawDroid: Hmm. I didn’t get that. Sorry.

Me: Goodnight.

LawDroid: Hmm. I didn’t get that. Sorry.

I gave up. A lot of time and questions to not get the answer I was looking for.

The Global Legal Hackathon website didn’t help much on the pizza or food front either. All I could find under a “food” search (a “pizza” search returned no results) was a recommendation to bring non-alcoholic beverages with you.

But the London Legal Hackathon had their own website with a FAQ page which reveals to the question “Will there be food?”:-

We are catering for around 100 participants comprising of 8 to 12 teams. There will be a plentiful supply of tea, coffee, water and meals (kindly provided by our sponsors). We’ll add more details here soon (and we’ll cater for non-meat eaters too, but please warn us if you have any special dietary requirements).

We will provide lunch and an evening meal, but not breakfast, so please grab a bite on your way Saturday and Sunday please.

You are welcome to bring your own food and refreshments if you want.

No mention specifically of pizza but at least it tells you there will be food.

Although confirmation, if needed, that there was pizza (at least in London and Sydney) could be found on Twitter:-

So a quick glance through a FAQ page on the London site (and this might apply to other location sites on the global circuit) was much quicker and more helpful than using the chatbot on the main site. So far, on the whole, that has been my experience of using legal chatbots. Do you agree? Or have you had good experiences of using legal chatbots? If you want to do a guest post of your conversation with a legal chatbot on this blog, for a future episode in this series, I will be happy to consider any submissions. Just e-mail it to me.

Reactions on Social Media

There have been reactions to this post on LinkedIn. To keep these together with the post itself I have copied the comments here:-

Alex G Smith:

I broke a GDPR one in a minute by asking it what privacy by design was. It then had a chat with me about how my day was and was having a good time. I only tried it because the hype said AI had landed … I never expected the Spanish Inquisition on how I was feeling about life in general. Can’t wait for part 2.

Graham Laing:

Create something even less responsive than the lawyers they ultimately seek to replace. Only in legal ;-P

Garth Watson:

If you think about the phrase “privacy by design” it’s no wonder it was confused.

Surely, “well designed privacy policies”, as opposed to privacy itself by a thing called “design” would be a better way of putting it.

Most lawyers would also struggle to answer what privacy by design was. Most obvious answer is locking the door.

Totally get that these thing have a long way to go, but baby steps come first.

Graham Laing:

That is an interesting question in itself – can ‘baby steps’ be permissible in a highly regulated environment? My view is not. Something works or it doesn’t.

Alex G Smith:

Garth Watson, Privacy by design is a core principle that GDPR pushes forward and given that these bots are “hand programmed” not self learnt I felt it not a hard question to ask. I don’t mind if the narrow decision tree it no doubt was following didn’t have it but if that’s all it is why the whole bot thing, an FAQ or a nice blog could have done the job. I’ll give your questions (or search terms) a go and see what happens … my guess is I’ll end up in the bizarre banter on “how I am” and “am I well” as last time.


Nir Golan:

At least you checked one of their GLH requirements box- legal chatbot.. check. it doesn’t matter if it does not solve the problem. That’s not relevant to the GLH.


Jonathan Maskew:

Well worth having a chat with Billy Bot

Brian Inkster:

Oh I have! We didn’t chat about pizza, although I understand he (unlike LawDroid) has been trained to deal with pizza queries. I would expect Billy to feature in a future episode of ‘Chats with Legal Chatbots’ 🙂


Enia Titova:

I don’t understand how an industry that puts either “this is not legal advice” disclaimers or “PRIVILEGED & CONFIDENTIAL, ATTORNEY-CLIENT COMMUNICATION” on literally everything that comes out of its mouth thought this was a good idea.


Alastair Ross:

Good to see someone using the good Lean principle of ‘Go see’! Look forward to Episode 2 Brian – hoping there will be pizza….


David Martin:

Managing the expectation from Chatbots is a challenge.
It is where the Chatbots are used for “Transactions” that typically generates the integration to RPA.


Thomas G. Martin (Founder at LawDroid, Bot Development and Consulting for Legal Industry):

Hi Brian – Thanks for checking out LawDroid as deployed on the Global Legal Hackathon website.

In the lead up to GLH, LawDroid helped provide thousands of attendees and hosts with helpful information to prepare. However, it wasn’t programmed to answer venue specific questions. We did build in an opportunity for a person to ask a question that wasn’t answered by the bot and pass it on to a GLH volunteer for assistance. This automated + human approach worked very well for many, many people.

LawDroid gave you this opportunity to ask such a question which it would email to a volunteer for follow up, but you didn’t do that. It also provided instructions for how to restart the conversation but you didn’t do that either. So, yes, you managed to break it.

I would have enjoyed speaking with you to discuss our approach to designing the bot, what problem we were attempting to solve,  what results we achieved, and what we learned, but you never reached out to me to discuss.

Brian Inkster:

Tom, I didn’t think of it as a venue specific question as pizza and hackathons seem to go hand in hand from London to Sydney (although I accept some locations may not have been so keen on pizza).

However, in determining questions that might be asked by attendees I would have put it fairly high on the list.

The opportunity you built in for a person to ask a question that wasn’t answered by the bot and pass it on to a GLH volunteer for assistance was rather odd in its approach. I asked “Will there be pizza?”. The bot answered “So we can follow up with you about your concern, I’ll need a couple of pieces of information. What’s your email address?”. It wasn’t a “concern” as such just a query. The bot didn’t indicate that it didn’t know the answer and that a human would have to help if I supplied an e-mail address. It would have been more helpful had it done so in a more straightforward and honest fashion.

I must have missed the instructions for how to restart the conversation. Perhaps it would be helpful for the bot to actually tell you these when struggling as it was to answer. However, I would have thought that it would not be that difficult to factor in a restart from a statement like “Will we start again?”. However, I’m not sure I would want to restart and go around in circles again in any event!

I’m not sure that I need to reach out to the bot’s designers before posting an episode of an actual conversation with a chatbot. I am simply demonstrating what such a conversation is like and the limitations that chatbots may have as a result. It seems clear that they can only deal with what they have been programmed to deal with and that won’t always help the person chatting with them. Indeed it is likely to just lead to frustration.

Thomas G. Martin:

You actually quoted the instructions on how to restart in your article, “If you ever get stuck, don’t worry, you can type in the word ‘restart’ to start over. ”

Brian Inkster:

But clearly well through the conversation those instructions were by then lost on me. As clearly was the “end” one as I assumed, wrongly, that “goodnight” might achieve that result in a more chat like way. Again this simply highlights the robotic nature of chatbots that so far have been a big turn off for me.

Thomas G. Martin:

The issue is one of expectations. A chatbot can be useful for its intended purpose. In this case, we built the bot for the main GLH site the best we could for the most important use case (i.e., somebody getting started with wanting to participate as an attendee or host). GLH had been receiving hundreds of inquiries for the same information that they couldn’t physically handle manually. LawDroid succeeded in handling the burden of those repetitive questions and thousands of messages for most people for the intended use case. And we still built in the ability to manually field questions that did not fall within the ambit of the covered FAQs.

Brian Inkster:

So you should have low expectations when using a chatbot? That is certainly my experience to date.