LawTech Futures 2013 Reviewed: The one with the neocortex

Ray Kurzweil Keynotes at LawTechFutures 2013
In 20 years time that mic will be the size of a blood cell and implanted in Ray’s lips.

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

The Neocortex

Ray’s talk was fascinating but did it have anything to do with the practice of law in 2013? We learned that by 2033 we could have computerised devices that are the size of blood cells embedded into our brains. These will communicate wirelessly with the Internet enabling our brains to directly tap into AI in the cloud. Thus rather than being limited to around 300 million pattern recognisers in each neocortex (we learned a lot about the neocortex) we will be able to have more – a billion, then tens of billions, then a trillion. My head was exploding at the thought of this! For most lawyers struggling to decide whether to upgrade to Windows 8 from XP (having missed Windows 7) or just wait for Windows 9 it was all a bit too Dr Who.

Biggest Law Firm Challenge

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

Document Assembly

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

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

Time Recording

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

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

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

Microsoft and RIM (forget Apple)

Future of Legal Technology
Where did the Apple go?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Microsoft Store Apps
Microsoft Store Apps

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

Social Media

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

Blogging and Websites

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

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

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

Watson and Moore’s Law

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

Marketing and Business

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

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

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

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

In-house lawyers

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

The Young Ones

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

Anytime, any place, anywhere

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

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

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

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

Spot the Partner

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

LawTech Futures 2013 (spot the law firm partner)
Game 1: Spot the law firm partner; or Game 2: spot Brian Inkster (could be the same answer as Game 1); or Game 3: spot Jonathan Maas (the real one and not the Beefeater impersonator as seen on a photo in the QE2 Conference Centre lift – click on the photo above to reveal that one!)

Changes for next year

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

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

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

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

Green Flashing Bouncy Balls

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

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