Legal Futures Innovation Conference 2018: The One with the Women

Legal Futures Innovation Conference 2018The annual Legal Futures Innovation Conference in London is one that I like to take in. Neil Rose always manages at these conferences (as he also did at the Click 2 Client conferences) to produce a range of coal face practitioners with interesting stories to tell about their innovations in legal practice. This year’s conference in November was no exception.

This summary of the event is taken mostly from tweets I tweeted at the time. Thus they will be on the whole short bullet points. But I do elaborate a bit when I get to the keynote interview with Marilyn Stowe and also the panel of women leaders in innovation.

The current state of innovation
Rob Cross (Legal Services Board), Chris Nott (Capital Law), David Whitmore (Slater & Gordon) and Osman Ismail (DPS Software)

Alternative Business Structure (ABS) New Law firms are 3.3 times more likely to use technology than traditional Old Law firms.

The traditional law firm partnership model works against innovation.

Innovation is not about technology but technology is an enabler of innovation.

Millennials are not a rare breed they are the future of the legal profession. They think things we are not capable of thinking.

If you just exploit you will die. If you just explore you will die.

Certain law firms are businesses run by business persons. Others are law firms run by lawyers. ABS are more likely to be the former.

Smaller law firms aren’t really engaging with innovation in the same way as larger ones. I think there will be exceptions to this and plenty of larger law firms that aren’t really innovating even if they think, and issue press releases to suggest, that they are.

Smaller firms should engage with the Solicitors Regulation Authority. They are open to forward looking discussions. Maybe more so than the Law Society of England & Wales.

Culture comes from leaders. Innovation comes from the top

Law firms equal a bunch of very busy people. Innovative law firms have someone driving change through it. Smaller law firms often don’t have that person. Hmm… smaller law firms can still and often do have an owner driving change. Often one who has escaped from BigLaw to do just that!

Keynote interview: Sir Nigel Knowles

It’s all about execution. You can have a vision and strategy but you have to execute it.

You need your people behind you to achieve success.

You have to try that little bit harder.

Too many partners in law firms can’t articulate their business plans fast enough.

Every partner in every law firm should be responsible for incremental improvement which drives innovation. This was incremental improvement again being advocated. This time by someone (Sir Nigel Knowles) who grew a global law firm using it. It works. Don’t believe the AI hypesters who say otherwise.

A word from the sponsors

90% of stress is caused by uncertainty. You should use legal technology to keep your clients informed electronically.

Legal Technology needs to look the part. Needs to be designed for user experience.

Lessons from listing
David Beech (Knights plc) and Greg Cox (Simpson Millar)

Knights culture today:-

  • Low ego
  • High confidence
  • Self-starters
  • Team
  • No dickheads
  • Normal people
  • Friendly

Again the view was expressed that the equity law firm partnership model is no longer fit for purpose.

Chris Marston jumped in at this point on Twitter from outside the Conference to tweet:

That old saw! It’s strategy, values and behaviours that matter, not legal structure. In my experience, most incorporated law firms still behave like traditional partnerships.

I commented:-

Speakers at the Conference have been emphasising separating management functions from doing law. Assume that could be true in a partnership, limited company or any other structure.

Chris Marston responded:-

Yes of course – and very often is. Good leadership can come from lawyers and non-lawyers, and in any entity-type.

Back to the Conference:-

Unregulated and proud
Merlie Calvert (Farillio), Ryan Lisk (Hybrid Legal) and Darren Stott (Which? Legal Services)

They plug an important gap at Farillio. However, I didn’t quite understand what the gap was. I questioned Farillio about this on Twitter and was advised:-

So we aim to help people with their businesses, supporting them with templates and guides that answer all the questions that often they feel to embrassed to ask a lawyer as they feel they should already know the answers.

Farillio acts as a support. So I believe the gap we plug is for the people that feel they can’t go to, or can’t afford a lawyer, we act as the help and support they need! Hope that helps.

Keynote interview: Marilyn Stowe

Marilyn Stowe
Marilyn Stowe

This interview was the highlight of the conference for me. Marilyn Stowe’s story was inspirational but also highly engaging and amusing. I didn’t tweet much through it as I was too taken up with the story of how she built, from humble beginnings in 1982, and sold in 2017 a very successful national family law practice. You can get the details of that from Marilyn’s page on Wikipedia but without the amusement value that Marilyn brought when telling her story to Neil Rose on stage.

I did tweet a couple of times during her story which may have been key takeaways. Those tweets were:-

  • Marilyn Stowe realised how important PR was to get on.
  • Take risks says Marilyn Stowe – many lawyers are very risk averse.

Women leaders in innovation
Shirley Brookes (PwC Legal), Vidisha Joshi (Hodge Jones & Allen), Shainul Kassam (Fortune Law) and Barbara Hamilton-Bruce (BHB Consulting)

We were told that men are not more innovative than women (Marilyn Stowe’s talk alone was evidence of that). A gender equality discussion took place about getting as many women than men speaking at Legal Innovation conferences.

Legal Futures Innovation Conference 2018 - Women leaders of innovationNeil Rose admitted that it had never entered his head when organising conferences previously. He had identified the content he wanted and sought out the speakers to suit without gender being a deciding factor.

However, at last year’s conference Vidisha Joshi had raised the speaker gender balance as an issue with him and he was now seeking to redress the situation (this year’s conference having 11 male and 9 female speakers).

Gender equality has been a recurring topic at legal conferences this year. Legal Geek made a point of ensuring fair representation and had a Women in Law Tech Panel. Janders Dean always ensure a gender balance of speakers at their conferences and are active promoters of Gender Avenger. They also call out those that do not include a gender balance at events.

Yesterday I was at a preview screening at the Glasgow Film Theatre of RBG (a documentary on the exceptional life and career of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who has developed a breath taking legal legacy while becoming an unexpected pop culture icon).

This preview was introduced by Nicola Irvine, Dean of the Royal Faculty of Procurators in Glasgow. Nicola is the first female Dean in the Faculty’s 350 year history.

The film showed the struggles that Ruth Bader Ginsburg had in a male dominated world in the 1950s and beyond. But how she overcame the obstacles placed in front of her to become the second female Justice appointed to the US Supreme Court and for a while she was the only female Justice on that court.

Ginsburg spent a considerable part of her legal career as an advocate for the advancement of gender equality and women’s rights, winning multiple victories arguing before the Supreme Court. She made it clear in the film that change takes time and needs to be done one step at a time.

After the film there was a Q&A panel session with five women (two of whom were lawyers).

As we are about to enter 2019 it should also be remembered that we will soon be marking the centenary of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act 1919 which paved the way for women to become lawyers for the first time in the UK. The First 100 Years project was created by Dana Denis-Smith, CEO of Obelisk Support, to chart the journey of women in law since 1919.

The move to gender equality at legal conferences is admirable and necessary. Indeed it seems odd that in this day and age we have to debate it. We heard at the RBG Q&A session that when one of the lawyer panellists was at university 75% of her class were female. Times have clearly changed since Ginsburg was a law student. But inequality still remains an issue as a study on wage differences between male and female lawyers in Scotland revealed in 2015.

I hope in 2019 we see gender equality becoming mainstream at legal conferences and no longer something we have to debate at them. I also hope, as part of that, we no longer have to have all female panels to compensate for the lack of gender equality elsewhere in the conferences. Please just always have such equality on all panels and throughout the conferences. After all Gender Avenger want to do away with all male panels at conferences but I think there aim is to have balance on those panels rather than replace them entirely with all female ones!

Now back to the Legal Futures Innovation Conference 2018:-

The new innovators
Dani McCormick (LexisNexis), Laura Fisher (gunnercooke), Peter Lee (Wavelength Law), Gary Gallen (rradar) and Debbie Farman (Jordans Corporate Law)

There was a very sensible talk from Dani McCormick of LexisNexis. She told us to avoid the AI hype. Her good advice included:

  • Go for marginal gains not disruption.
  • Keep it simple.
  • Look at process points.
  • Use existing tech.
  • Chip away at it.
  • GCs want simple tech and solutions.

‘Virtual’ law firm makes you sound unreal. gunnercooke don’t like the term as they are very real. I prefer Mitch Kowalski’s plug and play term which he uses for them and my law firm, Inksters, in his book The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field.

We heard about Legal Engineers at Wavelength Law. That very same week there had been an interesting report about the battle by a Scottish law firm to trademark the term Legal Engineer.

Lawyers need to sit next to the Legal Tech.

You’ve got to give before you get.

Stubbornness is important to see it through and make it happen. Need to graft, take risks and be bloody stubborn.

Big Law can’t move at the pace a small New Law firm can to create change and a different way/model of working.

A mind shift is happening in Big Law. There is more innovation there just now than might have been the case three years or so ago.

There are new roles for non-lawyers in Big Law today that didn’t exist three to five years ago.


I have said before that legal conferences are as much about the people you meet than the content itself. Legal Futures always has an abundance of both. As usual at Legal Futures I caught up with old friends and met new ones in what was a most enjoyable and informative day.

Next Year

The Legal Futures Innovation Conference 2019 will take place in London on 28 November 2019.

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