On 16 October I attended the 2019 Legal Geek Conference in Shoreditch, London.
This was the fourth Legal Geek London Conference and my second. I attended last year’s event: The One where Reality overtook Hype.
The day started with long queues:-
The Conference had already started by the time me and many others reached the welcome desk.
Like last year 2,000 delegates were expected.
Once eventually inside it was standing room only to see Mark Cohen and others in the first conference session of the day. And still a hundred or more people were in the queue to get in. I could hardly hear at the back from the noise from the sponsor area behind the rear curtain. I tweeted that they “need a bigger venue and soundproofing!”
I then tweeted: “Audio too quiet to hear and slides illegible from the back. People are giving up. So am I. Will go for a wander in #LegalGeek start up alley instead.”
However, feeling like I was Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible, I managed to find a way through the curtain and get myself in a better position to hear and see, still standing at the rear but this time in front of the two rear curtains behind me. I don’t think that second curtain was there last year giving more space in the main auditorium but perhaps not cutting out the noise so much from the sponsor area behind the rear curtain.
But maybe the moral of the story is to get there really early to bag a seat in the auditorium. Although I think there is an argument that they should only be selling the same number of tickets as they have seats.
Now forgive me when I give some of the quotes from the conference without attributing them to anyone in particular. My notes are my tweets and I didn’t always log who was speaking at the time. I no longer have access to the programme for the day. It was only available in electronic form (which is to be applauded, of course, for environmental reasons) but has by now been taken down from the Conference website and App. So no lasting record of all the speakers or topics at the event. Which is a shame. It would be so easy to archive this but for it still to be available for all to see on the Legal Geek website.
We heard that “the future of lawyers is T-shaped. It’s not enough to understand the business and the law – that’s the basis, of course – but you also need design thinking, understanding of technology, data analytics skills, etc.” I tweeted “That was the future a good few years ago I recall.” Apparently the future is now the O-shaped lawyer [that link is only available to Premium subscribers of The Lawyer but I did find a tweet telling me that an O-shaped lawyer is one that has a broad skillset and thus is more all-rounded] but Legal Geek didn’t know that yet. Apparently we’ve also had a Delta-shaped lawyer. I’ve always been a fan of the £-shaped lawyer myself. Much more flexible and produces better results than a T or an O or a Delta 😉
As Patrick Lamb tweeted: “Seems to me the debate about the shape is obscuring the discussion about necessary skills and traits.”
Crispin Passmore tweeted: “The lawyer of the future is not really a useful concept. So many different clients with so many issues means lots of different lawyers working with lots of other people.”
Peter D Lederer added: “‘Well-rounded’ has always served me pretty well.”
It seems though that all of these shapes are one and the same thing and it is rather like the argument over whether we should be using #LegalTech, #LawTech, #LegalIT or #JustTech (although the #JustTech bit wasn’t debated in the original Legal Geek article: #LegalTech v #LawTech – WTF? but has since been on Twitter). Lawyers, it appears, like to argue over concepts rather than just getting on and doing it!
Simon Davis, the President of the Law Society of England & Wales, was on hand to tell us all about Robots in legal practice. some snippets on that topic from him as tweeted by me on the day:-
- Robots don’t have experience and wisdom.
- We need robots to do things that robots can do – stating the obvious at #LegalGeek!
- We need a Swan on top with mechanical feet underneath – our competitors know this
At least the message wasn’t the end of lawyers. Phew.
Then a presentation or perhaps presentations on innovation and collaboration. Sorry, not sure now who by:-
- Innovation can start in a room but needs to come out of there. Nir Golan then tweeted “To collaborate we need to get out of our rooms and talk to people /customers.”
- To truly collaborate you have to share a vision.
- Collaboration can become traitorous cooperation with an enemy
- Legal is stubbornly retaining not sharing data. To which Nick Pryor tweeted “We can definitely do better. But the challenge is that it’s not always (often?) our data to share. Very hard problem to solve unless we can encourage/incentivise clients to come with us”. Sam Moore added “Agreed – as much as it pains to admit, law *does* have specific challenges to sharing data. But we can certainly do better!”
- #LegalGeek #shebreaksthelaw and #bioniclawyer were all referenced as collaborators in the law.
By this stage in proceedings Nicola Jones tweeted “Talk at #LegalGeek so far is all about how to be proactive, share intelligence, make relationships.” A theme that would continue throughout the day.
There was a break and people moved out of the main auditorium giving me the chance to get a seat at last and near the stage to boot! The next session was the digital one.
We heard about Joyn Social Media, a new social network designed to be “Cambridge Analytica-proof.” A good idea but will people be willing to join a new network? Many others have come and gone.
We discovered that the MOJ use post-it notes:-
We were told that this is the best time to do it (go digital). “The time is now”. Have people not been doing digital in law for many years? Now is surely the time to improve on that as was yesterday and tomorrow.
Then Catherine Bamford, who knows a thing or two about document automation being a coal face practitioner on the subject, told us that “Time is what we want most, but what we use worst”. So true.
It was now lunch time. I went to use my lunch voucher at one of the many stands available. There were a lot less options on the main floor than last year which meant either going upstairs, where the start up alley was, or outside. The queue to even get up the staircase was horrendous and slow moving so I opted for outside but when I got there it was no better. The chances of being able to sit to eat when you eventually got your food was also remote. I decided to abandon the idea of a long wait at the event for food and wandered to nearby Old Spitalfields Market where I had a very nice Greek lunch.
After lunch I managed to get a ringside seat by the ‘Disco’ Stage for Agile Working & Culture Change. Although I was right at the front the acoustics were still not great.
We have to stop using logic. We need Stories. I wondered whether these were illogical stories rather than logical ones?
No thanks, we are too busy we are fee earners – is what you encounter in many law firms when trying to effect change.
Stephen Allen told us that “no man is an island and try not to be a dick” are the two principles that he has been using to collaborate in legal since 2009.
Stephen told us why Richard Susskind is not entirely correct:-
Stephen also explained that when it comes to collaboration 1 + 1 can sometimes give you zero. You want it to be greater than 2.
Nicola thinks that lawyers are resistant to change because of the “Lawyer Personality” which includes:-
- Risk averse
This got a lot of reaction on Twitter:-
Stephanie Walker: Been thinking about this. The word I wish belonged on that list, but doesn’t for most, is “adaptable”
Richard Moorhead: I don’t know. I feel, without much evidence, this argument is rather overplayed.
Julian Summerhayes: Don’t get me started. It’s more than a blind spot.
Michael Robinson: Lawyers aren’t resistant to change. Experience has taught us useful and effective changes take time.
Gary Thompson: You could put very in front of each character trait !
Nicola Shaver told us about the skills and people you need to “get shit done”:-
- Change management
- Service design
- Product management
- Mix it up
- Lawyers/former lawyers
- Service designers
- Product development expertise
- Change managers
- Communications experts
Back to the Main Stage and Autto were telling us how to learn to love process when lawyers think “You can’t automate what I do”. According to Autto:-
1. All work is process.
2. All processes can be improved.
3. Good processes produce good client outcomes.
Michael Robinson tweeted: “One of the biggest myths about law is that it is a process. Utter nonsense.”
I’ll meet Michael half-way. Plenty of things that a lawyer does cannot be automated and can not easily be considered a process. However, many lawyers spend their time doing very routine tasks in a long-handed and round-about way. These things can be helpfully processed and automated giving the lawyer more time to spend on the tasks that can’t. Implementation of the relevant technology, however, is the key. Lawyers are not very good at that on the whole. I’ll come back to that in a little bit more detail at the end of this blog post.
We were told that 1,000 General Counsel said that 20% of their tasks were routine administrative ones.
Alex G Smith told us it was entirely logical (conflicting with an earlier speaker who said to ditch logic in favour of stories – but Alex told a logical data story referencing Star Trek). He finished with the eminently logical #bringbackboring and #IAbeforeAI.
There was more talk in the afternoon, like there was in the morning, about the need for platforms in law.
Then it was time for Noah Waisberg of Kira Systems to take the stage with a filing cabinet and an axe for ‘Know your Enemy’.
Noah told us that we don’t have an understanding of our contract capital.
To review each contract that a company has can take a while to get them out of the filing cabinet and review them.
It clearly needs to be done digitally and Noah ceremonially chopped up the filing cabinet with his axe.
You can watch a video of the chopping action involved (which I couldn’t get to embed) courtesy of Richard Parnham.
Last year Noah threw sequins from the stage with one real diamond amongst them to illustrate the preponderance of hype in legal tech.
Before the conference came to a close I went to see the start-ups on the upper level. But it had already closed. I had said last year that “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”. I had failed in this promise to myself. If I return in 2020 I’ll do that first when the main auditorium is too ram packed to get into.
I went back to the main auditorium where things were wrapping up and got a beer from Thomson Reuters.
Then it was the after party at the bar across from the main event space. I managed to get in there before the queue started and it was one out one in.
It was an enjoyable evening of chatting with old friends and meeting new ones until I suddenly, and without any warning, went flying through the air and landed on the ground badly damaging my arm, shoulder, ribs and thigh. An x-ray the following day showed nothing broken, thank goodness, but I was now in a sling for a week or so and it took at least eight weeks before my arm and shoulder started to get back to some form of normality (hence the delay in typing up this review).
I’ve seen the CCTV footage and it wasn’t a disgruntled legal chatbot creator or someone else in LegalTech who I may have upset with my blogging. It was a clumsy, and probably drunk, guy squeezing through the crowd without looking where he was going or contemplating the damage he may cause.
Last year I gave some tips for Jimmy Vestbirk to make this 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. – Not followed unfortunately with instead an extra curtain reducing the area available to even stand in.
- Loud speakers at the back of the hall in the Second Stage where it was difficult to hear at times. – Not sure if this was done or not as I was at the front of this stage this time although the acoustics were poor even there.
- Ask Freshfields to bring more headphones next year for the silent legal tech talks. – I think silent disco type talks were abandoned this year.
- 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. – The Law Society lawn was moved elsewhere but I don’t think talks were taking place this year from there as they had done last year.
- A dedicated tea stall (with a range of teas) to compliment Climpson & Sons coffee stand. – Unfortunately not but tea was available to be purchased from the coffee stands. At an event like this coffee and tea should be freely available from help yourself stands with jugs of coffee and hot water.
- More water points. I only clocked one but there may have been more. – Looked like there were more this year.
- 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. – Again this appeared to be lacking on the official website and on the conference App. Indeed the start-ups seemed very sidelined by being moved upstairs. Was this whole event not originally about them?
I would add this year for next year, in addition to the comments above:-
- More people on the welcome desk at the start of the day to reduce the queueing.
- More food stands on the main floor like there was last year.
- More space if that is possible for people to manoeuvre at the after party or more security to keep an eye on congestion spots to avoid incidents like the one I was involved in!
As I said earlier I might return next year to concentrate on speaking with the start-ups rather than listening to the talks which (with one or two exceptions) are much of a muchness of what you find at the plethora of Legal Technology conferences that now exist. There are too many of these conferences and not really enough new content to feed them all.
Joanna Goodman in an article in The Gazette was of the view that: “This year’s Legal Geek conference revealed the extent to which legal innovation has shifted into the mainstream.”
Whereas Daniel Hoadley was of the view on Twitter that: “This year’s Legal Geek revealed the extent to which legal innovation has shifted into a state of being stultifyingly boring. It was like being stuck in a parallel dimension in which The Lawyer Magazine had assumed editorial control over the Argos catalogue.”
I’ll be diplomatic and say that there is maybe a middle way between these two viewpoints. Often these conferences are as much about the people you meet and the conversations you have than the content on the day.
Another, perhaps more illuminating viewpoint, came from Krishna Thiagarajan on Twitter and I think it is well worth reproducing his thread on the 2019 Legal Geek conference here:-
I got interested in #legaltech after reading “Tomorrow’s Lawyers” by Richard Susskind. In it, Susskind predicts what will happen to the legal industry over the next 20 years, but I wanted to know what people were working on *now*. Everyone I met said “Go to Legal Geek”.
So I went to Legal geek! I attended all 3 days, and these are some thoughts on Day 1 from an outsider’s perspective :). Also, I’m wrong frequently, so please feel free to call me out when you think I said something stupid 🙂 (go easy on the company list I was moving fast).
Day 1 seemed to run like a normal conference (the few I’ve been to), with speakers, demos and corporate booths happening everywhere. Instead of listening to the awesome lineup of speakers … I decided to talk to every company I possibly could lol:
One thing I noticed…. where were the B2C companies? Almost all the companies here were B2B SaaS companies. Is it simply that law firms / in house legal counsel have all the money, and the opportunities for scalable businesses don’t exist? What about LegalZoom and RocketLawyer?
Speaking of LegalZoom, where were the American companies? Companies like Atrium, Litify, and Legalist? Something the Euro companies frequently mentioned was that the differences between the international legal markets were nontrivial.
For one, American companies (at least according to Euro consensus), raise way more money. Another difference is that the legal infrastructure differed enough that some Euro companies were looking at Australia and Singapore for expansion instead.
Another difference is the regulations. In the UK, I think businesses can apply to be an alternative business structure (ABS), which allows non-law firms to offer legal services and also (I think) allows private equity firms to invest in alternative legal service providers (ALSPs).
I’m not entirely sure what the status is for the US here… I’ve heard around the block that Atrium has to do some funky accounting to get around the analogous restrictions in the US for legal service delivery, and it was only a few years ago that LegalZoom settled with the NC bar.
Diving deeper into the types of businesses there on day 1… there’s a plethora of companies that help lawyers automate, analyse, and manage documents and contracts. Where were the e-discovery companies I had heard so much about back in the states?
The explanations I heard were that 1. the problems solved by e-discovery were even more prevalent in the US, and more importantly 2. the e-discovery market in the EU is mostly saturated / figured out by now. Now in the EU, contract analysis and document automation are the FOTM.
On AI and legaltech: While many people consider AI to be snake oil for legaltech…. most “AI” companies that I talked to seemed to solve problems with straightforward ML-based solutions. Maybe I’m just gullible… and/or maybe all the bad cos were already filtered out already lol.
Whether it is NLP, a knowledge graph, or clustering, it’s pretty clear that these ML techniques (and others) will successfully be used by companies to massively improve the overall attorney workflow.
I find the initial downside for AI being that the best techniques are often statistical, and there are almost certainly parts of the lawyer workflow where either recall or precision (or both) have to be 100%. In those cases, the company has to package the tech s.t. it’s useful.
On companies like Atrium: From my brief conversations with people about Atrium, it’s pretty clear: lawyers tend to be pretty dismissive, but competitors of Atrium and anyone who knows what they’re doing respects them fully as a law firm with a unique strategy.
Atrium, Sprint Law, and Clara are all examples of the tech-law firm hybrid: law firm accompanied by adjacent “tech company” that builds tech for the lawyers. Lexoo and Baobab are examples of legal marketplaces, connecting lawyers to big and small clients
IMO, the above are similar in that they’re building Ops Tech. Whether the company is a law firm or an intermediary between the lawyer and his/her clients, they can start acting as PMs, slowly but surely taking over the work that the lawyers don’t want to do and don’t need to do.
In fact, since almost all the contract management / document analysis companies are just improving the lawyer workflow (yes even the ML ones), they too are Ops Tech. Predictive algorithms, however, don’t seem to have caught on, and I wonder why… maybe there’s not enough data?
The realization that a lot of “legal innovation” was basically just OpsTech was a bit deflating. Automating the lawyer workflow doesn’t seem exciting to me, but that’s where the biggest gains are because legal operations are apparently stuck in the 1920s.
What about innovation in the sense of rethinking legal service delivery? I simply don’t know enough yet. There’s codifying the law, litigation finance, rethinking dispute resolution, #a2j, things I’m forgetting, and the scariest of them all: the unknown unknowns!
So where does all this leave me? Well, over the next two days, I got to interact with lawyers in Legal Design and learn about #A2J in @wearelawforgood (I’m considering writing up notes about these days as well). This plus the lessons from Day 1 gave me a couple of action items:
1. I’ve got to go to more US events/conferences (I think I just missed Clio’s). I got a good flavor for legaltech in the UK, but the market in US is different!
2. I need to look more into #a2j… is it possible that the most impact to people’s lives will come from a2j nonprofits?
So, thoughts on conferences (heard of CodeX), companies/nonprofits, and books I should check out? Thoughts about what I’ve got to say about Day 1? I’d love any and all feedback here!
P.S. This was basically the first time I did something resembling “market research” and it was exhausting lol….so the amount of work and knowledge in just the first 2 chapters of “The Future of Professions” by Daniel Susskind and Richard Susskind is mind-boggling.
So there you have it: Legal Technology today is really all about “automating the lawyer workflow” and this is because “that’s where the biggest gains are because legal operations are apparently stuck in the 1920s.”
But automating the lawyer workflow and technology to do it is nothing new. It’s been around for a long time. Funnily enough I had a chat (Nick Rishwain thought we created a dissertation) on Twitter about this very topic a couple of nights ago. It went like this:-
I referenced the LawTech Futures Conference in 2013 which I reviewed on here as: The one with the neocortex.
At that conference it had been stated that the biggest challenge for law firms probably still is getting lawyers to use Legal IT. Or as Jeffrey Brandt tweeted at the time: “Not so much use it, but use more than 10% of it”. Although I think first and foremost proper implementation by Law Firms of Legal Technology remains the main issue then and today.
Alex G Smith tweeted: “We have an implementation and delivery problem. Not an ideas problem. We have enough good ideas in law already to last us the next 30 years.”
I replied: “And many have been around for about 30 years already but still not properly implemented!”
To which Alex responded: “Exactly … millions of money and so many hours to be saved implementing document automation for first drafts … the tech been with us for decades.”
I pointed out that the 2013 blog post revealed that “a presenter said there had been no real take up in document assembly technology… due to generational and non-intuitive reasons.”
Jeffrey Brandt said back then that it was “more base than that”. He reckoned that it came down to a lawyer’s attitude: “my work is superior and unsurpassable – my fellow lawyers produce nothing but crap. It’s huge in large firms. Bigger the firm, typically the bigger the problem”.
Mitch Kowalski said at the time: “True – and it’s a huge problem because many lawyers are in the profession for an ego boost”
I went on to point out that it was also suggested at that 2013 event that “we were not yet ready for document automation and that it will not provide a ROI in all cases”. Mark Smith tweeted at the time: “Document volume, complexity and business expectations shape ROI”.
Alex replied to me: “The ROI now is right down from expensive over-automation to simplified automation but agree the cultural barriers is still there … even Big4 and law companies are barely using document automation for even first drafts.”
Then I remembered: “Probably should have added #bringbackboring to that last tweet ;-)”
To which Alex replied: #implementationnotideas
And that is the hashtag we need to see at Legal Geek 2020 and any other Legal Technology conference in 2020 and beyond. The organisers need to get speakers who can tell stories of actual implementation and not just ideas.
Image Credits: Mission Impossible © Paramount Pictures; Data from Star Trek © ViacomCBS; and Noah Waisberg with axe © Nicola Shaver