#LawTechCampLondon 2012 : where law confronted innovation


[This blogpost gives accounts as if the own words of the speakers involved. The author does not take responsibility for the accuracy of information contained therein.]

There is absolutely no doubt that yesterday’s unique event #LawTechCampLondon 2012, at Centrepoint here in London, was an incredible success. lawTechCamp was an open BarCamp-style community UnConference for new media and technology enthusiasts and legal professionals including bloggers, twitters, legal-technology lawyers, social networkers, and those curious about new media and the law. Anyone with an interest in technology, law, and innovation–especially in the wake of UK deregulation–will want to attend.  lawTechCamp was not just designed for lawyers; anyone who wished to Camp was accommodated in the end. It was also for students and the public, and indeed quite a few law students did attend. For example, students from the Michigan State Law – Westminster Law 21st Century Law Practice Summer Program were also in attendance.

You can read tweets from the #LawTechCampLondon stream here. These tweets also scrolled live on large screens at the front of the lecture theatre.

Main speakers

Ajaz Ahmed, Founder – Legal365

Ajaz argued that customers do not like lawyers. They don’t like the high prices, the lack of transparency, the location of the offices, the inconvenient opening hours, the poor service, amongst other issues. The implementation of the Legal Services Act is going to see welcome disruption.

It is now six months old. There have been hundreds of applications for ABSs, from sole practitioners. Sole practitioners have applied because they wish to share ownership with their spouses to save tax. There has been a complete lack of innovation apart from Riverview, but there has been a rebranding exercise with a concomitant denial of what customers want. Everyone knows what the problem is, but nobody has the guts to tackle it.

Seven Ideas, Six Minutes Each (Pecha Kucha Style)   

Ron Gruner, Chairman @ Sky Analytics, The Legal Client: Trials, Tribulations, and Future Expectation, @RonGruner

What about the impact of private equity? Private equity has only been interested in personal injury market, which comprises existing businesses which they can ‘touch and feel’. They need to understand that the business plan contains unproven assumptions, but that the business plan does not survive the first meeting with the customer. There is no accident therefore that there is no UK internet company doing well; innovation will come from outside of the industry. Customers are loyal right up to the second that somebody offers a better deal. As Clinton Cards or HMV have proved, you pay the price if you do not respond to the market.

Entrepreneurs have to ask, ‘if I were the customer, what would I want?’ You have to put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Market research is for insecure middle managers who have to justify their decisions. Henry Ford once said, ‘If I asked customers what they wanted, they’d want a faster horse-and-cart’. Nobody has delivered anything disruptive yet – the winners will be those who deliver law to the masses in a truly affordable manner, and they will be the winners.

Kevin Doolan, Partner @ Eversheds

Business law. It is great to see innovation. ‘The first thing we do, let’s kill a lll the lawyers’ (William Shakespeare). There has been an anti-lawyer. There has been an anticipatory schadenfreude; there is a feeling that lawyers have had it too good for too long. The propositions are that technology will replace lawyers; legal process outsourcing is the future; and the recession/alternative business structures will finish off. Sometimes you will need a bit of a shake. There is a piece of research saying that as there is increased certainty it is more likely that people will pay for completely incorrect predictions. It is difficult to be more uncertain. Clients wish lawyers to be ‘enabled’ not replaced – there is a phenomenon called ‘disaggregation’. In the relationship space, disruption innovation is training for compliance, for example FCPA/bribery (training online). The interesting thing is that many of us have more effective technology here than in the office. There is a lot of routine work being done by lawyers, but there are some great things in automation. If it can be done and systematised and done by a LPO, why can’t the lawyer be the LPO? In relationship work, the notion that ‘I will tell you how much this costs at the very end’ simply does not work. These have been tough times, but it has been a shock to realise that we have been in a very kind environment.  Training places up 11% in the UK.

Stephen Mayson, Professor of Strategy & Director, Legal Services Institute @ The College of Law

What is happening here and what does it mean? It is an exciting time to be in the market, but it does beg  a fundamental question: what are lawyers for? A lot of debate about the commercialisation has begun a discussion about how lawyers should behave like businesses. This is not the whole story, and the explanation can be found in s.1 Legal Services Act, “to protect and promote the public interest”. We do have to protect and promote the fabric of society, the rule of law, the effective administration of justice, and the legitimate participation of citizens within society. There might also be another function – improved access to justice. In fulfilling that role, they are not just another purveyor of providing legal services. We want to see an independent and strong legal profession (not ‘provider of legal services’), so parliament recognises the principle of ‘being professional’, and adhering to professional principles (to act in the best interest of the clients, and the other key principles.) Not enough citizens understand their legal rights but not their legal duties. Unless we get this right, we will not be able to fulfil our functions. This is what makes law different – however we have to protect consumer interest, and to promote competition. The consumer interest is not the same thing as public interest, and in fact the consumer interest should be subordinate to the public interest. The consumer have a right to quality, effectiveness, and value-for-money. It is a question about profession and business. What does this mean for new services? What will be driven by reform, technology, and social media – it is summarised as ‘a world of difference’, but doing things differently – new methods, new processes, new types of people. It also means doing different things, doing things online, doing things with different people (there is a latent market which is currently untapped). There is a much bigger market than the one which has been described. The other issue is to stop doing things we’ve done before because we’re not good at them, or not profitable. This new world gives us permission to innovate the business model, and this is necessary for survival. Look at the MPs, politicians – we need to keep our integrity. We need to focus and sharpen in business terms. There are seven guiding principles: strategise the difference and not the similarity (have that discipline which makes you stand out), resource for efficiency not lawyering (not unbundling but rebuilding), cost for value not time (if there happens to be a correlation it might be accidental), a model cannot be built on turnover,  govern for ethical integrity, strategic integrity and integrity in accommodation of risk, reward for contributions rather than just turning up, and, finally, training the people who will be active in the market in the future, rather than the market of the past.

Geoff Wild, Director of Governance & Law @ Kent County Council

What is a public sector doing at a conference on law and technology? Law has an ability to influence, and the rule of law and governance are powerful things, especially for people who do not have them. For us, we take them for granted, and deride them for being unresponsive. The principles are not wrong, but the processes inhibit change and innovation. Karl Marx once said, ‘All that is solid melts into air’. Nothing lasts forever, old ways go, new ways come. Why is it that people in the public sector find that concept so difficult to grasp? Some people tend to be white, middle class, with an average age of 68; what place is there for them in innovation? You cannot forget that there are people light years behind you. It is important to raise the profile of the legal profession. An ‘in-house private practice’ is based on great staff, happy clients, optimum efficiency, and financial freedom. This is evolution, bringing real money, bringing money for Kent Council, but we need to delawyerise and get lawyers off non-law work. We are still tied down by the old business model. We are now on point 3 of the ‘S curve’, but we are looking to reinvent our business, and there is every prospect of doing this. However, this is only possible through developing and maintaining value-adding relationships, through the creation of ‘Law Public’, a combination of public sector ethos with private sector skills including marketing producing an unique offering. There is, further, a possibility to produce a ‘legal hub model’, and we aim to be that provider. “The species that survive are those most adaptable to change”. Charles Darwin. We can adapt and implement change, and have fun in the process.

Seven Ideas, Six Minutes Each (Pecha Kucha Style)   

(1) Ron Gruner, Chairman @ Sky Analytics, The Legal Client: Trials, Tribulations, and Future Expectation, @RonGruner

Pick good metrics, put processes in place to get to those metrics. How much time does an attorney work overtime? If you’re spending too much money for example on conferences, you can drill down on that. Or you can step back and look at the book picture. However, you must not forget about value – many attorneys measure that you cannot measure the benefit or value; but we tend to disagree. Billing data, public sources, client satisfaction provide important sources of data. Change is coming, change is good – are you going to innovate or procrastinate?

(2) Mark Smith, Director of In-House Legal Markets @ Lexis-Nexis, Skinny Law Before Robot Law

You need to understand where the inconsistencies lie in ‘best practice’ of the way in which law works. Some lawyers will protest against this, and indeed specialist lawyers might argue that their work is too specialised. The way to get to the heart of this is to do ‘disaggregation’ to look at the underlying processes. No lawyer can afford to ignore a process that decreases cost, improves quality, and increases speed. What is more important to a lawyer – is it quality or risk? This gives you a feel for the risk. The way to understand this is through ‘process mapping’ which is not difficult – once you understand how the work is done, you need to collect data (who does the work? where do the errors come from? how long does it take? what really happens?) This will give you the ‘as is’ process, and this will give you an idea of where the magic is in future. This is a really good time to ask the questions about technology – can it reduce errors? facilitate retrieval? where are the errors coming from? Looking at legal process is not scary – think ‘skinny law’ before ‘robot law’.

(3) Michael Bossone, Founder of LawWithoutWalls, @lawwithoutwalls

What are we precisely afraid of? We are satisfied about being dinosaurs in a digital age? Technologies exist go into transforming what we do as lawyers. What we do we can do better, and this can provide a profound impact. We do things as they’ve always been done. Trying new technology is not easy – be prepared to be stupid, but this is a time for boldness. Push to the cloud – “what if we lose our data?”, we prefer our leather briefcase built on conservatism. “The cloud is not safe enough, trustworthy enough” – instead push for Skype, FaceTime, buy a webcam (it costs less than a Espresso). Time to ask your grand-daughter! Push for greater efficiency, new models, new structures, a new mindset, push for ‘law without laws’, law schools are “the broken amongst the broken”. “We come not to bring peace, we bring a sword”. “Ready to be able to fail, fail, fail, fail, and then succeed.”

(4) James Peters, Vice President of Legal, Attorney Services @ Legal Zoom, Nice Model, Now Leave: Potential Impact of Choice of Law in an ABS World

Change is happening all around. Germany are voicing their concerns in the IMF – but the ability of US firms to capitalise on what is happening here is a very big question mark. The US market is worth £270 billion. The state of the internet in 1994 was, “what is the internet? We’ve got law firms suing judges, and ethics opinions are changing. If you are practising in New York, you cannot partner with an ABS in the UK. The principle causes confusion. The question now is one of ‘principle practice’. If you are most practising in a New York jurisdiction, you’re OK.  ’North Carolina is to law firms what Delaware is for corporations’. There’s impact on domestic work, but don’t forget that law is an export state. This confusion has possible results, and there is a question of presence. Do you have to be licensed if you are practising mainly in other states?

(5) Joe Kelly, Consultant @ Tribune Company & Student MSU College of Law, Armchair Lawyering

The Tribune company ignored technology and innovation, causing issues. When newspapers said no, law should said yes. Law is heading right towards an iceberg. Why haven’t people tacked this?  ’Armchair lawyering’ is the first part of this system – such as through a company such as LegalZoom, which is very popular. Issue QR codes which are directly connected to legal forms – a lot of work done can be done without any time. The second step is ‘armchair interfacing’ – possibly through video chat or through textual chat. This is a great interface. Transcribing and logging can make things easier – so that the client and lawyer have details of what has happened – and it’s possible to look at this collection of data at any time.You can use this to predict data, and you can plan ahead road maps to everywhere. It’s a great venue for implementing change. However, you must consider law-client conflicts in this process. ‘With an innovative system, you can provide life rafts and steer the boat the other way.’

(6) Paul Maharg, Professor @ University of Northumbria Law, Regulation and LegalEdTech

Legal education is dull, lacks focus, is institution-focused, is an info-push, lack of social networking nous, and, finally, there is little linkage. Why regulate? This is surely an area where there is no need for regulation. Technology is critical for educational context. Looking at the history, we have a ‘gloss text’ using graphics, text layout, use of colour, etc. You could take this text as a form of aggregation, as a genealogy of knowledge. Technology can enable innovation, but it doesn’t always. There are a number of reasons why that is so. There should be communities of practice, thinking about ethics, collaborating, more. We should be seizing technology for transactional learning. We should be using the theory in adult education (e.g. CHAT and Engelstrom), producing tools for how one might use technology for simulations. A critical point is thinking how should we regulate? How not to do it is shown by ABA around the debates in s.301 ABA – the key word here is ‘delivery’. We should think about what we want – and this is a key issue for institutional open-ended resources, disciplinary OEM (e.g. ‘Humbox’). We can take ideas from other fields on shared spaces. A regulator should be a quality-enhancer not quality assessor.

7) Renee Newman KnakeCo-Founder, ReInvent Law, Assoc. Professor MSU College of Law,Technology and Untapped Markets in Law, @reneeknake

The unmet need for legal services is overwhelming – custody, wills. The ‘Rule of Law Index’ was published in 2011. The US was 11/12, and the UK did slightly better. Larry Lessig, at Harvard, said, ‘The law does not work for real people”. As an educator, we see amazing practice-ready graduates. The real problem is something very different – specialised work, mass production, reproducing, advertising and selling (after Karl N Llewyllin 1938). This is a delivery challenge [Renee Knake (Democratisation of legal services)]. We have seen this with online change with electronic documentation, making the law more accessible in physical places (you can see ‘The Lawyer’ thanks to Quality Solicitors in WHSmiths). There are new ways of connecting lawyers to pro bono work, but it is pointless if you do not have a customer or client who comes again-and-again to avail himself or herself of these new services. There are amazing things we can do with cloud computing (document automaton, virtual law, social media etc.), but are you innovating? Are you the Kodak or the Instagram of Legal Services? It’s the same product, but the difference is delivery. Kodak has not created a culture for the type of innovation. Michigan State University calls for an innovative lab culture.

Prof Susskind gave the keynote address.

Richard resumed his theme of ‘The End of Lawyers’ (see on his website here):

First published in November 2008, at a time of grave economic uncertainty, The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services predicts significant new pressures on the legal marketplace and, in turn, great change in the world of legal services. This book is the long awaited sequel to the Richard’s legal bestseller of 1996, The Future of Law. In that earlier work, he claimed that the law would be transformed by IT. The book generated enormous interest and influenced public policy-makers and top managers in law firms around the globe. Many of its predictions have already come to pass. In The End of Lawyers?, Richard sets a new challenge for all lawyers. He urges them to ask themselves what elements of their current workload could be undertaken more quickly, more cheaply, more efficiently, or to a higher quality using different and new methods of working. He argues that the market is unlikely to tolerate expensive lawyers for tasks that can be better discharged with support of modern systems and techniques. He claims that the legal profession will be driven by two forces in the coming decade: by a market pull towards the commoditisation of legal services, and by the pervasive development and uptake of new and disruptive legal technologies. The threat here for lawyers is clear – their jobs may well be eroded or even displaced. At the same time, for entrepreneurial lawyers, Susskind foresees quite different law jobs emerging which may be highly rewarding, even if very different from those of today.

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