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Saturday, 15 June 2013

Reinvent Law Conference London 2013

I was privileged to be able to speak at the Reinvent Law Conference in London on 14 June.  It was inspiring to hear so many contributors demonstrating their deep thinking about how legal services could be delivered in a way that is better for those who need legal support, regardless of whether this is in the best commercial interests of lawyers.

The assumption inherent in all the presentations was that technology is changing the game, so instead of trying to resist that and uphold protectionist practices, let us ask how we can use that technology to bring change for the better.  The questions were not just asked, but were answered with some fascinating insights into what is going on and what is coming next.

The format of the conference was unlike any other I have attended.  Most of the presentations were limited to between 6 and 10 minutes, which enabled a great variety of topics and kept the content sharp and to the point.  The range of approaches may be illustrated by two titles: "Reinvention is Doing, Not Talking" (Joshua Kubicki) and "Understanding the Law with Metaphors, Spread the Law with Images" (Olivia Zarcate).

I must also put on record the first time I have ever witnessed a presentation without words, when University of Westminster student Lah Leutrim Ahmeti treated us to his vision of "URLaw" by interpreting his slides through the medium of robotic dance!  I could sense a collective dropping of chins, but no doubt about the message that was being delivered.

The School of Law at the University of Westminster is going beyond the usual diet of black letter law, having introduced a new module, 2'1st Century Law Practice in the UK', which will meet the approval of final speaker Professor Richard Susskind.  Professor Susskind has argued for many years, most recently in 'Tomorrow's Lawyers', that legal educators have a duty to prepare aspiring lawyers to the world as it is now and is fast becoming rather than the practices that will soon die out.

Judging by the quality not only of many of the student presenters, but also their sharp and delightful contemporaries attending in support, the University should be proud of what it is achieving.

Presenters hailed from the USA, UK and France.  It struck me that the USA/UK split in particular is between a huge amount of research and knowledge in the former and the emergence of practical solutions in the latter (albeit nothing like as rapidly as it could be).  The fact that this is nothing more than a generalisation is proved by the amazing creation of Don Philbin, 'Picture It Settled', which predicts settlement parameters in negotiations with remarkable accuracy, the event showed just what could be done when marrying these two strands together.

Congratulations to Dan Katz and Renee Knake of the Reinvent Law Laboratory at Michigan State University for putting on such a stimulating event.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Lawyers need more money (apparently)

I was somewhat taken aback this week to read an article by John Grimley entitled "Why ReinventLaw needs reinventing".  In commenting on the ReinventLaw event to take place in London on Friday 14 June, the author was suggesting that whilst innovative use of technology is all very well, it's really not as important as business development and growing law firm revenue.  To quote:

"While I strongly believe in technological innovation in legal services – I believe it’s grossly overemphasized when one considers what law firms need most: Solutions focused on more effectively generating new law firm revenue."

A mild Twitter Spat (I feel an acronym coming on) followed, in which Mr Grimley maintained that what is needed most is revenue.  Quite apart from the fact that the principal purpose of the ReinventLaw conference is to explore how technology is bringing great change to the way law is and will be practised and is not therefore an appropriate forum to discuss business development any more than it is to muse over the latest trends in trust law, the argument spectacularly misses the point.  I am, however, grateful to Mr Grimley for demonstrating a substantial body of opinion (or at least hope) that the double, or triple, or bouncing or somersaulting cat recession will eventually go away and we can all get back to making lots of money again.

This wishful thinking does not stand up to much scrutiny.  Technological change has barely begun and we either embrace and work with what is happening or we subside into Canute-like irrelevance.  Come to ReinventLaw on Friday and hear how all around us those binary numbers are eating into what has been a lavish lunch for centuries.  Clients will increasingly be offered new, less labour-intensive, more responsive and intuitive and, sorry Mr G, far less expensive ways of handling their legal affairs.  In many instances, no human interaction will be required.

There might be short term gains to be had from milking the status quo, but those who change the way we work will be the ultimate winners, alongside the benefitting clients that is, for they are supposed to be the reason we as lawyers exist.