Law Tech Camp London 2012

by Pete Smith.

It is difficult to summarise such a wide ranging event, and others have produced excellent guides to what happened see, for example:

http://legal-aware.org/2012/06/lawtechcamplondon-2012-where-law-confronted-innovation/

http://legalinformatics.wordpress.com/2012/06/30/resources-about-lawtechcamp-london-2012/

That said… here are some of my reflections. And they are mine, they do not represent an ‘official’ LawSync position.

I have not covered every session I was at.

The event was certainly interesting, varied, and at times challenging.

Do people really hate lawyers, as Ajaz Ahmed said? Allowing for presentational hyperbole, perhaps he was saying that people dislike the situations that lead them to ‘the law,’ and the way (some) lawyers handle them.

Is empathy a ‘skill?’ Is it just another way of saying ‘my idea is great, people must want it’? Certainly it can help to have confidence in your ideas, and your experience of life as a guide to what might work- but I think there is still a role for asking people what they want / need. Perhaps better questions are what is called for?

Kevin Doolan may be right in his assertion that things don’t look too bad for Eversheds, but I think Richard Susskind was right in being a bit more sanguine about the prospects for law firms. He did make an interesting point on one aspect of lawyerly woes- price- calling for customers to be flexible when negotiating around price.

Stephen Mayson of the Legal Services Institute is always good value for money. He made the point that lawyers have a role in promoting access to justice, the rule of law, and the public interest. To him, this separates the legal profession from ‘other purveyors of legal services.’ For Mayson, at all times, the public interest must come before the consumer interest.

He hinted at a role for public legal education, with people needing to be aware both of their rights and their duties; I agree in this, and think it’s a role which lawyers already take on but more could be done.

Mayson mentioned the ‘latent market’ for legal services, as Susskind did later in his address. How can lawyers tap into this, he asked; a particular issue is people’s lack of knowledge of legal issues and remedies, and their fear of legal processes.

Mayson sees a ‘desperate need  to innovate the business model’ in law, whilst retaining the ethics and integrity of a profession. He ended his talk with a series of propositions:-

  • strategise for difference
  • resource for effectiveness and efficiency, not lawyering
  • price for value
  • manage for profit and cash
  • govern for long-term integrity over short-term partner needs
  • reward for contribution
  • train for the market of the future

 

Michael Bossone- THAT video- questioned the specialness of lawyers. Maybe lawyers are not special, but perhaps- in Mayson’s sense- the law is? Bossone’s underlying message- try, be not afraid- is sound, as long as it is informed by appreciation of what people coming to the law need.

James Peters of Legal Zoom, and Joe Kelley- MSU student- both noted the resistance to liberalisation in the US legal market, and the limits that imposes on certain forms of legal business- it will be interesting to see how the ABA works this out, especially given the English Bar’s concerns over the continuing impact of the regulatory measures introduced by the Legal Services Act 2007.

Renee Knake brought up the Instagram / Kodak comparison, calling for an ‘Instagram’ culture in law- one of innovation, openness to change, risk. She also seemed to argue that the problem with people’s experience of law- and the latent market represented by people who ‘fear’ the law- is the creation of the legal profession rather than the law itself.

Those of you who have read Richard Susskind’s books and newspaper columns will be familiar with the core of his keynote address- commoditisation, increased use of increasingly powerful technology, cost cutting, competition… He sees the Legal Services Act 2007 as a catalyst for innovation, with 2017 the likely date for the truly disruptive legal businesses to emerge. He also sees new categories of legal work(er) emerging- legal systems engineer, legal project manager, etc. And to make all this work, the law degree needs to be updated, with space being made in the curriculum for  new areas, such as coding, project management, etc.

Michelle DeStefano, from Law Without Walls @ University of Miami, made an impassioned plea for broadening out the practice of law- ‘exaptation’- bringing in ideas from other disciplines and professions; this is an idea I fully agree with. Collaboration with others plus use of technology leads to innovation- or at least supports a culture that makes innovation more likely.

Dan Katz argued for a ‘data driven law practice,’ analogous to evidence based medicine. Students- and faculty- will need to embrace technology and quantitative methods; what is more likely, I think, is that some will do so so that others do not.

One ear catching idea was that of a ‘legal genome project’ to exploit a ‘science of similarity’- a fully quants approach to the law. Exciting- yes. Do I have concerns- yes.

Jon Busby provided an interesting counterpoint. He said ‘we’ need to communicate innovation better; not to assume so much. There needs to be a safe space in which people can explore innovation and thus encounter change in a way which works for them. He also places value on face-to-face communication, even in this age of Skype and Face Time.

Conclusions? To innovate is important, but it does need to be seen against the needs of users- none of whom were heard from directly, and seldom seem to be at these kind of events. Technology is an answer, and innovation is not technology. What will determine innovation’s distinction from mere novelty is utility.

Oh, and true disruption in the law is political.