When we started the LawSync project, we were aware that it was as much about learning in areas new to us as it was about sharing our ideas about innovation in legal services. One way we hoped to learn was by making connections with experts- one of the best ways to learn about a new area is to build a network of people from whom you can learn. By putting our ideas out there via Twitter and the blog, we hoped to become part of the debates in legal services and legal education, and develop our understanding as people critiqued our comments.
Collaboration is a great way to learn- it exposes you to different ways of thinking and working, shaking up your ideas and practices. For law schools it seems increasingly likely that networking and collaboration is the way forward- Law Without Walls and ReInvent Law being examples of this principle in action. Staff and students benefit from sharing their knowledge and experience, and the chance to work with colleagues from other jurisdictions is very valuable as legal practice becomes globalised. As they attend classes, online or in person, staff and students will also begin building their own professional network.
Collaboration is also a great way to escape the ‘echo chamber’ effect of keeping discussions within professional and organisational boundaries.
A recent Special Libraries Association Twitter-talk took collaboration as its theme; it is evidently an idea of interest to librarians. Peter Griffith and Pete Smith will be presenting a paper to the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) 2013 conference, discussing their experiences of networking and collaboration in the context of LawSync. They’ll be thinking about some of the issues that have arisen- planning, process, and so on- as well as talking about the benefits of collaboration.
Presenting a paper- and attending conferences- is a well established form of networking, and we certainly hope to catch up with existing contacts and make new ones.
Online networking is the ‘new normal’ of collaboration, and not just for librarians. It’s interesting to note that the recent Riverview Law / DMH Stallard alliance started life on Twitter, but equally interesting to note Jon Busby’s point that this should be no more astonishing that they made contact by phone.
Having built a network, what do you do with it? Learning from it is one key use of a network but we hope to make use of the diverse expertise within it in a number of ways. In the immediate short term we are looking to work with some of them on a series of open access discussions on themes relevant to legal education and legal practice. These discussions would be ‘broadcast’ via Google+ and recorded.
Questions could be sent in during the broadcast- for example via Twitter- and some could be responded to immediately. Time could be given over to selected questions- questions could even be sent in ahead of time. The recordings would be available via YouTube, building an archive of discussions available as a teaching resource for students and practitioners.
To make it all work, we need speakers. We have some people interested; if you’d like to take part, contact us via Twitter @LawSync or comment on the post. Help us build our network, and yours.
The LawSync blog has been quiet of late. Where are we, and what are our plans?
The main issue we face is that we did not recruit sufficient students to run the module this year. Peter Griffith and Richard will be meeting with senior colleagues in May to discuss the future of LawSync.
We have been planning for this meeting and have concluded that while failure to recruit isn’t unusual – some modules have not run in their first year, or had years when they have not recruited after several successful years – we need to look at how we will market the module better next year. We will also look at how students perceive ‘law jobs’, how that affects their choice of work-based modules, and what we might do to broaden those perceptions.
As part of marketing our ideas – and thus the module – we would like to run a series of open discussions on topics of interest to law students, law teachers, and legal professionals. These would likely take the form of a Google+ or Blackboard Collaborate broadcast, with questions from the audience either ‘live’ or in response to questions posted in chat. The sessions could be recorded; this would allow for people to catch them at a time suited to them, with the chance to pose questions via e-mail, twitter, etc.
We are also looking at running an essay / innovation competition; this would both promote the module and give us an idea of how students understand the issues covered by LawSync.
Alongside the development / marketing of the LawSync module we are looking at how we can integrate the ideas our research has identified into the LLB degree as a whole.
We will write a LawSync response to the LETR report when it is published, and contribute to SHU discussions around its implications.
Pete Smith and Peter Griffith will be presenting a paper at the British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) conference in June, looking at how the different professions within LawSync have worked together.
In summary- we will continue our research and network building, looking to recruit students for the module whilst also contributing to broader discussions around the law degree at SHU and beyond.
If you would like to be involved with the proposed open discussions, the module, or any other aspect of LawSync’s work do please contact us.
Great news! The Department of Law, Criminology and Community Justice has approved LawSync as a module. It will run as a pilot for level 6 (third year) students from September.
The team are now working on the details of the module, particularly the content of the sessions and the assessment of the work.
We welcome any ideas and suggestions, and are particularly looking for people to take part! The module will feature weekly forums, in which students will discuss various topics, and we hope that people from all parts of the law world will take part. Drop us a line if you are interested- comment here, tweet us @LawSync or e-mail one of the team.
The full provisions of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012- ‘LASPO’- will kick in from April; to be watched with interest as to how it effects certain groups and whether the courts will see a rise in litigants in person, and if anyone emerges to serve this group.
What do you think will be important / interesting / horrifiying developments for the year ahead? Will it be a technology breakthrough from the world of big and linked data? A truly new type of law firm? A new rebel Law Society?
At the recent Legal Futures conference (London, November 19th 2012) Daniel Katz, Assistant Professor of Law at Michigan University suggested that there is something of a renaissance going on in AI (Artificial Intelligence) and Law. Professor Katz gave a really entertaining talk where he explained about Quantitative Legal Prediction. Essentially this is where very large data sets are interrogated from which computer software appears to learn and can thereafter predict outcomes. Two obvious application areas for this technology would appear to be E-discovery and analysis / prediction of judicial decision making. The rationale for this technology was said to be that human experts, although very good at pattern recognition, simply cannot absorb and traverse the huge amount of data which is now becoming increasingly available to all thanks to the internet. There is much more information available at Professor Katz’s Computational Legal Studies Website. Read more
Our LawSync colleague Stephen Allen has spoken of a legal services industry, of which the legal professions are part. In a recent Law Society Gazette story, one commentator stated they are a member of a profession and implicitly criticised the idea of a “legal industry.”
I don’t think we have to choose. I think we can usefully distinguish between a profession- in this case the legal profession- and areas where members of that profession work, in this case a ‘legal industry.’
To begin with we must consider the nature of the profession.
Whilst there are many areas of practice, and two ‘headline’ types of lawyer- barristers and solicitors- they are all joined by the notion of practicing law. A lawyer is one who holds out expertise in law – knowledge of what the law is, understanding of how the law works, and experience in the various forms and theatres of the law. In the case of barristers and solicitors, this claim is backed by the validation of organised professional bodies- the Law Society and the Bar- as well as a long history and tradition of legal service. More recent members of the lawyer group- legal executives, licenced conveyancers- also lay claim to specialist knowledge and skill backed by the validation of an organised body, marked by qualifications.
The law degree, and related education forms such as CILEX exams, is a key part of the validation of the profession’s knowledge and skill claims. An agreed body of knowledge has been developed over time, with its current expression being the statement of the Joint Academic Stage Board. This body, bringing together representatives of the professional and regulatory bodies for solicitors and barristers, lays out the content for law degrees and ‘conversion courses.’ This can be taken as laying out the agreed knowledge base for these professions- it expresses what the professions expect an entrant to know before they move on to the ‘vocational’ stage of their education.
The profession also has a regulated set of activities- activities which can only be undertaken by those within defined groups; it is this set of activities, as much as the knowledge base, that has defined the legal profession, particularly solicitors and barristers.
Beyond the knowledge claims there is also the issue of ethics, and it is in this area that some in the legal profession have voiced concerns over the legal profession being ‘turned into’ a commercial / industry entity. The legal profession is seen to be defined in part- a big part- by its adherence to an ethic based on public service and independence; this is contrasted, particularly in discussions of Alternative Business Structures, with the profit orientation of investors and (implicitly) non-lawyers in general.
The legal industry
We then need to understand what we might mean by ‘legal industry.’ Many electrons have been spilled on the idea of ‘legal services’ and ‘consumers’ as opposed to ‘law’ and ‘clients.’ Underlying all that angst is a concern that an ‘industry’ cannot include the values of legal professionalism – that outside investments would have a particularly corrosive effect on legal professionals
I do not subscribe to this view. Is there a need for careful management of external investment? Yes. The regulatory regime has to become much more robust than that latterly seen in financial services.
That said, professionals should be able to work in many environments, bringing their professionalism to these environments. Whilst there is nothing unique to legal professionals in terms of their ethical and service commitments, there is value in professions- they provide a strong base for such commitment and a place for such concerns to be articulated.
There is no inevitable tension between the existence of a strong legal profession and the workings of a diverse legal ‘industry’; indeed, a strong legal industry needs a strong profession.
As I’ve mentioned a few times, I’ve started work on an LLM by Research project here at SHU. My LawSync colleague Richard is one of the supervisors, and the thesis will develop some of the themes of the LawSync initiative.
The research question, right now, is “how can law schools adapt to current changes in legal services and education regulation and practice.” It will look at the context which law schools work in, the range of approaches they take to teaching law, the various responses to change… and perhaps make some recommendations.
I’ve started a new blog to record my progress and act as a place to explore ideas; http://petesllm.wordpress.com See some of you there!
I noticed a story recently in The Guardian about Burberry creating a new store based on the experience its customers had with its online retail operations. In that piece, Christopher Bailey, Burberry’s Chief creative officer is quoted as saying:
Most of us are very digital in our daily lives now. Burberry is a young team and this is instinctive to us. To the younger generation who are coming into adulthood now, this is all they know.
Based on that premise, Burberry is becoming ever more digital. Thinking about the consumer or retail purchase of legal services (as opposed to the purchase of legal services by large corporations), what would it take for these services to become more digital? Following the Burberry approach, let’s first consider the truly digital and then the conversion of bricks and mortar into an experience which is more digital-like.
The Digital Experience
Arguably, the focus should not be on technology per se, not least because any particular technology is likely to be superseded before too long. Besides, I don’t think the concept of digital service delivery is, in its widest sense, necessarily wedded to technology. Clearly, understanding how mainstream digital technology is used provides insight about what might be expected of digitised service delivery (see below), but the whole point of the Burberry digital store is to provide consumers with the same variety of choice, speed and convenience that we have all started to expect when making purchases online. It is all about the consumer experience, not the supporting technology.
According to Comscore during July 2012, 4 out of 5 smartphone users in the U.S.A accessed retail content via their device. It is fair to expect something similar in the U.K while also noting that smartphones now account for over 50% of the UK phone market and that it is estimated that about 85% of the devices are always on. How might these trends, and, more importantly, the accompanying end-user mind-set, translate into legal service delivery for consumers? What factors will make legal services relevant and accessible in digital markets?
The following are good starting points:
‘Always on’ – that’s 24/7. People do things digitally all the time. Hence the potential need for legal advice at any time – at a time which suits the consumers, not the suppliers.
Rapid response and advice in context – Right now it’s possible to use smartphone applications for the purpose of reporting road traffic accidents; the user takes photographs of the accident scene, makes notes and sends all this off to either a specific law firm or legal portal site for review. Interesting developments, but still reflective of legal services being a stress purchase. What if a consumer wants to do something positive, such as purchase a car and take a financial product to pay for it? Wouldn’t it be great if consumers could just tap their phone and receive contextualised advice (not reams of standard stuff about consumer credit) about their proposed transaction? Even better, how about being able to put a video call through to a lawyer for a face-to-face discussion?
Accessibility to expertise – in a digitised model, users want specific advice in response to a specific query; discussions with a generalist who may need some time for research won’t suffice.
Digital consumers are unlikely to be interested in:
Hourly charge out rates – any fees should be proportionate and fixed. Or perhaps increasingly fees will be covered in advance by payment of a monthly retainer or before-the-event insurance premiums?
The location of a legal services provider’s office – it can be anywhere, so long as the advice received is legally correct, relevant and contextualised.
Converting the bricks and mortar experience
Burberry aims to replicate the online experience of its customers in a real store. How might a law firm go about doing the same?
Arguably, some small but innovative law firms in the U.S.A have led the way here. They have not sought to ‘replicate digital’ as such, but they do seek to deliver services which are focused, valued and priced accordingly. They enhance the consumer experience. Clients are asked to send all relevant information about their issue (eg considering a divorce) to the law firm ahead of an initial visit. This is because the initial visit is designed to be a legal assessment with recommendations for action. The client is charged a non-refundable fixed fee for the assessment and leaves with: specific legal advice about their situation, fixed price quotes for taking various courses of action (as advised), a digital recording of the meeting with the lawyer and some hard copy material about some practical aspects of preparing for a divorce. Neither the client’s nor the lawyer’s time has been wasted during the assessment session (you can find out more by listening to a podcast here).
It seems to me this is a good example of a digitized approach to service delivery, where the focus is on consumer need and an improved purchasing experience. Increasingly, we are all used to multi-tasking as we want to maximise what we can do with our time; the ultimate sin, it now often seems, is wasting time. In the Burberry story Christopher Bailey points out it is “not about technology, but about customers not feeling bored.” He is also quoted as saying that:
The world is moving so fast. There is absolutely no room for laziness or for resting on your laurels.
Perhaps legal service providers, as well as Burberry’s direct competitors, should take note and strive to become more digital in their approach to service delivery?
Many a cartoon strip has featured lawyers with their snouts feeding greedily at the trough.
Both pigs and lawyers get a bad press, perhaps unfairly so.
Pigs are neither the dirty creatures of lazy cliché nor the treacherous creatures depicted by Orwell.
Lawyers, in the most part, are equally unjustly portrayed. Most are honest professionals seeking to support their clients, often during fraught periods. Perhaps like King Lear, most lawyers are “…more sinned against than sinning”. More Finch, than Vholes.
However, two stories this week have caused me to examine similar challenges facing the porcine and legal worlds.
The “full English breakfast” is under threat. An article published on the National Farmers Union website warns that next year may see an international shortage of bacon and pork, as farmers across the world are forced to sell-off herds because they can no longer afford the cost of feed.
Following a year of poor harvests, the cost of pig feed has spiralled. Price competition on the High Street and retailer power means (according to a report on BBC Radio 5, 19 Sept 2012) that pig farmers are losing around £16, per beast. The cost of production now exceeds the price achievable for the finished product.
Under current market conditions, farmers can no longer afford to rear pigs.
Salary costs, commercial rent, insurance costs are all on the increase.
The now constant downward pressure on fees, by clients, could mean that, like pigs, legal work could be an area some can no longer afford to do.
Raising the ceiling
The National Pig Association has called for high street prices to be increased, temporarily, and that this be passed down the chain to the beleaguered farmer until the price of feed stabilises. A short-term investment by the consumer to maintain the source of supply, in effect.
Why this? Livestock is a medium term investment; it is dependent not just on market conditions but also on the natural environment. A bad harvest, too much or too little rain – and the knock-on-effect can be huge. However, the impact is temporary. Future improved harvests will manifest in a rebasing of input cost.
Also, the idea of re-engineering pigs (or any food stuff, for that matter) remains controversial and, as yet, undesirable for many consumers.
And when trends aren’t temporary
Lawyers are, of course, feeling the effects of the current market conditions. The world-wide recession and the subsequent drop-off in corporate activity has, of course, impacted the demand for lawyers’ services.
Like the farmer, consumer pressure will continue to keep prices low. Increased competition and new market entrants, coupled with legal being the last ‘unchallenged’ area of corporate expenditure to come under the CFO spotlight means that price hikes seen pre 2008 are a thing of the past.
Unlike the farmer, however, input costs are not subject to fluctuation. In the current model of production, the majority of the costs are people and property. Long term, these will continue to increase.
Therefore, the model of production has to change.
The way in which law firms service clients has to change to using fewer people and less property. Better use of technology and more efficient ways of working must also be sought to match long-term market expectations.
Unlike the pig, a contract put together by machine operated by master (lawyer) architects is not something that will put off consumers.
(The ideas in this post relate to LawSync in that the module aims to make students aware of market realities, and also that we aim to help students and lawyers deal with said realities).
The LawSync teaching module is due to be launched September 2013. The teaching module is one component of the LawSync initiative, the others being ‘research and development’ and ‘consultancy’.
A key ambition of the LawSync teaching module is to enable law students to become more commercially aware and begin to acquire the knowledge, skills and competencies that will make our graduates relevant to the social, economic, commercial and professional context into which they will be graduating. We aspire to place our students firmly on the path to becoming ‘industry savvy’ – their relevance in this sense will be clearly identifiable to this industry. However, as I have recently expressed on Twitter (during an exchange with @legaltwo and @StepAll), the extent to which we can realise this ambition will depend on the level of engagement LawSync has with – and thus the extent to which we are informed by – the various stakeholders that make up the legal industry. By ‘legal industry’, I mean all those engaged in delivering, and helping to deliver, legal advice.
We believe that a great deal needs to change within the law degree as it is currently formulated. LawSync aims to be part of, and to help drive, that change. But the value to be gained from initiatives such as LawSync (which aim to make their graduates “future ready”) will be sadly limited if the legal industry does not help shape what the future will become.
LawSync is now at the early stages of building a collaborative network with a view to bringing together a range of stakeholders and “whole market’ perspectives from around the world. It is hoped that this network will inform all components of the LawSync initiative, including its teaching module. The level of contribution will vary from contributor to contributor based on the amount of time they can allocate, but one thing is for sure, each contribution will add value.
Whilst I anticipate that this network will largely consist of stakeholders and perspectives from within the legal industry, recent discussions with Project Management and Lean Six Sigma specialists have served to remind me as to the added value of perspectives and lessons learned from other industries. I would therefore be very grateful if readers could circulate this post throughout their networks and thus give our invitation the widest possible reach.
LawSync has enjoyed valuable collaboration from the outset – having input from a range of support staff at the University and in particular Pete Smith (a librarian). I confess, this is more good fortune than any planning on my part – essentially Pete’s dedication to the students, a demonstrable concern for change, enthusiasm for the LawSync concept and consequently a determination to be involved. But the value is clear. Collaboration with a librarian (as well as other staff outside of the Department) has greatly enriched LawSync’s contribution to date. In recent weeks, the LawSync team have been in Google+ hangouts with Stephen Allen (@StepAll - soon to be heading up a new offering by PwC), Mitch Kowalski (@MEKowalski - Canadian Lawyer and author on innovation in legal services) and Antony Smith (@AntonySmith_LPM - specialist in Legal Project Management). These colleagues have contributed additional perspectives from the legal industry to the LawSync initiative. With their help, we have drafted a LawSync elevator pitch that is included at the end of this post and of which we would welcome any comments/suggestions for improvements. The plan is to incorporate it within a refresh of the LawSync web pages. Stephen, Mitch and Antony have kindly agreed to be part of the LawSync initiative. By so doing, they have not only doubled our capacity in terms of bodies to do stuff but have more than doubled our capacity in expertise. It is no longer three blokes from Sheffield Hallam University (SHU) making it up as they go along – you will be relieved to hear! Our blog will be benefiting from their wisdom in due course.
The limited demographics of the current LawSync team is something which I trust this call will address. I hope that this post encourages contact from anyone interested in helping to shape what ‘future ready’ means for law graduates. I’ve recently suggested to the team that we hold live Google+ hangouts on a periodic basis (of approximately 10-20 minutes in length) with various panels of speakers discussing key issues and latest developments in different legal markets. For this to work well we will need willing participants in and out of the UK for the panels. Any takers?
I should stress that my reference to the legal industry does not exclude related academia (legal and non-legal academics). On the contrary, as I see it they (we) are equal players in this industry. The LawSync team hopes that other academics will get involved too, whether as individuals or groups. It would be a shame if this does not occur if only because of the missed opportunity for the students (yours and ours); an opportunity not only to benefit from additional academic input but for students to collaborate with their peers and build their own networks. We will soon be exploring how our law students can tap into SHU’s Venture Matrix which is essentially a barter system for students to exchange skills and services. Could this system not be replicated on a much greater scale to support an expanded LawSync initiative?
We have lots of ideas, some no doubt will transpire to be better than others but we are willing to run with them all as well any others that may be suggested to us. Further information as to the background of LawSync is available in our recently published article in Legal Information Management (Volume 12, Issue 3). One of the team will post separately as to where we are in the development of the teaching module outlining the topics that we have identified for possible inclusion. It is just a start. There will no doubt be omissions that we ought to consider. If you spot such an omission then you are also identifying an added value that you could bring not only to the teaching module but the initiative as a whole. Our draft elevator pitch follows:
LawSync – (draft) Elevator pitch
- created and driven by Sheffield Hallam University (SHU), LawSync is a collaborative venture involving legal academics, innovators, practitioners and students.
- it exists to identify and anticipate trends and issues arising from the evolving legal services market.
- LawSync seeks to understand, chart, and enable innovation in legal services.
- LawSync is non partisan and aims to help all those involved in the legal services industry through developing and promoting new techniques for legal service delivery.
LawSync promotes innovation and innovative thinking as key elements of legal education and legal services. It will achieve this through an undergraduate teaching module and a collaborative network that brings together a range of stakeholders and “whole market’ perspectives from around the world.
The LawSync teaching module asks students to respond to challenges in the provision of legal services resulting from a mix of regulatory, technological and consumer driven changes. As well as studying legal service markets, with a particular focus on recent developments and the trajectory of future change, students are afforded the opportunity to be innovators themselves and to reflect carefully on the growing range of opportunities that legal study offers them.
LawSync’s collaborative network provides a range of training, consultancy and CPD products to a profession that is currently undergoing profound changes.
Legal education is one of the areas that LawSync has taken an interest in, with the LETR providing the spur. With this in mind, I have embarked on an LLM which focuses on law school responses to the issues raised by the LETR, and what they might do to thrive in the new world many commentators describe.
I officially started my LLM on 1st August. I have my first meeting with the course leader on Friday; we’ll talk over my question, methodology, reading etc. Read more
According to The Telegraph, earlier this week Lord Sumption repeated the view that it’s better for would-be lawyers to do a non-law degree followed by the Graduate Diploma in Law (GDL), rather than a qualifying law degree such as a Bachelor of Laws (LLB). This is a common argument at the moment. David Allen Green suggested in February that an LLB “may well be the last degree one should do if the ambition is to be a practising lawyer.” (http://www.thelawyer.com/the-pointlessness-of-a-law-degree/1011447.article) and Twitter is full of people agreeing with Sumption. Read more