LawTech is going through it’s teenage years.
There’s no doubting its energy and potential for change – but to reach adulthood, some things need to mature.
With the help of a panel of holistic thinkers from our network, we decided to have a look at where these changes could, and even should, occur. These are our findings:
The Hon. Mr Justice Birss is the Chancery Supervising Judge for the Midland, Wales and Western Circuits. He was called to the bar in 1990 and was appointed a QC in 2008. He is also an avid coder, having learnt to code as a teenager.
Elly May is a Legal Operations Paralegal at Wavelength.law and a University of Law graduate. She is a FOLG (Friend of Legal Geek) having helped develop the latest edition of the Legal Geek Start-Up Map.
Stephen Scanlan is the founder and CEO of time-recording software Jigsaw having previously founded proofreading software XRef in 2009 and built it into a £7 million business with co-founder Travis Leon.
Simon Gittens is a barrister who founded the legal services platform Absolute Barrister in 2012, where he is the CEO. He started his career as an out-and-out coder working for major financial institutions.
Brian Inkster is the founder of forward-thinking law practice Inksters Solicitors. As his legal practice has grown, the Law Awards of Scotland have recognised him as their Solicitor of the Year in 2006 and the Managing Partner of the Year in 2014.
Nigel Rea is the Service Development Director for Lawyers On Demand. He is a former head of strategic development at Olswang (now CMS) and Solutions Director at LexisNexis.
Today Trend a): LawTech has a communication gap
‘Law’ and ‘Tech’ is the legal equivalent of yin and yang – two potentially contrary worlds which are connected and interdependent.
Mr Justice Birss: “There is definitely a communication gap. One needs to read CP Snow’s lecture on ‘Two Cultures’. It is about the divide between arts and science in 1959. Snow outlined how there were two groups of very clever people, who were no less moral than each other, but they would effectively stare across their academic divide. They just didn’t understand each other.
“It’s a little bit like the situation we have now, with law on the one side and the tech world on the other. When you have two different cultures there can be an element of mis-trust. It’s a little bit about power and both think they are in charge.”
Tomorrow Trend a): Lawyers and technologists will bridge the gap
The ‘Tech’ and the ‘Law’ sides of LawTech need to learn to speak the other’s language.
Simon Gittins: “To use a car analogy: if you take your car to the garage and they say you need to do X, Y and Z, if you know a bit about cars you can hold them to account with what parts they’ll use, and what might constitute good value. This is the same with tech, for a company updating a Legal Operating System (LOS) they need to talk to the people who are building it. If they can’t effectively communicate with them then they aren’t going to get what they want. Or the product they want.”
Mr Justice Birss: “Traditional tech can come across as a move-fast and break things culture. Equally to technologists the lawyer’s world can seem staid, alien and old-fashioned. In order to make good decisions – you have to communicate with each other.”
As with teenagers, effective communication is all important in LawTech
Today Trend b) LawTech is now a ‘movement’
LawTech is a credible movement. But as with any growing ‘movement’ the potential for its influence to be exaggerated is always there.
Stephen Scanlan: “A lot of the focus around innovation is to present a law firm as innovative – and that has a business value. A lot of the innovation noise is a marketing function. Not to discredit that because marketing is very important to a business but it’s doesn’t change day-to-day practices.”
Brian Inkster: “This is something that annoys me when LegalTech start-ups come along with a new-fangled thing that they think is really great but in reality, something similar has been used by solicitors for the past 20 years. Legal technology is not something that’s brand new, it’s something which has become a bit more mainstream.”
Tomorrow Trend b) A re-focusing on actors delivering real change
In recent months we’ve seen #BringBackBoring emerge on social media in relation to LawTech. It’s a sign that people are tiring of LawTech’s ‘potential’ and are demanding actual change. That’s a good sign and will help the LawTech industry focus on fixing current pain points. But it’s equally important we don’t forget to get excited about LawTech. Excitement helps to spread the word about LawTech whilst positive conversations in the public sphere promote investment in start-ups.
Brain Inkster: “It’s important that LegalTech platforms coming to market know the wider industry and the rival technologies that are out there and have been for some time. Look at document automation. Lawyers have had document automation tools at their disposal via computer software for well over 20 years. Yet you see technology companies saying ‘we are inventing the best document automation tools’ without knowing that there are plenty of automation tools out on the market that have been tried and tested for many years.”
Stephen Scanlan: “The more industry events that are focused on this area will lead to more people in years to come rising to positions of power and turning round to say ‘the way we’ve been doing blacklining or time recording is crazy’ and demanding better ideas in these areas. We’re just on the cusp of seeing that happening, people who have the intuition for technology and innovation and are in a position of power.”
Today Trend c) Startups are the catalysts for change
Our own Start-Up Map has tripled in numbers during the past three years whilst the number of start-up applications to feature in the Start-Up Village at the 2018 Legal Geek Conference doubled from the previous year – as sure a sign as any of where the momentum is coming from in LawTech.
Elly May: ‘The start-up scene is making everything look slick and easy-to-see. That’s the standard now. However, my experience with the CMS used at a Local Government Legal Department wasn’t like this at all. We actually underwent a change in platform whilst I was there but no-one really used the new version as it is difficult to find the time and resources for comprehensive training – it was a rocky transition period.
“I would like to see a better technology offering for Councils because good systems and processes in place through up to date and intuitive technology can help reduce administrative tasks and large workloads – a necessity for Council Legal Departments due to years of budget cuts and squeezes on resources.”
Nigel Rea: “Junior lawyers, associates, junior partners all live tech-enabled lives. They aren’t tech-phobic at all. The challenge is that in a law firm the regulatory and security environment is a lot more rigorous, meaning that all of that great stuff you use to manage your life, suddenly becomes very hard to implement in that environment. But technology is starting to creep in thanks to the start-up scene. ”
Tomorrow Trend c) Big Law to rival start-ups in driving change
Stephen Scanlan: “Some firms have started to give innovation hours as credit to their billable hours. But it’s still a tiny fraction, 50-100 out of 2000 billable hours. And that should continue to increase which is great.
“Some of my best friends in innovation are just beginning to become partners in law firms and they have the attitude to affect meaningful change, plus they have the know-how for it. But these are big businesses, it’s going to take time.”
Mr Justice Birss: “Electronic filing using the CE File system is up and running in the Business and Property Courts in London. It means that documents can be uploaded and managed electronically.
“Instead of having to go down to the basement for a file – which was the case 3 years ago – you can now sit at your desk and access court files. The use of the CE File system is being extended for the Business and Property Courts in the other centres elsewhere in England and Wales.
“Whilst in the HMCTS Reform programme an awful lot of work is being done. The Online Civil Money Claims pilot helps litigants in person get access to justice. Whilst in family law, divorce petitions are online.
“These digital systems are only going to become more prolific.”