Legal Geek 2017 – Lessons learned ?

The Legal Geek 2017 conference was held yesterday in London and I managed to get a ticket. Under the energetic leadership of its founder, Jimmy Vestbirk, it has become a proxy for innovation within the legal sector. As someone who has worked for over a decade with multiple law firms in innovation and service redesign I decided I should go. I’ll be honest, I was concerned that there would be too much focus on tech as a ‘silver bullet’ for solving all legal challenges. So I came with interest but also with some skepticism.

Right at the start of the day Jimmy shared the conference ethos – it was about making friends and learning. So what did I learn? After an exuberant and stimulating day, in the cold light of the morning after, I thought I’d share my ‘Top Ten’ learning points and what they say about the state of innovation in law firms.

  1. It’s a great conference. Refreshing and stimulating in its informal and hip approach and yet efficient in its use of space and creating lots of opportunities to network, see new startups and their propositions, hear from some large firms and their tech experience, and have some good food and coffee too!
  2. The UK legal regulatory landscape is supporting innovation in the legal sector in a way that is not happening in the US. That is good for UK-based businesses developing new legal solutions and ultimately good for ‘UK plc’ in growing its legal services internationally. The opportunity for growth is huge with the majority of people and businesses still unable to access legal services primarily due to cost. Mark Cohen of Legal Mosaic eloquently painted the picture of the legal paradigm of the past (but still present in many (most?) firms) and its inherent resistance to change – and why it was a great time to be a legal innovator.
  3. Change in the legal sector is being client driven and a point well made by Carl Chapman of Riverview Law was that the growth of in-house legal teams was a symptom of an inefficient & expensive legal supply chain. (In other business sectors such non-core services would be outsourced to suppliers). He emphasized the importance of an increased focus on managing and improving internal processes in law firms – a discipline that is typically weak or non-existent in law firms.
  4. There is no silver bullet. To be effective technology must be built on a platform of robust business processes and align with people needs and capabilities. It was good to hear Alex Smith, the Innovation Manager at Reed Smith, make this point. On-demand legal services provide a cost-effective alternative to automation – so there are options with variable cost v fixed cost investments.
  5. It’s not all about AI anymore. It’s about integration of products to provide solutions that better align with work and are easier to use by people with AI being one of these tools. The recent acquisition of the RAVN AI solution by iManage document automation is an example of this.
  6. There exist formidable barriers to change in law firms which technology advocates alone will not overcome. This is very much my experience where change has been driven by market challenges – particularly price – rather than IT-enabled capabilities. So transformation and change management are the key items needed on law firm agendas.
  7. It’s the large law firms exploring the new Legal Tech – especially AI. The magic circle and silver circle firms are the ones making the investment – this is primarily down to resources. Yes it is the mid-sized firms that are being most squeezed in the current market conditions and most need innovation. Bit of a paradox here….
  8. Radical new legal services have come from outside – whether it is Legal Zoom, Rocket Lawyer or Axiom. Sally Robertson from LegalZoom gave an excellent example of a business started 16 years ago to provide effective low-cost legal products via the web to individuals and SMEs with a strong focus on the customer experience and now serving 4 million customers. Chris DeConti at Axiom shared the firm’s development over its 17 years as a provider of legal services and lawyers to corporate in-house teams.
  9. R&D operations are being established with a number of large law firms establishing incubators and innovation labs such as A&O’s Fuse, CMS’s Equip and Mishcon’s MDR Lab. These are technology focused rather than product focused – something that will need to change as firms look more at digital services and more systematic services development and operation.
  10. Increasing legal automation has its risks. In particular we heard a salutary reminder from John Boles of Navigant of the risks of cyber attack. As law firms further apply their IT to automate and integrate their working methods and provide digital services, the impact of cyber attack becomes ever more severe. Indeed law firms will need to dramatically improve their information security capabilities over the next few years.

This is very much a summary – well worth a day’s investment for a change leader in a law firm as it is a good opportunity to sample new thinking in the legal sector. Apologies to anyone for anything I missed…

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