Tag Archives: Susskind

C’mon! Let’s innovate!

Wikivorce the UK online divorce community

Wikivorce the UK online divorce community

There is a perception that the pioneers of what Richard Susskind calls “disruptive legal technologies” are on a mission to do just that – disrupt.

I was recently talking at an event which was attended by Ian Rispin, the pioneer and tech ability behind www.wikivorce.co.uk, perhaps the leading independent online divorce community, together with the equally resource rich divorceonline.

I had the impression that there was no agenda to disrupt here at all.  He had simply come up with an idea and gone ahead and implemented it.  He was very modest about his creation and showed an affectionate, almost fatherly concern for the community it hosted and served.

I also had the feeling that he was not concerned about just how great a threat he and his website is perceived as being by conventional legal practices.  There was no lawyer bashing agenda here.

Lawyers; Do not take comfort in this fact. There are plenty of other lawyer bashers out there who long to see the profession taken down a peg or several hundred.  What is more we are currently seeing only the first wave of these “disruptive legal technologies” or communities and to guess what the second wave might look like would be crystal ball gazing.

I am sure we will continue to see more and more innovation.

To close, and to encourage any lawyers out there wringing their hands, fretting about Tesco Law, Web 2.0 and whatever else keeps you up at night, take notice of that last sentence.

“We will continue to see more and more innovation.”

Now, here’s the good news!  There is no monopoly on innovation.  The only reason those pioneers are pioneers is because they did something, they started something, they had the germ of an idea which they then nursed and cared for and it grew strong.  Anyone, yes, even a lawyer, even you, can innovate.

What’s stopping us?

Stop fretting. Stop trying to denounce the changes that are already very well advanced and join in.  Conservative longings for the times gone by aren’t going to help us. It was just that conservatism and perhaps complacency (“Oh they could never replace solicitors”) that probably got us where we are today.

Nor will it help to simply polarise the market into us and them, demonising and denigrating the online providers and their services.  There is room for dialogue, scope for inspiration and collaboration.  Remember, they don’t have the monopoly on innovation.

So c’mon! Let’s innovate.

Now,who’s with me?

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The President’s Inaugural Column

Robert Heslett, new president of the Law Society

Robert Heslett, new president of the Law Society

What happens when leadership says nothing to you about your life?

Last week’s Law Society Gazette features the first article from the new Law Society President, Robert Heslett.  If this is designed to be his rallying call at the start of his 1 year term in office then it is disappointing. 

It looks back and then inwards but never, that I can discern, out or forwards.

The theme of the new presidential year is…

“The Rule of Law” 

What is the rule of law?

“The rule of law is the touchstone of the solicitors’ profession. It is the bedrock and the foundation upon which a solicitor’s work stands. It is therefore right to return to the rule of law to dictate our guiding principles in a time of economic, regulatory, social and political change.”

I have just been speaking to a colleague in another firm and asked him about the rule of law.  Was that why he does what he does?  No it was not, nor is it for me.  How about you?

As I was on the bus into work this morning, I was trying once again to read Wikinomics and was struck by this;

“The net-generation is re-negotiating the definitions of copyright and intellectual property… They won’t let outmoded intellectual property laws stand in their way.” pg 52

I mused on how the net-generation is not so much negotiating change, as forcing change.  Set alongside this, our President’s suggestion that we should “Return to the  rule of law” feels out of time and place, harkening back to a time when power was vested in the affairs of lawyers and politicians.  We are a long way from that now, aren’t we? 

Some will ask if I am suggesting that we abandon law and permit anarchy.  That is clearly not my case and would be nothing more than an attempt to reduce the debate into polarised positions.  We need to be more responsive and help shape the newly democratised conversation.

Robert Heslett rightly identifies that there are challenges ahead for the profession, there are many, but then goes on to concentrate introspectively upon the question of profession regulation and the relationship “Between the Society and the LSB, the SRA and the OLC” 

The “protracted period of consultation” within our profession may well provide, ironically, a relatively safe haven for many to dwell within, constructed as it is with the familiar disciplines of negotiating, drafting and implementing the “Details and structures.”

My big concern is that as we concentrate on this introspection, that our leaders take our eye of the social economic changes that are taking place in the world, both online and realtime.

Nowhere does our President refer to technology, communication or commoditisation of legal services.

It may be correct that “The rule of law is also emblematic of the relationship between the citizen and the state.” although that feels rather esoteric to me.

It may be flattering to perceive that “For centuries, solicitors have been the principle guarantors of this relationship and of the efficient conduct of democracy.” although I am even less convinced of this assertion than the previous one. 

Either way I fear it is dangerously naive to believe that what might have been the case (if it ever was) will always be.

We need a different dialogue within the profession – this conservative opening gambit says nothing to me about my work or my clients’ concerns- and need any effective dialogue with the marketplace and our end users.

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“Yeah! That told you, Susskind!”

More conservative reaction in the Law Society Gazette letter pages this week.

The letter author wonders “Will we now see Professor Susskind eat a large slice of humble pie, presumably at the creditors’ meetings of those defunct practices?”

This is because two large conveyancing factories/organisations folded last week. According to the letter author they were the “Biggest examples of firms who followed …Susskind’s regular entreaties… to `commoditise’ legal work.”

Not quite the point is it?

1. Just because those models failed does not mean that legal practice can remain static.

2. Those ventures failed because of the downturn in the property market and economy generally and the massive reduction in bank interest rates, not because of lack of need for legal practices to adapt to technological advances.

3. Susskind does not suggest that legal services should be commoditised in any event. That is a frequently repeated shorthand reduction of the argument. There are no less than 3 levels of work between the conventional bespoke level and the far side of commoditisation.

What Susskind advocates, if I have understood the book correctly, and I think I have, is not that we rush to commoditisation at all. Instead, consider where we provide value to our clients, and where the intervening grades of service might enable us to provide those services in a fashion more in keepng with the markets changing demands and expectations.

At this time when we are celebrating Darwin’s life and writing, it seems to me that an analogous situation is seen in our own profession between those who embrace evolution – a word Susskind does use in place of commoditisation – of legal services and the legal profession’s equivalent of creationist thinking.

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“The End of Lawyers?” and the Power of Po

Susskinds Evolution of Legal Services

Susskind's Evolution of Legal Service

Much has already been written about Richard Susskind’s book “The End of Lawyers?” This article is not intended to serve as a review of the book, although for the record I found it to be well written, respectful if occasionally mischievous and cogently argued.

Instead, my purpose is to put “The End of Lawyers?” into the new emerging legal environment and to explore possible reactions to the book. I will be concluding that instead of seeing “End of Lawyers?” as heralding the end, it can, instead, enable us to move forward positively and creatively.

By way of recap, Susskind argues that the way in which legal services are currently provided is facing inevitable change. That change will be driven by an “Evolution of legal services” from the current conventionally Bespoke level, through to Commoditised services.

It is well worth keeping this whole spectrum in mind, as one response to Susskind’s argument has been to reduce it to a binary choice between fully bespoke service and a perception of remote, automated, online processes.

Susskind’s position is far more nuanced than that and it is within those distinctions that an of opportunities can be uncovered.

This is the first part of a serialisation of 6.  If you would prefer to receive the whole article now then please simply contact me @neildenny

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