Goodbye London, Hello Dublin…

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014 at 18:09


From September 2014 I’m taking up a new position at the UCD Sutherland School of Law as the McCann FitzGerald Professor of International Law and Business. I’ve been an external examiner at UCD for the past three years and have got to know and like the people there.

The position is everything I could imagine focussing on globalization, lawyers, law firms, international business, all with a sociological twist. I will be running a joint MSc in international law and business with the UCD School of Business. UCD will be joining Law Without Walls as well this year.

And, of course, Ireland is about to introduce its new legal services regulatory structure which I can’t miss. (For more on this see Maeve Hosier’s new book, The Regulation of the Legal Profession in Ireland, Quid Pro Books).

UCD has opened a new law building this year which is beautiful and is one of the best I’ve seen.

 

 

It reminds me of my home in London with its open spaces and great use of glass. It’s a convivial space.

 

 

I won’t be severing all my ties with London (pace Dr Johnson). University College London has made me an Honorary Professor of Law. And I shall be a Visiting Professor of Law and Sociology at the University of Westminster. I will also continue to be a member of the Research Strategy Group at the Legal Services Board.

In a way, it’s a return to my roots.

PS. The gym at UCD has kettlebells!

Are Machines Ethical? at ILEC VI in London

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014 at 09:00


I gave my paper on “Are Machines Ethical?” which was based on this slide. It’s a work in development which will ultimately result in a paper.

Paul Maharg of Australian National University blogged on the session that included my paper. He’s taken the topic in an interesting direction, even to the extent of quoting from his friend’s, Peter McCarey, poem. I’ll let you read it at his post here.

 

Out of the Recession — But not out of the Woods

Monday, June 2nd, 2014 at 14:58

(thanks to cepro.com)

Today’s post is a guest post by Catherine Gannon, managing partner at the niche law firm of Gannons. I met Catherine after writing my post on micro-law. Her firm is a good example of what I meant.

——————————————

With the UK economy now recovering, can law firms expect to see a return to the pre-2008 good times, when the money rolled in and all that firms felt they needed to do to succeed was recruit more highly paid lawyers, upon the assumption that the work would follow?  In short, no.

The legal services market has changed out of all recognition into a much harder, more competitive environment.

There are three main reasons for this:

1.The economic slowdown itself;
2.More demanding, better informed clients; and
3.Commoditisation of legal services.

The economic slowdown necessarily saw a reduction in demand for legal services, with clients becoming much more price sensitive. Accordingly, firms have gone bust, merged and/or made redundancies, having to cut out the “fat middle” of expensively paid fee earners, who could do the work but not bring in the business.

Even with an upturn in demand things aren’t going to go back to where they were before. Corporate clients’ procurement procedures are much more developed and aggressive and are going to remain that way. Lawyers are regarded as far from elite and are seen as an expensive overhead if they cannot demonstrate real value.

In the round, in respect of both corporate and individual clients, new technology means that the market is much more transparent and information that lawyers could otherwise charge for is much more easily available. Clients are in a stronger negotiation position and have higher expectations as to what their money should buy them.

However, perhaps the biggest factor that has increased competition and driven down prices and will continue to do so is the deregulation of the legal services sector (as driven by the Legal Service Act 2007) and commoditisation of legal services.

Law firms are being exposed to competition from commercial business, that treat legal services as a product like any other. Any high volume process driven services can be provided by relatively unskilled labour, wherever its cheapest to hire it, and technology is making it increasingly straightforward  to provide standardized (low cost) legal products into parts of the legal sector, including the corporate and commercial market, which had perhaps until recently been considered by practitioners as being immune from “Tesco Law”.

How to survive (and prosper)?

Lawyers have to adopt a different approach to how they work, shaking off the conservatism of the past and adopting a more entrepreneurial attitude focused on meeting clients expectation.

Smaller firms that can’t compete on volume/cost need to provide a niche service and all lawyers have to provide a “value added” service. The traditional role of providing neutral advice on the law has to give way to lawyers acting more as problem solving consultants, with better and broader commercial knowledge and understanding of the world their clients operate in. Academic excellence has to be combined with a genuine business focus which is an area lawyers struggle with as their background and training typically lends itself to detailed analysis rather than the “quick and dirty” approach often taken in business. Lawyers on a personal level feel more comfortable if they have advised on all bases but these days the clients are not prepared to pay for lawyers to feel comfortable.

Lawyers have to be excellent communicators, being able to provide their services through a full range of media, whenever and wherever the client needs it, taking full advantage of social media to both develop business and maintain client contact. Clients expect to be relieved of their problems and kept fully kept informed. Additional expense can only be justified by excellent service quality on demand to suit the client rather than to suit the solicitor.  

In many ways lawyers are now operating like hairdressers in that they can be chopped and changed at the drop of the hat with the exception being hairdressers do not carry such large overheads in terms of insurance and compliance.

Absolute clarity on fees and a willingness to provide meet clients requirements for services to be delivered on a fixed cost basis is the way charging has to go, rather than this being resisted. This is a difficult challenge as in many cases when a matter starts there is little visibility on the work involved yet clients do not understand, or rather, will not accept a fudge answer. The outcome is the margins for law firms are reduced and one of the reasons is these days considerable work goes into the fee estimation process before terms are agreed and clients use the fee estimation to shop around. There is always someone who can under cut to win the business.

The business structures that lawyers adopt need to be flexible and allow for the involvement of other professionals with disparate and valuable expertise.

In a nutshell, lawyers need to focus on recognizing client expectation and finding new and effective ways of meeting them.

Innovation and entrepreneurialism will bring the rewards. With change come winners and losers and there is scope to be a winner.

Catherine Gannon / cg@gannons.co.uk / Telephone 0207 438 1062/ www.gannons.co.uk

ReInvent Law London Coming Soon

Thursday, May 8th, 2014 at 12:32

(Thanks to Margaret Hagan)


For some the Chelsea Flower Show is the start of the London Season, while others know it is when the ReInvent Law London show rolls into town. My colleague, Lisa Webley, has issued an invitation to the next ReInvent Law London.

This year Westminster Law School is hosting Reinventlaw London here in the School.  The event brings together legal innovators, legal technology specialists and legal service providers and regulators to showcase new methods of delivery of legal services including virtual law, the use of big data and predictive outcomes software, legal start-ups including alternative business structures and much, much more.  Lexis Nexis are sponsoring the event and it will be live streamed around the world. Last year, as a result of contacts made during the event, we managed to obtain 20 paid work placements for our students with one legal start-up company, we hope to better that record this year.
Lucy Tagg, John Flood and I would love for you to join us at the event.  Places are limited  and all attendees including any of our staff and students will need to register for a free ticket here (http://reinventlawlondon.com/ ) Tickets are going very quickly, so if you would like to attend on 20th June 12.30-6.30 then please do sign up soon.
Further, if you have students interested in learning more about legal innovation and the challenges and opportunities introduced by the Legal Services Act 2007 then please direct them to our 21st Century Law Practice summer school programme which runs from June 8th-23rd in conjunction with Michigan State University: http://www.westminster.ac.uk/about-us/faculties/law/courses/summer-school we still have a few places available.
I hope that you can join us and help to make Reinventlaw London 2014 a real success.
 
 

 

Experimental Legal Education and Law Without Walls

Saturday, April 19th, 2014 at 18:00

(thanks to wikipedia for this)

Success of law schools depends on rate of experimentation“, said George Kembel, co-founder of Stanford D School. With the dire state of legal education in the US right now there is an awful imminence to that prediction. Add to the mix that legal education is undergoing all sorts of changes around the world and we have a situation about which it is impossible to be complacent.

I have just returned from Miami where we celebrated the fourth ConPosium of Law Without Walls. The growth in LWOW is huge–in 4 years we’ve gone from 6 law schools to 26 law and business schools around the world, in every continent. Yet this year is special because we experimented with a new programme called LWOWX. LWOWX existed in virtual reality only. If our pilot works, LWOWX will be a way of making LWOW accessible to a greater community.

What is special about LWOW and LWOWX is that students get to experiment in ways they won’t find anywhere in law school. Students have to mix law, business, finance, technology and design in creative ways that provide answers to problems. Of course LWOW is more than that. Students are placed in multicultural teams that span 19 time zones with mentors who are busy and all over the place. Now coordinate your meetings, work out which language and assign different bits of the tasks. Difficult? You bet. All you’ve got is four months to do it.

The way it works is that the students are given broad topics. Here are some examples:

  • The Death of the Cover Letter: Rethinking How to Find a Job and Build a Career
  • Cyber Justice: Using Technology to Provide Legal Services to Underserved Around the Globe
  • International Arbitration: What’s Under the Invisibility Cloak? 
  • Women in the Law: Is the Glass Ceiling Cracked, Smashed, or Unbreakable? 

Within these topics students had to design projects to solve a particular problem. The women in the law team developed a smartphone app for female lawyers to create an online community where their problems and difficulties could be aired and discussed. (Click link to see presentation.) The death of the cover letter group created

“JD Handshake – A website for law students looking for jobs, and for employers seeking to hire law school students and graduates that allows employers to get to know candidates better than they can via the traditional resume and cover letter and interview process.”

One of the key points about these projects is that they must have a business case behind them. This doesn’t mean they have to be for profit ventures, there are plenty of not for profit projects. Either way they have to be feasible and sustainable.

Let me give two examples from this year. “Nirubi” is the project that won the LWOWX competition this year. It is based on providing help for women in the Sri Lanka civil war who feel they have no means of expressing their voice and feelings and so are powerless. Nirubi is designed to collect voices and to work with NGOs.

“Judgment Pay” was a website designed to use crowdsourcing to help poor people collect their judgment debts–that bit of the legal process we tend to forget, actually getting hold of your damages from the defendant.

Just Innovate tweeted:

Just Innovate @Just_Innovate

Team Judgment Pay: Business Need? [tick], Business Model? [tick], Competitive Advantage? [tick]…. Judges impressed so far at

Judgment Pay won this year’s ConPosium. And by the way the ConPosium tweets under the hashtag #lwow2014 were “storified” by Robert Richards at storify.com with lots of photographs of the teams and judges.

There will be many ways that LWOW will grow and extend, not just in school numbers but in features and roles. What is clear to all of us who attended the ConPosium is that for law schools to retain meaning and relevance in modern society they must go beyond their traditional remits. We can no longer rely on the conventional wisdom of legal education nor can we continue to mystify our students with the process.

I imagine because of our reliance on precedent we look to the past while we mildly attempt to predict the future. LWOW shows us how to be radical and fulfilling. It is a way of introducing experimentation and giving students (and faculty) good reasons for showing that legal education is worthwhile, fruitful and creative. We can start to see law students and lawyers as designers and innovators in a legal services market that is moving forward despite what we do in law schools.

It’s worth remembering that within the eight regulatory objectives of the Legal Services Act 2007 are improving access to justice, improving the public understanding of law, and promoting competition within the provision of legal services. LWOW is showing us a way of achieving these objectives.

I return to Kembel’s words: “Success of law schools depends on rate of experimentation“. Yes.