Jan 4 2017

Experience in Artificial Intelligence – lessons for Legal IT in 2017


To start 2017 I thought I’d have a quick look at 2016’s favourite Legal IT topic, Artificial Intelligence (AI). Reason for picking this topic is down to two pieces of technology that I brought into our household at the end of last year that utilise AI heavily. Those are Nest and Alexa.

The former has brought home to me what I think is going to be a key issue in adoption of AI in law firms, that is trust. My Nest thermostat “learns” over time and one of the key aspects of this is watching for when you go out of the house, the system then reacts by turning thee heating down. At the same time it triggers my Nest security camera to turn on. Over Christmas though I’ve noticed, on odd occasions, when we were out that the camera would turn on but the thermostat wouldn’t drop the temperature. Other times though it would, there seemed to be no consistency. After a lot of old style IT troubleshooting and a lot of googling, I eventually found that this wasn’t a bug, but that Nest had learnt patterns and our locations and kept the heating on when it thought our trip was local and brief, thus in its mind turning off the heating was less efficient (as otherwise it would need to heat the whole house from scratch on our return). The camera though it realised should be on immediately.

This is my trust point, until I fully understood what was going on I didn’t trust the technology. I thought it was just not working, so I had taken to manually overriding the settings when we went out. In reality it was working very well and actually better at predicting things that would save energy than I was! This issue though will be the same with Legal IT AI, getting the trust will take time and will probably need a full understanding of how the machine is learning before people will accept AI into the mainstream functions.

Alexa to me is voice recognition starting to become useful, moving from the smartphone (Siri) or the computer (Cortana) to being “in the room” makes so much sense and is much more useful. Whether it’s controlling the lights or simply putting on some music it genuinely is useful rather than a gimmick. It is impressive how Alexa is using all the data it is gathering to improve, however it also shows how far AI has to go in terms of human interaction. It is way beyond having to specifically phrase your commands or questions, but there is so far to go to get beyond a few “skills” it has now.

These two areas fuel my scepticism around AI. No that’s not fair,  it’s not scepticism it’s just wanting an injection of reality into AI within Legal. I am impressed with Alexa and Nest and the more I use them the more I get impressed by the learning, however my expectations for the technology (particularly for Alexa) were not overoptimistic. I think if we adopt a realistic approach for AI in Legal in 2017 then it can and will be a great enabling technology for firms. If we don’t temper the hype though, we’ll be disappointed or fail to trust it and it’ll go in the bin for years before we try it again!


Dec 31 2015

That was the year that was – A review of 2015 in Legal and Legal IT


To wrap up 2015 I thought I’d post a review of the Legal and Legal IT news throughout the year.

One of the big trends across law firms this year has been mergers, I touched on this trend back in 2009 and the number or mergers and consolidation in the industry continued throughout 2015.

Dentons has been the major news story as its huge growth continued through the year, we had the Dacheng merger in January, talk of McKenna Long & Aldridge joining in April, discussions with Singapore’s Rodyk & Davidson and Australia’s Gadens about tie-ups in November leaving a firm at the end of the year with a possible headcount of around a massive 7000 lawyers. Other large firms continued to grow this year with DLA Piper entering Canada in March and White & Case planning to boost City lawyer count by over 40% as it put London and New York at heart of new strategy in November. BigLaw doesn’t seem to cover these firms anymore, MegaLaw? No probably a bit too Judge Dredd that one!

Some mergers don’t come off though, in November Eversheds and Foley & Lardner broke off merger talks that could have created a £815m ($1.25bn) revenue transatlantic firm. And there were growing pains in others, in November at Norton Rose Fulbright the firm’s management looked to reconnect with City partners after years of rapid overseas expansion. But still this didn’t stop the merger talk and in November Irwin Mitchell and Thomas Eggar unveiled merger plans.

It seems the final shackles of the financial crisis had been thrown off in 2015 as growth was back on the cards or at least in the published figures, so although still an industry under pressure from clients it doesn’t seem to have affected the bottom line. Growth numbers look pretty good against most of the western economies, with 4%, 6% and even out at 7% rises in revenue across law firms according to a Deloitte survey in March. By December the Deloitte survey was still predicting firm fee income rises of nearly 5% in Q2 of 2015-16. Impressive numbers.

PEP was also on the up and into the double figures in some firms with 11% and 12% rises coming through in March figures. BLP posted PEP 22% in June! But not everywhere was rosy, some markets clearly still are ultra-competitive and this saw Hill Dickinson and Holman Fenwick both take revenue and PEP hits. As did DWF as their PEP slid 21% and revenue stayed broadly flat in August figures.

The good times though saw the top firms battle for the best associate pay rise around April/May time with 7% at Linklaters, 8% at Ashurst and 10% at Slaughter and May. White & Case then trumped them all in June with a 20% rise in London associate pay! Not to be outcome in December Slaughter and May associates were in line for bonuses of up to 16% as firms also bumped up rewards.

Was this all driven by a growth in client demand? Possibly as in London, for example, back in February TfL announced a rise in legal spend this year, the first in four years. And the Greater London Authority doubled its spend. But also I suspect a hard look at costs also help the profits in firms in 2015. Freshfields started consultation on a low-cost base in Manchester in February and announced further centres in June to create a global network of centres. White & Case mulled opening European support centres in November. And DLA Piper launched a low cost services centre in Warsaw this November, its third such centre alongside one in the US and one in Leeds.

Law firms were also looking at growing their business in other ways, putting pay to a few speakers talks in 2016? Dentons launched a tech investment arm (NextLaw Labs) in May. There were moves into the contract lawyer space in June as DLA Piper and Addleshaws moved into contract lawyer market with new ventures. DWF also launched contract lawyer, support centre and consulting offerings in June. And finally to top off a changing market KPMG boosted its UK legal capability with a Birmingham launch in September.

Quite an eventful year for law firms in general, what about the Legal IT side of things?

Starting with the stalwarts of Legal IT, Document Management (DMS) and Finance systems.

Back in January SharePoint was on the agenda again as a possible DMS in law firms with Microsoft pushing Matter Centre, by the end of the year though it was open source product. HP Worksite became iManage again with a management buyout and we saw energy back in the firm after many years of being part of a monolith. And Netdocuments continued to grow market share and cloud coverage with Europe and Australian datacentres.

In the finance arena the column inches were mainly full of Elite v Aderant, but in September Baker & McKenzie became the first global law firm to go live with the latest version of the SAP ERP system.

Elsewhere legal project management (LPM) is clearly on the move with a number of products offering support for this discipline, Umbria and Cael as examples. Strange that in the Legal press itself LPM wasn’t hitting the headlines despite strong take up by law firms and interest by clients! Proof again perhaps that contrary to the press and conferences, law firms are quietly getting on with new ways to grow the business?

I couldn’t review this year without mentioning AI (Artificial Intelligence), a marketing teams dream with a whole new “disruptive” technology campaign. 2015 was definitely hello AI, goodbye cloud in the Legal IT zeitgeist. The start of summer saw Ravn launch ACE and by mid-September, Berwin Leighton Paisner confirmed that it had become the first law firm to sign up to RAVN’s Applied Cognitive Engine. We also had US legal tech start up eBrevia has just launched its own AI offering, IBM Watson with Clifford Chance joining the growing number of City firms that work with IBM’s offering. September saw the BBC focus on Intelligent Machines, Riverview Law acquire US tech business to advance use of AI in legal market and AI goes mainstream as LexisNexis acquires Lex Machina in November and December.

The fact that cloud is now out of the news could be that finally its maturing and starting to take off, Netdocuments saw growth and Hill Dickinson kicked off a three-to-five-year IT strategy review that is expected to see a significant further shift towards the cloud.

Document automation was back in the news. Becoming more commonplace across the UK, Ashurst in September became the latest City law firm to sign up with Business Integrity’s ContractExpress solution to automate its legal precedents globally and across all practice areas. And at Clifford Chance in March, two finance lawyers were hired with coding expertise to design a template to allow banking clients to generate their own documents.

Social Media in law firms was in the news in summer as DLA Piper discussed the launch of their internal platform Grapevine.

Dentons appointed a new CIO tasked with integrating their IT after their whirlwind expansion. And we couldn’t finish the write up of 2015 without mention of the debacle at the Law Society. The start of year saw the Law Society of England & Wales endorse Eclipse Legal Systems as the one and only supplier. By end The Law Society of England and Wales’ latest foray into the role of technology supplier ended in disaster after it was forced to disband online conveyancing portal Veyo with losses upwards of £3m. Does it still have sway in Legal IT?

My final thought though for the Legal IT world in 2015 is where is the big push into mobility, business support workflow and “standard IT” that supports lawyers? Law firms are definitely looking at this, but what about the Legal IT vendors? Some show hints of the above and that they’re starting to get it. Will this be the real news in 2016 or will the marketing teams win and continue to sell us the promise of a disruptive world and robots replacing lawyers?


A big thank you to Legal Week , Legal IT Insider and Legal IT Professionals invaluable resources in researching the news from 2015 for this blog post!


Feb 23 2015

North, SaaS, East and West – split-shoring


So I’ve had a poll on this blog for a few months now asking “When do you think a top 10 law firm will take the plunge and move to the cloud for documents or email? (e.g. netdocuments, office365 etc)”. The results show a clear feeling that this will happen in the next 5 years (68%), 41% think it will happen sooner.

I’ve posted about Office365 previously and how some large companies are already on the platform, but the push for cost reduction and innovation in law firms at the same time surely means there has to be a move to focus staff on the new technology rather than the utility technology (and by the way I really dislike that term as it has connotations that this technology is old, unimportant or a simple commodity, it isn’t but it is the technology that people like Microsoft are now delivering as SaaS – Software as a Service).

This week also saw the news that Freshfields was looking for space in Manchester to set up a 80,000-100,000sq ft office to house back office and possibly a legal support centre. Legal Week (no link as it’s a paywall article) talked of a an initial squeeze on the market in terms of available talent, but that this will be offset by more lawyers coming into Manchester given the attraction of big names like Freshfields. But what about the squeeze on Legal IT? Manchester has a number of mid-sized law firms with IT depts in the city, I’m sure the draw of the Freshfields name will be a pull for some in Legal IT but it’s not as if Manchester is a backwater small city that is suffering from higher supply than demand in the IT sector.

I wrote a post back in 2011 on near shoring, it was around the time of Allen & Overy’s move to Belfast. I finished that post with a comment that still holds true. The lack of movement of the big London firms to shift resources out of the capital. This goes beyond law firms, but where as in recessions business is capable of rationalising their staff they still seem to miss the obvious efficiencies of moving out of the capital. Given a lot of big law now runs offices from the US to Australia and most places in between, there seems little technological reason for those functions not needing client contact to be located outside of the high cost capital city.

Now you may be reading a conclusion into this post already? But let me first throw in the other 22% of the votes on the poll, those that said big law would “Never” move to cloud based SaaS for the core document and email systems. I presume these were based on one of two things a) the feeling that law firms aren’t tech savvy enough to take the plunge (sorry but this is as tired and as untrue as the “Manchester United fans don’t come from Manchester” line!) or b) security! I can see the latter point being an issue, but I can’t help feel we’ll bust through this one at some point soon. It isn’t as though the clients won’t be considering this kind of move.

So what is my conclusion?

Well I haven’t one. As with anything in IT there is never a one size fits all solution, what works for one doesn’t necessarily work for another. But I do have a couple of thoughts:

  1. If you’re a small firm without a dedicated IT dept then surely SaaS is for you. I can’t think of many cons to this choice.
  2. If you’re a London based firm who has yet to think of moving their IT out of the capital you have to ask has the boat already sailed? Should thought be placed to a combined move North and SaaS move? (Split-Shoring?)

Jan 28 2015

A Fork in the Road : From Single Partner to Largest Legal Practice in the World – Roger Lane-Smith


Over Christmas I finished Roger Lane-Smith’s autobiography “A Fork in the Road”, definitely the first biography I have read about a lawyer. How fascinating can a corporate lawyers life possibly be? Well I have to say it was actually a really interesting insight into modern law firms.

If you look at the modern day mid to large sized law firm, this book plays through a history of how we got to where we are. The “good times” of too much work for too few lawyers and the opportunities that were there to make good money and grow firms. There was clearly an ambition in a number of the partners across Alsops and Dibb Lupton to be a trailblazer to what is the norm now in law firms, I mean take a look at Dentons’ news this month!

In the book, there are also some stories of corporate politics thrown in, a surprising number of celebrities and the world’s greatest football team to keep you turning the pages (or clicking the next page button if like me you’re on a Kindle!). One story I found particularly interesting was that of Stafford Pemberton Publishing, Starsky and Hutch, Aaron Spelling and a meeting with Muhammad Ali! To think a law firm from the North West could mix in deals like this back in the 70’s shows what opportunities were there for the law firm willing to push the boundaries and aim high.

It is definitely worth a read if you work in a law firm, there are so many aspects of lawyers and the way law firms work that come across in the book. Sometimes intentionally, sometimes not. But there are plenty that will raise a wry smile. If you don’t work in a law firm, but have an interest in business biographies I’d say it’s probably still worth a read.

Overall though I came away with two observations:

  1. This journey for law firms seems to me a big first act that is almost complete. Most corporate law firms have followed suit and there is now becoming too little work for too many lawyers. The market has definitely changed and thus the book felt like a fitting epitaph to part one of “The Law Firm” and we seem on the cusp of a totally different second act.
  2. There was no mention of support staff in the various law firms at all. For the most part that’s understandable, it’s a book on Roger’s life as a lawyer. But there is also a lot about how the largest legal practice in the world was built. It’s telling that in act one of “The Law Firm” it was all about the lawyers, you can’t imagine for one minute that part two won’t have a large non-lawyer part to it!



Oct 6 2014

Some dates for your diary in October and November


Just a short post as a bit of an advert for a couple of legal IT shows in the coming months, both at which I’ll be speaking at.

On the Wednesday 15th October in London at the Tikit Word Excellence Day. I’ll be talking about Mobile Working and BYOD with Ali Moinuddin from Workshare and Matt Miller from Microsystems.

Then on Thursday 13th November again in London I’ll be joining a panel at ILTA Insight 2014 to talk about a variety of challenges law firms have around mobility.




May 6 2014

A follow up to ‘Big change in legal is a generation away!’


In the last post I wrote a piece about how change in legal was going to be a generation away. Going against the conference talks and legal press zeitgeist, I said that there was nothing I could see that was going to bring a revolution in law firms anytime soon.

Then a colleague asked “Don’t you think clients will force the change sooner?” Hmm, this got me thinking. Will the clients push a change in the market?

Well I’ve thought about this a little since and thought I’d use a Susskind story to show why I’m saying “No”.

Susskind uses the story about training inside power tool manufacturer Black & Decker to show how lawyers need to think of different delivery methods/processes. The B&D employees are shown a power drill and asked, “This is what we sell, isn’t it?” The staff reply, “Of course,” they are then shown a hole drilled in a wall. “No, this is what our customers want. Your job is to find ever more creative ways to give our customers what they want.”

Drill hole

It’s a great story, but not if you stop to think about it some more. I mean I still use a drill, just like my dad did and his dad before him. Why? Because it’s the best way of getting a hole! And I think that it the case in corporate law, the client is getting satisfactory holes. Sure they’d like it cheaper, but this is happening, costs are going down (see last post).

But to back up my previous post. I suspect, like when I’m shopping for a drill, there is a point where a price gets so low it starts alarm bells ringing. “Is this cheap thing going to last?”, “I’d be better getting the Bosch wouldn’t I, not sure that cheap store brand will drill through what I want”. At this point the client will start to accept the costs.

So I’ve considered the client and still think as my last post, big change in legal is a generation away!


Apr 15 2014

Big change in legal is a generation away!


I’ve been trying to write a post on this topic for some time. The endless talk of disruptive technology and predictions of a wave of change about to hit legal just didn’t sit right with me. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that we’re just riding a downturn and the 2007 gravy train will soon come back to us soon, but nor do I think some “Napster like” disruptive wave of change is going to alter legal as we know it.

No, we’re just a saturated industry that has become competitive. It’s nothing new, it’s business. And I think the real change is a generation away.


Well, at the moment the industry is very cost conscious, the firms that will survive are looking at costs and driving them down. Just like any retailer or trader does in a competitive market. It’s first the support staff, the premises and the back office costs. Then firms will look at unprofitable groups within the practice. Those that don’t address these cost savings will fall at this stage (and some have!).

If we’re lucky this might actually weed out enough of the market to keep the remaining players happy for a while. But then comes the next challenge, you’ve cut everything to the bone what next? Well if we were a plc in a highly competitive industry then we might suspend our dividend payments to the shareholders. In legal this might mean lawyers having to accept that the big money is gone and having to take a smaller slice of the pie. And here we have the nub of the problem, the reason why I think real change is a generation away. What lawyer is going to risk the pie on a disruptive bet? Better to make it fractionally smaller bit by bit right? And so I think that it won’t be until the vast majority of lawyers have come through the system with no experience of the pre-2008 world that enough lawyers will be willing to make the big changes.

And that is my prediction. There is no legal revolution coming soon, it’s a mature industry under cost pressure that will look pretty much the same with less firms, cost sensitive with constant eye on keeping these costs under control and with less lawyers being paid a lower amount (which will drop slowly over time).

It’ll be down to our sons and daughters to bring in the real disruptive changes!


Jan 16 2014

Looking back on 5 years of blogging part 5 – My favourites


To finish up this look back on 5 years of blogging I’ve pulled out some of my favourite posts from the first few years.

Back in May 2009 I covered a topic that was and still is a hot topic across Legal. That of the “billable hour”. I’m sure there will be a blend of billing options for clients going forward, but I still like my example at the end of this post as to why for many clients fixed price may not be the nirvana to low costs. – The billable hour isn’t going anywhere!

I think there must of been something stuck at that “good enough to go” stage back in August 2009. The post I wrote was on the 80/20 rule. Looking at the extra effort that last 20% can take, when it’s the first 80% that will get you the majority of benefits. – Following the Pareto principle (aka the 80/20 rule)

The control and management of email has been a recurring topic over the last 5 years, topics on top tips, products to help etc. But this one I’ve pulled out with a title that sums it up nicely! It was less a help guide and more a rant at email that I’m sure will chime with many. – email, hate the stuff!

I alluded the other day to it taking a generation for law firms to change, well it could be Generation Y that starts that ball rolling. This post from April 2010 was an insight into the experience of a young lawyer just starting in BigLaw. – Generation Y trainees about to shake up Legal and Legal IT

Also from April 2010 I took a look at CRM systems in Legal and wondered whether LinkedIn could be a valid replacement? LinkedIn does seem to have gone a different direction since 2010 and is more focussed on business social with its groups and posts, but recruitment agencies certainly use it as their “InterAction” I’m sure! – LinkedIn to replace InterAction?

Finally a post from May 2011. It was looking at the challenges, both externally and internally, we’re going to have when communicating. Since this post I’ve experienced similar frustrations with firms that have twitter streams but don’t use them to communicate with customers. – What happens when a Baby Boomer lawyer meets a Generation Y client?

On a slight related note I could this great TED talk the other day that is worth watching on the challenges of working with introverts v extroverts.


Jan 6 2014

Looking back on 5 years of blogging part 2 – Recession and Legal


Looking back the trigger for me starting a blog was the credit crunch and global financial crisis that hit at the end of 2008. Because of this timing I’ve followed the impact of the financial crisis on Legal through the last five years and posted a number of entries along the way.

Below are some of the posts I’ve picked out:

In February 2009 I was clearly a little optimistic on when the upturn would appear! Looking back we didn’t realise just how long it would take to start the road back to economic recovery. Are we prepared now? – Are you ready for the upturn?

I still stand by my post from March 2009, though I don’t see the type of Legal shakeup favoured by Susskind etc. I see more of a long haul change of a saturated market. Lots more consolidation, shrinking supply, lower fees = lower lawyer take home. It’ll be the next generation of lawyers, the ones still in primary school now, that will be the ones to shake it up as they won’t have any expectation of the salaries currently in BigLaw – Last time it was manufacturing, this time it’s white collars turn! I also took a look at this consolidation of law firms in a post from July of 2009 – Consolidation within the UK 200?

I then revisited the above thinking in February 2010 as well, looking at the whether the good times would ever return to Legal – Law Firms, the good times are gone for ever! and yet again in November  of that year – “A company from here doing rather well over there” and vice versa

By 2011 outsourcing was on the radar in a big way in Legal as many firms continued to look at ways of cutting costs. I looked at this in a post in February 2011 – Outsourced!

By 2012 the long talked about ABS structure started appearing more and more. I took a look at this in February 2012 – ABS on ABS (or another blummin’ story on alternative business structures!) and looked at how it could be interesting for Legal IT. Looking back and hearing some stories from within IT depts within ABS firms I’m not quite as optimistic now.

By the end of 2012 the economy was clearly on the verge of turning the corner, but consolidation and cost cutting was still going on in Legal. This led to a slightly topical Olympics title in October – London 2012 – the rise of the regional upstarts?

2013 saw only one topic on this subject after reading Richard Susskinds latest book, I wavered a little on my thinking for a “revolution” in Legal but I think the post roughly follows the thinking I’ve had since 2009! – Tomorrow’s Lawyers – still waiting for tomorrow!

And finally there were a number of posts where I looked specifically at Legal IT depts. Echoing a recent post in the wake of the NatWest IT issues I took a look at the impact of the recession on the IT depts in law firms in July 2009. – Does IT matter in law firms?. Then in January 2011 took a look at whether the Legal IT dept had a future when the rapid technology change combined with the recession. – RIP Legal IT?


Dec 9 2013

NatWest computer problems. Will this be Legal IT in a few years time?


Looking at the banking industry you can see a mirror being held to the legal industry in a few years time. A mature industry that has battled to maintain profit margins year on year in tough times. One bank this month looks to have misjudged the fine line between hard cost savings and going too far. NatWest’s IT is under the spot light and it seems to have made too little investment in its IT over the last few years, this under investment is coming back to bite it. Customers forgave it the last time but will they this time?

RBS IT problems 2013

RBS IT problems 2013 – Metro newspaper Monday 2nd December

It’s taken 10 years of tough cost savings to get into this mess in banking. Given that legal started hard cost savings in about 2009, how many law firms are going to be seeing similar IT issues later this decade? The pace of IT change is on the increase again so we may not even have that long!