Making Work, Work

The skills that today’s generation of legal leaders have learned have evolved and tomorrow’s legal leaders will need to rely on new skills adapted to our times for success. These skills will stray somewhat from a straight-forward traditional legal knowledge education and to create this 21st century legal education, providers are working with practitioners and legal firms.

Providers offering bespoke legal tech education

Ten years ago, legal tech skills were the realm of legal nerds with a niche knowledge of coding and technology. Today, legal tech has become a widespread buzz word, legal tech events attract thousands of legal leaders of all ages and legal educators have jumped onto the legal tech bandwagon. Current legal practice course providers such as BPP offer a Legal Technology Innovation and Design module that teaches “an area at the forefront of new skills sought by recruiters [which] focus[es] on building the innovation skills that future solicitors will be expected to demonstrate, including understand[ing] legal technology (e.g. AI, Blockchain, Big Data, and Automation) develop[ing] project management skills and techniques, learn[ing] skills to design technology that responds to problems and engag[ing] in design thinking and process mapping vital in the legal workplace.”

There has also been a rise in more innovative law departments offering more fit for purpose bespoke legal and technology courses. As Alex Smith, Global RAVN Product Lead at iManage and co-author of the book Do Lawyers Need to Learn to Code? A Practitioner Perspective on the ‘Polytechnic’ Future of Legal Education says, “the growth of these initiatives designed to prepare students for the increasingly technological nature of practice reinforces the increased importance placed on cultivating a system of ‘work-ready’ graduates”.

One such course is the Innovation, Technology and the Law LLM at the University of Edinburgh, attended by Ekaterina Harrison, postgraduate student and highly experienced banking & finance lawyer. She chose the course because of her long-standing interest in digital technologies and how people use them. Digital assets, tokenisation, behavioural analysis and other innovations are opening up new opportunities and changing finance products.

“Lawyers like me,” Harrison says, “need thorough knowledge and understanding of the digital space”.

She studies alongside working and was drawn to the flexible approach of the course, which is both part-time and online, allowing her to continue with her main practice areas of banking and finance.

What skills are required by lawyers of the future?

Smith in part agrees with Harrison, writing that in his years of working in legal innovation, his observations are twofold.

“The first is the need to enable the application of learning and skill-building as early as possible to enhance workplace performance; the second is the need to have a core base of legal knowledge”, concluding that “future commercial lawyers need to experience a tertiary education much more akin to an apprenticeship” and that “lawyers of the future will interact with the technology, not write it”.

In other exchanges, he was more forthright and suggested that while tomorrow’s lawyers could benefit from skills such as understanding data, how data is building up, how to measure using data and how to investigate in data (eg eDiscovery or contract discovery) as well as better visualisation of end product skills, learning to code would not yield as clear-cut benefits. Instead, he favoured the idea that lawyers, in general, could stand to work more closely alongside other professionals. More specifically, while lawyers should definitely equip themselves with enough knowledge to be able to work alongside tech developers, product managers, UX, and data scientists, he didn’t believe that lawyers needed that level of professional skills themselves.

That is certainly something highlighted by Harrison as a benefit she has seen in her work, directly attributable to the course. “I think lawyers could learn a lot from how software developers work”, she says. “I mean, the adoption of agile practices. Not all principles of agile working are applicable to legal work but a lot could be borrowed and tailored.” She also mentions a specific example of where new technical skills were coming in useful.

“For example, I can do simple coding in Python. When I worked on a big document migration project, my basic programming skills helped me to analyse thousands of lines of information in Excel. If I had not known how to interpret the data, I would not even have attempted it. But I knew and it was a great benefit for the project. I would identify programming and project management as technical skills that can potentially turn a good lawyer into a great one”.

Using tech skills to the client’s advantage

Another lawyer we spoke to made it clear that she believed “understanding data is key for business – if you can access and use your own data, you can develop a competitive advantage over your competitors”. Clare Weaver, a legal consultant and previously in-house counsel, now specialises in using legal tech to her client’s advantage. After two Oxford University Online courses from the Said Business School in Bitcoin Strategy and AI, she was able to re-skill to a more tech-orientated skillset. This allows her to be able to advise clients in both the FinTech and tech sectors, in particular that knowledge of how AI works and what applications can be used.

Weaver too speaks of how helpful it is for lawyers to be able to understand how natural language processing (NLP) and machine learning works. She reiterates Smith’s point that she doesn’t think lawyers need to learn to code but “should understand how developers create and build products, whilst guiding the user experience side of things which is most important of a product is to be useful”. “For me”, she says, “that’s the most interesting point – how to adapt products for use by different users and why adoption differs in different communities”.

But do lawyers need to learn to code?

No, seems to be the general thought. As Smith summarises, tomorrow’s lawyers “should be developing curiosity, humility, growth mindset and willingness to work in truly cross-functional teams” or, as he concludes in his book, “developing their interpersonal skills, comprehending the emerging user-centric business world, engaging with their curiosity and creative problem-solving skills, listening carefully to their clients’ needs and openly engaging with the changing world within which their clients operate and the leadership dynamic that governs that operation”.

In other words, a legal tech qualification isn’t ever going to make you a tech professional (and physically being able to code isn’t necessary) but getting a good grounding and understanding of the tech space generally may well help you be a better future lawyer in a world that is now definitely digital.

Family & Work

Would you let AI read your child a bedtime story? With time as a precious commodity, technology is helping us organise and automate many day-to-day tasks. But are we replacing and outsourcing too many of our ‘human’ activities?

These are questions that were recently sparked by BookTrust, the UK reading charity, who conducted a survey in the run up to this week’s Pyjamarama bedtime story fundraising event. It found around 26% of parents use AI home assistants to read bedtime stories to their children. There were understandably shocked reactions to this statistic, with many fearing we are risking our emotional health and ability to connect with one another in favour of the convenience of technological devices. It appears we may be missing the point – using tech to do the very things we should be using tech to give us more time to do ourselves. The simple pleasure of reading a story to our children; a time for conversation and creativity, should be treated as sacred.

Unfounded fears?

Then again, there have been moral panics at all stages of technological development; the fear of displacement is very much a human trait. Some argue that Alexa & co are no different to letting the likes of CBBC Bedtime Stories do the job; storytime was also on the radio before TV came into the picture.

The fact remains that our children will grow up with technology in a way we never did. We run the risk of creating a disconnect between generations if we do not adopt and keep up to some level. So, we might view this time as early stages of the learning process. It’s possible that the high percentage of those using Alexa and friends as bedtime story readers is less of a pattern and more down to initial novelty – parents and children trying it out for fun and to satisfy curiosity and get to know the limits of the technology. And as with our use of social media, we have to make mistakes in order to realise what constitutes good and bad usage for ourselves, and with time we are likely to grow with AI and apply it in more sensible ways.

We have also always had to make decisions about assistance and outsourcing in our lives – from childcare to household maintenance – mostly to other humans. That’s arguably the key difference in what we are working with now: the involvement of human beings is being reduced and we have less control and understanding of the motives and ‘thought’ process and action of algorithm driven AI.

With other humans we choose who fits well within our own outlook and aims in life. When it comes to supporting our children’s development in particular, having a good trust relationship is key – even if that relationship is with a particular TV channel or show. With AI, we do not yet, and probably may not ever be able to fully trust AI decisions due to the very nature of their design, particularly as they are made by large corporations who ultimately need to sell and promote things to fund their output. As one journalist and parent writing for the New York Times put it: ‘Alexa, after all, is not “Alexa.” She’s a corporate algorithm in a black box‘. Even avid users do not fully trust home assistants, and a still significant proportion of others refuse to have devices listening to their lives at all.

AI and division of labour

Just like in law and business, we need to remember that AI is our tool; not something we are beholden to, and we should divide labour between it and ourselves accordingly. By using AI to outsource the repetitive mundane time consuming tasks that distract and take time away from bigger picture, we are left with more headspace for emotional and creative thought processes that are vital for progression and satisfaction in our roles.

We can see that when applied well, AI can provide positive enhancements to all important emotional connections. For example, in senior care AI and robots are helping to reduce time staff and family spend on monitoring health and prompting to take medication etc and allow them to engage on a more individual emotional level, help them to be more independent with voice activated actions etc. There is also evidence that an increase in the use of voice activated AI leads to a decrease in smartphone use, so at least we are lifting our eyes from the screen a little more. Source: Two thirds of people who use digital voice assistants like the Amazon Echo or Google Home use their smartphones less often, according to an Accenture survey.

We also need to continue to educate ourselves on its flaws and limitations. For example, as the technology currently stands, there are question around inclusivity and gender roles – many voice assistants are female-voiced, and have been found to be unable to recognise certain accents, facial features and speech impediments.

Regulation will increasingly play a role to address these issues in both the domestic and business context: The UK’s Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation (CDEI) recently announced it would investigate, amongst other things, algorithmic bias in decision-making. Transparency and legal compliance will help build trust. But it is up to us as users to ensure that we regulate our usage to best fit our lives and use the time we are given wisely – for storytime and more.

 

 

Matthew Taylor, RSA
Making Work, Work

At The Attic, we recently caught up with Matthew Taylor, director of the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) to talk about innovation and the future of the workplace. This topic is particularly timely as the government just responded to Matthew Taylor’s Good Work: Review of Modern Working Practices and published four consultation documents. At a time when the legal profession is increasingly turning to AI and automation, we discuss the meaning of innovation and how this will impact how we work.

What is the role of innovation in society and what should it be?

Innovation is about facing new challenges – whether they come from technology, climate or politics – and providing new solutions, but we should also continue to support human progress. We’ll always meet new challenges and we’ll always want to achieve more in life, but innovation should aim to bring a step forward for humanity.

The RSA has been involved with innovation for 260 years. This has involved, amongst others, different ways of working. There was no such thing as the welfare state when the RSA was founded in 1754. Ultimately, we are about ideas and actions behind social progress. As a progressive organisation, we continue to push progress. We do it via three key themes that we believe have the most impact for people: Creative Learning and Development, Public Services & Communities and Economy, Enterprise and Manufacturing.

We also have a community of 29,000 fellows, who support us with their donations, forming networks and taking initiatives that the RSA support.

What is the best innovation you have seen recently?

The most innovative work that I’ve seen recently is not a product, it’s understanding an issue in a different way. This is the RSA’s work on economic insecurity. Economic security can be a powerful and effective way of understanding social problems.

What is the worst innovation you have seen recently?

In terms of worse innovations, a lots of things are pretty awful, such as products that damage the environment without doing much. About 10 years ago, I was particularly dismayed when I entered in an electronic shop and saw a digital photo frame. This is a photo frame that you have to charge and all it does is showing a rolling slideshow in people’s homes. To me, that just adds to the amount of junk in the world. More recently in 2017, I learned about a platform for retail workers that would portray shop workers as self-employed. It’s a terrible idea.

Talking about innovation and work, how did you see the future of the gig economy and of professions in general?

I am happy with the idea of the gig economy but we need a level playing field. The gig economy should not be about the capacity to avoid paying taxes. It should be about making sure that innovation and productivity get rewarded and to get to that stage, we need new policies. How can we have a sustainable fiscal and regulatory framework so that people can work? That’s an interesting question. The government commissioned a report on modern working practices in 2017 and some of my report touches on the gig economy.

Regarding the future of professions, it is pretty clear that they won’t disappear. However, the nature of professions will change because of artificial intelligence and robotics. It will be less about having and transferring knowledge, because machines are better at this than we are, and more about human creativity and communication. To which extent professions are altered remains to be seen. In The Age of Automation: Artificial Intelligence, Robotics and Low-Skilled Work, the RSA discusses how robotics and AI could lead to a better way to work with the implementation of certain safeguards.

In your opinion, how will innovation drive productivity improvements?

Innovation should change productivity improvement, but companies that genuinely innovate should drive the wave of change and not, for instance, companies that bend the rules. Take Uber. Uber needs to work in a framework that’s in line with global policy goals and that treats people fairly.

Can innovation be beneficial to the low-skilled workers and how?

Yes, I’ve got a good recent example. Tesco has a new app that will allow staff to work wherever they want to work and that’s a great example of good innovation that enables people. Along those lines, I’m particularly interested in ‘worker tech,’ digital tools that enable the self-employed to support each other via platforms. It is my belief that worker tech will give these people a voice and help them organise themselves so they can get together, make demands together and communicate together.

What resources/programmes does the RSA offer to the professional community?

We are a professional community, with our 29,000 fellows, but we also bring inspiration, ideas and routes for engagement to them. We work hard to make it feel like the fellowship is not a private members club, but a group of people interested in working together and making the world a better place.

 

The Legal Update

Chinese New Year is fast approaching – 2018 is the year of the earth dog, the first since 1958. Those of us born in an earth dog year are deemed to be ethical, communicative, responsible and serious in the workplace – some good characteristics to have as a lawyer! As we look forward to this year’s celebrations on February 18th, we note that China’s legal tech is taking some huge leaps forward. The language barrier has meant that China has perhaps not been given fair props in western media coverage of China’s legal tech scene, but the message is becoming clear that there are some very interesting developments occurring.

How China is Riding the Legal Tech Wave

China’s legal sector is fast growing and thus comparatively young, compared to the culture of western law corporations. The culture at large has more readily embraced technological advances in robotics and smart tech in everyday life and infrastructure, from the all-encompassing WeChat social media platform which also facilitates payments, to travel infrastructure and smarthome technology. AI is not a niche interest or a far-off future development coming into the fore – it has already played a defining role in Chinese society.

AI and legal tech is already starting to play a significant role in courtrooms, with speech recognition technology recording court proceedings more accurately and efficiently. Virtual courts, online legal assistance for court users, two way translations systems and e-filing for documents all feature at the West Lake District People’s Court of Hangzhou. Meanwhile, blockchain technology is being used to provide electronic evidence to shape verdicts: instead of relying on a single judges’ interpretation of the law, AI-provided answers to specific questions and clarifications relating to the case can help to disperse uncertainty in judgement.

Embracing this overall openness, AI and technology companies and even educational institutions are taking unprecedented steps towards making legal services the most technologically advanced of all chinese industries – recognising the need for greater advancement not just for those working in the sector, but for society at large.

One recent story we took interest in here at The Attic was the plan for Peking University Law School to partner with cloud-based big data analytics and AI solutions provider Gridsum to launch a research centre to further examine possibilities for AI in China’s legal system. It is unlike any partnership we have yet to see here in the UK. “The combination of Peking University’s highly experienced legal community and our cutting-edge AI and big data technology will directly benefit the development and application of AI across China’s judicial system” said Guosheng Qi, CEO of Gridsum in a statement. Working in close partnership with Peking University Law School and the Legal AI Lab is another step in Gridsum’s broader strategy of developing a comprehensive suite of legal solutions targeting courts, prosecutors, law firms and others within the judicial ecosystem. The rollout of Gridsum’s legal services product suite is accelerating within China’s court system.

Another company that is breaking new ground in Chinese legal tech is Legal Miner. Founded in 2015, its products combine data mining and legal analytics expertise to ‘reveal the enigmatic Chinese decisions in an extensive, systematic and visual manner’. The data can be applied to dispute resolution, strategy solutions and business risk assessments. People are still very much at the core of the technology – a team of legal and technology experts continually develop the advanced analytics system, and a team of local and global analysts are picked to meet each client’s unique case demands. The technology has a global focus, aiming to make the Chinese legal system more transparent and allow companies to do business in the country with greater ease.

There is tech-forward thinking in the judiciary too. Reporting back from his visit to China in August, Richard Susskind OBE spoke highly of Judge He Fan, who in his view appeared to be leading thinking behind court reform in China. At the age of just 39, Judge He is a Supreme Court Justice, and a prolific author, social media user and blogger. Hangzhou Judge Chen Liaomin, deputy President of West Lake Court is also deserving of a mention for being the leading judicial force behind the court’s advancement in technology. Judge Chen hosted the successful trialling of Online Dispute Resolution in her court. The ODR platform, which integrates big data and Internet Plus into legal mediation, has been praised for its cost-effectiveness, efficiency, agility and openness.

What We Can Learn from China’s Approach to Legal Tech

There is a broad sense of optimism regarding AI and legal tech right across the Chinese legal industry, perhaps more so than we have seen in Europe, or indeed, in other parts of Asia. A report from legalexecutiveinstitute.com noted that attendees at the China Legal+Technology New Champions Annual Convention were a diverse mix of legal professionals – both men and women – from in-house departments to major firms, judiciary and government organisations, all with the unified goal of applying more AI to solve problems and propel the legal sector forward.

It’s clear that Chinese legal industry very much views AI as a transformative force, with the central idea is very much about sharing the workload of human lawyers. Conversations around AI tend to come from the angle of how to overcome the threat it poses to human job roles and future employment. In China, the advancement of AI is seen as liberation; freeing people from the more mundane, repetitive and time-consuming tasks of a role, allowing them to focus on the more sophisticated aspects, or broaden their scope and take on more work.

A more contentious point is the notion that greater access to legal technology and a more advanced legal sector could lead to the advancement of human rights in the country. This could help to address concerns that often press on the conscious of global organisations that see the need to maintain a dialogue of opportunity with the country. For human rights lawyers, to be able to focus more time on their tactical approach in an increased number of cases may mean not just more wins, but furthering the push towards democracy and constitutional governance.

For many law companies, the future of legal tech could mean the difference between survival and collapse, the ability to ensure workplace well-being for lawyers, and to retain and develop talent by focusing on softer, human qualities and emotional intelligence. While the risks involved in AI and more automated services is a conversation worth having, we can learn from China’s legal industry to embrace change and adapt.