The Legal Update

The legal blogsphere is thriving, with ever-more law bloggers stepping up to discuss taboo topics and change the way we think about law and the legal industry.

Legal blogs are a valuable outlet and asset for lawyers and companies alike; acting as a marketing tool for your expertise, and allowing some creative headspace to examine issues of personal intrigue outside of your own work. Whether you are thinking of starting your own legal blog and need some inspiration, or simply want to follow for extra insights and opinion, here are some of our picks of today’s most highly-rated and recommended English-language legal blogs.

UK and Europe Legal Blogs

Regulation for Globalization 

Regulation for Globalization by Kluwer Law International blog is discusses the significant changes taking place regarding international business, especially trade law, EU law, and labour law. Contributors are leading legal experts from diverse backgrounds who report on the latest developments with ‘fresh, high-quality, and timely examination of the new rules facing international business’.

Legal Cheek Journal

One of our favourite legal media companies, Legal Cheek’s online journal covers current affairs in law with typically lively and irreverent style, proving that law doesn’t have to be stuffy or mince its words on even the more controversial topics making headlines.

Legal Hackette

Written by Catherine Baksi, barrister turned freelance legal affairs journalist, this blog features lunch interviews as well as legal news and book reviews. Catherine knows how to create an atmosphere and her in-depth interviews are great insights into the life of prominent lawyers.

Juro 

Juro is an AI-enabled smart contract workflow platform with a Human First approach, helping legal teams at fast growing businesses make contracts work better within their organisation. Naturally, their blog focuses on legal tech and innovation but also discusses the importance of hiring and cultivating the right team for business success.

Barrister Blogger

This award winning legal blog by Matthew Scott is direct and simple in approach. Scott is not afraid to share his decisive opinions on legal issues dominating the news sphere, and has a way of setting the scene of well-read (and some not-so-well read) legal stories that keep you engaged from post to post.

Crafty Counsel

For the YouTube generation, Crafty Counsel publishes bite-size legal videos (10 minutes and shorter) featuring legal professionals discussing legal topics in verbal “bullet point” format. Some recent videos tackle varied topics such as “The art of building a relationship: In-house counsel & law firms”, “How can you champion women in the workplace?” or “Building a great Legal Team – the Software.”

The UKCLA Blog

The United Kingdom Constitutional Law Association publish this highly credible resource of expert comment and analysis on matters of constitutional law in the UK and further afield, with articles cited in academic writing, official publications and in the news media.

Techno Llama 

Cyberlaw is one of the fastest moving areas of law, and there’s plenty of interesting analysis and thought pieces over at TechnoLlama by Andres Guadamuz, with emphasis on open licensing, digital rights, software protection and virtual worlds. Articles are often whimsical, with a serious underlying message.

USA and Canada Legal Blogs

The Girl’s Guide to Law School

Founded by Alison Monahan, a former member of the Columbia Law Review, the Girl’s Guide to Law School aims to help young women get what they want from law school. Alison shares her own experiences and that of guest posters to create a conversation about the unique stresses faced in law school and how to overcome them.

Clio Blog

Clio are a Canadian legal practice management software company, whose tech-focused blog also tackles the wider themes around better management of law firms, including looking after lawyers mental health and wellbeing, communication with clients, legal tech trends and much more.

Lawyerist

What began as a one man legal blog turned into a full-blown media company, home to the largest online community of solo and small-firm lawyers in the world. Articles, survival guides and podcasts share ideas, innovations and best practices, with a particular focus on technology.

CLOC Blog

At the cutting edge of legal operations, the blog by Corporate Legal Operations Consortium (CLOC) provides how-to articles aiming to help legal ops professional optimise legal service delivery models. Posts are monthly but contain plenty of content to consider and incorporate into your strategy.

Gen Y Lawyer 

This series of podcasts interviews by Nicole Abboud introduces a new generation of professionals who are doing something a little differently in the profession. Abboud talks to millennials both inside and outside of the legal profession who are going after what they want on their own terms.

The Law for Lawyers Today

Published by Thompson Hine LLP, TLLT is a resource for lawyers, departments and firms focusing on legal ethics and professional responsibility, including the ‘law of lawyering’, risk management and legal malpractice, running a legal business and other related topics.

Asia and Australasia Legal Blogs

China Law Blog 

This is a no-frills blog discussing the practical aspects of Chinese law and how it impacts business for anyone who is currently or about to begin conducting business in China. The blog is run by international law firm Harris Bricken, and its contributing writers help to challenge Western misconceptions of Chinese law with accessible and engaging articles grounded in real experience.

LGBT Law Blog 

Stephen Page is a leading divorce and surrogacy lawyer committed to championing the rights of and interests of LGBTI people in Australia. His posts tackle discrimination parenting, property settlement, same sex domestic violence, and same sex law issues. This will be one to follow as Australia goes to postal vote on same sex marriage laws.

Zoë Lawton’s #MeToo Blog

Zoë Lawton is a legal researcher specialising in family law, criminal law and legal tech. Her #MeToo blog ran for one month in February 2018, posting the experience of women (and a significant proportion of men) in law who had been subject to sexual harassment and assault, bullying and discrimination within the profession. A full copy of the blog was presented to the New Zealand Law Society and all NZ law schools, and the archive of posts now acts as a resource for those who want information on how to report their experience to the Human Rights Commission, the NZ Law Society, their employer, or their university.

Law and Other Things

Law and Other Things publishes informative court and case updates, news articles, interviews, book reviews, petitions and announcements relating to India’s laws and legal system, courts, and constitution.

Singapore Law Blog 

Singapore Law Blog covers the latest Singapore court decisions and legal news, as well as routinely showcasing practically relevant law journal articles and covers Continuing Legal Education events. It invites guest contributions and even providing access to a database of articles on Singapore law from both domestic and international sources, ensuring a number of voices and a variety of expert opinion is at your fingertips.

Finally, we couldn’t go without including Obelisk’s own thinking space! The Attic offers a weekly mixture of thought pieces on working culture in the legal industry, profiles of consultant and event speakers, and guidance on career development for lawyers and legal consultants looking to work differently.

What legal blogs do you follow? How do they help you in your work? Send us your recommendations at [email protected] and we’ll add them to our list…

The Legal Update

Guest blogger Louisa van Eeden-Smit of LexisNexis UK follows her recent article on smart contracts with another future-gazing blog, this time looking at what you need to future proof your career for the law firm of the future.

What will the law firm of the future look like? It’s a reasonable question to ask considering how much the legal market has changed already, and the ever-increasing pace of change moving forwards.

PwC’s 2018 Law Firm Survey found that 100% of the top 10 firms cited technology as the key challenge to growth over the next two years, but there is an overall optimism about the direction the industry is heading and the ability to stay competitive. The key questions that seem to come up in our experience are: How much will technology change the face of legal service? Will the generalist die out? Will more firms merge, or will the niche outfit emerge triumphant? Will more lawyers become self-employed, providing virtual services to organisations?

Regardless of the outcomes, there are ways that legal professionals – be they part-time, returners, flexi-workers, or full-time in-house – can future-proof their careers.

Here are 5 key ways that legal professionals can move forwards in this changing world:

#1 Be flexible

A degree of agility and flexibility will be necessary regarding how lawyers deliver legal services. This is as true now, with the advent of new regulations and an increasingly tech-savvy and informed client base, as it will be in the future. A willingness to adapt will serve you well, as well as open-mindedness regarding alternatives to the traditional model of working that is fast becoming a relic. From portfolio careers to flexible working, there are more models than ever to suit professionals – and benefit both employer and employee.

#2 Listen to the client

Client loyalty isn’t a given in a market replete with so many options – it’s earned. Today’s client is more informed and tech-savvy than ever. They are willing to shop around and they are empowered. When clients demand efficient, tech-led services, for example, legal services providers should listen and adapt.  It’s also important to be proactive and show how the firm is anticipating future change and preparing to evolve services.

#3 Develop relationships

Client loyalty may not reign supreme anymore, so it has become critical that law firms prove themselves to the in-house legal teams they serve. Listening to what they need and learning the business from the inside out will allow them to stand out from the crowd by offering in-house counsel exactly what they want, exactly what they consider to be valuable. “Deep knowledge of the business is what really breeds loyalty,” according to Richard Harris, Chief Legal Officer at Robert Walters Group.

#4 Be more commercial

In addition to learning about the business in order to provide more nimble and forward-looking advice, a future-proof and commercial legal professional is one that acts proactively. If you can look ahead and anticipate what issues might impact your business and put forward relevant plans of action, you will prove yourself to be indispensable. Such advice is “worth its weight in gold”, says Dean Nash, Head of Legal and Compliance at Monzo Bank, and will allow you to retain business in a competitive market.

#5 Make technology your friend

In-house legal teams consider it to be a win-win. After all, with technology streamlining the service, the process becomes faster, and invoices get lower. Legal tools are just that – tools that can be used to support lawyers, not replace them. Harnessing them to provide efficient service is a no-brainer, especially considering the fact that it can free up lawyers to focus on the parts of their job they actually like.

Overall, legal professionals who are willing and able to jump in and run with the changes – namely, maintaining a lean, agile practice, one that uses technology and offers efficient, business-centric service – will find themselves in a good position – and way ahead of the curve.

It also seems there is a common prediction emerging – part hope, part anticipation based on current trends – that law firms will be more holistic in the future. This applies to both client service and employee care. There is a hope that law firms will take a broader look at the service they provide; addressing the whole commercial picture of the business, as opposed to offering discrete pieces of legal advice, for example.

Similarly, more holistic practices with regards to employee care, respecting work-life balance and acknowledging their varying needs, are expected. As Alison Unsted, head of global diversity, inclusion and wellbeing at Hogan Lovells, said in a recent LexisNexis piece on the perks and benefits future law firms might provide: “As the make-up of our people changes over time, as a firm we need to ensure that we are agile in our response, so that our benefit offering continues to attract and retain talent.”

For consultants or legal professionals moving into this sphere, or laterally moving within it, there are more opportunities than ever to have the kind of career you want. The legal market is constantly evolving and allowing for more diverse working opportunities – the only question remains: what does the legal team or law firm of your future look like?

Making Work, Work

We already know the modern work paradigm is shifting; sitting at a desk in an office from 9 to 5 is no longer the default, and the rise of flexible working is gaining more attention. A recent YouGov survey has revealed that only 6% of working Britons now put in those hours. Instead, 73% work either part-time or with some form of flexible working arrangement (Deloitte and Timewise study).

Flexible working is no longer just a special condition for some people in work. Essentially it’s a way of working that suits the needs of employees of all kinds. This could mean starting and leaving the office earlier or working from home a few days a week. But as Anna Whitehouse of Mother Pukka Flex Appeal campaign explained: “Flexible working doesn’t mean working less or slacking off, it means finding hours that suit your life and how you best work. And it’s not just an issue for parents, either – it’s one of the few issues that both the unionists of the TUC and the employers at the CBI agree on: flexible working is better for staff, and it’s better for profits.”

The benefits are indeed tangible and wide ranging. Vodafone conducted a global survey about flexible working back in 2016, revealing that companies who had implemented agile strategies:

  • Increased company profits (according to 61% of respondents);
  • Improved productivity (83%);
  • Positively impacted company reputation (58%); and
  • Improved staff morale (76%).

Flexi-work also has a knock-on effect on recruitment. As Clare Butler, recruitment expert and Global Managing Director of Lawrence Simmons Recruitment, revealed to Catherine Gleave in our recent piece on “The Future’s Flexi”, employers need to be open-minded about their approach to flexible working going forward because it can make all the difference when it comes to talent acquisition, with many contracts won and lost over this very issue. There is a push towards respecting the work-life balance across the legal profession and if companies push back, they risk losing out on some serious talent. This is especially true regarding working parents and millennials for whom workplace culture, of which this plays a part, is often more important than traditional status indicators, like salary.

Rights to Flexible Working

Companies may not actively offer it as part of recruitment, but after six months in a job, every employee in the UK has the right to request flexible working. While companies aren’t obliged to acquiesce to a request, they are obliged to consider it “in a reasonable manner”. Are you thinking of pitching the case for flexi working to your boss or trying negotiate (or even lay the groundwork for the future) on accepting a new position? Read the LexisNexis piece on the Flex Appeal and #BeBoldforChange here. It’s got the answers to two of the most common – and increasingly outdated – objections: “If we did it for you, we’d have to do it for everyone!” and “You’ll be less productive.”

Even though some companies might dig in their heels, relying on the predictable old arguments for not implementing agile working policies, flexible working is on the rise – both in the country, and in the legal profession, marking a significant turning point for the industry in 2019. As more companies are working agile policies into their contracts, the legal market as a whole is thriving, with even more talented individuals either entering or returning to the workforce. As Catherine Gleave notes: “Not only do women feel more empowered to return to the workplace on their own terms, the rising popularity of flexible working means that a varied work structure is the standard rather than a special requirement, thus preventing any bias against candidates who require a more flexible work schedule.”

Working Smarter

In addition to injecting even more talent into the marketplace, flexible working is just one of the ways the modern legal workforce can work smarter, rather than harder. And it’s being facilitated largely by the advance of technology. Taken at its most basic, laptops and smartphones mean that lawyers can be online and contactable 24/7, no matter where they are in the world. But add to that the plethora of cutting-edge legal tools, such as case management software, and it’s clear that legal professionals can remain connected to both their clients and colleagues without being physically present in the office. They can execute tasks, securely access shared files, issue and review contracts, send out invoices, and much more.

There’s no more putting it off: the legal market is evolving and the traditional working model is going to diminish. As the market changes, different, more agile working models are on the rise, from portfolio careers to flexible working. These models can benefit both employee and employer, as companies are beginning to realise and act upon, and as seen in the continued success of organisations such as Obelisk Support, which recently joined the FT Future 100 UK list as a diversity leader – the only legal company to do so.

But for those considering taking a flexible approach to work, there are undoubtedly challenges, from the risk of succumbing to procrastination to figuring out how to engender trust at work and stay on top of client care. But at its core there are certain things to do in the run up to taking the leap:

  • Be realistic about what you can do on a flexible schedule and take the time to figure out how and where.
  • Find a forward-looking company with a positive work culture.
  • Research the right tools and technology to facilitate working efficiently out of the office.
  • Discuss it with your team, both full-time in-house and other flexible workers, to make sure there’s buy-in and understanding.
  • Stay flexible and carry out reviews of your arrangement. Be prepared to adjust and change as you go.

For more practical, easy-to-implement solutions and suggestions, read the LexisNexis article on the Future of Law – “Flexible Working for Lawyers: How Far Can You Flex?

Making Work, Work

We are delighted to have Louisa Van Eeden of Lexis Nexis UK join us as a guest blogger on The Attic. Her first post takes a look at how millennials are shaping the future of the legal industry.

Millennials. They’re the generation that everybody loves to blame for, well, pretty much anything. They are branded as “snowflakes”, and written off as a problem that either needs to be overcome, or ignored until they ‘grow up’ and become more like the older generations. But who are they really, and what impact are they having on the legal industry?

Much like Generation X back in the 1990s, the term millennial is often used in the media to refer to anything related to a youth culture that other generations generally don’t understand that well. Unlike Generation X, the Millennial Generation was typically born between the early 1980s and the late 1990s, and grew up in a dramatically different landscape to their forebears. The world has changed: the internet dominates our lives, job security and home ownership are not a certainty; the future of the planet is at risk through climate change; and it’s becoming rapidly apparent that continuing with a business as usual attitude, just because that’s the way it’s always been, is untenable.

Consequently, millennials simply aren’t as compelled by traditional practices as previous generations, both in life and work. They are who they are. Where previous high achievers would chase salary, millennials now typically look for a company that aligns with their values. For the millennial, culture reigns supreme. In fact, a study recently conducted by Fidelity showed that millennials are willing to give up (up to) £7,600 in salary every year for a job that gave them a better environment and culture.

The Millennial Takeover

Considering that millennials now form the backbone of staff and client bases, making up to 35% of our current workforce, with that set to increase to 50% of the workforce by 2020, this is not a demographic to underestimate. Millennials are not just a vague notion of youth culture, they are real people progressing into management positions, and are shaping the technological and cultural landscape of every industry, including the law.

The “The Millennial Takeover”, identifies three key areas where the legal industry is seeing the impact of millennials:

#1 Talent Acquisition

This is a key battleground for law firms and one which millennials are well-positioned to approach and understand, especially because, as the Financial Times continues to report, firms are struggling to source and retain talent in today’s rapidly changing marketplace. Attracting the best and brightest young talent is more important than ever before, and harder than ever before, with this generation taking a markedly different approach to their careers. Millennials are key to helping law firms communicate their vision of the future, enabling firms to modernise with an eye to the demands of new talent and driving a competitive edge.

#2 The Ability to Drive the Profession Forward

Law firms are already changing with the millennial worker in mind. As the Law Journal Newsletter reports: “A number of firms have moved, remodelled or completely overhauled their physical workplaces with millennials in mind, favouring common areas, for example, over large corner offices.” But it’s not just physical changes, but more fundamental ones as well. As one of the co-founders of the Legal A-Team asserts, the partnership model – one of the traditional prestige markers in law firms – is no longer the aim: “Millennials want what they want and they want it now. The patience factor is not one of their fortes — they’re not going to stand around for 12 years.” In order to retain and attract millennial talent (and not lose them to agile, tech-forward start-ups), law firms will need to significantly adapt their culture and perhaps even their company structure.

#3 A Creative Approach to Business Practices

Law firms and lawyers need to think more creatively about their working practices in light of the rise of consumerism in today’s legal market. Client power is increasingly dominant, with billing and efficiency becoming ever more important. New and agile practices, from social media to technology, are areas where millennials excel. They also prefer to work collaboratively rather than as a silo, which may well serve firms well moving forwards. Being open to change and engaging in a dialogue with junior members of the team may be beneficial here, in order to ensure that the firm remains stimulated and doesn’t fall behind.

Millennials and Legal Tech

While all three areas are important to understand, technology is the one that underpins them all. The agile working practices and lateral knowledge-sharing solutions favoured by millennial legal professionals and legal start-ups are all enabled by technology. Indeed, there are already reports that legal tools are being used with increasing regularity. A recent LexisNexis In-house Insights report, ‘Legal Technology – Looking Past the Hype’ found that 85% of in-house legal teams surveyed have introduced multiple technology types and almost three quarters (73%) of respondents who have already introduced legal technology tools are making plans to expand their implementation. It is very likely that the next generation of lawyers will practise law in very different ways.

As Head of the Global Cyber Security Practice at Herbert Smith Freehills Andrew Moir suggests, lawyers have an obligation to stay up to date with legal developments and new technologies: ‘There have always been areas where an understanding of both the law and technology is helpful, such as patents, IT contractual disputes or cyber security. But now we’re increasingly being instructed on the legal aspects of cutting edge technology such as blockchain, electronic signatures, artificial intelligence, and data analytics, to name a few. Before we can advise on these sorts of developments, we really need as lawyers to understand the technology behind them.’

The Flexible Generation

Technology is undoubtedly changing the legal profession, and it’s likely that the next generation of lawyers will practise law in very different ways. Indeed, there is already a growing section of the workplace – populated by those who have different life demands and values – who no longer fit the traditional working model. This has led to an increase in portfolio careers as well as flexible working models designed to benefit both employee and employer. This can be seen in the continued success of organisations such as Obelisk Support, which recently joined the FT Future 100 UK list as a diversity leader – the only legal company to do so.

This trend is likely to continue to increase and evolve as more millennials dominate the workforce, bringing with them their approach to work-life balance, their use of technology as a natural enabler, the importance they place on purposeful business (one which looks beyond the profit line), their desire for flexibility, and their alternative definitions of success.

We are entering an exciting era for the legal industry, one in which we wait in watchful anticipation to see who will accept and accelerate this new approach to working culture, and what impact it will have across the legal profession and wider society.

For more insights on how young lawyers are best positioning themselves to weather the upcoming changes, check out our post on “The Legal Profession for Millennials”. 

Women in Law

How do we deal with upheaval as individuals? We have to adapt, be open to the changes ahead and listen to advice. In the legal profession, it is no different – as the world in which we practice law changes rapidly, lawyers need to be ready to rethink how they work.

That is the premise of a new book by Michele DeStefano, law professor and founder of LawWithoutWalls and MoveLaw. Legal Upheaval: A Guide To Creativity, Collaboration and Innovation in Law introduces readers to 7 essential experiences that lawyers must master to achieve innovation, transform their collaboration with clients, and create solutions at the intersection of law, technology and business.

With some urgency, the author encourages lawyers to think and behave differently in order to drive the innovation that so many in the industry are calling for. We were lucky enough to chat to Michele, and she is just as infectiously passionate in person as she tells us about the process of writing the book and the need for lawyers to be more ‘open’…

You are recognised as a ‘legal rebel’ by the American Bar Association – what does that mean to you?

To me a legal rebel means someone who isn’t just talking about what needs to be fixed in legal practice, both in training and practice, but is actively taking risks to do things that are different. Ironically, since the law is slower to change than other industries it’s not that hard to be considered a rebel!

There certainly is a lot of talk about innovation at the moment – in the book you define it as ‘lasting incremental change that adds value’, how much of that are we seeing right now?

There are various ways to define innovation, and it can be a hackneyed word. But there is some consensus in law that innovation is still about small steps – small change is difficult but is easier than asking for ‘big bang’ innovation, especially in a world of people that like the status quo.

However, lawyers and Heads of Innovation I think still inaccurately focus on the technology side of innovating, and it’s starting to frustrate in house teams and clients. Not every innovative solution has to be a technology. Will tech be involved in improvement? Yes probably, but we need to first change the view of the way legal services are provided. The focus needs to shift from what lawyers do, to how we do it; how we are utilising and leverage tech in order to improve our service and provide better legal products. If we look at design thinking, there was a similar trajectory that law is now learning from: there is lots of literature on the design thinker perspective on improving service, and we’re starting to see people from a design thinking method background being hired to work with lawyers to help them work through pain points and affect change in their service.

You put great emphasis on encouraging lawyers to be more collaborative and well-rounded in order to drive the changes needed in the industry…

Yes, that is something we typically struggle with. It’s a chicken-egg scenario: is the law attracting a certain type of person – those who are more introverted, more risk averse, more sceptical, but are great at complex problem solving – or is it that through the way training and practice churns and burns us that we create them?

That’s not to say being risk averse and sceptical are bad things, because in so many ways it’s our job to be those things to protect clients. We need those qualities, but it’s important to not be that all the time in the way we approach everything we do. Be a human! Use that fantastic lawyer mind but let’s work together and build on each other’s ideas to create a better service for those we work with.

Tell us about how you try to encourage openness with Law Without Walls?

With Law Without Walls, we have created a learning programme that is multidisciplinary in every way – people of all ages experience levels and type of discipline: academics, public servants, law firms and law schools from across the world come together into teams to co-create a Project of Worth – a practical solution to a real business problem designed to bring value. It’s extremely rewarding to watch the teams, especially the lawyers, change and grow in the way they ask questions, think about problems, approach meetings etc.  Especially when you hear that their teams back home notice the difference too, so much so they are asking them ‘who are you and what have you done with Craig?!’ That impact is exactly what we aim to achieve.

How was the process of writing Legal Upheaval? What did you learn from it and was there anything that surprised you in the conversations you had?

It wasn’t so hard to write but it was hard to edit! It took two years of interviews and I had enough for three books but had to edit it all down to one.  Interviewing is really a tough field – it requires listening beyond listening, there is no ‘I’ or ‘me’! We should be doing more interviewing training in law school.

Obviously I knew going in that the topic of innovation was being pushed, GC and in-house counsels are constantly saying ‘innovate or die’ but they don’t exactly know what it is or what they are asking for. Can you really measure it if you only know it when you see it? There’s an analogy to be made there with the diversity movement – calls for diversity initially were very vague, so firms would say ‘oh we have a female working with us’ – no mention of what level they were at, but okay!

It was only over time that the questions became more focused: what % of minorities are in our organisation, what % on my senior team are diverse etc. Now, clients are asking for your flexi-time policies, because without that you cannot support diversity – diversity doesn’t truly exist without creating an inclusive culture and environment.

It’s the same with innovation – who is going to lead it? What are you hoping to achieve? If you don’t want the same thing to happen as diversity, where you are racing to  meet client demand instead of forward thinking and define innovation for yourself, now is the time to be asking serious questions. Part of being a great innovator  is self awareness.

Another thing I was surprised by was the amount of in-house counsel complaints on simple matters – particularly over advising. There is a disconnect there, and I don’t know why or what is happening. Perhaps it’s because we are taught to see the trees not the forest, so many lawyers are missing the bigger picture of how their documents are used in day to day business practices. In-house counsel can read the law, they don’t want to receive reams of information that they have to filter and rewrite. We need to spend more time sitting back listening and asking ‘why’ in what we are doing. Of course, that makes people uncomfortable, especially the more senior we get, as we think we know the answers and we are taught to find answers for ourselves.

From your experience as a professor of law, is there a change in approach to teaching? Are students coming in with different expectations now? 

It is a bit like moving the Titanic. I don’t know if students are all that different – for hundreds of years they have come in with bright eyes and big hearted missions, that won’t change, but the next generation may have different expectations of the culture of law. Unfortunately law schools are much slower to move and the tenure systems that are in place very much encourage status quo and professors keep on teaching the same things they have taught for years. So, though there are some great things being done in law schools across the world in terms of bespoke programmes being created, it’s not reaching every student that it should. But it’s not just up to the schools, it’s going to take the whole village to move and change way we train and retrain lawyers.

What do you hope people will take from the book overall?

My hope is that people will leave with hope. Lots of articles about law as an industry are negative, but we should realise that some of the traditional habits that have made us successful so far are also characteristics that we can utilise to get over hurdles. The mission of the book is to get every lawyer to try a problem solving group project with the mindset of an innovator and try to adopt some of those skill sets and characteristics.

My three rules of engagement are Open Heart, Open Mind and Open Door – it does sound corny, but they are essential. Yes, effective people are good at editing out the nonsense and saying no to things, but innovators are different. They let go of preconceptions and allow themselves to be more open to accept seemingly silly ideas. That’s something that those in the legal industry can adopt and build on, and take that brilliant lawyer brain to fine tune and turn them into the really good ideas. We can approach creative problem solving collaboratively through just a small shift in thinking.

Michele’s efforts to encourage collaboration struck a real chord with us here at Obelisk. While this change in mindset is a challenge for all lawyers given their traditional education, DeStefano concludes it is overall good news for women lawyers, because on balance they are better at the necessary skills: having an Open Mind, Open Heart and Open Door. It certainly gave us hope that we are on a real cusp of change in the legal industry, and that small actions being taken today are laying the groundwork for a more open and inclusive future.

Legal Upheaval is available on Kindle and in Hardcover Edition from 1st October

 

Making Work, Work

When discussing the future of work, technology always comes up as the main element or facilitator, humans coming in as an afterthought. What the gig economy has done for our current work landscape, so far, is normalise cheap labour on demand and the work precarity that comes with it.

Lawyers of course are no strangers to the gig economy, with cheap labour platforms offering unregulated legal services from freelance lawyers. And both a lawyers and as members of wider society, it is our duty to question any situation that worsens workers’ rights. At Obelisk Support, we believe in “Human First” and a new book, Humans As A Service: The Promise and Perils of Work in the Gig Economy, made us reflect in the gig economy’s impact on innovation and employment in the modern age. In the book and during a chat with The Attic, Jeremias Prassl analyses the gig economy with a focus on the workers who actually labour in the gig workforce.

Disruptive Innovation

An Eversheds survey which focused on young lawyers and their views on the legal sector highlighted that these up-and-coming professionals are looking for a better work-life balance and concluded that they feel the traditional career path in law is now out of step with the 21st century.

Proponents of the sharing economy argue that society reaps major benefits from growth driven by platform’s innovative disruption of existing business models. Instead of boring 9-to-5 lives, gig workers enjoy the exhilarating challenges and vast financial rewards of entrepreneurship.

That may be true but the danger lies in platforms denying workers’ employment status even if their gig lawyers aren’t de facto independent. Jeremias agrees: ” A level playing field in employment massively supports innovation, they inherently go hand in hand. A world where there is no protection for employees stifles innovation. And this is where historical examples come into play – there is the fascinating example of Yorkshire mill owners in the 19th century who were complaining to the House of Lords that they could not get a return on investment on new spinning technology, because competitors were still using children in home for cheap labour. There actually needs to be a level playing level playing field for industries to move forward and innovation to thrive.”

Autonomy

In explaining how gig economy enterprises work, Jeremias Prassl shows that the companies running the platforms do retain control, often in a subtle manner. What is presented as the business of matching is in fact, a unilateral subjective view of a curated platform in the interest of the company.

“Gig-economy operators accurately shape the entire transaction by means of close control over their workforce, from setting terms and conditions and checking relevant qualifications, to insuring proper performance and payment… User ratings also provide quality control and feedback, and digital payment systems render the entire transaction cashless.”

The anonymous rating system ensures tight control over every aspect of work and service delivery, as well as algorithms disclosing only part of the job descriptions, hence distorting the pretence of true entrepreneurship. If you don’t know what you are signing up for, how can you be independent? That’s where the problems we have started to see in terms of the gig economy and flexible working lie, says Jeremias. “We should recognise that flexibility can be extremely useful for life and being able to choose when and how much we work, but also bear in mind that flexibility in some circumstances can be very one sided. Where flexibility is one sided, and people don’t have the choice of the work they want, that becomes insecurity. A successful plumber growing their independent business will have a very different experience to someone signed up to a platform who is struggling to put together a living.”

Why It Matters

Cheap work and using idle assets should be in everybody’s interests but as seen before, it also creates a peculiar precarity that makes workers work longer hours for less money, therefore making them shoulder the economic risk of a multilateral task.

Is this fair?

No.

Is this bad?

Not necessarily.

It all depends on the regulatory framework. What are the challenges of applying regulation to such a global and heterogenic employment model? “The long term challenges that exist are in social security systems of different countries, and in general legal protections that are still designed round stable permanent employment relationships”, says Jeremias. “That will need to be rethought. Just as important are tax laws and consumer protection care and liability: all these things are designed around employment relationships that we are moving away from, and that will be a challenge for different regulatory models.”

Sustainable Gig Working Solutions

Everybody should have the right to work differently, at unconventional hours or from non-office places. That’s the very definition of flexible work, one of a few directions the gig economy could take if done right.

To become a sustainable work model for society, the gig economy would also benefit from legislations recognising employment rights for gig workers, even in odd situations with multiple employers. Assuming that this status is recognised, gig workers would still have to contend with non-transparent rating algorithms from the platforms they work with. In his book, Prassl suggests a concept of “portable ratings” that would “empower workers to follow up on grievances and negotiate for better conditions -or to move on to a different platform.”

Last but not least, without collective representation, gig workers cannot attain the level of bargaining power they are due, and cannot negotiate their work conditions. Effectively, the lack of a united voice weakens their position.

Consumer Protection

While most of Prassl’s book discusses the fate of gig workers, consumers are not left out either. The rights of clients are not protected in cases of grievances as platforms often treat customers no differently from their workers, “refusing to step in and take responsibility.”

Regulating the gig economy by granting employment status to workers would work in favour of clients as they would be covered by the responsibility an employer incurs for the actions of its employees in the course of business.

Is the Gig Economy the Way Forward?

Based on the book’s premises, one wouldn’t quickly assume that Prassl agrees with the very concept of gig economy and platforms. However at the end of the day, Jeremias Prassl is a socially-minded liberal. “Ensuring the full application of employment law is crucial if we want to make the gig economy work for all,” he writes.

Touted as a great innovation for workers, the gig economy has enriched platforms and spread precarious work to a population that doesn’t have much choice. If indeed the gig economy is a transitional phase before these jobs are automated or taken over by AI, including legal discovery and due diligence in the legal world, the gig economy should benefit to all involved until then.

“We are certainly seeing [the gig economy] becoming a larger part of industries like transport, healthcare, and law” says Jeremias. “I think it is and will continue to be an important component in employment but to what extent it is the way of the future, for now I can’t say.”

The Case of Freelance Lawyers

As providers of legal services at Obelisk Support, we only work with freelance lawyers. Are they part of the gig economy? No, as experienced professionals, they carry out complex tasks independently for our clients and choose to work as freelance lawyers for personal reasons. Rare are the lawyers who, once they’ve carved out a successful freelance lawyering career, want to go back to a traditional 9-to-5. In that respect, what we bring to the industry is real positive change in the way these lawyers work.

Much positive change still needs to happen in the legal profession but if one thing is sure, it’s that the gig economy, as described in Humans as a Service… is not a concern. Irreversibly, legal tech has already changed the legal landscape for low-skilled legal tasks. All we need to do – and it’s a big ask – is to learn how to work with technology while growing our economy and protecting rights and liberties. This is a wider discussion on the ethics of artificial intelligence that we welcome with open minds.

 

Whether you are an employment lawyer interested in the legal context, if you are or are thinking of taking on flexible gig employment, or are someone who is simply fascinated by the future of work, there is plenty of insight in Humans As A Service to pique your interest. Print copies of the book are available from Oxford University Press.

 

The Legal Update

Japan is known for its bright city lights, tall buildings and weird and wonderful technological innovations. However, behind the scenes the country’s innovation, especially in the legal sector, is suffering due to its conservative culture and demographic problems. Ken Onda, business intern at Obelisk Support, takes a look at these conflicting elements and what needs to be done to sustain legal innovation in Japan.

The Status of Women in Law

A recent domestic scandal, where one of the most prestigious medical universities in the country admitted to manipulating entrance exam scores of female candidates to keep their pass rate under 1 out of 3, drew attention to Japan’s ingrained conservative outlook on gender roles and the lack of progress being made on equality across professional and technological industries. The fixing was allegedly done due to the belief that women had a higher chance of leaving the medical profession after conceiving children, causing “an intolerable burden for already overworked doctors”.

It is no surprise on hearing this news that Japan is ranked 114th out of 144 countries in gender equality, one of the worst for a developed country. In the legal sector, female attorneys make up merely 18.2% of Japan’s lawyer population, according to the Japan Federation of Bar Associations. Of that 18.2%, only 11% are partners. This is a quite unbelievable disparity between men and women. Despite its shrinking demographic with 30% of its population 65 or over, Japan continues to discriminate against half of its population. This lack of representation is one of the reasons why Japan is suffering economically, and is increasingly unable to deal with international legal matters and lacking innovation in the legal sector.

Conservatism vs Legal Innovation

As far as the structure of its legal system, Japan has fewer per capita lawyers compared to other industrialised nations such as the US and EU countries. There are fears that at the current state, Japan will face a major problem in an ever-globalising world. Japan has adopted a Western legal system to settle legal disputes in courts despite significant cultural mismatch. Japanese people tend to resolve issues privately through negotiation without the involvement of lawyers. If there is no resolution, the conflicting parties will often go directly to court and litigate without private/commercial mediation. However, as lawyers are often not taught about mediation during university, they are not well equipped to solve problems in non-litigious ways.

Chart source: Wall Street Journal

This is a problem as when foreign entities – especially those in the West – try to do business with Japan, they are often caught off guard by the norms within the Japanese legal industry. This makes them less willing to work with Japanese entities, which is a significant barrier to collaborative innovation.

Moreover, the driving force of innovation – start-ups – are the most under-supported sector in Japan. Japan embodies a vertical collectivism, where bureaucracy, group-thinking and strict regulation dominate. It is a country where people are generally less inclined to take risks. For instance, Japanese landlords often want to see at least 2 years of profits before renting space to a company. It is therefore no surprise that venture capitalists often do not invest on high-risk ventures such as emerging technologies in the legal sector.

Although Japan invests heavily in R&D and is known for its technological advancement, it lacks entrepreneurship and application and capitalisation of its research due to its culture and regulation. Japan is still at its core a highly conservative country that does not embrace change readily as other developed nations, especially concerning new technologies. Japanese corporations such as Fujitsu, Hitachi and Sony are too slow and bureaucratic to keep up with agile foreign competitors in countries such as the US, Germany and South Korea.

Japan’s Missing In-House Lawyers

Japan is facing a major demographic problem involving shrinking population, going below the replacement rate. Subsequently, its market is also shrinking. For this reason, many Japanese companies are being more inclined to enter foreign markets, such as by conducting outbound M&A. However, due to the lack of experience in M&A and human resources, especially for SMEs, most of these deals fail according to the Asia Business Law Journal. This is exacerbated by the fact that Japanese firms tend to not employ in-house lawyers, but instead, make their departments deal with their own respective legal issues (e.g. a finance department deals with finance-related legal issues). This means that senior management is not given legal guidance when going through an M&A deal that is often full of legal issues. This increases the likelihood of the M&A deal not going through. Even when there is a legal department present, they often take traditional roles such as reviewing contracts and dealing with litigation. According to the Association of Corporate Legal Departments in Japan, only 6% of in-house lawyers felt that senior management frequently implemented the advice of in-house legal counsel.

Illustrating this trend, only 5% of qualified lawyers in Japan work as a legal counsel. One of the main reason for this is because the Japanese Bar Exam has been deliberately designed to be one of the hardest in the country to pass. On average, people take the exam 6 times before finally passing to qualify as a lawyer. For this reason, a lot of Japanese law students go on to work after graduation as in-house counsels without being qualified. Could foreign-qualified lawyers be the answer to Japan’s lack of qualified lawyers?

Not so. The barrier for foreign lawyers to work in Japan is high, as it requires extensive documentation and in-person visits to the Japanese Bar and Ministry of Justice, taking at least 5 months. Conversely, hiring foreign-qualified lawyers for matters such as international arbitration is seen as a strenuous process for firms in Japan and in practice, not common. The resulting short supply of lawyers stunts the demand for innovation and change in the Japanese legal industry.

The Bottom Line

There is a serious need for legal innovation in Japan. To do this, the country first needs to address the core issue regarding gender discrimination. There needs to be progressive reforms and auditing of university admission process by the government to break entry barriers for women in male-dominated professions such as law and STEM. Additionally, university teaching of law should include the concept of mediation, as often practiced internationally, and the general practice of law around the world, especially in Western cultures. This is essential to keep Japan in the global stage.  

Then there is the lack of supply of qualified lawyers, especially in-house counsels. This will be a major problem in the coming years for Japan due to the rapid pace of globalisation, and increasing importance of IP and technology. The scarcity of in-house counsels means that Japan is increasingly unable to deal with international disputes, especially for SMEs. Despite the efforts to increase number of lawyers in Japan, little progress has been made. Japan needs to encourage not only domestic lawyers, but also foreign lawyers. On the one hand, the Japanese Bar Exam should ease its examination requirements while not losing its quality in order to encourage fresh law graduates to take the exam. On the other and, work barriers for foreign-qualified lawyers should be loosened to also increase the global availability of lawyers.

Finally, Japan needs to change its approach to business. In the age of rapid technological advancements, Japan needs to move to a more agile approach to business and loosen regulations to enable startups and entrepreneurship to thrive. Japan needs to place as much emphasis on commercialisation of technologies as it does on R&D. It will be interesting to watch progress over the next decade to see how the country can reconcile its contradictions to perform to its full potential on the global stage.

The Legal Update

While cryptocurrency valuations may currently be in a state of decline, confidence around them being a long term prospect seems to be increasing, and more people in the legal industry are taking note. At Obelisk Support,  we follow this topic with interest as our clients get on the cryptocurrency bandwagon. Investment fund lawyer John Lore advises clients on cryptocurrencies and investments as part of his firm Capital Fund Law Group, and places great importance on educating the wider industry on the implications of cryptocurrency investment and blockchain technology. He took some time out of his increasingly busy schedule to talk to us about the pressing issues and how lawyers are responding.

What is your legal background and when did you decide to create the Capital Fund Law Group?

I was previously with Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld LLP, where I worked within their Hedge Fund and Private Equity practice. Then in 2010, I launched my own firm to focus exclusively on the investment fund sector and fund manager sector. To begin with, most of our clients were in the United States and it took a few years to build a global clientele.

How did you first come to deal with cryptocurrencies? What were the perceptions and predictions for cryptocurrencies like then, and how have they evolved since?

We started getting some phone calls about cryptocurrencies around 2013. We initially held off were as we were not ready to jump into the asset class, until 2016 when we launched our first cryptocurrency fund. [In those years] we invested effort in getting up to speed on regulations and drafting some of the initial disclaimer language. It was still very new so getting comfortable from a regulatory perspective took some time.

In terms of wider perceptions – honestly, I didn’t see much perception at all from legal community early on, pretty much nothing was being discussed back then. The shift in perceptions really happened recently in Spring 2017 where there was an explosion of activity in cryptocurrency due to the initial major surge in price of Bitcoin.

Though perceptions around cryptocurrency are rapidly developing, it’s still a very new area. How do you support and advise clients who are interested yet inexperienced?

We emphasise a solid experience in finance. From 2017, we ended up receiving hundreds of phone calls for individuals who wanted to start cryptocurrency funds. We were, and still are, very cautious about representing fund managers who have experience with crypto but don’t have a background in the finance sector. We are more on the side of tempering the swift formation of a cryptocurrency fund and teaching emerging managers how to create the proper structure for a fund. There are a lot of people we deal with who are very savvy with technology and are startup focused, so we advise them to partner with career finance people to create a more diversified skillset.

How have lawyers had to adjust their learning and experience to cryptocurrencies and the blockchain? 

There is much more interest now than there was, particularly in recognising that certain aspect of blockchain technology will change the future of a number of industries. From the investment side, we’ve seen a lot more education pop up – there have been some real strong early adopters on the legal side, who lack seasoned experience in finance, that we end up turning away but that gap is now getting filled by others. In general, there is a continued interest in the legal community in understanding the space and serving it. We, of course, only see a small slice of that in an investment context but in terms of the blockchain universe e.g. smart contracts, coin offering token offerings etc. there is a tremendous need for legal counsel in all those fields.

I think we’re right in the middle of the shift between curiosity and significant resources being allocated to the area. Again, I can only speak for the investment side, but a lot will depend on emergence of institutional investment and Wall Street involvement. I anticipate along with the rest of the cryptocurrency community that there will be major transitioning to a greater focus from these areas.

What impact are cryptocurrencies and the blockchain having now? 

There’s a plethora of opportunities that can be matched with technology across many sectors. On the investment side, there are major opportunities for cryptocurrencies as a stored value, and blockchain is already proving to be a very important aspect of the industry going forward.

What is the future looking like? Will certain cryptocurrencies eventually become a way of life for more institutions and individuals?

There’s the question of whether it will gain mainstream acceptance and whether it will continue as a convenient form of exchanging value. My predictions are: as an investment vehicle, yes, for next few years it will be limited to hedge funds and to high net worth individuals as a major trading instrument, but that can change as soon as there are infrastructures capability such as custodies and exchanges allowing for exchange traded funds (ETFs) – that would provide a strong avenue for retail level participation. Regarding seeing cryptocurrency as a replacement currency for our existing financial structures, that is more of an academic question at this point.

What developments and changes are still required to ensure longevity?

That’s exactly the question I like to be asked! Right now, the question most people have in mind is when and how the problem of custody will be resolved. That is both a technological problem and a legal problem. Getting the technology to a place where we can satisfy the custody requirement to meet financial crime compliance and to satisfy the regulatory requirement of jurisdictions around the world is a big challenge. So, we announced in July at our Cryptocurrency Custody workshop the creation of a working group, an international council of self-regulatory organisations that is going to be co-sponsored by the Stanford Law Blockchain Law and Policy Journal, and the Global Center for Investment Fund Studies, our non-profit research centre. There is a real need for international dialogue. There has been a tremendous interest in London, Dubai, and parts of Asia, and everyone is looking to the U.S. on this – a lot of dialogue is needed on how regulations will be shaped how self-regulatory bodies will play a part in that.

John Lore is a member of the New York State Bar and the Utah State Bar.  Mr. Lore represents fund managers and securities issuers throughout the United States. Capital Fund Law Group advises emerging and established hedge fund managers, with a strong focus on cryptocurrency funds on all aspects of fund formation and ongoing operations.

Women in Law

As a woman-led alternative legal services provider seeking to change the culture of a notoriously patriarchal industry, we celebrate and champion the success of women in law on a daily basis. With International Women’s Day upon us, and Women’s History Month underway, it’s a great chance for us to find out more about the women in law across the world who are blazing a trail in legal tech to change the legal industry as we know it. Here are some of the key names in law who are making history today…

Maura Grossman

Photo: Cheriton School of Computer Science, University of Waterloo

Maura Grossman has had a more unusual path to law, starting out as a clinical psychologist before passing the bar, and being promoted to Of Counsel with Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz  in 2006. She is a leading advocate and driver of e-discovery technology, and has since moved to become a professor of computer science, while continuing to practice law with her own practice Maura Grossman Law in New York (USA). Grossman worked with Professor Gordon Cormack on a landmark paper titled Technology-Assisted Review in E-Discovery Can Be More Effective and More Efficient Than Exhaustive Manual Review, which is credited with creating the technology-assisted review (TAR) field. In her role at the University of Waterloo (Ontario, Canada) she is building on her research to continue to advance e-discovery in the legal sector.

Bahar Ansari

Photo: Stanford Law School, Stanford University

Bahar Ansari is a practising American lawyer and co-founder of Case.one, a legal tech startup based in California that has developed cloud-based, all-in-one legal practice management software helping attorneys work on litigation, exchange information, manage time and billing, create invoices and monitor ongoing tasks from wherever they work.

The idea came from her own experience of a lack of suitable options for case management systems, during both her time as a law firm litigator and when trying to source technology for her own practice. She realised that there were two key problems; the expense of technology available and the resistance amongst traditional practices to take advantage of technology to revamp their systems. Ansari aims to disrupt the global legal market and make justice more accessible to all through education and technology innovations.

Kristina Nordlander

Photo: Sidley Austin LLP www.sidley.com

Kristina Nordlander is renowned as an EU competition and litigation lawyer, who has been involved in many high profile anti trust investigations and cases before EU courts. In 2017, she was named as a Top 10 Innovator in Europe by the Financial Times for her ‘unconventional’ approach to cases, including her representation of the leading European online pharmacy DocMorris in a landmark case concerning cross-border internet sales of prescription medicines. Even more notably to us, she is founder of and runs the Women’s Competition Network (WCN) – a group of around 1,700 women in antitrust – said in the Global Competition Review that she was motivated to establish the WCN by “a very long career with no female role models” in which networking events were attended exclusively by men. The WCN, an international network for senior competition law and policy professionals, which aims to promote the advancement of women in the field.

Mishi Choudhary

An Indian technology lawyer and digital rights activist, Mishi Choudhary previously practised as a High Court and Supreme Court Litigator in New Delhi, and is also the only lawyer in the world to simultaneously appear on briefs in the US and Indian Supreme Courts. With a passion and dedication to the free and open source software movement she set up the Software Freedom Law Center (SFLC) in 2010, with the aim of protecting the rights of internet users and software providers in this rapidly moving sphere. She was also part of the SaveTheInternet coalition that successfully campaigned for net neutrality in India. Her achievements led to her being named in 2015 as one of Asia Society’s 21 young leaders building Asia’s future.

Odunoluwa Longe

Photo: Venture Capital for Africa

Odunoluwa Longe is a Nigerian lawyer who was recently awarded SME Empowerment Innovation Challenge for East and West Africa at the Innovating Justice Awards which aims to turn ‘promising and disruptive ideas into effective innovations’. She co-founded DIY Law, a legal technology company enabling access to online legal services and information for entrepreneurs in Africa, with Bola Olonisakin and Funkola Odeleye. The business model may not be unique, but it has the potential to be a major catalyst for change in Nigeria, where complicated bureaucracy stifles entrepreneurship and enables corruption at all levels of government and business. Longe also runs her own practice, and believed it more important to stay in Nigeria where her idea could make the biggest impact. With that kind of dedication and belief in the future of law in a changing world we reckon she is one to watch.

Photo: NextLaw Labs

Marie Bernard

Marie Bernard worked previously as European Director of Innovations at Dentons law firm, and became strategic advisor to Dentos’ legal technology venture NextLaw Labs before being appointed CEO. NextLaw Labs is a global incubator that actively supports and invests in new legal technologies. Bernard has long been a promoter of technology and innovation in the law, and her understanding approach to the often slower decision making processes within traditional law firm, and passionate belief in new innovations and ideas has enabled her to create successful ‘co-innovation partnerships’, allowing lawyers to explore and experiment with pilots and give them the space to adapt and change their thinking for themselves. Her work led to her being recognised in the Fastcase 50 as one of the world’s leading innovators in law in 2017.

For Women’s Day 2018, take some time to recognise the women who have inspired, mentored or affected change in your chosen career path. We’d love to hear about the women in law you most admire @theatticlondon

The Legal Update

As February zooms past, we’re taking a look forward to the biggest technology event in the Spring Calendar – SXSW 2018. Taking place from 9th – 18th March in Austin, Texas, SXSW will as ever be the talk of the tech, film, music and media worlds as an array of experts, innovators and artists come together to explore the future of human creation and ideas. As Obelisk Support steps firmly into the legal tech sphere with an upcoming app and smart software release, we’ll be keeping an eye on here in The Attic as the conferences and festivals unfold…

The changing nature of our shared existence also draws some interesting legal questions – here are some of the key subjects .

Smart Contracts to Replace Lawyers?

A panel discussion including blockchain expert and founder of the Digital Chamber of Commerce Perianne Boring will take on one of the biggest concerns for lawyers in 2018: What will smart contracts mean for their jobs in the future?

While much of the discussion has been framed around the assumption that smart contracts will inevitably replace lawyers – we are starting to see more measured analysis that may calm fears in the legal industry, for now at least. As is the case with AI, the other major innovation of our age, we are still far away from a time where the technology is ready to completely replace the complex and multi-faceted roles of the human lawyer. For those unfamiliar, smart contract technology consists of a self executing code stored on a public blockchain facilitating the negotiation and performance of a contract. However, the name ‘smart contract’ is misleading, as it only does what it is programmed by us to do, rather than being able to analyse data and come to decisions by itself. So while it seems the answer to the above question is currently no, it will be interesting to hear the thoughts of the panel about where the technology may take us, and how it will enable the function of the lawyer to evolve.

The Legal Implications of AR Going Mainstream

Augmented and virtual reality will be a key feature of this year’s festival with many talks and interactive events planned, but as AR and VR becomes a bigger part of our lives, how will lawyers need to update their knowledge and expertise to deal with the legal implications of our virtual existence? There will be numerous events touching upon this topic at SXSW 2018, including Avoiding Privacy/Security Legal Snafus in VR/AR, and Mo Reality, Mo Problems.

The most pressing concern is of course privacy and security. Data collection methods don’t differ much to other digital applications, however the volume and types of data being collected are much more extensive and detailed, building up a more complete picture of a user and their physical movements, habits, purchases, interactions, etc. AR/VR companies and companies adopting the technology will need to have stringent training and procedural protocols in place to ensure users are equipped with the knowledge to keep their own data safe in practice, and have the sufficient legal protections in place should a data breach occur.

Some of the problems that will arise as AR and VR becomes more widely adopted relate to intellectual property (IP). North American Copyright laws and the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (and their European equivalents) may have to be reexamined in this context, and it is important that lawyers dealing with clients who have or are likely to adopt AR/VR are strengthening their knowledge. Then there is the issue of brand interaction – how AR technology developers will ensure that brands that are interacted with have given permission for their brand to be used in this way and to be associated with the technology creators.

Individual Governing of Data

The blockchain, AI and machine learning is also creating far reaching change in the way that data is held and managed. A Game Changing Shift in the Control of Personal Data is part of the IEEE Tech for Humanity Series, and  the introduction declares that an ‘extinction-level event is occurring in the digital economy. Power will soon shift from organisations to people as legal, social and market forces give citizens new rights.’

Covering pertinent regulatory topics such as GDPR, the overarching issue remains that the legal industry across the world is still playing catch up as individuals rapidly gain sovereign control over their personal data. While much of the change may be welcome and liberating, there is still a responsibility to protect citizens and organisations from cyber security threats and the consequences of data breach. The expert view on a potential ticking time bomb will be welcome to all data and corporate lawyers. Panel speakers at the event are Doc Sears of Project VRM, Berkman Klein Centre and Harvard University, Karen McCabe of IEEE, and Nicky Hickman of Inglis Jane Ltd.

CLE Track: Cyber Extortion, Social Media Musics Rights and More

SXSW’s Continuing Legal Education programme brings together legal experts from Twitter, Sundance Institute, Sony Music, Facebook and others to discuss the most pertinent legal issues in music, film and interactive digital worlds. Some of the highlights include a discussion on cyber extortion – including advice on negotiating with and taking the decision to pay the crooks, and the perfect storm of music licensing on social media. There will also be a free ethics session for SXSW registrants and other ethics focused events such as Ethics in VR/AR Journalism and When Programmers Are Asked To Do The Unethical.

One Eighty – a Short Film on Undertrials in India

A screening of a fascinating new short film will highlight a major flaw in India’s legal system. A shocking figure from Prison Statistics India 2015 report suggests that two thirds (67%) of prisoners in the country are those on undertrial – individuals on remand, held in custody without conviction awaiting the outcome of a trial. One could be forgiven for thinking these custodies are short term, but prisoners can be left to languish for many years while trials are delayed and drawn out. Ajoy Gosh was one example of a long term undertrial prisoner, jailed in 1962 only to languish for the next four decades as he was certified unfit to stand trial after being arrested for the murder of his brother.

To further put a human slant on the issue which still affects so many in India, One Eighty tells the story of a mother, Vijai Kumari, who spent 20 years behind bars, and her son, Kanhaiya Kumari. Once released from prison at the age of 6, he began a relentless quest to save his mother from being punished from a crime she never committed. The project is part of the Oculus VR for Good Creators Lab, pairing filmmakers and nonprofits to make great VR in the name of social good.