Israel: Anti-fragile

Israel: Anti-fragile

Thriving in the face of adversity as politics and security play an integral part in everyday life is a default position for Israel. The data backs this up: recent OECD reports describe Israel as stable with strong economic growth: annual GDP has consistently risen by three to four percent over recent years to reach nearly $400bn in 2019. This, despite a protracted leadership battle taking place with two general elections in six months bringing the nation no closer to a conclusive result.

Michael Barnea, managing partner of Barnea, Jaffa, Lande & Co, develops the point: ‘The environment is surprisingly robust considering the political instability that we’ve experienced for a considerable time. Investment, both from overseas into Israel and in the local market, is extremely strong and gives every appearance of being confident in the future.’ Continue reading “Israel: Anti-fragile”

Conference Sketch – Thousands flock to law tech showcase but echo chamber concerns creep in

Conference Sketch – Thousands flock to law tech showcase but echo chamber concerns creep in

Walking trees. High-fives. A cinema. Virtual reality headsets. Arcade games. Disco balls. General counsel (GCs) dressed as Willy Wonka. Filing cabinet piñatas. T-shirts reading ‘no bullshit’ and nobody in a suit and tie.

Since its debut in 2016, legal tech community Legal Geek’s annual conference has grown dramatically from a respectable 500 attendees to more than 2,000 packing out a former brewery near London’s Brick Lane.

The event is the brainchild of Legal Geek founder and legal tech start-up community lynchpin Jimmy Vestbirk. He kicked proceedings off Wednesday (16 October) from the main stage, where it was standing-room only, by setting the tone for a different type of law conference: ‘Anyone who’s been here before knows we like to start by high-fiving the people around you.’

The eruption of high fives was followed by an invoking of the conference’s start-up roots, with Vestbirk adding: ‘Today is not about hierarchy. The legal profession is very hierarchical, but the student is as likely to change the profession as the managing partner.’

No managing partners were present to hear, however. The senior end of in-house was better represented, with figures such as Chris Fowler, technology GC for telecoms giant BT, and Panasonic’s associate GC for legal innovation Bea Miyamoto among the speakers. Thomson Reuters’ newly-recruited chief strategy officer Richard Punt also spoke, while New Law was represented by Daniel Reed, chief executive of US-based alternative legal services provider, UnitedLex.

A key point at this year’s conference was the need for in-house legal functions and private practice to get a grip on their data. ‘Most legal functions face increased demand and pressure to reduce cost,’ said EY Riverview Law chief executive Karl Chapman (pictured). ‘Legal cannot avoid the need to use the right data. A staggering amount of work legal teams are doing should not be in the legal function and not be done by lawyers.’

Anna Power, GC at American retailer Crabtree & Evelyn, reiterated the point: ‘Data can help demonstrate value and the need for something, but some of the metrics to get hold of that data are hard to find and it’s not clear how to do it.’

There was wide agreement among the speakers that compared to other professional services, legal is slow to make data and digital a pervasive force throughout the industry. Reed in particular took opportunity to stress the need for a digital revolution throughout Big Law, noting: ‘Digital fluency is a pre-requisite to a legal society moving forward. Law needs to get a grip on its data.’

Meanwhile, in a space awash with technology tools tailored to niche concerns, companies and firms were being encouraged to move towards broader platforms to address their needs. ‘We have too many pieces of tech that do not talk to one another,’ Fowler confessed. ‘This means manual processes are in play between them which increases points of failure. We need to move towards a platform environment.’

Likewise, others stressed that while finance had SAP and sales had Salesforce, legal is overdue an equivalent platform which permeates the work of a legal function. But technology providers are seemingly taking heed. When in January Thomson Reuters snapped up legal software provider HighQ, it was done so with a view towards integrating existing tools into the HighQ platform. This will include Thomson Reuters’ flagship contract tool Contract Express, which is now in the process of being integrated into HighQ alongside other products at the technology giant.

Punt, among others, warned that consolidation was inevitable in such a fragmented industry; an ominous message for the many nascent data extraction and contract tools with stands on the strip coined ‘Start-up Alley.’ Standing out among the new names were some of the longer-standing players, with Legatics, Orbital Witness and Avokka all returning to the circuit. Outside the alley, well-known names Luminance and Lexoo were also exhibited.

Echoing a theme of many speakers, Punt noted: ‘There will be consolidation because legal technology is an extraordinary fragmented industry, and that’s true of every part of the wider industry.’ Reed at UnitedLex noted the challenge for smaller players of achieving the scale to build credible business models: ‘Start-ups need to achieve scale quickly, otherwise they’ll remain a ripple forever and never be a current.’

The start-ups themselves had been decamped from the prime real estate next to the conference’s entrance they enjoyed last year, with the main sponsors Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer, iManage, Barclays and Thomson Reuters dominating the conference space.

Some vendors felt Legal Geek’s burgeoning size – though a great sign for interest in the market – removed some of the event’s original intimacy and networking benefits. One company’s head of sales complained the turnout was fuelled by juniors being sent on intelligence missions, and the event lacked the juice – and buying power – brought by more senior figures.

Not all were worried. In his opening address Vestbirk lauded the fact attendees’ name tags did not reveal a person’s role within their company or firm, in the hope it would create a more egalitarian environment.

But undoubtedly the conspicuous absence was senior leadership figures from private practice. One sponsor told Legal Business they feared the event had become ‘the converted speaking to the converted’ while one company complained that the conference had become the same faces broadly saying the same things.

Nevertheless, Legal Geek has succeeded in creating one of the most diverse legal conferences in the area. A glance over the packed audience to the main stage revealed a diverse and energetic community from which legal’s monoculture could learn a great deal. But, despite its remarkable size, there remains swathes of the legal profession Legal Geek is unable to proselytize.

However, such challenges are arguably a product of Legal Geek’s success: with packed crowds and plenty of energy, attention in the event shows no signs of waning.

thomas.alan@legalease.co.uk

Click here to see Legal Business’s extended focus on the start-up community

State of play – In-house tech perspectives

State of play – In-house tech perspectives

Between the reams of paper (literal and virtual) spent discussing how technology will affect the legal profession and the thousands of legal tech companies springing up around the world, technology is on the minds of in-house teams of all sizes and sectors.

But often what is not communicated is how in-house counsel feel about the technological revolution hitting their profession, and how their teams and businesses have responded, if at all. Continue reading “State of play – In-house tech perspectives”

Three GC perspectives on change

Three GC perspectives on change

Gloria Sánchez Soriano, head of transformation – legal department, Santander

When our group general counsel (GC), Óscar García Maceiras, joined two years ago, he came with the idea of transforming the legal department. But Santander as a business is also in a huge process of transformation. Maceiras had a concern that we in our legal department in the market – and in many other legal departments – were working the same way as 100 years ago. We have legal databases, word processing, some digital resources – but we were not doing anything special. So the project he envisioned was not only to implement a range of technologies, but to foster a savvier legal department, with fewer pain points and better co-ordination and efficiency. Continue reading “Three GC perspectives on change”

Legal tech focus: Slaughters’ tech ally Luminance makes impact but battle for City elite wages

Legal tech focus: Slaughters’ tech ally Luminance makes impact but battle for City elite wages

Luminance has shot to prominence unlike any other UK legal tech start-up. But Hamish McNicol finds there is still plenty to do to break into the top of the profession

‘We’re changing things to the extent Excel changed the way accounting is done,’ Luminance chief executive Emily Foges proclaims. ‘You can’t imagine doing anything financial without it.’ Continue reading “Legal tech focus: Slaughters’ tech ally Luminance makes impact but battle for City elite wages”

Legal tech focus: Is Kira the real deal?

Legal tech focus: Is Kira the real deal?

AI contract analysis system Kira has been on a trying journey. Having landed $50m in funding, Hamish McNicol and Thomas Alan assess how much longer that journey could last

Noah Waisberg recently threw a diamond into an audience of more than 1,000 people. It was the annual Legal Geek legal tech conference in London. Public Enemy’s Don’t Believe the Hype blared as he took the stage. Continue reading “Legal tech focus: Is Kira the real deal?”

Comment: The great distraction – The innovation bandwagon has hobbled law’s market forces

Comment: The great distraction – The innovation bandwagon has hobbled law’s market forces

I used to believe the UK legal profession was more imaginative than it got credit for – now I find with an increasingly jaded eye what fresh thinking there is has become stretched ludicrously thin. The vast majority of technology and new models are deployed to make the existing law firm a little more efficient to defensively preserve partner profits.

On one level, you can salute the hard-headed focus on margin. On the another, there are increasingly ominous questions about what worship of margin above other considerations will do to the legal industry at a time of structural pressure. You do not have to be devotees of Peter Drucker or Clayton Christensen to believe that aspiring to run law firms on 50%-plus margins creates a huge amount of competitive space for new entrants to operate and forge potent beachheads. It seems highly debatable that the legal industry will over the next 10 to 20 years sustain large swathes of providers operating on such fat returns. Continue reading “Comment: The great distraction – The innovation bandwagon has hobbled law’s market forces”

The great distraction – The innovation bandwagon has hobbled market forces

The great distraction – The innovation bandwagon has hobbled market forces

I used to believe the UK legal profession was more imaginative than it got credit for – now I find with an increasingly jaded eye what fresh thinking there is has become stretched ludicrously thin. The vast majority of technology and new models are deployed to make the existing law firm a little more efficient to defensively preserve partner profits.

Continue reading “The great distraction – The innovation bandwagon has hobbled market forces”

The Last Word: The hard path to enlightenment

The Last Word: The hard path to enlightenment

As part of our autumn tech special, we asked partners, innovation heads and CIOs to give a pragmatic take on the state of law firm tech

Just do it

‘In the next year or two, people will stop talking about AI and just use it. AI will just be embedded in the way firms work – like computers or emails. I don’t think in the long term we’ll have the situation where AI alone gives some firms a sustainable competitive advantage over others.’
Kevin Harris, director of IT, Taylor Wessing Continue reading “The Last Word: The hard path to enlightenment”