The first LegalTech Wales conference took place in Swansea this week. Organised by Swansea University, and opened by the warm and welcoming Professor Elwen Evans QC, Head of Swansea University’s School of Law, the event was a credit to the University and put Swansea strongly on the map as a UK LegalTech hub.

Kicking off the opening session of presentations was Christina Blacklaws – the incoming president of The Law Society of England and Wales – though for the day perhaps better referred to as the Law Society of Wales and England!

Blacklaws announced that as Law Society president she will be forming a new group looking at law and technology. The first roundtable discussion Blacklaws intends to hold will look at the intersection of law and human rights and whether the current framework is fit for purpose in this era of rapid technological change.

Next up was Joanna Goodman – author of Robots in Law: How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Legal Services. In a presentation titled AI and NextGen legal services, Goodman talked about how law is playing catchup with all the automation and services that use our data and how this is changing the rules around personal data and its use. Goodman highlighted how AI is making smartphones intimate by asking everyone in the room if they would be comfortable swapping phones with the person next to them.

Goodman reminded us that law is framework of society and lawyers are critical to the discussion surrounding AI and the use of our data. Secondly that lawyers don’t just apply the law they interpret and negotiate it – two aspects that AI cannot do, yet.

Moving onto the future of legal services Goodman talked about how the next generation of lawyers will work with new rules and the output of AI tools, and law firm leaders will bring millennial traits and values that will reshape the law and legal services.

Karim Derrick of Kennedys Law LLP  talked about how collecting data means investing in the future: “If you don’t collect it, it’s like leaving money on the table”, Derrick described how the pursuit of data creates a virtuous circle: the more data we collect the better we get to know our clients, and our clients are happier because we know them better.

Referencing a famous quote from Jim Barksdale (the former Netscape CEO), Derrick reminded us of the importance data can play in the decision making process:

“If we have data, let’s look at data. If all we have opinions, let’s go with mine.”

Kerry Beynon from Acuity Legal brought the first session to a close with a presentation about data protection and cybersecurity. Bynon highlighted that when choosing a legaltech solution, law firms should consider not only how beneficial the tech will be, but also how secure it is for client data and how it sits within your whole ecosystem.

The focus of the second session of the day was technology and legal service delivery, and first up was Karl Chapman of Riverview Law. Chapman talked about Riverview’s Legal Operations Platform and described his vision for the future – where lawyers will not need to learn to code, but instead will choose platforms that can be self configured over those that require code changes to  alter the platform. Chapman’s advice to law firms was: “don’t let the IT tail wag the commercial dog”.

Peter Lee of Wavelength Law highlighted the importance of bricolage when developing good legaltech solutions – making the most of API’s to move data between systems; resulting in a ‘multiplier effect’ where the final solution is much better than the sum of its parts. The bricolage concept is one which is often talked about at lawtech conferences and is certainly an approach that law firms and legal software providers should embrace.

The final two presentations of the second session focused on blockchain, with the two speakers approaching this new technology from different perspectives. Declan Goodwin of Capital Law gave a passionate speech about his work on Royal Mint Gold, which uses blockchain tech to keep records of gold ownership at the The Royal Mint.

Alun Thomas of Kalypton urged caution before running out and betting big on blockchain technology. Thomas advised lawyers considering deploying blockchain legaltech that they need to be aware of the known limitations in blockchain tech and how those limitations could apply to their intended use case. Thomas  recommended that firms should require vendors to explain and assure the firm in simple terms how risk in their use case has been mitigated before adopting a solution.

No LegalTech event would be complete without Professor Richard Susskind – who delivered an excellent keynote speech to open the afternoon session.

Speaking about legislation, Susskind referred to it as a “funny old business”, and said that if you were to go back to first principles, it made him think about something the “great constitutional theorist” Dennis the Peasant from Monty Python and the Holy Grail said:

“Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is no basis for a system of government.”

Susskind felt that you could make a similar formulation around how our current legislative process works:

“If you were designing our law making process from scratch i don’t think it would look anything like what we currently have….but technology could bring about a fundamental change to the legislative process as well.”

Susskind talked about how the legal industry would go through three stages with respect to legaltech:

  1. the stage of denial, which in Susskind’s opinion ended last year – very few people are now saying that the legal sector isn’t going to change as a result of technology
  2. more for less, using cheaper people, outsourcing offshoring and using paralegals to cut costs
  3. coming in the 20’s – where technology doesn’t just “come along to support and turbo charge and sustain the old ways of working but to replace and substitute them”.

Susskind was clear that the world won’t spin off its axis as a result of legaltech in the next couple of years, but that within the next 15-20 years a lot of what we know and think about law will change. Susskind believes that in the short term what legaltech can achieve will be overestimated, but over the long term underestimated.

Professor Iwan Davies talked about the future of legal education and practice in Wales highlighting that future law graduates will be increasingly exposed to lawtech innovation in the workplace and that they need to complete degree courses that prepare them for that.

Chris Marshall of Swansea University announced the launch of the Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Law and how the University wants to take a lead in Wales for developing new tech that supports legal practice and access to justice – offering co-location for legal tech start-ups on campus.

The final session of the day covered legaltech in practice and featured speakers from Seedlegals, Properr, Prizsm, F-LEX, CHERISH Digital Economy Centre and Swansea’s home-grown Case Management provider – Hoowla. Jane Williams and Jay Morgan from Swansea University talked about their Children’s Legal Centre Chatbot which will provide 24/7 support to children and young people on rights and legal issues – another great example of how legaltech can be a force for good.

An awesome inaugural legaltech event was delivered by the team at Swansea University – put LegalTech Wales 2019 in your diary today!

Also published on Medium.

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