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Legal Web Watch April 2016

Legal Web Watch complements the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers, edited by Nick Holmes and Delia Venables. The last issue of the Newsletter published in March. The next issue will publish mid-May.

In the next issue

The next issue will feature articles on Privacy Shield by Eduardo Ustaran, cyber-resilience by Allan Carton, outsourcing marketing by Sue Bramall and (his) social media by Sir Henry Brooke, as well as articles on law blogs by Delia, BYOD by Alex and working with data by Nick.

Recent articles in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers

Building LEAP as a global legal software company for small law firms
ODR: no longer just an alternative
What is the blockchain?
Unblocking the resale of digital goods
Lawbore: legal education made fun
Middle Temple Library in the internet age
Clerksroom Direct: public access in motion
Big Data: an introduction

Never mind the quantity

We all know the term "clickbait": content, especially that of a sensational or provocative nature, whose main purpose is to attract attention and draw visitors to a particular web page.

In the legal practice world there is one word which on its own has that effect. Mention "Susskind" and the commenters, usually reticent, spring to life.

In April the Gazette published not one, but two stories about Susskind, provocatively prepending his name to the headlines.

Susskind: online court is just the beginning concerned the response of the ODR Advisory Group to Lord Justice Briggs' Civil Courts Structure Review Interim Report, mainly concerning the Online Court. Susskind sees the online court as a "pragmatic first step" on the road to a fully integrated online and conventional court service.

The commenters responded condescendingly and unkindly: "Ah more words of wisdom from the Good Professor", "About as influential as my chickens, but less useful" and "I think Professor Susskind is as mad as a box of frogs".

Susskind: 'you have five years to reinvent the legal profession' covered his presentation at the Law Society’s law management section annual conference, reporting:

"The legal profession has until early next decade to prepare for massive technological advances that will reshape the industry, according to a renowned legal futurologist. That was the warning today from Professor Richard Susskind, speaking at the Law Society’s law management section annual conference."

To which Marshall Hall responded:

"This bloke is like some prehistoric creature, emerging from the the primeval swamp every few years with a bellowing message of doom for the profession. Meanwhile Richard, in the real world the profession has grown by 33 per cent in 10 years (and that's just on the roll - doesn't include gazillions of paralegals etc)."

Now I'm not an uncritical fanboy: I don't necessarly agree with all Susskind says, but the core argument is simply that lawyers have to come to terms with the fact that technology will replace many of the things that they currently do and adapt accordingly, and aspiring lawyers need to think not in terms of today's requirements and challenges but of tomorrow's. There is a need to keep saying this as the capacity for technologies to replace human processes continues to develop.

But, if the profession has grown by 33 per cent in 10 years, are we really on the road to The End of Lawyers?

First a quick fact check. I find that the number of practising solicitors in England and Wales consistently increased by from 2 to 5 per cent year on year, from 46.5K in 1984/85 to 117.8K in 2010 (Guardian article and accompanying download of Law Society data); thence to 134K in March 2016 (SRA stats).

Can this be a profession in peril?

While the number of solicitors with practising certificates is increasing, the number of private practice firms in England and Wales fell by more than 1,000 from its peak in 2010 to 9,403 in 2015 (Law Society press release of 25 April).

There are many factors at work influencing these numbers. Amongst these, the Law Society report reveals a shift towards in-house employment: 21.6 per cent of practising solicitors were working in house in 2015, up from 15.0 per cent in 2000. And on the Marilyn Stowe Blog John Bolch points to effect of the legal aid cuts in reducing the number of smaller firms.

But in order to make sense of the increase in the number of solicitors on the roll, we would need to know their roles and, whilst I'm sure Law Society data will reveal the basics, we would really need to know more precisely what jobs they do.

It is broadly accepted now that tech, having feasted on blue collar and clerical jobs, is starting to eat middle class jobs too. It is not necessarily replacing the people, just the stimulating jobs.

I would take a punt that now there are far fewer chiefs and many more indians: more solicitors doing lower skilled jobs. Just because there are more solicitors, doesn't mean they're all happily engaged in the sort of legal work for which they were trained and which they were expecting.

Nick Holmes is Editor of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers and Legal Web Watch. Follow him on Twitter @nickholmes.

Image: By Eric Fischer on Flickr.

Delia’s legal web picks

The following items have been selected from Delia Venables’ “New” page.

Legalex Show is on May 11th and 12th

If you are a Solicitor, also trying to make "Business" pay (the sub text of the event is "The Business behind Law"), then book May 11th or 12th in your diary for a visit to the Legalex show in London at ExCel. This is the biggest UK Exhibition and Event for lawyers and it's free - get free tickets from here. There are 150 exhibitors and 100 free CPD seminars. There is a keynote speech by Jonathan Smithers, President of The Law Society and many other well known speakers including Osman Ismail of DPS Software, David Gilroy of Conscious Solutions, Joe de Wet and Kendra Ross of LEAP Legal Software UK and Mark Garnish of TikitTFB.

Web site and blog about Islamic banking and finance

IDRAK is a web site covering Islamic Law relating to banking and finance. It provides a primer on Islamic contract law and its sources, before introducing the principal commercial areas: company law (partnerships and corporate governance; the limited liability company), trusts, investment structures and instruments (including sukuk: Islamic investment certificates), insurance, the law of agency/guaranty and wills. It also provides relevant English authorities. Current developments in the UK and abroad are covered in a blog. The author of the site and the blog, Scott Morrison, lectures in English commercial law at Middlesex University in London but also researches Islamic finance and banking, drawing on his scholarly background in Middle East and Islamic studies, which included periods in Turkey, the Maldives and Dubai.

HotDocs wins big international award

HotDocs, the leading supplier of document automation software, has been named International Technology Star at the 2016 Digital Technology Awards, which took place in Glasgow on Wednesday 20th April. Managed by industry body ScotlandIS, the Digital Technology Awards focus on excellence within the technology sector and reward the innovation, expertise and ambition of businesses. The whole HotDocs team – both in the UK and the US – share in this award. HotDocs won the award against stiff competition from two other global software providers. You can see more about this award here.

Eclipse Proclaim Modern Law Conveyancing Awards – Nominations open

Eclipse Proclaim Modern Law Conveyancing Awards, set up by Modern Law Magazine, is a major competition between law firms. As it says on the site "Embracing the business of law has never applied more to those operating in the conveyancing market, who have emerged from the darkness of the recession with a new sense of determination. Firms continue to experience an upturn in work and many now are focussing on cementing watertight business strategies that are capable of withstanding any future challenges. The challenge now though, is to do this whilst maintaining a high level of commitment to client care." There are categories for the major regions of England and Wales as well as Search Provider of the Year and Lender of the Year. The distinguished judges include Jonathan Smithers, President of the Law Society, and (it seems) presidents of all the main conveyancing bodies. It is possible to self nominate and it is free to enter, but nominations close on 22nd April.

Important new resource on legal aspects of environmental waste and recycling

Environmental Waste Permit Lawyers provides information on environmental permitting, pollution prevention and control together with guidance and assistance for waste, recycling and other industries. As it says on the site "If you have been served with a regulatory notice by the Environment Agency or local authority, if you are threatened with a criminal prosecution in the context either of environmental permitting or the handling of waste, or if the regulator has refused you a permit, then this site is here to help you." It also provides information about other pollution- and waste- related matters such as court actions in private nuisance (including fire and flooding). The site is maintained jointly by Yogesh Patel of Edward Hayes solicitors and Gordon Wignall of 6 Pump Court. The site is intended to help businesses to identify and understand key legal issues.

New forum in the Family Law area

Netlaw is a social media forum and information resource offering support to those experiencing relationship and family problems, with the aim of bridging the gap between those requiring assistance and the professionals able to offer expert advice. This allows people to engage directly who otherwise would not have consulted a professional. A key figure in the new forum is Paul Summerbell, Head of Family Law at Warrens Family Law and Founder and CEO of Accord Mediation Services. Viewers are offered the opportunity to open an account (free of charge at present) and to view articles, blogs and posts as an information resource. They can also participate in public forums or notice boards that permit problems to be posted and answers provided.

Law Society issues new guidance on setting up a practice

Law Society's new Practice Note for solicitors who are considering setting up a new practice in England and Wales. The practice note covers the regulatory requirements involved in considerable detail. This practice note would be quite a good "refresher" for existing firms as well!

Language courses can be useful to lawyers!

Languages 2000 is the website of Susan Isaacs who runs language courses in French, German, Spanish and Italian (at various levels). Her classes are put on in locations designed to be convenient for London professionals, currently at More London, near London Bridge. The next series of courses take place on Thursdays, starting on May 20th and enrollment for these has begun (see her web site). Her clients include students from Norton Rose Fulbright, HSBC, Linklaters, Price Waterhouse Coopers, Herbert Smith, Simmons and Simmons, the GLA and the Bank of England.

Law Society Excellence Awards 2016 – now celebrating 10 years

Law Society Excellence Awards 2016 are now open, "aiming to recognise the very brightest and best in the legal profession, rewarding exceptional people, teams and organisations." There is an interesting article by Jonathan Rayner in the Law Society Gazette in which he talks to past winners about what the accolade meant and where their careers have taken them since. The deadline for entries is Friday 27 May and the awards ceremony will take place on Thursday 20 October, where the winners will be announced.

Law Librarians embrace the value of change at conference in Dublin

British and Irish Association of Law Librarians (BIALL) are revisiting Dublin for their annual conference in June. Grant Thornton's Andy Harbison will deliver the keynote speech on the potential threats of cybercrime to legal information professionals. The conference will take place at the DoubleTree by Hilton. The BIALL Annual Dinner on Friday will be hosted in The Round Room at the Mansion House. See here for more.

Gray's Inn Library provides a handy list of free online resources

Free Online Resources is a new compilation of a dozen very useful free online legal resources prepared by Gray's Inn Library. There is a pdf version of the list available as well.

Delia Venables is joint editor of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. Follow her on Twitter @deliavenables.

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