The Uberisation of law

By Nick Holmes on July 15, 2015
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Filed under Collaborative economy, Future of law

My latest article in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers gives some perspectives on the sharing economy and how it affects lawyers.

Image: Taxi clown by John Fisher on Flickr.

Social media platforms for lawyers

By Nick Holmes on April 15, 2015
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Filed under Social media

Reblogged from Legal Web Watch March 2015.

I’ve been looking at two new social media platforms designed for lawyers: Mootis (“specifically tailored for what is a vast legal services marketplace that extends far beyond the Bar”) and Passle (“enables Partners and senior professionals to create and share insights on developments within their field”). I’ve registered on both services and hacked about a bit, as well as reading up their about pages and some reviews. So, extensive research!

Mootis

Mootis is a sort of souped up version of Twitter+LinkedIn with some added legal feeds and other features. My problem with it is I don’t get its USP. What is it trying to help me do?

Its advertised primary key feature is that “Moots can exceed 140 characters (up to 500 words) – enabling users to express their opinion with more authority, weight and substance.” That’s of course a reference to Twitter’s limit of 140 characters per tweet. That limit is restrictive, but it’s not a bug, it’s a feature! That’s why Twitter is so popular with many of us; it encourages rapid sharing, quickfire exchanges etc. So sure, if you don’t want that, you go somewhere else. … Mootis maybe?

Founder Bill Braithwaite QC of Exchange Chambers in Manchester says, “we feel the world of legal services is large enough to warrant its own, bespoke platform”. Surely the question is does the world of legal services, need or want a bespoke platform?

History is littered with the bones of legal networks that failed to find traction on the web. The very successful (pre-internet) LINK failed to make the transition. There was LIX too, though my memory is short on that one. The internet spoiled it for them, because on the net anybody could connect with anybody and link to anything. Neverthless, intrepid innovators tried to establish communities of lawyers on the web. Remember Law City anyone? Not even Google does.

Although the many legal portal sites of different flavours that grew up could be regarded in some senses as communities, lawyers started taking up social networking only in 2008 and the big three – Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook (not so much for professional purposes) – have made the running since then. Even Google, with all its influence, is calling it a day with its Google+ social network (though, importantly, popular aspects of it will be further developed).

I don’t want Silicon Valley to take all the spoils and there is plenty of scope for home grown social media applications for lawyers; I will give Mootis a go and I wish it well, but it does need to find some focus.

Passle

Passle is a blogging platform that makes it easy for experts to share their insights online. Say Passle, “It’s been proven that firms regularly producing knowledge pieces generate more traffic, and leads, than those that don’t. Passle facilitates this process by providing busy experts with the tools to share their expertise with the world in a time-efficient manner.”

With a few clicks you can grab an excerpt from an article you are reading, write a comment or longer analysis, and post it, complete with accompanying image from the original and with selected tweets about the same source shown alongside.

Your Passle is discoverable by other Passle users, who can follow you and repost your passles, and it can be embedded on your own website.

There is a substantial annual per user subscription, but if it suits you and gets your experts generating content and hence business as Passle claim, it should be worth it.

Where has all the GOV stuff gone?

By Nick Holmes on February 2, 2015
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Filed under Government

Reblogged from Legal Web Watch January 2015

Digital Champion, Martha Lane Fox, first mooted the idea of a single government website back in 2010. Some thought the theory was sound but that delivery would be impossible.

Once the project was approved, the process of transitioning government information to GOV.UK began in 2012, led by the Government Digital Service, a new team within the Cabinet Office tasked with transforming government digital services … aka Digital by Default. The aim was to move all corporate information to GOV.UK by the end of 2014. This is now complete with the transition of 312 organisations (so they say).

According to the Departments home page, the corporate websites of 176 government departments, agencies and other public bodies (not 312) have moved:

  • 24 of 24 ministerial departments
  • 9 of 22 non-ministerial departments, and
  • 143 of 346 agencies and other public bodies

The 216 organisations shown as having a separate website have not moved.

Is all this government stuff in one place, designed to be “simpler, clearer, faster”, a Good Thing or “some kind of Orwellian nightmare”?

Opinions are divided. Joe Public may be better served, but anecdotal evidence suggests that professional users are not impressed, regarding the interface as dumbed down and asking, “Where has all that useful government information gone?”.

Writing on the BIALL LinkedIn Group, Anneli Sarkanen, senior information officer at Fieldfisher asks:

We’ve heard from members that finding information from the government has become increasingly harder since departments have moved to GOV.uk. I am posting this discussion to seek views from members about problems they have faced with GOV.uk and if BIALL needs to make a representation on behalf of members. If you have specific examples of information going missing, or info that is harder to find that we can put forward, please do reply below and we can see if we need to take this forward.

Ask to join the group if you are interested in following this discussion.

Corporate information vs. specialist information

It is worth bearing in mind that whilst GDS claims the transition of the websites of these 176 organisations is complete, this relates only to their “corporate” information – the information about their policies, activities, consultations, white papers etc. What is still in transition is their specialist information (which is perhaps most relevant to the professional user) and their specialist web services (apps if you like) which will ultimately be rewritten.

So, by way of illustration:

Don’t despair

Don’t worry too much about whether you will find this or that on the old .gov site or on GOV.UK. Google is still your best friend here: use it. GOV.UK is well optimised, so if information has moved to GOV.UK it will show up at the top of the results.

Of course, in the move to GOV.UK, some information will have gone missing. But rather than bemoan the fact and despair, my suggestion is follow the GDS Transition Blog, identify the most relevant contact in the GDS team, find them on Twitter and tweet them.

Do lawyers need to be digitally competent?

By Nick Holmes on November 21, 2014
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Filed under Legal practice, Technology

Reblogged from Legal Web Watch November 2014.

I ask this because I have been looking into the future for CPD in the two professions. Both are moving away from measuring CPD hours towards systems based on self-certified continuing competence.

The SRA is more advanced and has issued a Draft Competence Statement for consultation with a view to implementing the new regime (on a voluntary basis initially) in April 2015.

The SRA believe that there are a number of core activities relating to matters such as ethical behaviour, technical skills (drafting, negotiating, researching), management of work (planning, prioritising, record keeping) and working and communicating with other people that all solicitors should be able to undertake competently. How these qualities are demonstrated will vary according to practice area and experience but all competent solicitors should possess them.

Apparently those who took part in research for the SRA have given the draft competence statement high marks: 87 per cent of solicitors, 87 per cent of consumers and 90 per cent of businesses giving it between seven and 10 out of 10.

Really? This is essentially a list of 91 things solicitors ought to be able to do – and I would not disagree with any of them – but with no indication how to translate these into an implementable and reviewable training programme.

In relation to these activities there are multiple uses of the adjectives “appropriate” (18), “effective” (19) and “relevant” (13). Well, what is appropriate? what is effective? what is relevant to a particular activity?

At the same time I find not a single reference to the words “internet”, “technology” or “digital”. Surely this can’t be so when several of the categories of competence – legal research, case management, record-keeping, communications – are areas where technology is absolutely key and the internet is the medium through which the solicitor will undertake these activities.

And how do solicitors deliver their services? The Legal Education and Training Review, in its 2013 report The Future of Legal Services Education and Training Regulation in England and Wales, noted that, overall, only about 42 per cent of legal services were delivered face-to-face in 2011–12, whereas another 40 per cent were supplied by telephone or email/internet.

As legal practice futurologist Jordan Furlong pointed out (as long ago as 2008):

Lawyers have grown accustomed to going unchallenged on their technological backwardness, and even tech-savvy new lawyers eventually succumb to firms’ glacial pace of tech adaptation. Here is a fact: technological affinity is a core competence of lawyering. If you can’t effectively and efficiently use e-mail, the Internet, and mobile telephony, you might as well just stay home. And if you don’t care to learn about RSS, instant messaging, Adobe Acrobat and the like, clients and colleagues will pass you by.

Now, I’m not suggesting that the SRA should list technological competencies, but surely this statement should at least acknowledge technology and the internet’s existence, let alone its importance to the modern lawyer?

The Bar Standards Board will shortly launch its own “professional statement”which will attempt to describe the knowledge and skills barristers should possess.

Image by Juan Cristóbal Cobo on Flickr.

Big Internet? No thanks

By Nick Holmes on October 1, 2014
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Filed under Big Internet, Blogging, Twitter

Reblogged from Legal Web Watch September 2014.

The early adopters have been getting restless lately. I’m with them. This is not what we signed up for.

Alan Jacobs, writing for The New Atlantis, predicts The End of Big Twitter. Twitter used to be like your front porch, now it’s the middle of Broadway and he’s getting out:

I don’t like this change. I made friends – real friends – on Twitter when it was a place for conversation. I reconnected with people I had lost touch with. Whole new realms of knowledge were opened to me. I don’t want to foreclose on the possibility of further discovery, but the signal-to-noise ratio is so bad now that I don’t think I could pick out the constructive and interesting voices from all the mean-spiritedness and incomprehension; and so few smart people now dare to use Twitter in the old open way.

In similar vein Scott Rosenberg on WordYard writes about social media burnout and the revival of blogging:

Then something happens. The early users begin to burn out, or feel neglected, or resent how the platform owner is changing things, or just chafe at problems the service has never been able to fix. Eventually, they lose the love. They start looking for a new home. If there is a hive mind at work in these matters – and there’s almost certainly not just one but many – it rouses itself and, at some critical moment, moves its energy center elsewhere.

Brent Simmons on inessential is also fed up with the exploitation by social media companies, but keen to keep blogging:

What I do care about is that my blog isn’t part of a system where its usefulness is just a hook to get me to use it. It works the way I want to, and the company running the servers (DreamHost) doesn’t care one fig what I do.

Nick Carr on Rough Type takes these arguments further, considering the wider picture of Big Internet, and concludes:

These trends … stem from a sense of exhaustion with what I’m calling Big Internet. By Big Internet, I mean the platform- and plantation-based internet, the one centered around giants like Google and Facebook and Twitter and Amazon and Apple. Maybe these companies were insurgents at one point, but now they’re fat and bland and obsessed with expanding or defending their empires. They’ve become the Henry VIIIs of the web. And it’s starting to feel a little gross to be in their presence. So, yeah, I’m down with this retro movement. Bring back personal blogs. Bring back RSS. Bring back the fun. Screw Big Internet.

The web we want

So what kind of web do we want? 25 years ago, Sir Tim Berners-Lee gave the web to the world. To mark the 25th anniversary of this turning point Web We Want is running a three-part festival at Southbank Centre, London. The Web We Want movement is calling on everyone, everywhere to play their part in shaping and enhancing the web.

As part of the festival Tim Berners-Lee spent an evening in conversation with SCL President Richard Susskind on September 27, reported by Roger Bickerstaff on the SCL site:

Susskind asked what worries Berners-Lee most about the Web. His main worries relate to the extent to which the open and collaborative nature of the Web is being challenged. He mentioned the problems over State censorship limiting Web access in various countries. He said that this had been a concern for him well before Snowden and he talked at some length about State surveillance. He commented that in countries where Web access is not limited, the Web can be monitored to track the activities of political opponents and dissidents and be used to ‘round them up’. He also discussed the risks associated with large company Web ‘silos’ and the lack of exposure this brings to the benefits of the Web if people simply use a single site. (Presumably Facebook – but Berners-Lee is very careful not to mention any specific names). Web users then don’t experience the range of opportunities that the Web has to offer. The increasing lack of ‘net neutrality’ and the prioritisation of net traffic is also a concern.

Image by Anonymous9000 on Flickr

Dot rollout – hundreds of new domains hit the streets

By Nick Holmes on August 7, 2014
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Filed under Domain names

Reblogged from Legal Web Watch July/August 2014.

It's sobering to reflect that 20 years ago most businesses, even big businesses, didn't know the first thing about the nascent internet. McDonalds had not yet even registered McDonalds.com.

There followed a domain name land rush and, ever since, domain names have been big business, with choice dot coms in particular commanding high resale prices.

In the UK .co.uk has been the domain of first choice. But .com and .co.uk are no longer the only games in town.

Dot uk

As from 10 June, Nominet, who already administer the second level domains .co.uk, .org.uk etc, have been open for registrations of "shorter, sharper" top level .uk domain names (ie mydomain.uk rather than second level domains like mydomain.co.uk etc).

The rules for registration are largely the same as for existing .co.uk and .org.uk domains except that a physical address for service in the UK is required.

If you had at 10 June a .co.uk registration, the new .uk equivalent domain will have been reserved for you for free up until 10 June 2019 as long as your domain remains registered (failing a .co.uk, .org.uk, .me.uk, .net.uk, .plc.uk or .ltd.uk in order have the right of registration). You can check who has the right of registration to a particular .uk domain name using the Rights Lookup Tool.

Hundreds of new gTLDs

While .uk is an existing country code top level domain (ccTLD) which has now been brought into service for second level domain registrations by the general public, hundreds of brand new generic top level domains (gTLDs) have now also been delegated following an application process which saw registrars paying hundreds of thousands of pounds for the right to administer their chosen domains.

These new domains are coming into operation on a rolling program which started in February and is now mid-way through. There are generally two or more phases to the launches of each domain:

  • Those trade mark holders who enter their trade marks into ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) will always have first dibs
  • A priority period is available for qualified applicants, depending on the individual registrar's criteria
  • Registrations are then open to general availability, though qualifying criteria may still apply.

Many of the new domains reflect regions and cities:

The .london launch began on 29 April 2014 with a priority period which ended 31 July for, firstly, TMCH registrants and, second, other London-based businesses, organisations, and individuals. Following a pause whilst these priority applications are evaluated and registered, .london will open for general availability on 9 September when anyone will be able to register for any available .london domain name on a first-come, first-served basis.

.scot is being launched in three phases running from Pioneers (live) and priority registrations (open) through to general launch on 23 September. According to The Scotsman, the Glasgow-based not-for-profit outfit Dot Scot Registry (DSR) paid more than £300,000 for the licence for .scot. Demand has been so great that the firm believes it will be in profit within the first year and has promised to donate surplus money to new small businesses.

Launch dates are still awaited for .wales. And as for .eng, we're still at the campaign stage!

The full list of new domains ranges from from .abogado through .guru and .ninja to .zone. A handy site for browsing and reviewing the list is iwantmyname, though head over to ICANN for the official lowdown.

A couple that will be worth law firms' attention in particular are .llp and .partners. Stake your claims now!

Reinventing law – the Twitter story

By Nick Holmes on July 1, 2014
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Filed under Future of law, Twitter


Reblogged from Legal Web Watch June 2014.

Reinvent Law London 2014, a conference featuring presentations on “law + technology + innovation + entrepreneurship” was held on 20 June 2014 at the University of Westminster Law School in London.

I missed last year’s event, which was well received (covered by Michael Scutt for the Newsletter), so I was keen to experience the buzz for myself this time. The day consisted of a few quickfire “ignite” sessions with several presentations of less than 10 minutes each and a few “talk” sessions with slightly longer presentations (not a lot of difference presentationally to my mind). As you can see from the selection below, there’s no shortage of interesting ideas for the future of law and lawyers. A stimulating day.

As well as two giant screens showing presenters and their slides, a key feature of the set-up was a “Twitter wall” streaming all tweets that included the #reinventlaw hashtag. This meant that not only could you clearly follow the presentation visuals, but also you could see the immediate reactions of the other delegates (and a few other respondents off-site).

The presentations

You can get a good flavour of the presentations from tweet collections put together using Storify. Robert Richards provides a storify of tweets from the whole day. and LexBlogNetwork produced storifies of most of the presentations. Here are those that most captured my interest:

John Sheridan, National Archives, Big Data For Law (John has written on this project for the Newsletter).

Adam Nguyen, eBrevia, Applying AI to Law Practice (on how tech might do due diligence; see further the eBrevia Blog).

Sands McKinley, McKinley Irvin, Lawyers in Wonderland (on regulation and the ABA, notable for the illustrations).

Kanan Dhru, Research Foundation for Governance in India, Lawtoons: Law Made Fun through Comics (see further this article).

Dana Denis-Smith, Obelisk, What’s Love Got to Do With It? (on what the legal industry can learn from online dating).

Christina Blacklaws, Blacklaws Consultings, Legal Futures – The Rise of the Machine (on the potential of ODR for family breakdown cases).

Maurits Barendrecht, HiiL, In the Future, Will Law Be More Like Health Care? (on how actual needs for legal services are similar to those for healthcare).

Brian Inkster, Inksters, Improving (on ways he has improved his practice; Brian has written about his practice for the Newsletter).

Ivan Rasic, LegalTrek, Lean: Can NewLaw Learn from Tech Startups? (on the innovative power of New Law: startup firms have more flexibility).

ReInvent Law London 2014 was presented by Michigan State University College of Law and the University of Westminster Law School, and made possible by LexisNexis UK.

Privacy? Forget about it

By Nick Holmes on June 4, 2014
One comment
Filed under Privacy

Reblogged from Legal Web Watch May 2014.

Insofar as we still measure column inches on the web, many yards in the last month have been devoted to commentary and analysis of the Google Spain decision, or the "right to be forgotten" as it is popularly but inaccurately known.

As ever, Laurence Eastham provides some refreshing comment and useful pointers on Computers and Law.

One of the key questions is how practicable it would be for Google and other search engines to remove specific links from their indexes. Neil Cameron (on his blog) pictures "an army of de-Googlers, frantically and manually removing links for every claimant with a past they would rather forget" (simply not practicable). Laurence is filled with dread at either "Google making a judgment based on an algorithm" (leading to inappropriate deletions) or "some sort of tribunal" (unaffordable).

But thinking, rather, of a "right to be disassociated", it is easier to see how this might be effectively implemented. Google should not be put in the position of making legal judgements (certainly not without an e), but I can think of no organisation better able to come up with an elegant solution to interpreting accurately a direction from a judicial authority to disassociate person A from event B in context C.

So I say, if we must have this right, then leave the onus on the ICO to provide the right quality input to Google. GIGO and all that.

Laurence is seeking short sharp impact assessments of the case. Let him have yours.

Google says it is "working to finalise our implementation of removal requests under European data protection law as soon as possible". In the meantime, it's initial effort is this removal request form.

Image by Jason Eppink on Flickr.

Google's Panda 4.0 – small business friendly

Google’s Panda algorithm has been around since 2011. It's designed to prevent sites with poor quality content from working their way into Google’s top search results.

Update 4.0 is a major update which rolled out on 20 May and  is designed to help small businesses do better. Your guess is as good as mine as to what small means.

Internet law (copyright in particular)

By Nick Holmes on May 4, 2014
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Filed under Copyright

Reblogged from Legal Web Watch April 2014.

April 26 was World IP Day. I didn’t notice too many people getting excited by this. But one who did was Graham Smith.

Graham is a partner at Bird and Bird and the leading expert in internet law, central to which is IP law and, in particular, copyright law.

Graham’s bible on Internet Law and Regulation is sadly out of date. We carried a review of the 4th edition in the January 2008 Newsletter. Happily, the 5th edition is due out in December

Links and the law

Crucial to the web is the link. After all, there would be no web without them. So the legality of linking has exercised the courts from day one.

Indeed, the Shetland Times case of 1997 was one of the first to consider the question. I was on the case in one of my early “Pages on the Web” for the Solicitors Journal.

Most recently, we’ve had the Svensson judgment from the CJEU on the legality of linking to infringing material. Much has been written about this. Here are a few to get you started:

There is comment on the case in most IP law blogs: all are catalogued on infolaw Lawfinder.

In the upcoming issue of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers (May 2014) we have a veritable feast of articles on copyright:

  • Shireen Smith, principal at Azrights, on “Copyright in website images”
  • Simon Stokes, partner at Blake Lapthorn, on “The future of digital copyright”, and
  • Laurie Kaye, partner at Shoosmiths, on “Copyright, fair use and the advance of culture”

The web at 25 and a digital bill of rights

By Nick Holmes on March 14, 2014
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Filed under Information rights, Internet law, Society

Much has been made about the fact that the web is 25 years old this month. Certainly, it was 25 years ago that Tim Berners Lee, working at CERN, “invented” the web. But the much more significant date was April 1993 when he (and CERN) gifted the web to us. It is unthinkable that the web would have developed as rapidly, with all its attendant benefits, had it been a proprietary system.

Tim BL has always stressed the importance of keeping the web open. Most recently in a birthday speech:

Key decisions on the governance and future of the Internet are looming, and it’s vital for all of us to speak up for the web’s future. How can we ensure that the other 60 percent around the world who are not connected get online fast? How can we make sure that the web supports all languages and cultures, not just the dominant ones? How do we build consensus around open standards to link the coming Internet of Things? Will we allow others to package and restrict our online experience, or will we protect the magic of the open web and the power it gives us to say, discover, and create anything? How can we build systems of checks and balances to hold the groups that can spy on the net accountable to the public? These are some of my questions—what are yours?

Naturally, you’ll want to do some reading before you frame your reply. You could start with the Grauniad and then of course, head over to Wikipedia for the background.

And also maybe read this from some chap I’ve never previously heard of over at betanews, which is an organisation I’ve never previously heard of, who says it quite well that A digital bill of rights is essential to the future of democracy. You are free to agree, or not.

Isn’t the web wonderful!

PS. For the true web story read CERN’s Birth of the web. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project has a more extensive Web History Timeline.