Do lawyers need to be digitally competent?

By Nick Holmes on November 21, 2014
Leave a comment
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
Leave a comment
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
Leave a comment
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
One comment
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
2 comments
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
One comment
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.

What do you want to do with technology?

By Nick Holmes on March 5, 2014
One comment
Filed under Apps, Technology

Long ago, circa 1985, colleagues, friends and family used to think I was interested in technology because I used a PC in my work and they did not. I was not interested in technology. I was interested in how technology could be applied to my interest in (law) publishing.

People still think I’m interested in technology. I am a little more so than before. But primarily I’m interested in applying technology to problems that I want to solve. Note that word “applying”. Applying technology to solve problems is “application” of technology, hence software “applications”, web “applications”, mobile “apps”. I don’t think of applications as technology; they are what you want to do with technology.

Just as my fridge is not technology, it’s an application of technology which keeps things cool, so too BusChecker is not technology, it’s an application of technology that tells me when the next bus is arriving. You get the drift.

Armed with that brilliant insight, I went along last week to an SCL knowledge management group meeting “Apps within law firms”, held at City firm Berwin Leighton Paisner’s offices.

I don’t know what I was expecting. Turns out we were looking at apps produced by the top 25 law firms, which narrows the field a bit (to approx 0.3%).* Apparently, of the top 25 firms, only 8 have published between them 14 apps for Apple and only one for Android. So we were not considering the bleeding edge.

It was suggested that legal apps fall into three categories: directory-type apps, information research apps and transactional apps. Fair enough. We looked at some examples of each.

Then, in a 10 minute session mid-way through we were asked to break out into three groups, each with one of the above focuses, and to consider the most important features of apps and what might make a killer legal app. In 10 minutes!

Needless to say, we didn’t get very far, though Team 1 I think made a particularly good fist of it.

There was a lot of talk of “content”, which is understandable coming from legal knowledge managers, and even a reference to legal apps being “content heavy”, but that I think is the antithesis of what apps are about; apps are not about content any more than they are about technology; and everything about what makes a successful app screams “light” rather than “heavy”. Google Maps, Twitter etc – these apps we use the most are accessing huge amounts of data, but they’re not data heavy, they work by making light of it.

We then had a look at BLP’s Tax Residence Test app which “helps you work out whether you are tax resident in a given tax year”, which question doesn’t trouble enough of us for it ever to be considered for the Killer App award.

I was hoping we’d have some discussion of the likes of Shake Law and what  those apps represent. But no.

*There are many more apps by law firms listed by Alex Heshmaty on Delia Venables page Legal apps for individuals. And a good article on apps by law firms on SCL by Kim Tasso from June 2012 and a follow-up on Kim’s blog in May 2013.

The future of law publishing (reprise)

By Nick Holmes on January 29, 2014
3 comments
Filed under Blogging, Publishing

Kevin O’Keefe is a tireless promoter of the benefits of blogging for lawyers. I may disagree with him on many points but I’m with him all the way with the underlying proposition that blogs (for lawyers) are the best thing since, well, sliced bread.

His recent post Bloggers to be driving force in legal web journalism is inspired by an article by Ezra Klein in the New York Times on web journalism asserting itself, from which

More and more, it’s becoming apparent that digital publishing is its own thing, not an additional platform for established news companies. They can buy their way into it, but their historical advantages are often offset by legacy costs and bureaucracy.

This is another way of saying that the web has democratised (news) publishing which should come as news to no-one.

Kevin extrapolates from this

And blogging lawyers are at the heart of legal Web journalism. Lawyers, law professors, law students, and judiciary, consuming and producing content at the same time.

I am not referring to pseudo-bloggers producing content for web traffic. I am referring to lawyers who are following and engaging other bloggers and legal publishers in a real and authentic way. Lawyers offering insight and commentary on niches never covered before.

Lawyers will not be drawn by money and opportunity to join digital media networks. Lawyers will publish and engage, be it blogging versus articles and traditional networking, for the same reason they have for decades. To grow their influence and network of relationships.

Blogging lawyers will come from small and large firms and from rural and metropolitan areas. Large marketing budgets will not be a required. Gatekeeper publishers and editors will not be a hurdle. A keyboard, passion, knowledge, and a willingness to offer insight and commentary in an engaging fashion will get you a [seat at] the table.

Technology will be important going forward. WordPress, as with digital media networks, gets us only part of the way.

Technology platforms will need to enable curation (manually and via machine learning), encourage lawyers to blog, enable easy mobile consumption and sharing, drive advertising, and harness data generated by user activity.

Legal web journalism may trail the digital media networks which have drawn reporters from the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, and the Washington Post.

But it seems inevitable that legal Web Journalism will assert itself – if it has not already – and that legal bloggers will be the driving force.

I’m wondering why the future tense and why confine the comments to journalism? Good law bloggers established themselves as a publishing force some years ago. In the UK there are several I could name who have established themselves as leading experts in their fields and cemented their firms’/chambers’ reputations; others who have set up their own publishing businesses off the back of their blogs; some who contribute also to national news networks. All have this in common: they are digital-first publishers, enabled by the web, blogging in particular.

What has changed in the last few years is that everyone is now at it. Not only do we have more good blogs, we also have more indifferent blogs, more bad blogs, more pseudo-blogs, more downright evil blogs. Blogs for marketing, blogs for SEO, blogs “made for Adsense” and the like: these do not count as journalism or even publishing nor do they add a jot to the sum total of human happiness. But, hey, blogging is for everyone and democracy is messy so we can’t complain except about the worst excesses.

Where are we headed? I looked back at a post I wrote 7 years ago (yes indeedy)  Community, democracy and the future of law publishing and though we have moved on and it sounds a bit dated, the sentiments are pretty much still intact.

Good law – a good start

By Nick Holmes on January 23, 2014
One comment
Filed under Access to law

Richard Heaton, First Parliamentary Counsel at the Cabinet Office, gave an important speech at IALS in October which has only recently been published on the GOV.UK interwebs. In Making the law easier for users: the role of statutes he reviews past attempts to codify the common law and explains how legislation.gov.uk hopes to mesh with the common law.

It is only recently with the advent of the internet and the development of comprehensive primary law sources such as legislation.gov.uk and BAILII that direct access to the law for all citizens has even been a remote possibility.

Experience from legislation.gov.uk is that “people are using legislation – reading, searching, accessing, downloading – in a way that has never happened before”, but without legal training and a knowledge of the role of case law:

the poor reader is perhaps rather like someone who sets sail in a boat. He has been handed some nautical charts which seem to map out most of the route (though they’re rather heavily amended). But he’s also been told that some rocks (he’s not sure which) aren’t marked on the charts. However, he’s given some data about shipwrecks, and perhaps he’ll be able to work out the rest from that. Immediately, the charts are unreliable; and as for the data, well where to start? …

It’s an aspiration of the legislation.gov.uk team to be able to mash the legislation database with the law report database, so that the reader will at least be alerted to those words and phrases that have been discussed in case law.

This aspiration may seem modest, but it’s a good start. It at least gets the purveyors of case law talking to legislation.gov.uk. The former predominantly serve lawyers, the latter serves everyone, not least because it is open data. So long as case law is not open data, it will not serve everyone.

Even the informed layman who recognises the role of case law won’t make any headway ploughing through BAILII, because the law is not expressed directly in those many thousands of cases; it is an expert distillation of the ratio and obiter in those cases and a computation of the citations therein and their precedence.