Around and about the legal web July 2020

By Nick Holmes on August 4, 2020
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Filed under Information rights, Social media

Digital Technology and the Resurrection of Trust

The House of Lords Select Committee on Democracy and Digital Technologies has produced an important Report which focuses on a crisis “with roots that extend far deeper, and are likely to last far longer than Covid-19.” This virus, that affects us all, is the pandemic of misinformation and disinformation. “If allowed to flourish these counterfeit truths will result in the collapse of public trust, and without trust democracy as we know it will simply decline into irrelevance.”

Alex Walker of the UCL Constitution Unit provides a useful a summary of the main issues and recommendations contained in the report. The committee has recommendations, inter alia, on fact-checking, digital imprints, libraries of online political advertising, and promotion of digital literacy.

Schrems II

In Case C-311/18 Data Protection Commissioner v Facebook Ireland and Maximillian Schrems (aka Schrems II), the CJEU has declared the Privacy Shield invalid.

In an initial statement, the ICO states that “the CJEU has confirmed how EU standards of data protection must travel with the data when it goes overseas, which means this judgment has wider implications than just the invalidation of the EU-US Privacy Shield. It is a judgment that confirms the importance of safeguards for personal data transferred out of the UK.” They point to the FAQs of the European Data Protection Board (EDPB) on the invalidation of the Privacy Shield and the implications for the Standard Contractual Clauses (SCCs).

Hogan Lovells provides a useful backgrounder to the case and initial analysis and advice for what companies should do now.

Information Rights: A Practitioner’s Guide

The fifth edition of the now well-established leading work has just been published. Fully entitled Information Rights: A Practitioner’s Guide to Data Protection, Freedom of Information and other Information Rights, it covers the topic comprehensively and methodically in 51 chapters.

The second volume comprises extensive annotated statutory material, including the DPA 2018, the GDPR, FoIA, subordinate legislation, international conventions and statutory guidance.

Hart Publishing, June 2020, 2208 pages, £200.

A Lawyer’s Take on Social Media Misdeeds

Newsletter contributor Kelsey Farish has a great blog which she dubs “a lawyer’s musings on fashion, media, and digital culture”. Recently she has published a very useful overview (in two parts) of nine common offences people commit on social media, including copyright or trade mark infringement, defamation and harassment, and privacy and data protection concerns.

Planning, creating and publishing accessible social media campaigns

If you read that heading quickly, you may well have blanked out the “accessible”, but that’s precisely what this Guide from the Government Digital Service (GDS) is all about.

“Accessible social media campaigns can be more effective because they can be accessed and understood by the widest possible audience – regardless of whether people have a visual, hearing, speech, motor, cognitive or other combination of impairments.

“Inaccessible social media campaigns risk alienating our audience, reducing our impact and breaching key legislation … Accessibility should be built in from the start – it’s the right thing to do and will help your campaigns reach more of the people you need to.”

The guide outlines the key steps content producers can take to create social media campaigns that meet the standards of accessibility required from government communicators. But it is applicable to all concerned to meet similar standards.


Kira Systems has published a graphic explainer on How AI Accelerates the Legal Contract Drafting Process. “AI closes the gaps in previous contract drafting software. It offers attorneys the tools to draft contracts, and organize and revise existing data more efficiently, and mitigates the risk of future contract disputes.”

The Ministry of Justice has issued Guidance on making wills using video-conferencing. The new rules temporarily permit wills to be witnessed via video link with a clear line of sight.

HMLR’s Annual Report includes a section Digitally refocussed, describing how their digital transformation will focus on receiving verified digital data from customers in order to facilitate frictionless conveyancing.

This first appeared in the Internet Newsletter For Lawyers July 2020.

Around and about the legal web January 2020

By Nick Holmes on February 10, 2020
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Filed under Justice, Law firm publications, Online divorce

See You Out Of Court

See You Out of Court at is a new podcast focusing on new ways to resolve disputes without burning vast amounts of money through the courts. The podcast will inform you of all the options to resolve disputes without going to court, whether mediation, arbitration, adjudication, ombudsmen schemes and, importantly, by the parties themselves.

One theme throughout will be how technology is designing and offering more effective, practical, speedier less costly and therefore more accessible ways to resolve disputes and in this way to experience justice.

Each podcast will feature new developments with interviews with experts in the field. It will be of interest to mediators, arbitrators, lawyers, any organisation such as insurance companies or others who deal with claims and disputes and of course the general public.

See You Out Of Court is produced by Graham Ross, a lawyer and mediator who has been heavily involved in technology developments in ADR and ODR for over 20 years.

Graham has also set up a new panel of mediators at

The end of a brand

In November 1999 Simmons and Simmons launched, intended as “a gateway to the firm’s expertise for clients and law students, as well as a forum for the whole of the legal profession to discuss relevant issues in law” (my words at the time).

Elexica won plaudits and major awards, standing out in the early days as a model of how a large firm could showcase its expertise to clients.

In 2006 elexica was integrated into the Simmons and Simmons website and in 2007 Editor Mary Loosemore wrote for us in the Newsletter about the benefits:

“Back in 1999 we wanted to move into online services with a slightly different approach from that taken by other firms. We wanted to send out a message that we were forward thinking, not afraid of technology and able to work in an innovative way.

Technology and the market have changed significantly since then [and] elexica has evolved as the vehicle for getting our know how to clients and contacts. …

As a result of these developments, Simmons & Simmons’ online offering is now more streamlined, giving clients and key contacts a seamless experience however they choose to consume our expertise.”

And so it remained for 13 years.

Then, in October 2019, Simmons and Simmons’ Twitter account excitedly tweeted, “Notice something different? We’ve been busy working with the best creative talent at [developers] to refresh our brand. Check it out: #simmons #law #design”.

So I did.

I looked for elexica … it had gone! There are no direct references to the former brand or its microsite. Traces do remain as there are internal links on the site to former elexica resources and these redirect to the equivalent pages on the integrated site. However, though a Google search for lists 17,800 pages still in its index, all the links bar the default web address give a “404” on – “Sorry, the page you are looking for can’t currently be found.”

Despite my enquiries, I’ve not had an explanation.

What a sad end to a once great site.

Not far behind elexica in the early web days was from Pinsent Masons, launched in May 2000 to provide useful information to organisations and to showcase the expertise of Pinsent Masons.

Although no longer hosted at its own domain, Out-Law is still very much a fundamental aspect of Pinsent Masons’ web presence. Out-Law publishes over 2,000 legal news stories each year and maintains a few hundred legal guides.

Google still lists 26,500 pages at but these all seem to redirect nicely to their new locations at

Law Via the Internet 2020

This year’s Law Via the Internet conference will be held on 15 and 16 September in London, hosted jointly by the Institute of Advanced Legal Studies, University of London, and BAILII and will focus on Legal Information and Access to Justice.

The Law Via the Internet conferences are organised under the auspices of the Free Access to Law Movement (FALM), a consortium of institutions dedicated to providing free and open access to law around the world.

Further information will be posted in due course at

Online divorce

Online divorce is one of the key services being developed by HMCTS. It aims to deliver “a national end-to-end digital service for individuals and/or their legal representatives to make an application to legally end a marriage or civil partnership and resolve associated financial issues.”

The first stage for personal applications launched in April 2018. This enabled people to apply for an uncontested divorce, upload evidence and pay online. Since then more than 70,000 people have applied online, with 45,000 applying in 2019. More than 8 out of 10 users say they were satisfied or very satisfied with the service.

There is clear information and guidance on the whole process at HMCTS estimate it takes half the time to complete the online process as it did the old paper forms. Less than 1 per cent of online applications have been returned because of errors, compared to 40 per cent under the old system.

During 2019, acknowledgement of service and decree nisi applications were added to the online service and decree absolute digital applications were also released, completing the digital end-to-end service for unrepresented petitioners.

New scanning technology means that any paperwork sent in connection with online applications will be placed on the digital court file automatically.

Following successful piloting, all legal professionals are also now able to use the divorce online process, progressing through to decree absolute, on behalf of their clients. They can manage their accounts and view the progress of their client applications on a single dashboard.

In late 2019 consent order pilot testing began with 124 solicitor participants, and the end-to-end digital journey was put in place, with applications reviewed by 16 participating judges.

Solicitors receive automatic email notifications on key events and all orders are available to download.

… without tears

Online divorce service does things differently. It exists “to help separating couples part ways on amicable terms, without spending thousands of pounds on lawyers.”

Couples complete a series of intuitive online forms and questions to reach agreement; their amicable “coach” writes up the agreement; and amicable’s legally trained specialists complete all the final paperwork.

The High Court was recently asked to rule on whether this model presented a conflict of interest. Mr Justice Mostyn gave a declaration that it did not and also went on to find that amicables’s role in preparing and submitting divorce documents did not amount to the conduct of litigation, nor did he believe the drafts which amicable helped prepare were within the scope of reserved legal instruments.

He concluded by saying that, “The declarations made in this case relate only to amicable. Other online divorce facilitators (and there are many) can only rely on them if their business models are virtually indistinguishable from amicable’s.”

See JK v MK [2020] EWFC 2.

Prof David Hodgson provides a detailed analysis of this judgment on LexisNexis Family Law:

“This is an important judgment for the benefit of online service providers and for the legal profession, as well as ancillary professionals such as mediators. …

It will be for each organisation to ensure that their business model follows that approved by the court and that they do not breach either of the specific requirements. It will be a boost for the leading online service providers such as amicable providing affordable, yet high quality drafting and other family law services.”

This first appeared in the Internet Newsletter For Lawyers January 2020.

Online Courts and the Future of Justice

By Nick Holmes on January 27, 2020
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Filed under Access to law, Justice

In the last issue of Internet Newsletter for Lawyers, I reviewed Richard Susskind’s Online Courts and the Future of Justice:

Four years on and Professor Richard Susskind has written the same book he wrote last time, so he says. He jests, yet again. The message and the underlying arguments remain constant; the same analogies are deployed (you know, the drill); but tech has moved on, more is feasible and the vision is developed and refined accordingly.

Read on.

The Online Court and the digitisation of justice

By Nick Holmes on June 19, 2019
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Filed under Justice

In its Report to the Civil Justice Council in February 2015, Online Dispute Resolution for Low Value Civil Claims, the ODR Advisory Group, chaired by Prof Richard Susskind recommended the establishment by HMCTS of an online court for low value civil claims, called HM Online Court (HMOC). This would overcome the fact that current practice and procedures were “too costly, too slow, and too complex, especially for litigants in person.”

This court service would be in three “tiers”. The first, “online evaluation”, would help users identify their problem, be aware of their rights and obligations and understand the options available to them.

Next, “online facilitation” would involve online mediation and negotiation, supported, where necessary, by telephone conferencing. Some “automated negotiation” might be involved.

If not resolved by mediation, “online judges” would decide suitable cases or parts of cases largely on the basis of papers submitted to them electronically, again supported, where necessary, by telephone conferencing.

Although its terms of reference were restricted to civil claims under the value of £25,000, it suggested that the jurisdiction of HMOC “should also be extended to suitable family disputes and to appropriate cases that come before today’s tribunals.”

My recent article in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers looks at how this has panned out.

The Web at 30

By Nick Holmes on April 12, 2019
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Filed under Open web

12 March 2019 marked the 30th anniversary of Tim Berners-Lee’s proposal envisioning a unifying structure for linking information across different computers using hypertext, which by 1991 had been developed and became known as the World Wide Web. The day was marked by three celebratory events around the world, all attended by Tim: at CERN in Switzerland, at the Science Museum in London, and in Lagos, Nigeria.

The first event at CERN was a series of three discussions with leading players in the development of the web.

The first discussion was amongst early developers. With TBL were:

  • Jean-François Groff, who helped Tim develop the web technology;
  • Robert Cailliau, a Belgian informatics engineer who proposed a hypertext system for CERN and collaborated with Tim on the development of the web; and
  • Lou Montulli, author of the Lynx browser, founding engineer at Netscape, best known as the creator of web cookies, but also responsible for several foundational web technologies and standards.

They were joined by Zeynep Tufekci, an associate professor at the University of North Carolina, and a leading commentator and analyst on the state of the web.

TBL then engaged in conversation with Bruno Giussani, the Global Curator of the TED conferences, on how to fix the web before flying off to London for the second event.

The final discussion at CERN continued looking at the problems the web faces.

The full video of the event (at 2 hr 27 min) is worth watching by anyone concerned with understanding the web, its current challenges and how they might be addressed.

Continue reading on the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers …

The open web

By Nick Holmes on January 31, 2019
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Filed under Open web

My article in the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers January 2018 issue:

The inventor of the web, Tim Berners-Lee, and others advocated that the underlying code for the web should be made open – publicly available on a royalty-free basis, forever. His employer, CERN, concurred and announced this in April 1993, thus sparking a global wave of creativity, collaboration and innovation on a scale not seen before.

Open web principles

The revolutionary ideas that drove the early web included:

  • There should be no central control of the web.
  • Non-discrimination. The equitable principle, known as net neutrality, which holds that we are all entitled to the same level of service over the internet.
  • Bottom-up design. Code should be developed openly rather than by a small group of experts.
  • All computers on the web must speak the same language.
  • Consensus. Web standards must be settled and agreed by all.

These ideas gave rise to new approaches in diverse fields, including Open Data, Open Government, Open Access and Free Culture.

Although the term “open web” is frequently used, it appears that it is nowhere succinctly defined. Mark Surman of the Mozilla Foundation refers to it as “a sweeping term – it encompasses technical concepts like open-source code and open standards. It also encompasses democratic concepts like free expression and digital inclusion. But there’s a single underlying principle connecting all these ideas: An open web is a web by and for all its users, not select gatekeepers or governments.”

Carry on reading …

Image cc by World Wide Web Foundation.

Why blog?

By Nick Holmes on November 30, 2018
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Filed under Blogging

I wrote this for the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers November 2018 issue:

Blogging is a simple, cheap, efficient, effective way to publish and update time-sensitive information, particularly in constantly-changing fields such as the law. Blogging puts in your hands publishing power even greater than that which was the preserve of only large, established publishers with fat wallets not so long ago. Content management, feed generation, subscriber management, search engine optimisation: all is built in for free. That’s reason enough for almost everyone and every organisation to consider blogging.

Blogs are not just a publishing format, but a networking tool, a means to reach out and engage with an audience; and blogging is not just about publishing, but about conversing and contributing. That’s how blogs started out – with the desire to share thoughts and “write out loud”.

Carry on reading …

Image: cc by Amy Gahran on Flickr.

Transforming access to justice

By Nick Holmes on November 19, 2018
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Filed under Justice

In November’s Legal Web Watch I look at three recent developments with access to justice tech:

  • HM Courts and Tribunals Service’s progress made over the last year with the court reform program, reviewed by Roger Smith who on his Law, Technology & Access to Justice blog;
  • Joshua Browder, whose DoNotPay “robot lawyer”, initially developed to challenge parking tickets, has been considerably extended with the recent release of the DoNotPay app in the iTunes appstore; and
  • the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s Data-Driven Innovation in Legal Services project, which was one of the 15 winning bidders for the Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy’s £10 million Regulators’ Pioneer Fund.

Image: Justice cc by sa OpenDemocracy on Flickr.

Open data: free to use and republish

By Nick Holmes on September 26, 2018
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Filed under Public Sector Information

Open data is the idea that some data should be freely available to everyone to use and republish as they wish, without restrictions from copyright, patents or similar. The philosophy behind it is long established, but the term “open data” itself was more recently coined. It appeared for the first time in 1995, in a document from an American scientific agency, and it gained traction with the rise of the internet and the web as the platform enabling its effective delivery.

Continue reading my article on open data in the September issue of Internet Newsletter for Lawyers.

Open law: digital common property

By Nick Holmes on July 25, 2018
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Filed under Access to law, Cases, Legislation

Open law is the idea that public legal information should be freely available to everyone to access, use and republish. The current position in the UK differs completely as between legislation and case law.

In the July issue of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers I consider the state of open law in the UK. As to legislation, is a model of open law publishing. As to case law in England and Wales, public provision from most courts has improved considerably, but it is inexcusable for HMCTS not to invest in the minimum publishing infrastructure necessary to deliver properly edited open case law.

Legal ebooks: who needs them?

By Nick Holmes on July 25, 2018
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Filed under ebooks

In the July issue of the Internet Newsletter for Lawyers I look at the current state of the law publishers’ ebook offerings.

Image: Ebook cc by by Daniel Sancho on Flickr.

The role of technology in legal advice and assistance

By Nick Holmes on July 1, 2018
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Filed under Justice

In June’s Legal Web Watch I review two reports on the application of technology in delivering legal advice and assistance.

Image: Detail from the cover of the the Current State of Automated Legal Advice Tools (ALATs) in Australia. The report is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence.

Algorithms in law

By Nick Holmes on June 1, 2018
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Filed under Algorithms

In the May issue of Internet Newsletter for Lawyers I review recent analyses of the developing law relating to the application of algorithms.

Image: 1044 cc by x6e38 on Flickr.

Do I still need to use the www in URLs?

By Nick Holmes on March 26, 2018
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Filed under Linking

Website address by Descrier

In March’s Internet Newsletter for Lawyers:

The answer to the question “Do I still need to use the www in URLs?” is, of course, “It depends.” It depends on the context.

Read on.

Big Tech and AI in 2017

By Nick Holmes on February 9, 2018
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Filed under Artificial intelligence, Big Internet, Twitter

Lollipop is coming by Guiseppe Milo

I recently posted a review of What we learned in 2017 on Internet Newsletter for Lawyers. Here are my bits from it and a few extracts from contributors.

It has been apparent for some time that the biggest tech companies, Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Twitter, have grown too large for our collective good. 2017 was the year we finally started trying to figure out how to do something about that.

Trolling and fake news

Paul Bernal writes that 2017 was a year when trolling and fake news started to get serious attention:

“My key takeaway from 2017 [is that] both fake news and trolling, rather than being anomalies or abuses of social media, are pretty much inevitable results of the business models and practices of our social media companies. They’re using the systems as they’re intended to be used: creating and sharing stories and information, targeted at people who show interest in the subject (fake news), or interacting and discussing subjects of interest, in an open and emotional way (trolling).

If we want to seriously deal with either fake news or trolling, we would need to fundamentally reconstruct our social media. I don’t think anyone has the appetite for that.”

Free speech?

Zeynep Tufekci writes in Wired that the flow of the world’s attention is dominated by just a few digital platforms: Facebook, Google, and, to a lesser extent, Twitter and argues that our methods of media regulation are not sufficient.

“These companies – which love to hold themselves up as monuments of free expression – have attained a scale unlike anything the world has ever seen; they’ve come to dominate media distribution, and they increasingly stand in for the public sphere itself. But at their core, their business is mundane: They’re ad brokers. To virtually anyone who wants to pay them, they sell the capacity to precisely target our eyeballs.”

Zeynep argues that in reality social media posts are targeted and delivered privately, screen by screen; mass discourse has become “a set of private conversations happening behind … everyone’s backs [which] invalidates much of what we think about free speech – conceptually, legally, and ethically.”

Read more in It’s the (Democracy-Poisoning) Golden Age of Free Speech by Zeynep Tufekci in Wired.

Too big to regulate

Roger McNamee writes in Washington Monthly, that thanks to the US government’s laissez-faire approach to regulation, the dominant internet platforms have been able to pursue business strategies that would not have been allowed in prior decades.

“No one stopped them from using free products to centralize the internet and then replace its core functions. No one stopped them from siphoning off the profits of content creators. No one stopped them from gathering data on every aspect of every user’s internet life. No one stopped them from amassing market share not seen since the days of Standard Oil. No one stopped them from running massive social and psychological experiments on their users. No one demanded that they police their platforms. It has been a sweet deal.”

Most of us would agree with McNamee that “Facebook and Google are now so large that traditional tools of regulation may no longer be effective.”

Read more in How to Fix Facebook – Before It Fixes Us by Roger McNamee in Washington Monthly.

Twitter v LinkedIn

Brian Inkster writes that in 2017 he grew to like LinkedIn a lot more:

“I felt it had evolved and come into its own. It is being used far more effectively as a networking/interaction tool than used to be the case. I notice that posts I put out on LinkedIn invariably get more traction and interaction than the same post on Twitter. The spam that used to come via Groups on LinkedIn is a thing of the past although LinkedIn have recently announced a focus on ‘re-integrating Groups back into the core LinkedIn experience’. Connections and referrals are being made on LinkedIn in a way that used to happen on Twitter but no longer seems to happen on there in the same way.”

Twitter matures

My own view is that Twitter’s purpose, other than to make a lot of money for its founders and investors, is very different from LinkedIn’s. It is very much geared towards reporting current developments and reacting to and analysing their importance. Of course, it does depend on which bubble you inhabit as to how deep or trivial are the issues under discussion and how useful or annoying are the replies. For professionals, and lawyers in particular, it offers rich seams of discussion and expert analysis of the sort we used to associate only with meatier articles and blog posts. Two recent developments on the platform have helped.

The maximum tweet length has been increased from 140 to 280 characters. The original restriction encouraged brevity and creativity, but it was so restrictive that it also encouraged less beneficial practices. The longer limit, whilst initially bemoaned by the old school, appears to have been well received.

Twitter “threads” have been officially adopted. Like a number of Twitter features, threads were an innovation by users rather than by Twitter itself. Linking together a sequence of tweets turns out to be a very effective way of developing an argument, telling a story and so on. Threads have very quickly established themselves as a literary form well deployed by lawyers.

Machine learning

By the end of the year we’d learned that much of what we term AI, and certainly much of the AI that is actually being implemented in legal practice, is principally based on machine learning. Give a machine a lot of data and it will learn from it and then apply that knowledge going forward in a virtuous cycle. For example, in the legal sphere we have machines taking over from overworked junior lawyers in conducting document review. So machines are doing the drudge work in an important but fairly narrow field. Is this really intelligence? They are also being used to predict the likely outcome of cases based on precedent. And in the US, AI is risk assessing offenders and even sentencing criminals. What could possibly go wrong?


We learned a fair bit about algorithms in the last year. “Algorithm” is really just a geeky word for “set of rules”. We were previously probably most familiar with the term in relation to Google; its PageRank algorithm was much talked about. In fact Google deploys thousands of algorithms in determining how to rank pages in its results.

Facebook and Twitter use algorithms to decide what to put in your news feed and what ads to show you. Uber uses algorithms to decide which driver to match to your ride and how much to charge when demand exceeds supply. These are all decisions made by powerful companies affecting many aspects of our lives and little is disclosed about how they are made.

Even where we know the rules, we may not appreciate their implications. Leave a decision to an AI machine trained with biased data (which is more than likely) and it will exhibit bias.

So we started worrying about algorithms. From Algorithms and the law on Legal Futures:

“Algorithms are rapidly emerging as artificial persons: a legal entity that is not a human being but for certain purposes is legally considered to be a natural person. Intelligent algorithms will increasingly require formal training, testing, verification, certification, regulation, insurance, and status in law.”

Robots taking jobs

There has been an awful lot of discussion about robots taking jobs. Which jobs, how many, by when? Nobody seems to be able to agree.

In Big Law, AI is doing the drudge work formerly occupying junior lawyers. They believe those jobs can be replaced with more valuable work to generate more profit. That begs the question what will happen to lawyers and paralegals further down the food chain.

Professor Richard Susskind addresses this question in the new edition of Tomorrow’s Lawyers, saying “it is hard to avoid the conclusion that there will be much less need for conventional lawyers.” (For a review of the AI chapter, with extracts, by Ian Lopez, see Corporate Counsel.)

Image: Lollipop is coming (cropped) cc by Giuseppe Milo on Flickr.