Bristol+BathLegalTech started to connect in earnest with Bristol’s tech community in a buzzy and techy Meet Up #2. An enthusiastic and knowledgeable crowd of lawyers and tech folk gathered in roughly equal proportions. Womble Bond Dickinson provided the fab meeting space and delicious refreshments, fuelling the event well past its official closing time.
Kicking off with five technology lightening talks that had speakers present their current work and its potential synergistic application in legal practice: Helen Tanner from Data Cubed talked us through data wrangling; Mark Hicks from cxpartners delved into the creative world of professional service design; ex-lawyer turned data scientist Joanne Kitson explored her work in machine learning; Gary Shipsey of Protecture took us on a journey through ethics and DPIAs; and Amdaris’ Dominic Bridgeman spoke about his company’s software forays into legal services.
The group then launched itself into a lively session finding out more about who is who among the attendees. Tech businesses and individuals in the auditorium popped up with their taster tech stories: the phrase “weaponising GDPR” used by Tom Holder of TAP will not be forgotten by anybody in a jiffy! Having thus found their bearings, people grabbed drinks and nibbles and connected with whoever had floated their boat. The room was buzzing, with the intersectionality even between the tech businesses themselves providing for inspiring conversations.
Spoiler Alert – Rant
who doesn’t know the Gartner Hype Cycle, tying in with FOMO and resultant #backtoboring trends. Tech is only part of business innovation, and solution centred thinking is required rather than “just” the production of a piece of technology. Yes, “50/76/80.23%” of tech solutions are built to solve something that wasn’t the problem in the first place. Customers and end users need to be at the centre of design. Many businesses first need to use their existing expensive tech better rather than going out to get more. It is difficult getting the right people to wrangle with the tech in the first place.
All this is of course true to varying degrees depending on circumstance, and is totally worth keeping in mind. However, cumulatively these bits of truth might just risk making it too tempting to sit back when tech is concerned?
Looking at the ecosystem right around us, trailblazers at all levels of the legal services industry are pretty busy gnawing at law firms’ core business: accountancy firms applying Fintech expertise, and lessons learnt in their business models, to disrupt legal services; “niche” tech firms growing exponentially on the back of doing a lot of things very differently; GCs gearing up further on process innovation without reference to their established network of legal advisors. Maybe #backtoboring does not ring like a good approach to future proofing, instead smacking just a little bit of retreat to a known comfort zone. In my mind it clearly is time to ride the wave of tech enthusiasm without worrying too much about reining in emerging creativity before it even had a chance to permeate a little deeper. One doesn’t want to leave a party with potential because the people there seem intent on dancing, just to have a cup of tea in bed back at home?
In other words, it is a given that technology does not equal innovation; that the addition of R&D to firms’ (currently) non-chargeable activities is painful and bears some considerable challenges; that “productisation” alone won’t solve anything; that models and play books need to change. It is easy enough though, I feel, to realise that becoming part of a thriving legal tech community, exchanging knowledge, know-how and good practice, really is a no brainer.
Our region is a powerhouse in legal, tech and creative terms. There is potential for significant growth here, and for participation in some major funding opportunities, too. Nothing will be achieved by sitting in silos, that at least is certain. This applies to sector silos but also to stakeholder silos: innovation in access to justice may benefit business; curriculum change in universities will benefit relevant skills development; implementation of progressive local government policy will help opening up diverse talent streams. What goes around comes around, a regional application of the principle of circular economy to our fledgling legal innovation ecosystem. London is doing well at mixing things up this way, but we have a chance here to claim a quality part of the action if we widen our horizon continuously. And to showcase our successes and expertise more coherently and effectively to the world out there, I like to add.
Community of Legal Technology Professionals
Thus, BBLT’s sole vision of creating a community of legal and technology professionals is on its way to becoming reality. We will carry on with Meet Ups, and for these we have many ideas already. We are also putting ourselves out there with the design sprint planned for 4 November pm as part of Bristol Tech Festival (invitation to come via LinkedIn soon). However, we need input into our activities in order to pitch them right. Meet up themes are welcome, as well as suggestions as to what else should be tackled next, the how and the why.
It has always been a little disappointing to me that not more businesses scramble to shape services offered to them essentially for free/at cost. This was certainly my experience in university strategic management – three years’ worth of education, shaping the legal services talent stream via the LLB, but not all law firms banging on the doors offering to input significantly into the course structure and content. Why not? Missed opportunities galore.
So, keep engaging, get involved, give and take. It’s really that simple.