LegalTech Wales + Legal Innovation Centre Launch: Dr Chris Marshall

Artificial Lawyer recently caught up with Dr Chris Marshall, Director of Knowledge Economy at Swansea University’s Hillary Rodham Clinton School of Law to hear about the great LegalTech Wales conference he helped to organise last week and the University’s launch of a Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Law (CIEL). 

Dr Chris Marshall, Swansea University

First, congratulations on the legal tech conference at Swansea (pictured above). What were the key takeaways from your point of view? 

Thank you. Our first LegalTech Wales conference was a real success. We had 100+ attendees from across the legal and technology sector and were privileged to have the support of some excellent speakers. There were so many takeaways but, for me, the most rewarding outcome was the sense that delegates left feeling enthused and energised about the application of technology to legal service delivery.

Christina Blacklaws, Vice-President of the Law Society of England and Wales, opened the conference with some really insightful thoughts about the need for (and value of) innovation in legal services. It was reassuring to hear her belief that any job losses in the legal sector caused by technology will likely be offset by the increase in demand for services made possible by improved efficiencies and productivity. I was also interested to hear that, when she becomes President of the Law Society later this year, Christina plans to form a group tasked with looking at whether the current human rights framework is fit for purpose in an era of rapid technological change.

Professor Richard Susskind spoke passionately about how clients do not want lawyers, but the outcomes lawyers bring. He highlighted the need for technology to be a force for good in law, particularly from the perspective of “upgrading justice” and supporting access to justice. Richard reminded us that there is no finishing line in technology and that we need to think beyond simply building a better version of what we already do; we need to be thinking about how technology should inform the development of legal processes, not simply try to replicate them.

Richard also repeated his view that UK law schools are in the main not yet responding to the LegalTech challenge, and that they continue to deliver academic training as they did in the late 70s, with little regard for innovation. Hopefully, the work we’re doing at Swansea is starting to buck the trend…

Joanna Goodman had some valuable insights into the impact of AI on next generation services and did a great job of contextualising the skills that future lawyers might need. Joanna argued that it is important that “techies” and “legalies” always play to their strengths and complement each other, and that the law needs a relationship with technology. That’s a message that struck home with a quite a few people.

We also had some great talks about legal engineering and smart legal services. Peter Lee (Wavelength.Law) demystified legal engineering (“it’s about helping lawyers understand what they can do better and leaving them with something that works, not just a report”). I was also taken by Karim Derrick’s (Kennedys Law) view that legal R&D should be about understanding how law firms can help clients to use lawyers less, and by Karl Chapman’s (Riverview Law) belief that there is no question that cannot be answered by proper data, and that “if you don’t have data, you can’t play”.

On the flipside, both Kerry Beynon (Acuity Legal) and Mike Adams (Prizsm) noted that, while everyone says data should be the lawyer’s friend, few talk about the risks, so it was good to hear their views and advice around GDPR and data management. Alun Thomas (Kalypton) sounded a similar note of caution about the hype surrounding blockchain and spoke about how Kalypton’s Tereon suite overcomes some of blockchain’s limitations. This was followed by a case study from Capital Law LLP about their innovative blockchain project with the Royal Mint.

Finally, we had a series of talks from a range of people putting LegalTech into practice – F-Lex, Cognitive+, Seedlegals, Properr, and Hoowla, for instance. I think we may also have achieved a first. Our Children’s Legal Centre is developing a chatbot to help young people understand and access their rights. The chatbot produced a map of its own neural network – quite possibly the first chatbot selfie?

But, ultimately, I think Adam Curtis from Hoowla summed up the event’s key message: ‘Law firms must embrace change and they must trust new ideas.’

Richard Susskind’s list of key roles for future law firms.

– You’ve just launched a Centre for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Law. That sounds great. How will it work and what are its goals? 

CIEL gives us a space to think about the future needs of legal education, the skills the profession needs to support technology driven practice, and to develop a legal R&D community in Wales. The ambition is that the Centre should inform teaching, research and innovation driven by collaboration with the profession.

Although it is led by the School of Law, CIEL benefits from a very close working relationship with our Department of Computer Science, who are incredibly supportive of the LegalTech agenda. In fact, we have made a joint academic appointment to bridge the disciplines, with an Associate Professor of Law and Computer Science joining us in the Spring to focus on the application of AI and machine learning in the legal domain.

Credit here must go to our Head of School, Professor Elwen Evans QCappointing a Computer Scientist into a UK law school is a bold decision but it shows that Prof. Evans is wholly supportive of the need to bring the tech into legal education. Further joint appointments with Computer Science are planned in addition to new posts in the School of Law; another mark of Swansea’s belief in the need for LegalTech education and innovation.

It is important to stress that we are not doing this in isolation. CIEL has an advisory board with representation from major law firms (in Wales and London), the Law Society, SRA and technology companies. Each member of the advisory board has had – and will continue to have – a valuable role in informing the focus, content and priorities of our education, innovation and engagement programmes, and we are grateful for their support.

CIEL launched the LegalTech Wales network and we expect to be running more conferences as well as workshops, social events and hackathons in the months to come. We’re also hosting a venue for the Global Legal Hackathon this month and would be pleased to welcome individuals and teams who want to spend a weekend developing solutions for access to justice or the practice of law.

– In terms of specific educational qualifications, what will you be offering in relation to legal tech? And who will be the students? 

Swansea, Wales, UK.

We’re still developing our ideas but expect to be announcing a new Master’s programme focussing on technology in legal practice very shortly. The course will be aimed at Law students and will offer opportunities to work with artificial intelligence systems; to develop LegalTech apps and solutions; to become comfortable working with Big Data, and so on. We’re delighted to have the support of organisations from both the legal and the tech worlds, who will be involved in the delivery of the programme. Watch this space!

We are also looking at our undergraduate curriculum to identify ways of introducing LegalTech concepts within the parameters of the qualifying law degree, and have just announced that we will be offering a legal project management course to some of our LPC students this year, in collaboration with Legal Project Management Ltd. This will enhance students’ technical abilities in areas such as resource management, risk management and project planning, as well as expanding their negotiation and presentation skills. Ultimately, it will lead students to becoming certified by the International Institute of Legal Project Management (IILPM) as Legal Project Associates.

– There is a long-running (sometimes not too productive) discussion about lawyers and learning to code? What’s your take on this? 

Karl Chapman said at our conference that lawyers will not need to code in a “no code world” where systems and apps can be configured with ease. That said, I think that if lawyers can understand the discipline of coding and its underlying principles, they will be better equipped to work alongside IT teams and software developers in planning and implementing tech solutions in legal services.

It’s not that every lawyer should necessarily learn to code, but I suspect those who can embrace “computational thinking” will have a real advantage. We’ve launched a “coding for lawyers” module for our undergraduate students this year, not so that law students will become proficient developers, but so that they have the opportunity to gain insights into the coding process and how this might be applied in the legal domain. Joanna Goodman also contributed one of the quotes of the conference: ‘you can’t squash a lawyer-shaped person into a coder-shaped hole’, which resonated with a lot of people.

– There has also been an equally long-running debate about legal education and tech in general. There seems to be a lot of confusion around what ‘lawyers of tomorrow’ really need to know to function in a world that has much more tech than before and especially machine learning systems. Could you spell out what you think the next generation of lawyers will really need to learn? 

That’s a big question! Richard Susskind shared a slide listing a range of legal careers that might be commonplace in the years ahead, with roles covering knowledge engineering, process analysis, data science, online dispute resolution practitioners and the like, so there is clearly a challenge to the law schools to make sure they are equipping students with the skills necessary to thrive in future legal practice.

Personally – and I’m neither lawyer nor academic! – I think we should be looking to educate cohorts of students who have a core education in law and the interpersonal skills/emotional intelligence required of the “traditional” lawyer but who have gained different competencies in (for example) data analysis, computational thinking, AI/machine learning, and legal project management.

I think we’re past the “one size fits all” legal trainee and should be looking to help practices recruit agile teams that can tackle legal problem solving from diverse perspectives. We need to make sure graduates are “work ready” and can add value to practices from the word go.

However, I also think that there’s a bit of chicken and egg going on. Law Schools should be equipping students with the skills law firms require but, in many respects, we’re still waiting for law firms to tell us precisely what they want. I am sure clarity will emerge sooner rather than later but this is a real opportunity for the law firms to engage more closely with education providers to help shape the curriculum. We’re working with the Learned Society of Wales on precisely this agenda and have just published a position paper, which calls on the Welsh legal sector to come together to drive innovation across legal education and practice.

Thanks very much Chris (@swansea_law ) ! Great to see the efforts you’re making at Swansea to prepare the next generation of lawyers for the world ahead.