The legal profession’s ‘black swan’ problem

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A black swan is an event or occurrence that deviates beyond what is normally expected of a situation and is extremely difficult to predict.

The term ‘black swan’ derives from the story that the English had traditionally defined the word ‘swan’ as a bird that was white. Swans’ whiteness was integral to their ‘swanness’. When the English came to Australia and saw black swans, they were thrown by this completely unexpected event. If swans were by definition white, what was this black bird? It was impossible to have predicted the event of a black swan because of the circumscribed definition of swan.

Author Nicholas Taleb used the term ‘black swan’ in his best selling book. He suggests that we cannot predict the future if we expect the current circumstances to continue on the same trajectory as they have in the past. I think that the legal profession is in such a predicament.

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A roadmap for the legal profession: flip

Robot Lawyer

‘The robots are taking our jobs!’*

The Law Society of New South Wales (‘LSNSW’) has recently released its flip Report (the Future of Law and Innovation in the Profession). Through submissions and a series of hearings between May and November 2016, the Futures Committee has provided the profession with a readable overview of the contemporary environment for the practice of law in New South Wales. And, I dare say, in the rest of Australia and probably beyond.

 

The Report responds to the exponential rate of change faced by the legal profession, notably through the advent of new technologies. It provides not only a series of key findings, but also a series of recommendations concerning the role of the LSNSW in supporting innovation in the profession.

In this post I provide some initial thoughts on the overarching approach of the Report.

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Blockchain: is it the next big thing

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Old school ledger

I will start by answering the question in the title: I don’t know.

This post is directed principally at lawyers and legal academics, arguing that whatever the trajectory of Blockchain technology, it is sufficiently significant that we must attempt to understand it at some level at least to think critically about its potential implications.

Some lawyers, principally in Big Law firms with a large banking and finance client base, are deeply engaged in Blockchain including to suggest that it will open new fields of practice. Other lawyers understand but dismiss its potential. In my experience however, the majority is unaware of its existence or cannot really say what it is. This latter position is fair enough, because in my view it’s not easy to find a simple explanation that lacks breathless proclamations of a new world order.

I’m a newcomer, having bitten the bullet after I observed ‘chatter’ about Blockchain had reached a tipping point. In my social media feeds, in recent months it has moved from random mentions (innovators) to dedicated early-adopter status even reaching mainstream media… This must surely mean that it’s time for lawyers to become conversant in the technology and its possibilities (and limitations). This post is a low-tech overview of some of the issues, from a lawyer’s perspective.

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