Time for some blue-sky thinking in legal education

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Subject to the vagaries of air travel, I will arrive in Sydney later today to attend the UNSW Legal Education Conference. I’ll be presenting with my colleagues Alex Steel and Melissa Castan on some work we are doing developing a taxonomy of legal education research. More on that in another post.

In this post, I outline my thoughts on the state of publishing in Australian legal education. I’ll be presenting these as part of a plenary panel at the conference.

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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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‘Add tech and stir’ is no recipe for innovation

AddTech.pngMy previous post gave an overview of the Law Society of New South Wales’ flip Report, on the future of law and innovation in the profession. My overall impression is that the Report might provide a useful and very gentle overview of the road ahead, but fails to engage in any real sense with the way in which technology will – and already is – changing law and legal practice.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the chapter devoted to legal education. This poses a real limit on the possibilities for innovation – especially to the extent that regulatory bodies are likely to accept the Report’s statement that existing knowledge and skills must remain.

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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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The global lawyer

The legal profession has been concerned for some time with the capability of law graduates for transnational practice. While much of the discussion in the context of the Australian legal profession has centered on knowledge, for example of private international law, there is inevitably an array of skills and attitudes that must accompany such knowledge to develop what might be called the global lawyer. This post teases out what those skills and attitudes might look like.

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Professionalism online (for new lawyers)

I have been meaning for some time to write a post about what’s described as ‘personal branding’. My interest lies in providing a constructive platform for those entering the profession and who seek to dip their toes into social networks as part of their development of a professional identity.

I was prompted again by the recent cases of academics Roz Ward and Martin Hirst each of whom has had their employment threatened due to a personal Facebook post unrelated to work, and a series of publicly available tweets, respectively. These cases, and many others like them, raise a myriad of issues about privacy, employers’ rights, employees’ responsibility, contemporary standards of discourse, and working out when they apply.

Before I could get my thoughts together to finish a post, Martin Hirst posted on his own blog most eloquently about the issues he and others face. So I have scaled back for now. The topic will likely need a series of posts to canvass the different facets of the complex issue of personal freedoms online and their intersection with our professional lives.

This post is a minimalist start on the topic of online professional personae. It addresses what I see as the professional needs of that most conservative of professions, the law. It is designed to offer a starting point for reflection about one’s digital presence in the context of professionalism in the law. It is not a highly critical piece – critique will come in later posts.

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Time for women lawyers to claim their power

Screen Shot 2016-04-03 at 7.05.25 amI graduated in one of the first cohorts in law at the University of Queensland to comprise 50% women. Despite experiencing overt sexism in some of my job interviews and tacit sexism during my working life, it still did not occur to me for a long time that I would be treated any differently from my male counterparts. I thought sexism to be exceptional. As a young woman, I believed all in the profession would be treated on merit.

The intervening 26 years in the workforce has shown that the idea of merit excludes many people of merit. Hard work and talent are not enough – if it were, the upper ranks of the legal profession in particular, would look a lot more diverse.

We know this – study after study has confirmed it. We even know¬†why there is a lack of diversity – that the culture of the legal profession operates in a deeply exclusionary way. What we don’t seem to know is how to dismantle this culture. This post forms the basis of some ideas I will be sharing at the 2016 conference of the Australian Women Lawyers (‘AWL’). In it, I offer some ideas on cultural change in the legal profession, focusing on changing entrenched gender bias.

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Enough pledges. Act!

The Australian reported today that the New South Wales Law Society would urge law firms to sign up to a charter for advancing women in the legal profession, including a pledge to achieve equal pay for male and female graduates, within 12 months.

On the basis that differentiating pay based on gender (or race, or age etc) is unlawful, why is such a pledge needed? Why doesn’t the law society say: if a law firm is not currently paying staff equally for equal work, it will be prosecuted. I guess pledges and charters seem so much less in your face. But that is why I suspect that they will not work.

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