Device Allows Users to “Think” Search Requests to their Computers

The futurist Ray Kurzweil reports that, thanks to a new “intelligence-augmentation device” invented by an MIT research group, users can “‘speak silently’ with a computer by just thinking.”

The device, called AlterEgo, uses electrodes to gather “otherwise undetectable neuromuscular sub-vocalizations” and create data that can be “understood” by the user’s computer system. To activate the technology, users state the words they want to transmit silently, in their heads – without moving their lips. They receive responses from the computer through the headset, without disturbing others nearby.

The rationale for the technology arises from the need for less intrusive methods of retrieving information via computers than what is currently available. To accomplish the same thing today, we need to take out a cell phone, unlock it, open an app, type in our question, etc.

Relevance to Law: While we can all imagine the benefits of being able to check some aspect of the law when we are in the middle of client meeting without anyone noticing what we’re doing, the device opens the door to more controversial opportunities. For example, during experimental testing, users were able to tell their computers what chess moves their opponents had just made and receive recommendations on their best responses. It is not difficult to project future incarnations of such a device. Who wouldn’t welcome the opportunity to draft a document or have a highly confidential conversation during a particularly boring conference session? On the other hand, the legal implications of the technology are also mind-boggling and could even open a whole new area of practice.

Check out the AlterEgo video above and let me know your thoughts, either through the comments section below, or directly via email.

 

 

 

Artificial Intelligence in China’s Law Schools

A recent story in Legal Tech News indicates how seriously legal educators in China are investigating the potential effects of artificial intelligence (AI) on the practice of law. Until now, almost all AI-related legal education around the world has been grounded in US-derived knowledge and experience, and the Chinese venture is one response to the growing need for similar approaches to other legal systems in other countries.

In late December of last year, Peking University Law School, in partnership with big-data-analysis software provider Gridsum, celebrated the opening of a research centre that will investigate ways in which artificial intelligence can be used in China’s legal system. The opening of the Peking University Legal AI Lab and Research Institute coincides with strategies by the State Council and Ministry of Industry to make significant investments in AI research, development and regulation across the nation’s industries.

The Legal Tech News article quotes the CEO of Gridsum as predicting that “The combination of Peking University’s highly experienced legal community and our cutting-edge AI and big data technology will directly benefit the development and application of AI across China’s judicial system as it migrates towards a ‘Smart Court‘ initiative.”

Please let me know your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Five Essential Articles: Depression and Substance Abuse among Lawyers

Rocket Matter has published a series of five excellent articles on depression and substance abuse among lawyers. They represent a valuable reminder that – given the competitive nature of our work, its heavy workloads, long hours, and limitless opportunities for stress –  even some of the most successful lawyers in the world are prone to depression, inappropriate levels of self-medication, and even suicidal thoughts.

The introductory instalment in the series, “Investigative Report: Mental Health and Substance Abuse Threaten the Legal Profession,” points out that “A Johns Hopkins University study of more than 100 professions revealed that lawyers are 3.6 times as likely to be depressed as people with other jobs, while the landmark 2016 American Bar Association (ABA) and Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation study determined that 28% of licensed, employed lawyers suffer depression.”

A major problem facing those who experience unhealthy levels of stress and/or depression is that they perceive a lack of support from their professional colleagues. In a career that is marked from law school forward by competition, deadlines, demands for perfection, and expectations of mental toughness, most stressed-out lawyers feel that they need to hide their anxiety and – for as long as possible – the manifestations of it.

Lawyers are fearful that if they share they’re struggling with anxiety, depression, or substance abuse they will be seen as incompetent or unable to complete their duties at work. – Whitney Hawkins, psychotherapist

To address this issue, the legal profession as a whole must follow the leadership of other sectors of society, and recognize that mental distress does not define those who are suffering from it, that it is not an indication of weakness, and that it is manageable and even treatable. Admitting that there is a problem is the first step, but with many of those who suffer too intimidated to face the shame of making such an admission, it is up to all of us to make space to allow the discussion to begin.

The other articles in the Rocket Matter series are: “An Interview with Brian Cuban: The Addicted Lawyer“; “Lawyers and Depression: How to Recognize the Signs and Where to Get Help“; “Top Five Ways to Avoid Stress in the Legal Profession“; and “Preventing Stress: Lawyers Share How They Stay Mentally Healthy.”

These five articles, along with  The Path to Lawyer Well-Being: Practical Recommendations for Positive Change from the National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being, which was an outcome of the ABA/Hazelden study, should be mandatory reading for all lawyers in your firm. Whether you suffer from depression yourself or work with someone who does, they make valuable reading and could even save a life.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

 

How to Speak So That People Want to Work with You

With our natural propensity as lawyers to jump to the negative, an excerpt from a new book entitled Impromptu: Leading in the Moment by Judith Humphrey may offer a good balancer.

In “These 5 Speaking Habits Make People Want to Collaborate With You,” published in FastCompany, Humphrey – founder of The Humphrey Group, a Toronto communications firm – points out that while our manner of speaking is just one of several ways in which we signal to others that we genuinely want to work with them, it is one of the most important indicators of our commitment to collaboration.

The way you communicate can make a huge difference in how effective a team player you are – and even whether or not others want to work with you in the first place. – Judith Humphrey

Humphrey’s suggestions range from ones that may surprise you (“Limit First-Person Pronouns”) – at least until you read her justification for including it – to ones that seem obvious but tend to be neglected by most of us (e.g., “Nix the Negatives”).

Think about how these techniques might serve you within your practice – both within your firm and with your clients.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Managing Partner Forum Leadership Conference May 2-3 in Atlanta

I am honoured to have been invited once again to participate as a faculty member at the Managing Partner Forum Leadership Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, May 2-3, 2018. This year’s theme is “The Law Firm of the Future.”

One of the greatest values of this annual conference is the opportunity it offers to communicate with fellow managing partners. The two-day event is organized by firm size, which means that participants are able to talk to people who are facing similar issues to the ones they face in their own firms.

Even though I am on the faculty, I always learn a great deal from the participants and other faculty members at the MPF Leadership Conference. I look forward to seeing many managing partner friends again at this year’s event. If you are among those in attendance, please track me down and say “Hello!”

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Blockchain Choice:  Option A, have every lawyer in your firm read this; Option B, call the liquidator.

It is not charming to brag about one’s ignorance of technology. I’m sure you have heard some colleagues announce dismissively: “Technology is for young people. If I’m lucky, I will be able to retire from this profession without ever learning much about it.”

With the advent of blockchain technology, that sentiment will damage your firm. Any lawyer’s refusal to understand blockchain technology today would be tantamount to a modern doctor not knowing what an antibiotic is.

I recommend you circulate this very accessible and useful article from the Artificial Lawyer  – written by David Fisher, founder of the legal blockchain company Integra Ledger – to every lawyer (and paralegal?) in your firm, marking it as mandatory reading. Then convene informal study sessions where people can discuss the application of blockchain to your practice.

Fisher’s article not only explains clearly and succinctly what Blockchain is and how it works, but also describes how it directly affects not only your legal practice, but the practice of law in general – including how and why “Blockchain technology may entirely eliminate the need for some types of legal work.”

It is not necessary to become an expert in blockchain. But at the same time, before long – if not today –  having no idea how it works is going to be deleterious to the survival of your law firm.

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Time-limited discount: Tackling Partner Underperformance, Second Edition, by Nick Jarrett-Kerr

A special note to readers:

 

My esteemed Edge International colleague Nick Jarrett-Kerr has arranged a substantial discount (effective only until March 28, 2018) for readers of Edge International Communique (EIC) who wish to purchase the second edition of his bestselling book, Tackling Partner Underperformance (Ark Group, 2018). So if you’ve been meaning to subscribe to EIC –the Edge Group’s monthly newsletter with items of interest to lawyers around the world on various aspects of law-firm management – now is the perfect time to do it.

As Nick’s publisher, the Ark Group, points out, “The issue of underperformance at partner level remains incredibly agonising and sensitive in law firms.” Nick’s excellent book addresses contributing factors to and potential remedies for this difficult situation in chapters that range across topics such as “Clarifying and Managing Expectations of Partnership,” “Supporting and Rehabilitating Underperforming Partners,” “When Lateral Hires Fail,” “Communication and Conflict Resolution,” and many other pertinent topics. (See the book’s Executive Summary and Table of Contents for more detail.)

Nick Jarrett-Kerr is one of the leading UK and international specialist advisors to law firms and professional services companies worldwide on issues of strategy, governance and leadership development. Prior to becoming a consultant, he was the chief executive partner of Bevan Ashford, a leading firm in Great Britain, and he is currently a visiting professor at Nottingham Trent University, where he leads the strategy modules for the Nottingham Law School MBA.

To take advantage of this limited-time opportunity – which saves UK readers £50 and those in the US $100 – simply click on the link to subscribe to EIC. The most recent issue (March, 2018) contains all the information you will need to take advantage of this offer.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback on both Edge International Communique and Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

Who would you have review your NDAs: A machine (AI) or a human?

Screen capture from Artificial Lawyer, Feb. 26, 2018.

An article in Artificial Lawyer reports that a challenge that pitted 20 highly qualified lawyers against a LawGeex artificial intelligence algorithm to identify risks in non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) resulted in a 94% accuracy rate for the AI vs. 86% for the humans.

The article explains that “The study asked each lawyer to annotate five [never seen before] NDAs according to a set of Clause Definitions. Each lawyer was given four hours to find the relevant issues in all five NDAs.”

These findings are astounding – only the most accurate lawyer matched the machine. Furthermore, the machine reviewed the five NDAs in 26 seconds, compared to an average of 92 minutes for the lawyers.

If the machine wins against highly qualified and experienced lawyers who were concentrating and not rushed, what would the results be with typical lawyers with dozens of other matters on their desks and minds?

The article quotes Dr. Gillian Hadfield, Professor of Law and Economics at the University of Southern California and one of the advisors on the study, as saying, ‘This research shows technology can help solve two problems: both making contract management faster and more reliable, and freeing up resources so legal departments can focus on building the quality of their human legal teams.”

I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

Former NZ Solicitor General Creates Online Divorce Property-Splitting Platform

 

Michael Heron, QC, Creator of CODR. Image from stuff.co.nz.

With an array of new legal apps and online services designed to address legal problems quickly and inexpensively, there is no doubt that we are seeing increasing disruption to how the law has traditionally been practiced. Many of the apps we have seen so far have been invented not by lawyers, but by business people.

Now a story published on the New Zealand news site Stuff reports that Michael Heron, a Queen’s counsel (QC) who as solicitor general was New Zealand’s second highest-ranking legal officer, has introduced  an online service that helps those involved in all kinds of disputes – including property divisions in divorces – to resolve them quickly and inexpensively. The new service, called Complete Online Disputes Resolution, or CODR, is a powerful indication that lawyers as well as clients are seeing the benefits of modernizing how the legal profession conducts its business.

Heron notes that “Court is not an economic place for the division of property to take place, especially for people with combined assets of less than half a million dollars.” Considering court costs and scheduling issues, he estimates that in some situations, a service like CODR could save clients tens of thousands of dollars, and reduce the time-to-resolution from many months to a matter of days.

The article notes that couples who opt for CODR are required to get independent legal advice before committing to the process.

As always, I welcome your thoughts on this or any other matter related to the law, either in the comments section below or directly via email.

 

 

 

 

Twelve Laws (Plus One!) for Law Firm Success

I was pleased to contribute an article entitled “Gerry Riskin’s Immutable Laws of Law Firm Success” to the February 2018 issue of Edge International Communique.

There are twelve laws in all (plus a bonus law, which is essentially a call to action). I was inspired to create them when I realized the struggle many law firms have when it comes to effectively managing their firms.

The first law, which simply states that the managing partner must be willing to manage, may seem almost self-evident. However, in far too many firms, that will does not exist. As my article states, “Firms cannot succeed with managing partners who were selected for their uncanny ability to ruffle no feathers and who discern the predominant direction of the firm and then run out in front to give the appearance of leadership. Management requires courage.”

From there, I go on to offer a step-by-step guide to developing outstanding leadership in law firms. I hope you will find the article of value.

Each month, EIC publishes items of interest to lawyers around the world on various aspects of law-firm strategy, marketing, technology, management, economics, human relations and a host of other topics. The EIC site includes a sign-up page for those who are interested in subscribing to EIC, as well as a list of archived articles.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback on both Edge International Communique and Amazing Firms, Amazing Practices, either in the comments section below, or directly via email.

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