I am an unapologetic cheerleader for Legal Futures. Not just because Neil has, from time to time, indulged my less than professional blogging but because it does what it says on the tin: it’s legal and it’s about the future. It’s also measured and often ahead of its contemporaries driven in part by Neil’s obvious wealth of contacts but principally because he does his homework and lots of it. The 23rd April 2012 saw the 3rd iteration of the Legal Futures Conference. A similar format to previous years and an impressive speaker list formed from those who make the news on the website. Some of my observations from the third row, right hand side (from the platform) next to the column:
The venue was no place to be without strong coffee as ‘hot topics’ fuelled acronym bingo on COLP’s and COFA’s, OFR and buzzwords on compliance, governance and change management courtesy of Michelle Garlick and Michaela Hardwick. Under time constraints and the watchful eye of the conference organizer speed presenting by Martin Coyne on the referral ban and why IL4U is OK but the rest are well, to put it politely, not.
This year a return of the regulator-fest ‘face-off’ which I always find entertaining if not slightly depressing viewing as flags are staked in the ground, positions are entrenched and the divisions and cracks are there to be seen in their glory. For a moment in time I was almost ‘Team Deech’ as the Baroness spoke passionately about the ongoing LASPO debate and I know others were with me but then the discussion moved back onto more traditional ‘them and us’ ground. By the time we reached the reference to an ‘ordinary’ persons probate matters by reference to a second property in Benidorm I’d handed back in my team subs. Alan Kershaw spoke eloquently and with conviction on the role of specialist training, CPD and regulation. He asked “what is the case for denying the right to independent practice to Chartered Legal Executive Lawyers”. He then went on to answer it simply: there is none. Well said that man. Charles Plant spoke about the real challenges of OFR, it’s ‘no biggy’ for well run firms but as one commentator put it: who decides what a well run firm looks like? Plant’s big message of the day: resist change and have it forced upon you. There may be unintended consequences of OFR but they’re in the public interest…now, go tidy your rooms! For Anna Bradley of the CLC (positive despite their knock back on an extension to licensing), it’s about the lessons they have learnt through being in the process, good and bad. Small doesn’t mean that they are cheap but the message is that there is real value in membership and regulation and it certainly seemed that they have their finger right on the pulse of what OFR means for their members. But, you may be inclined to think, easily done when you’re a one-trick pony.
All of this discussion was conducted under the watchful gaze of Big Bro Edmonds who was on bullish form as first entrant onto the stage in his interview with Neil Rose. Edmonds is a man who also does his homework. He knows his remit and he believes in it. I am sure he was as entertained as the audience as the Regulators took part in a dragons denesque bid for regulation of will-writing one of the hot topics of the day (timing being everything). It probably won’t surprise you to hear that the BSB is out, IPS probably setting out the best off the cuff stall for the specialist service.
If you know the running of the programme you might think I have missed out somebody important from the morning run: Djanogly. Nice to see him there, after all he bailed APIL last week but he was exercising the Politicians prerogative of a prepared speech. I didn’t have much to tweet other than the observation made by Andrew Hopper QC on the interpretation of the s58 amendment and answers from Djanogly on this and QOCS for civil cases which meant he missed the opportunity for clarification. I do however have a picture for you:
Tweeting in the afternoon was like tweeting from a legal conference but from a different parallel. I work in commerce as I’m one of those ‘in-housers’ so the language wasn’t new to me BUT it’s generally not standard fare for legal events. I also had some ‘feelings’: enthusiasm, passion, opportunity, belief some of which I felt myself and some of which I felt vicariously through the talks given by others. What an interesting state of affairs. I didn’t necessarily agree with everything I heard but I believe in the passion and if those involved in the projects follow through only on 50% of the rhetoric not only does the future look uber interesting but ‘wow’ for the people who are part of making it happen. Some of the audience and tweeters were (very) skeptical about the idea of fixed fees, not so much the concept but the practical application and the answer appeared to be that they were challenges for businesses to cross but they will be crossed..watch this space..the Co-Op plan to show us.
From Andrew Grech, MD of Slater & Gordon a prize of kangaroo jerky for the best question (*heaves*) and a reminder that our regulatory position ain’t all that. S&G have to deal with 52 regulators and actually they have no complaint to make. We (us here in England and Wales) are just experiencing a ‘moment in time’. Wise words or “suck it up”? For me it works. It’s pragmatic. Regulation is here now move on. From my position over here in the ‘not private practice camp’ I do question often expressed views that external investment signposts the one-way street to rack and ruin, corruption and a absolute fetter on independence so, I thought I’d put the question to Grech. Is it and how do you stop it happening? The answer a forceful, short and to the point explanation of how business investment works. S&G plan a big presence in the UK and a presence as ‘a humble old everyday law firm’. Nice sentiment and my money is on S&G delivering exactly that.
The final segment of the day was another panel presentation discussion from those looking to do things differently. For some their cards are still being played close to chests. Quindell talk about the pieces of the puzzle coming together but they’re not going to publicly declare their strategy but it’s clearly one of vertical integration through the supply chain from end to end. For others it was the chance to clarify their intentions. Irwin Mitchell are not, repeat are not going to list but there will be big people acquisitions. Instant Law UK gave a flavor of their experience in public libraries. Anyone thinking that libraries are defunct in the internet generation needs to take a look at foot-fall. I didn’t capture the numbers but they were not to be sniffed at. And finally it was down to Karl Chapman to impress on the subject of Riverlaw and he didn’t disappoint and certainly gave us tweeters sound bites galore. To paraphrase “people underpin it all..quality and scale of applications staggering..by the way law firms could be doing what we are doing…the opportunity is much bigger than we thought…lawyers please keep hourly rates it’s great for our business…change of plan 43 days in we will now be making business acquisitions…our proposition is straight forward to mid-level corporations…philosophically we are about delivery of service..” and there were more.
So I reach the end of the conference day (there were drinks but what happens at drinks stays at drinks) and I need to exercise some restraint before I get carried off in my bubble of optimism. Of course it could all be rhetoric but as somebody who supports the concept of alternative business structures it is encouraging to witness the ideas, the visions and the enthusiasm for the law and lawyers and the future for consumers of the law coming from those both from a traditional background and those who are not and I’ve already made my list of who I believe will be on the platform next year.