The event was focused on the regional LegalTech ecosystem, but many of the topics covered were of national and international relevance and the speakers drew on examples from across the world.
Attendees were welcomed by Katherine Megson, Innovation Events & Programmes Manager at Bruntwood SciTech. Katherine mentioned that Bruntwood SciTech is hosting an AI focused workshop in partnership with University of Leeds and Leeds Beckett University on 6th July (1-2.30pm). This is to help formulate a project/piece of research in relation to the legal sector.
Bruntwood SciTech is also hosting an International Student Insight event on 13th September, in partnership with the Employment and Digital Skills team at Leeds City Council. This is to provide International Students with ideas around what tech careers and pathways are available to them along with sharing an insight into the culture in Leeds.They are looking for any employers who would be interested in taking on any international students for their placement years or work experience. The students will be from a cross section of courses across the universities. There is no requirement to sponsor the student as for placements no additional visas etc are required.
To get involved in either opportunity please contact Katherine.firstname.lastname@example.org
Leeds Law Society is one of the biggest in the country and for 150 years it has been supporting and building the connections that promote the legal industry in Leeds. Shanika Varga from Stowe Family Law has just started her term as President. Shanika will talk in a future LegalTech in Leeds session, but some of her priorities for the coming year include diversity and entry into the legal profession for those from all backgrounds; and wellbeing in the profession.
Tom shared the highlights of a recent article in the Law Gazette headlined “Race for new technology slowing among law firms, Legal Services Board finds”. Here are some extracts:
· "Research commissioned by the Legal Services Board found that just 21% of firms in England and Wales had developed new or improved digital services in the past three years, compared with 28% who said they had done this the last time the profession was surveyed in 2018…
· The results appear to show that a section of the legal profession is embracing new technology but there is considerable work to do bring the remainder along.
· The research involved interviews with 1,310 legal services providers, including 736 firms and 109 chambers, of varying sizes from sole practitioners to businesses with more than 50 people….
· Most use video conferencing, with take-up lower for technology such as electronic signatures, ID checking tools, live chat or virtual assistants, and custom-built apps
· Risk associated with unproven technology was the biggest factor holding firms back from introducing new ideas, as well as a lack of IT expertise.
· The use of more advanced technologies such as computer-assisted review, predictive technology, robotic process automation, and blockchain or distributed ledger technology is low, at between 2% and 5%. However, 12% to 15% of law firms expect to use them in the next three years.
· Half of firms engage with external organisations as a source of ideas, as well as technology providers. Around a quarter conduct in-house research on new or existing service development. Only around one in 10 firms recruit innovation specialists, although a third engage with staff in other organisations or competitors, showing the scope for increased collaboration in the legal sector.”
Tom reflected that the research seems to to show the opportunity for digital firms and consultancy firms in relation to assisting a large number of firms with transformation.
Following Tom’s session, Julian Wells, director of Whitecap Consulting, which coordinates LegalTech in Leeds, provided an update on recent progress. LegalTech in Leeds has delivered 19 events since it was created at the start of 22, and 13 of these events have taken place in 2023 including seminars, online learning lunches, a hackathon, networking drinks, and of course the recent full day conference. The events programme has featured over 170 speakers and has attracted more than 1600 signups.
Julian updated the audience LawtechUK’s recent relaunch. The initiative is now being delivered via a partnership between Legal Geek and Codebase, and aims to ‘engage, inspire and educate a scaled and interconnected lawtech ecosystem, including all parts of the UK’.. A key feature of the future plans is an increased focus on regional activity, which is very good news for LegalTech in Leeds and the regional groups in other areas that we have been engaging with over recent months. We hope to feature LawtechUK on the agenda at upcoming events, and to continue to work in partnership with them as they roll out their new approach.
Finally, Julian shared the draft findings of the upcoming LegalTech in Leeds report that will be published soon. The legal sector in the region has seen growth in terms of GVA (+18%) and employment (+6%). The number of firms has seen a slight decline (-3%), which reflects a national trend. Meanwhile, the tech sector has experienced strong growth in terms of GVA (+63%), employment (+50%), although only a small growth of 3% in terms of the number of firms.
The key takeaways of the report are:
To delve into some of the report findings, and the wider trends in the sector, we had a panel discussion with four expert speakers who could each bring different perspectives: Gary Gallen is CEO of rradar, the fast growing challenger law firm; Patrick Grant teaches across a range of topics including technology and innovation at the University of Law; Natalie Ledgard leads Jungle IT’s client and business development activity in the legal sector; and Luke Jackson is a tech lawyer at Walker Morris, one of the largest law firms in the region.
Artificial Intelligence was inevitably a hot topic, and the panellists shared various insights and opinions. Clearly AI can help lawyers to work more efficiently and to tackle tasks that involve large quantities of data. However, the high profile generative AI tools such as ChatGPT are limited by the data they have access to, and their output needs to be treated with care and manually verified. There have been high profile examples of people relying on AI generated outputs and this being found to be inaccurate and unable to be validated. We also discussed how the use of AI might impact the sector in terms of training and job roles. There was a common consensus that it is still really important for lawyers to understand the law and the parameters within which they need to work, and to use technology to help support them doing their role as efficiently and effectively as possible. Paddy Grant shared some insights into how universities are having to evolve the way they teach and assess students, to protect against inappropriate use of AI. Paddy said there is a trend towards the reintroduction of time based examinations in the sector, but that students were finding this difficult as they have become more accustomed to coursework and assignments.
The panel also discussed some of the other sector dynamics that can make the adoption of technology and innovation challenging, including the hourly billing model. Gary Gallen made the point that the upward pressure on salaries in the sector has had the knock on effect of putting pressure on productivity, as firms seek to maximise the output of their lawyers in order to balance client billing and the increased cost of their workforce. This linked to another thread of discussion in relation to the pros and cons of people working in the office or remotely, with a common agreement that although having everyone working in the office is probably optimal for an organisation, it is not necessarily a viable approach in terms of providing employees with an attractive working environment. Luke Jackson pointed out that firms with strict rules on this front could find themselves disadvantaged vs competitors when trying to retain or hire staff, whether these are lawyers or in other roles.
We also spoke about the unique challenges that face SME law firms, which is a topic that we are keen to dedicate more time to in future. We are very aware that SME law firms can find it difficult to find the time to attend events and seminars, so we are considering how best to meet the needs of this group to help them navigate the ways they can enhance their adoption of technology and innovation. Natalie Ledgard has been a vocal supporter of SME law firms at our past events and Jungle IT is keen to play a role for these firms. Natalie reminded the audience that for a smaller law firm innovation won’t necessarily be about using AI or new technology, rather it might relate to enhanced use of existing tools such as Microsoft 365, which could create a significant efficiencies for these firms.
After the panel discussion, we heard from Jan Smith, Founder and CEO of MindYourself.
MindYourself is a Leeds-based startup which has developed an app for employers which enables them to monitor the mental health of their workforce while also offering their employees access to a support tool. Jan has also participated in the highly acclaimed Female Founders programme at Platform.
Jan explained that the mental health of the UK’s workforce is getting worse:
· 69% of lawyers & 52% of tech workers have experienced mental ill health, including work- related anxiety, depression & burnout.
· 8 million adults are missing out on mental health treatment because they are not considered to be unwell enough.
· There is a workforce shortage in mental health, leading to delays to treat those on long waiting lists, resulting in worsening mental health.
MindYourself’s app enables workers to help prevent mental health issues, to seek support when required, and to access treatment. The services are delivered by a range of methods including peer-to-peer interaction, and the use of AI / ML enabled tools.
MindYourself has three key sectors it is targeting: Health, Aviation, and the Legal sector. It has only recently started to engage with the legal sector but initial feedback has been very positive. Jan is keen to hear from law firms in the region and can be reached on email@example.com
Coming up next at LegalTech in Leeds we have a Learning Lunch with University of Law on 20th June, followed by some networking drinks in the evening with Barclays Eagle Labs. Our next seminar is on 4th July, hosted in partnership with Addleshaw Goddard, which will focus on the property market and will include guest speakers from Orbital Witness and PEXA UK.
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