Voices from the World Cafe

November 22, 2019

This time last week [15/11/2019], the SCL dipped a toe into, for us, an entirely new type of event. We wanted to kick-start thinking about the design of a new law curriculum for the digital age: making it fit for the new challenges.

The format to help us achieve this, as suggested by the very excellent SCL Advisory Board, was a World Café. When I first heard this I was not aware that a World Café was a thing but it turns out a World Café is a structured conversation where delegates pick the questions they want to discuss around, in our case, the broad theme of a changing law curriculum for the Fourth Industrial Revolution (as many now like to call our current era). In the event eight questions were selected and each delegate, apart from those who suggested the questions adopted for debate who acted as host moderators, had to talk through three of them in 20 minute sessions. 

These discussions turned out to be incredibly dynamic and insightful but the format presented a real headache to the reporter such as me. A bit of cod mathematics might help illustrate why. If there are 90 articulate, interested people each discussing three of the possible eight questions and each contributing, let’s say, three insights to each discussion, how many different views will be expressed? Almost as many as the words in this article. At least.

So instead of trying to divine any probably imaginary themes onto the output from the day – that will be the focus of our collation efforts over the next month or two – I have gathered some snippets, images and insights from our delegates (anonymously and paraphrased) in response to the questions posed to act as some sort of record of this invigorating day.

You should also read the excellent introductory talk from Lord Tim Clement Jones published here.

Q1: Would the world at large prefer not to have lawyers?

“Perhaps people would prefer not to have the problems that lawyers solve” 

“Lawyers are there to shovel s**t and restore glory. Nobody wants them unless they’re in it”

“We now have a system that can spot when dilapidation checks are required so we can prevent disputes happening. The person running that software does not have to be a lawyer” 

“I’m sometimes nervous of using new legal tech, especially when it contains some AI element, as we are not sure how it fits with our duty to the client and our codes of practice”   

“Lawyers may prove to be a secret stash of systemic thinkers who can design the systems we need to run justice in the future”

“Teaching legal tech before someone enters practice is a waste of time. It will all be forgotten by the time they enter a firm and the software will have changed as well” 

Q2: What are the problems that the next generation of lawyers will need to solve? 

“How can lawyers be part of the solution? Whatever problems we see will be immensely complex but lawyers alone will not be able to solve them”

“definite need for collaboration in resolving complexity”

“diversity is crucial as it improve the results of collaboration”

“What does business continuity and disaster management look like in a 24/7 world? It will be a problem for both lawyers and their clients.” 

“some of the problems lawyers will need to solve will arise out of sustainability”

“Legal hackers could be used to identify the gaps in future regulations and the unintended consequences of those regulations”

Q3: How should we teach technology to law students?

“Should it be taught in the first place? We did not come to a consensus”

“students should have curiosity about technology”

Q4: Who should dictate the skills that lawyers need in the future?

“There was shared concern about who was shaping and influencing the legal curriculum now”

“Only 50% of students studying a law degree end up in a law firm and that should be recognised in who provides the influence”

Q5: How should we handle the distinction between legal tech and tech law?

“Critiquing legal tech could help refine lawyers critical thinking”

“legal tech is technology lawyers use in practice tech law is the law as it applies to technology”

“before 2010 most law departments did not have capacity to cover both but we may now the opportunity to divorce them”

“is there a lawtech bubble at the moment as only 200 firms are going to be in the market at the moment for many of the products”

Q6: In a more automated future how can we ensure the continued existence of fairness mercy, justice and fun in the legal profession?

“what would machines not be able to do? At the moment the value data is so complex that we can only imagine the most basic judgments being automated”

“We imagined different firms would have an AI negotiating contracts in some form of chess game.”

“the use of AI developed case analysis could see the end of common law” 

“when lawyers are freed up people will argue in their free time: everyday will be like Christmas and could open up a new profession following Monty Python – is this the right room for an argument?”

Q7: How can we serve the system while looking beyond it?

“Events like this raise the expectations but academics have to go back and teach the seven core subjects”

“Ethics should be built-in”

“what is the role of law schools in setting the agenda?”

Q8: How do we future-proof the profession?

“Teaching tech skills not sufficient as it moves too quickly. We need to teach adaptability instead”

“collaboration will be crucial, especially with the computer departments”

“We need to teach from a historical perspective to understand what the future might look like: how did people react to electricity?”

Ann Thanaraj, from Teesside University, presented a flash talk in which, among much else, she suggested that a law degree can be modelled to contribute towards finding interdisciplinary solutions to six Grand Challenges of digital transformation