The World Café – A Participant’s Perspective

October 16, 2011

Thought leadership

I have always felt uncomfortable with the words ‘thought leadership’ and have tended to assume that they were introduced to the legal profession by marketing gurus with colouring-in pens tasked with changing the way in which the profession is viewed. However, following The World Café session held at the SCL’s 11th Annual Conference in Bath in October 2011, I am now comfortable that ‘thought leadership’ does exist and really works.

Mark Smith, the Practice Area Director at LexisNexis, and Joshua Box, the Managing Director of 010 Legal Solutions, hosted the session. The purpose was to create a truly interactive dialogue to explore the future of the legal profession, with particular focus on the challenges faced when looking at the intersection between law and technology.

The format

The format was relatively simple. They asked 100 technology lawyers, academics, clients, customers and consultants to sit down at a table in groups of four or five, and provided each group one of three questions relating to people, process and technology. We were all encouraged to draw our thoughts on a large sheet of paper on each table. As the discussions continued, an artist roamed the room listening to the groups and collecting ideas to add to a picture he was drawing on a wall. After twenty minutes, we all moved to a different table with different people to discuss one of the other questions. This process was then repeated with the third question. Each individual therefore discussed each of the three different questions with different people at different tables. The group as a whole, through the cross-pollination of ideas, identified and discussed solutions and the artist presented these solutions as a picture.

The result

The result was remarkable and the graphical representation of the collected thoughts was an excellent alternative to a lengthy document summarising the views of a consultation. We all, as a group, agreed that that the future of the legal profession needs to adapt to benefit from changes in technology and react to the increasing pressure placed on existing business models. Much of the work that lawyers have traditionally done when providing a service to clients (whether internal or external) is now arguably being assumed by new technology. Lawyers must work with these advances in technology to provide a better service to their clients. The result is that the need for a lawyer remains, but the role played by that lawyer needs to change.

How can we use this?

We should consider using the format of The World Café to solve many of our business problems. A company may be losing its customers through a lack of understanding of their changing requirements, a law firm may be losing the trust of its lawyers as it fails to recognise its internal talent or, more relevantly, an IT project may be failing to meet the differing requirements of its stakeholders – we can use The World Café concept to address these problems and promote collaboration, openness and choice. This type of approach is helping to revolutionise software development, through the use of open source software or agile development techniques, so we can use this format to benefit other areas of our work.


It may sound obvious, but for lawyers this form of interactive dialogue is unique and is a welcome break. Together as a group we identified, discussed and offered solutions for the legal profession as it embraces changes in law and technology. Well done all. We are all ‘thought leaders’.

Richard Graham is a Partner at Edwards Wildman (