QLS Essentials Conference 2017

Friday 7 July 2017, Law Society House

President’s opening address

Thank you Rachel.

Good morning everyone and welcome to the QLS Essentials Conference 2017- thank you to sponsor legalsuper for their support today.

Looking at the program it is going to be a great day, because in addition to being highly relevant, this is also a program ripe with optimism – not something that can often be said in our profession at the moment.

For a start, the chances are that if you have been to a legal conference lately, you will have been told that there are robots coming to take your job. This is despite the fact that if the history of science fiction has taught us anything, it is that if you give robots intelligence the first thing they try to do is kill everybody; they might even have a point if they have assumed that the current leader of the free world is tweeting on behalf of all of us.

I’m not as concerned by this as some others, mostly because I work with computers a lot and while they are a wonderful tool, they can be as reliable as a politician’s promise. I wouldn’t like to be on trial for my life and, after telling my robot lawyer to run the “final submissions” file, getting the message “404 Error-file not found”, or maybe “for some reason Robotlawyer 3.0 is not responding; would you like Microsoft office to look for a solution on-line?”

I think it would be pretty embarrassing to ask the court to wait while you turned your robot lawyer off and back on again, hoping to re-boot it – not that there haven’t been a few lawyers I have met that I wouldn’t mind booting, but they have all been on the other side.

Despite what many tech-heads and doomsayers regularly claim, although technology is disrupting the law and the profession, and providing powerful new tools and force-multipliers for lawyers, we are not being replaced. The advent of technology certainly brings challenges, but also benefits – this is a good news story for us, and this is a good news conference – almost a celebration of the opportunities on the horizon.

We bring a great deal to the practice of law, and one of the main things is a sense of morality and ethics that a machine could never replicate. Far from being our death knell, the rise of new technologies throws into sharp relief the extraordinary – and unique-benefits we bring to the equation.

The more AI and new systems that appear, the clearer it becomes that much of what we do cannot be done by anyone –or anything-else.

Every “the sky is falling” speech the Richard Susskinds of the world give, every scary “here come the robots” seminar you attend, ultimately point to one inevitable conclusion: lawyers are essential to the community and the legal system – hence the name of the conference today.

Lawyers are the conscience of the legal system, and we bring an understanding that only if justice is even-handed and blind to bias will the community buy in and consent to abide by the decisions of courts. Absent that consent, chaos will rule – it is the duty of our profession to conduct ourselves in such a way to create and maintain faith in the system we serve.

You will have seen the posters around QLS, and heard our councillors and staff talk about good law and good lawyers, and we have recently added a third line to that: for the public good. Although those words are implicit from the original lines, it is important to highlight the fact that ultimately lawyers are responsible to the community, and must strive to make that community work in a fair and just way.

That is a requirement of society that will never change, and so there will always be a need for us, even if it is not always apparent.

That is why I like today’s program, and the optimism of it. What do I mean by optimism? Just look at the program, and the words in the titles and description of the sessions: Words like:

  • “courageous career’
  • “moving beyond your current area of practice”
  • “dream weaver”
  • “new firms”
  • “Personal passions”
  • “supercharged”
  • “save the legal world”

To me, these words and this program speak to hope for the future, of both the profession and your careers. Passion, courage, saving the world – that is what the legal profession is about, and we should look forward to a bright future.

The topics you will cover today, the lessons you will learn and the tools you will acquire are designed for lawyers of courage, who see the future as an opportunity and each challenge as another chance to show just how good they are; we are not bench-warmers or spectators, and we aren’t scared of the future – those of us here today are signalling we intend to be a big part of it.

Today’s sessions will provide you with the essential tools to discharge your services and duties, but please don’t forget another essential of legal practice: collegiality. The professional friendships and relationships you build throughout your careers and practices will sustain you in down times and benefit you in ways that you cannot imagine, and it is important to nurture and maintain those friendships.

To that end, please take the chance to come along to the networking drinks after the conference, even just for a short while, to work on the only essential skill that virtually demands you have a good time. Never forget that of all the essentials discussed here today, the most important essential is you.

Enjoy the conference!