Monday, 18 November 2013

Northern Ireland Bar Conference 2013

Richard Susskind with Brian Spencer at Titanic Belfast.
The Northern Ireland Bar Council conference 'Transforming Legal Practice Through Innovation' (preview here) was headlined by the eminent legal futurist Richard Susskind (@RichardSusskind). Ahead of his keynote address, a number of other esteemed speakers addressed the conference. Here they are in order:

Attorney-General John Larkin began by his address by admitting that he had not been at the forefront of transforming practice. He noted two errors that he and others have made:
One: That technology doesn't matter and we can get along with it. 
Two: Some have idolised technology and technological innovation for its own sake. 
John Larkin elaborated. On the first error made, he said: Those who ignore tech advance will soon realise the error of their ways in the exhaust fumes of their competitors. On the said error made, he said: The second is a subtler risk. Technological advancements for lawyers cannot be an end in itself. It can only be better so long as we can use it to better serve our clients. There is little value in wielding a technological masterpiece if we cannot be sure of its reliability. 

He said finally that: "We lawyers should also be solvers of problems. Seek better solutions. I commend this conference heartily as it takes its first step in that direction."

QUB alumnus and Supreme Court Judge Lord Kerr took to the podium. Lord Kerr began by confession. Until recently he said, "I couldn't think without a pen in my hand, I was a complete Luddite." But Lord Kerr is now a convert and advocate of technology as tool for enhancing justice and the work of legal practitioners.

There is a judge, Henry Brooke (@HenryBrooke1), on Twitter here. Lord Kerr explained that at an event with young people he became stunned by the use of technology that he almost immediately understood the need to use technology. He also explained that when he became Lord Chief Justice he encouraged others to use technology.

We aren't as advanced as London in Belfast. We don't have an FTR recording system in Belfast but we have started to embrace technology in appeals. He then delivered a brief presentation, 'Electronic documents in Supreme Court' in which he explained the working of the electronic file system and the electronic bundle number system. He explained that they can conduct an entire case electronically including counsel presenting their case electronically.

Lord Kerr also explained to the Conference that not all his colleagues on the Supreme Court bench are as enthusiastic as he. He said he would refrain from naming and shaming those who don't use technology in court. Then yielded and named Tony Clarke as one reluctant to adopt.

Lord Kerr said that his blend of technology with practice and that of his peers was still embryonic. "We’re still feeling our way." Lord Kerr then echoed John Larkin and said that advocates "cannot pursue technology for its own sake; But for the good process of law." Lord Kerr finished with a word of encouragement and of secular divination:
"Technology has absolutely transformed my way of working and made it infinitely easier. I have no doubt in a couple of generations and ask why on earth did they take so long? Why did they generate so much paper? I'm speaking with the zeal of a convert. I hope that this conference will encourage those to exploit technology to its full potential."
Belfast Barrister Peter Girvan (see more here) then took to the podium with a presentation, 'Sex, lies and video tape' whose content did not live up to its sensational title. Peter Girvan’s presentation can be captured in a sentence: "It seems to me, self-regulation isn't working.” Certainly this isn’t a settled matter and this position is at odds with other barristers, including the totemic John Cooper QC who led at the #TwitterJokeTrial.

Though Peter Girvan would find himself in good company with the solicitor advocate who represented Lord McAlpine in successfully securing libel damages and a full remedy against Sally Bercow.

FT blogger David Allen Green is against regulation which you can read about here. The editor of the UK Human Rights blog and leading barrister Adam Wagner is also against it, see here.

Peter Girvan said that "it's indisputable that social media can be a positive force it society. But it's also clear that they are becoming a force to harass, abuse and defame." He gave the example of two cases: one of a man who threatened woman by alleging that he had 17 minute sex tape; and another of an internet troll who made "gratuitous and malicious slurs against the character of the plaintiff." In support of his position Peter Girvan cited Mr Justice McCloskey who said in a case that, "The essence of this defence consists of an admission from Facebook that it has created somewhat of a monster."

Afterwards, Mark Simpson took to the podium and rightly said, "I dare say this is an area of law we're going to hear more and more and more from."
Barrister Keith Gibson (here) then took to the podium with a presentation by the title, 'The danger of ranting - Norwich Pharmacal order.' The Norwich Pharmacal order allows courts to unveil the identity of masked bloggers and facilitates third party disclosure.

Mark Mulholland QC, Chairman of the Northern Ireland Bar Council then took the podium. He began bullishly and said:
"The era for us is the fastest moving era in history, the technological changes are huge. Some of those changes have been demonstrated by lord Kerr. Challenges have been illustrated by Girvan and Gibson. Rirchard Susskind’s book Tomorrow's Lawyer is aimed at an audience in need of hope, optimism and insight. 
Technology for us as a profession is something we must embrace. The technological age is upon us and we must respond. We must look to technology. We must embrace change and innovative.
Mark Mulholland then echoed A-G John Larkin and Lord Kerr when he said: "We must not lose out robust and independent legal services system." He then made the business case for technology:
"We need to tell the world we are open for business. That message remains true today. The bar is open nationally, internationally and through technology, globally. What we have in Northern Ireland is second to none. We have international tradable skills. We can export this part of our business sector worldwide. 
We currently have members of our bar working in the Cayman Islands and Bermuda. Northern Ireland today is a different landscape. In Northern Ireland the Agri-food sector, science and technology is in export and growth. The legal sector must see itself in the same light. 
Look to the mediation centre in Maze. This is where some of the most intractable international disputes can be solved by some of the best legal minds. Kerry Quinn of Invest NI is here and we are working with this agency. We need to look to electronics filings, e-discovery and tele-pleadings. 
The art of advocacy, negotiation, mediation - all attract a wide array of the talent we have. We recognise that we have to reach out and communicate with an outside legal market. Tech has a key role to play to ensure we deliver the highest quality of legal advice. The technological age has an integral role to play. 
With change comes challenges. Not only the bar but the economy at large. US envoy Declan Kelly said businesses are living in the brightest age yet there is a lot of pessimism. He said that every time he’s interviewed, everything starts with a negative. Practical problems can be solved with technology in the court room. But we need Vigilance in the court room. 
To allow court-based tweeting could allow prejudicial information to be available in the trial. The openness of justice could be compromised. Lord Judge said technology must be welcome as long as we are its masters. Back to the opportunities. We need to invest in our talent. The long awaited website is nearing completion. The Susskind world of tomorrow's lawyers may be light years ahead of us. John Glenn said in US court said, "we are taking small steps but we are stepping in the right direction."
Mark Mulholland QC then concluded with a reference to former judge Anthony Hart who wrote here 'A History of the Bar and Inn of Court of Northern Ireland'. Mark Mulholland said:
"In a time of challenge the above book is important. The bar has always faced challenge and change throughout its 90 years. It's nothing new and nothing we can't deal with."
David Nolan (here), Chair of Irish Bar Council made an important observation on the need for an awareness of business development skills among barristers that was cited on the day by some of the speakers. David Nolan said: "Need to be Business like about being professional"

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