John Bowie* – Sponsored by Staedtler Pens – The Pens for the Best Lawyers
The ‘sudden’ departure of Bell Gully’s seasoned litigator Murray Tingey (above) was one of those moves that was reported with more significance attached to what his firm did not say, rather than the to the little it did. As one of the country’s best insolvency litigators, one might have expected a more fulsome announcement of one of their top lawyer’s move to the bar, but the laudatory comments were made by the departing lawyer himself, referencing the “privilege” of working for the firm that he was leaving “in good heart”, the “fantastic, innovative and talented” lawyers within it and the like.
The firm where he had worked for almost a quarter century simply confirmed that he had left effective 30 November and would move to the bar.
This stoic, Soviet-style lack of comment hardly becomes firms anywhere and invites more scrutiny and observation when none might be deserved or warranted. It echoes Bell Gully’s attitude towards the teacup-storm that arose in October after one of its partners was involved in an ‘incident’ involving a senior lawyer and young female staffer at their Waiheke ‘retreat’. More media savvy might have helped defuse that issue, just as a more generous comment in favour of Mr Tingey might have better served both them and him. Maybe they knew they were in for media scrutiny anyway. As Donald Trump, of all people, once said: “If you get good ratings, they’ll cover you even if you have nothing to say.”
Hitching a Ride with a Vexatious Litigator
When moving house recently we were vexed by some tricky, heavily planted ornamental olive trees that, to me, appeared to weigh as much as Kim Dotcom. It clearly required a person of vexiatious persuasion and I lucked upon just such a person. ‘Ben’ was an odd but congenial fellow who did not seemed to be daunted by moving unusual objects of various kinds, including the olives. Their transport in his van, h owever, saw him engage me in intense and endless conversation when he asked what I did for a living. Never quite sure how to answer that question I had foolishly referred to legal publishing, whereupon he informed me I would be most interested in himself.
Benjamin Easton is a vexatious litigant. I know that because he was one of the first such litigants to be so identified by the High Court in an application to tag him in such a manner as to avoid the avalance of litigation launched against the Housing Corporation, Radio New Zealand, Bank of New Zealand, Wellington City Council, Uncle Tom Cobbley and others. Indeed the ‘vexatious’ label, or ‘political busker’ as he prefers to be described, arose after his litigation adventures were claimed to have cost the Wellington ratepayers around $350,000 over two years. Doubtless Council lawyers Phillips Fox (DLA Piper) were equally mournful about the dire situation.
Regrettably, during our olive delivery trip to Mount Victoria, he refused to listen to my attempts to recalibrate his van’s direction and as we drove towards Wellington Airport I considered some abduction attempt was on the cards. But no. He was entirely consumed by the variety of protests in which he was engaged, handing me a copy of “Court Practice & Litigation” sliding across his dash before mercifully reaching our destination and unloading the olives, myself and a final comment about judicial corruption.
The Rise of the Machines
If you want to get with the programme you need to be all over “AI”. Artificial intelligence is the new acronym that’s so nifty it needs just two letters to the usual three. Its of concern to none other than the world’s biggest brain, Dr Stephen Hawking who believes that AI is one of the major threats facing the survival of the human race.
But before we get to extinction of the race, let’s briefly consider the law profession and the threats faced by AI.. A recent report from one of Google’s first employees, a physicist called Ron Dolin who is now a senior researcher at Harvard Law School’s Center on the Legal Profession, says that law firms’ use of first year lawyers to do the chargeable grunt work on everything from document reviews to those tedious discovery files, is under serious threat from AI systems.
The problem is not so much that AI software can do much of this work – and before too long all of it – is that law firms rely on the cashflow provided by the grunts doing that tedious stuff.
Dolin notes that AI systems can do contract review work faster than any human already in a “non-reversable trend” that threatens the current law firm universe.
As the billable hour becomes more questioned and the issue of price predicability more important, automation systems provide the ability for firms to more accurately analyze the work they are doing, which alters the structure of the firms providing that work.
Billable hours by humans becomes subjugated by AI systems that can accurately and quickly do the work in a quantifiable manner. Already Deloittes have been the world’s largest professional services firm to use AI via the Kira Systems technology. For the grunts at the office working every hour the good Lord sends them it’s probably welcome news. They mostly hated the work anyway. For their bosses back home by the pool, it’s maybe a different story.
*First Published in National Business Review
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