The competition which kills you doesn’t look like you

1st February 2017

I am a Lay Member – that is one of the non-solicitor members – on the Council of the Law Society of Scotland. The Law Society is a membership body which represents the legal profession across Scotland. Membership is made up of all kinds of lawyers including the big corporates, in-house and high street firms.

As a Council we met last week taking time out to look at the future for the Society and the profession. As part of the day we welcomed Dr Orsololya Gorgenyi, a past president of the International Association of Young Lawyers, to provide feedback from an extensive survey which has recently been conducted across young lawyers internationally.

Orsololya was an inspirational speaker who certainly made those in the room sit up and think, urging us to wake up to a new future for the legal profession. A new future which is about innovation, about embracing new and most certainly disruptive technologies in order to survive.

But, she pointed out, the biggest threat young lawyers have identified to the future of the profession is the resistance to innovation amongst lawyers themselves. The “aye been” attitude which is so commonplace, not just in legal practices but in other businesses too, will spell disaster for the future. In order to survive in a changing world we all have to think outside of our comfort zone.

I’m not quite from the slate generation but I did learn to type on a manual typewriter. Since then the technological world and how we take advantage of it has changed beyond recognition.  Across legal practice there will be winners and losers, but unless lawyers can identify what they need to do to innovate and how they might be supported through collaboration to adapt they won’t survive. After all “the competition which kills you doesn’t look like you”. For evidence, speak to anyone who knows anything about Kodak’s recent history.

There is no doubt that for notoriously risk-averse lawyers this will certainly be a challenge, but there is help out there to support all kinds of businesses through the transition.  It doesn’t have to be faced alone.

Interface works in all sectors and across Scotland to match those businesses who have identified innovation opportunities or challenges with academic expertise.  Within the Sector team, of which I am part, we focus on three key sectors – creative industries; food & drink and tourism.  We bring groups of businesses together with academics, to work together on collaborative projects. We also introduce businesses to the wide range of expertise, technologies, facilities and insights available throughout Scotland’s universities and research institutes through events such as knowledge exchange workshops, learning journeys and demonstrations.

But most importantly we are here to encourage both businesses and academics to think outside the box. This is not just about involving food science, tourism management or creative academics but rather, about bringing in a wide range of other disciplines including engineering, social sciences and mathematics. 71% of our academic matching across Interface activity is with academics working in a discipline outside the businesses’ area of expertise. As one academic shared with me “it’s about getting chemists to think about bubbles for application in the food & drink industry”.

Just by way of example, we are currently looking at building collaborative projects and knowledge exchange events in the following areas:-  fish processing bacteria detection through hyperspectral imaging; bringing botanists, geneticists and chemists together with bakers to test fava bean proteins as a flour improver; exploring the properties of smart plastics in craft and applied arts; introducing a range of academic disciplines including occupational therapy, assistive technology, inclusive design (engineering or architecture) to support tourism businesses to respond to the demands of our increasingly ageing population.

For our friends in the legal profession survival won’t just be about doing IT better; the challenges will come in the form of artificial intelligence, data analytics, mathematical modelling, algorithm development, understanding unstructured data as presented through new sources, including social media – the list goes on! By thinking outside the box and working with Interface these businesses can be helped to find just the right expertise.