#LegalGeek is an oasis in a desert of behavioural dysfunction

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I attended the Legal Geek Conference this week. OMG! It was, like, SO cool. I took my son’s advice and went for two buttons, not one. One, and you’re the Defendant.

It was a sea of jeans, bright red lanyards, smiling faces and high fives. The location – Shoreditch former brewery, you can’t get cooler. The food – “street”, of course. The “stands” – just laptops on a ledge, who needs a stand?

There were no titles or company names on the lanyard badges. Just your first name on top. Second name below. Large font. Message: this is about you, not your organisation. Few business cards. Just smartphones, kissing. The E in ESG, innit?

There were several “stages”. No getting trapped in a 30 slide deck-feck. You could mooch. This was no conference. This was a festival without the wellies. Hay + Big Tent = #LegalGeek.

And the speeches matched the vibe. There were the people I knew: Maaike De Bie on leading with humanity, Denise Nurse on diversity – with that cracking line ” I look forward to a time when I won’t be special here”. The shame (of the right sort) in the room was palpable.

Alex Hamilton shocked with metrics. He asked me to do an ad hoc few minutes on behaviour. I was wholly unprepared. I enjoyed it all the more.

Speakers I didn’t know included Al Giles who gave the best presentation I have ever seen on why there’s no disruption in legal services. It’s because “it’s modernising, not innovating” Doh!. Although I didn’t agree with his conclusion which excluded behavioural context, it was a joy to listen to someone who’d thought it through.

Outside London was soaked in an endless drizzle. A mile away a man was explaining why he was not resigning despite a judge (a lawyer) saying he should. He had, allegedly, presided over a bullying-fest in the mother of all Parliaments.

A Eurostar trip away a woman was trying to explain to a bunch of men and one woman why anything ending in “xit” absolutely meant anything ending in “xit”.

That morning’s Telegraph, with no apparent knowledge of history, contained the line “The Irish border is an accident of history”. Thank goodness my Dad is dead. He would have wept.

A continent away, the screams of a man, allegedly tortured to death, had recently gone unheard in Turkey.

And a flatbed away a man with questionable blonde hair was limbering up to dis the Fed because it has the nerve to recognise that we are at the end of one of the longest bull runs in history.

Meanwhile back in the hall smiles were cracking from the exhaustion of keeping them up. There were only two classes of people: buyers and sellers and the sellers desperately needed to meet buyers, especially those who were spending their own money attending the market, er, Festival.

Even the buyers looked a bit hunted. Doing more for less takes its toll. People get hurt. Echoes of Prof. Empson’s chilling recent Radio 4 documentary about lawyers as “insecure overachievers” hung in the air.

Rest assured the unresolved role and purpose of “Legal” didn’t get resolved in Shoreditch. Behind the scenes “the business” was menacingly present. It didn’t need its name on any badge: the all-powerful dabbler out of LTIPs, annual reviews and promotions. Who’s going to feck with that? Not me mate!

And no mention of the law, officers of the court or sentries of our democracy. Most uncool.

But we had lots of legal this and that, and the toe-curling “non-lawyer”. Only those we train to believe they must know everything could use that term without blushing.

We have only ourselves to blame. We mistreat our lawyers. We train them poorly, allow some to earn obscene amounts of money without discipline, and all to work in unsustainable working relationships. Something’s got to give.

But not yet. Meanwhile, they deserve their brief respite at the wonderful #LegalGeek. They’re just people after all.

Ordinary people, doing more for less in an extraordinarily dysfunctional world.

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