The end of disruption?

One of the topics on the agenda for the LexThink.1 event, which takes place in Chicago on the 26th March (presenters are chosen by a popular vote and each get six minutes to speak with 20 slides automatically forwarding every 18 seconds) is titled The End of Richard Susskind. The speaker, Will Hornsby, explains “Modern-day Legal Futurism started with the advent of the millennium and then gained steam from the books of Richard Susskind. With titles as provocative as the litany of Bourne movies, Susskind foisted his vision of The Future on us. Sure he was mostly right but should we be grateful for the narcissistic obsession of our futures that his progeny has generated: Evolutionary this, Reinvent that ”¦ Extinction. Disruptive Technology. Change or Die.”

As someone who spends his life immersed in the world of legal technology, looking at the type of IT systems law firms, law offices and legal service providers use, one of the biggest bugbears I encounter is PR hype, marketing spin and buzzwords. In particular, I’d like to see an end to the use of the word “disruptive”. Why, you ask? Because no longer can a company launch a new product or service. No, they have to launch a disruptive product or service. Now the invention of sliced-bread was disruptive, as was the launch of the first bank ATM hole-in-the-wall machines. But a new legal document management system that is based on Microsoft SharePoint or available in the Cloud is not disruptive, it’s just a variation on the same-old, same-old.

This point was brought home to me last year when I was sitting on the judging panel for a national newspaper’s legal industry innovation awards. The entries almost inevitably were described by their advocates as being “disruptive”. But here’s the thing: not only were the majority of the submissions distinctly non-disruptive but most of them were not even innovative. For example, there were a whole raft of online legal services that merely followed in the footsteps of the Blue Flag service Linklaters launched as long ago as 1996. There were another set of products that were a rehash of the Cohen Brothers’ Epoch/Epoq business model from the Dotcom Era. And let’s not even start on the submissions that were actually nothing more than whizzy web microsites.

More to the point, this approach is also counter-productive. For instance, when a tech company pitches me a “the best thing since sliced-bread” new product or service that I recognise as being neither innovative nor original, I ask myself two questions. The first is: do they think I’m so stupid and naive that I will fall for their marketing spin? (Number One Rule of Business – and Journalism – never knowingly insult the intelligence of your prospective customers/readers.) And, secondly: are they so far behind the curve that they genuinely do believe they are being innovative and don’t realise it’s all been done before? Either way, it does not inspire confidence.

Charles Christian is a legal IT commentator and speaker with over 30 years knowledge of the industry. He is publisher and editor of the Legal IT Insider global legal tech industry newsletter. Twitter @ChristianUncut.

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