Brian Inkster in Toronto

by Paul Maharg on 25/10/2017

Am at a legal innovation roundtable sponsored by Thomson Reuters, in TR’s building, Bay St, downtown Toronto, at the invitation of Monica Goyal, an innovator and practitioner in Toronto who works with Osgoode and is the founder of Aluvion.  Brian Inkster is the guest speaker, introduced by Mitch Kowalski, a chapter in whose book The Great Legal Reformation: Notes from the Field (just out) is on Brian’s legal practice.

I last met Brian, a fellow Scot, from Shetland, at the Centre for Legal Education Conference in Notts Law School, in June – liveblogged here.  His presentation, though, was different then, and adapted to a more academic audience.  He started off today by saying that his law firm didn’t start with radical innovation but innovated incrementally, improving what could be improved, in stages.  His employment model is the self-employed consultant model.  Starting in Glasgow he now has offices in Portree, Inverness, Glasgow, Forfar, Wick and elsewhere, so pretty extended across Scotland.  Not your usual branch offices either – some are simply leased meeting spaces.  In Shetland he created an OfficeLodge which is a mini-place to live and work while in the North Isles.  Neat.  And it’s let out to other businesses with the same needs as Brian for accommodation + business.  He designed Pop-Up Law – on crofting law issues he takes law to the people – a legal service that’s niche, but it succeeds.  He’s also trialled 

The arrival of cloud services changed his practice – connectivity became much more powerful and a business driver, along with the hub & spokes model, with the Glasgow office as a hub, and using VOIP to link the various offices across Scotland.  He uses digital dictation, outsourced cashroom, online payments, and legal process engineering.  He had a dedicated legal process engineer to adapt the firm’s case management system, and maximise its use, eg by inputting one set of data and have it leveraged by the system.

He has an extensive web presence.  Eg he owns around 300 domains and at one point had more Twitter accounts than employees.  He blogs extensively – on property & crofting law, and the future of legal firm technology.  And has a YouTube channel.  Sponsors a comedy trial show in the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

As Mitch said in his wrap-up, all that Brian discussed takes leadership and investment.  At questions there were interesting queries about time spent on the business as opposed to in the business (Brian’s phrase).  Interestingly his legal engineer and his two latest assistant solicitors in the firm were met through Twitter – all were active in blogging and tweeting.

IMG_3990As always, a fine presentation.  I was struck by the contrast between Brian’s Shetland accent, which so brought back Orkney to me, and where we were sitting in Bay St, not least because what Brian was describing was a model of distributed legal services that took the idea of distribution really seriously, right from the start of his legal practice.  He constantly experiments with f2f and online services, to get the mix right.  If his innovations seemed patchwork, they were because he didn’t have massive injections of funds: he needed to work in and on the business at the same time.  And it was clear from what he was saying that that work paid off when he moved to cloud services.
IMG_4042More than that, he had grasped the crucial relations between access to justice and legal services for remote, rural, regional areas, and the revolution in technological intermediation that was taking place around him.  So while his innovations were piecemeal, they were in fact guided by a sound sense of what was useful for technological legal services, what was useful for Scotland, and of course what was useful for Brian and his firm.  His work is a great case study for students at law school, showing what he achieved nationally (including, now, recognition internationally) by taking technological innovation seriously, while remaining local – in Brian’s case, to Scotland, Shetland and Scalloway.  My thanks to Monica for the invitation, to Mitch for hosting and to TR for sponsoring.

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