Put that in your hype

Stephen Allen|Head of legal services delivery, Hogan Lovells

I’ve been in this industry a long time – private practice, in-house, client (stopped practising), consultancy and back into private practice again. As the current cliché goes ‘it’s been a journey’ … and one not without bumps, crossroads and the odd U-turn.

But I am still here, still working at making things ‘better, cheaper, simpler’.  There are a number of ‘mes’ out there, rare souls plugging away trying to make change – be that revolution, evolution or a bit of both.

Change is not linear. It comes in fits and starts. It stutters, it explodes, it pauses. Like many, I am sure, there have been times in my career when I thought change would never happen, when that pause seemed too long.  However, we have seen massive change. Not enough and not quickly enough to meet client demand, but we have seen it, and this should be a reason to celebrate and push on.

However, there is something new preventing that. This something has many names – wishful thinking, hype, or, as I like to call it, BS. Our market is awash with irresponsible announcements, press releases, hackathon write-ups, and general BS.

This something has many names – wishful thinking, hype, or, as I like to call it, BS.

It’s proliferated by lazy commentators who just rewrite the press releases without comment or critical thought, and then share, like, retweet, and so on – so that only the headline is seen and any facts (or otherwise) in the meat of the story are ignored.

For many, I know, this may be part of the game – a ‘have to do’ to compete.

However, the law of unintended consequences is likely to rear its unwelcome head and bite us all on the behind. Because hype can never satisfy the expectation it creates. It creates a ‘downer’ that infects hope, ambition and innovative fervour. Ultimately it damages us all, and it holds us all back.

In January 2018, I was at LegalTech in New York. Every single exhibitor had artificial intelligence, machine learning, blockchain – or in some cases all three – as headlines in their materials. Our industry can’t seem to help itself.

Just two weeks ago I was talking to the CEO of the biggest AI brand in legal, and he was bemoaning the BS which is overshadowing genuine AI.

There is some great tech out there and some great innovation (some with and some without tech). I see respected counterparts at other firms, in-house, in new law and in tech, all doing some amazing things that truly add value. But all this good stuff gets lost in the game of BS bingo – where expectations are heightened and then unsatisfied. The real story could provide insight for others – but self-proclaimed ‘gurus’, who but a couple of years ago thought AI a Spielberg movie, overshadow this.

This industry will change, but it needs to do so in way that is sustainable. It’s about time we started challenging those that BS. I’ve done it, and they don’t like it. They snarl or hide. But it is important, and this way all the hard work we are putting into solid and sustainable change will be seen for what it is. Innovation.

This article originates from Briefing July/August 2018: In-house special

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Stuart Dodds
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