From Africa Legal Innovation Week to the end of Adobe Flash: the stories of December 2020

1 December

Africa Legal Innovation Week 2020 kicks off with opening of a four day virtual conference from Nairobi.

ABA Journal publishes article by Danielle Braff on ‘What law firms and legal organisations should consider before creating their own apps’. All sensible advice on mission clarity and finance for both profit and not for profit providers alike, ending up with optimism for both: “by connecting attorneys with a burgeoning pool of DIY users and then providing the attorneys with a turnkey way to deliver bite-size add-on services, we hope to bring about a world where it’s not a choice between do-it-myself or pay for a full-service lawyer.”

2 December

Worlds collide as BBC reports that gaming inspired DeepMind co-founder Demis Hassabis to resolve questions about the shape of proteins associated with Covid 19.

3 December

Global politics impacts technology a RISE ‘most brilliant minds in international technology’ leaves Hong Kong venue for Kuala Lumpur. 

Commons Law, ‘a not-for-profit criminal law firm, has used a £50,000 grant from the National Lottery to launch a free web app aimed at people who have been issued fines for breaching the coronavirus regulations, reports Legal Futures.

Microsoft publishes a blog from researchers at Cornell and Toronto Universities who are authors of a  paper on ‘the human side of AI for chess’. This argues that ‘Chess stands as a model system for studying how people can collaborate with AI, or learn from AI, just as chess has served as a leading indicator of many central questions in AI throughout the field’s history.’ AI  successes in chess have led, paradoxically perhaps, to record numbers of human players. AI can be a formidable teacher” ‘We designed … a chess engine that predicts human moves at a particular skill level, and it has progressed into a personalized engine that can identify the games of individual players. This is an exciting step forward in our understanding of human chess play, and it brings us closer to our goal of creating AI chess-teaching tools that help humans improve.’

State Bar of Wisconsin sets up a new pro bono portal to connect lawyers and clients. There is a video explainer on YouTube.

Prices from another private provider are announced by Legal Futures for the virtual and controversial Solicitors Qualifying Examination course to begin in 2021. QLTS is charging £1500 for a basic video course with no live human assistance for the first part (SQE1) at £1500. Exam fees are a tad under £4,000. As Legal Futures notes, ‘While much of the focus at the moment is on cost, in time it will shift to content and quality as the SRA intends to publish pass rates.’ 

New York Times reports, ‘The United States deployed operatives to Estonia in the weeks before the November election to learn more about defending against Russian hackers as part of a broader effort to hunt down foreign cyberattacks.’

Chris Herd, Founder of FirstbaseHQ.com, publishes interesting twitter thread on predictions relating to remote working. 

4 December

Law for Life and AdviceNow announce upgrade of their document self assembly tool for claiming personal independence payments. 

7 December

Surprise. Surprise. Law Society Gazette reports that Lord Chief Justice, Lord Burnett, reported on the court modernisation programme, ‘Several aspects of the programme, commenced in 2016, remain unfinished after four years, including the switch to a paperless system in the county court. But the IT upgrade was not mentioned in the chancellor’s spending review last month, raising doubts about the Treasury’s enthusiasm for committing more money.’

Susan Acland Hood, head of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service and very public leader of the court modernisation programme, jumps ship and  is promoted to permanent secretary of the Department of Education – something she may come to regret as its Secretary of State rides into a storm of contradictory advice and decision-making. First judicial review threat came within a month from dissatisfied local authorities, prompting yet another instant policy reversal on the closure of London’s primary schools.

Australia’s Justice Connect publishes ‘Seeking Legal Help Online: understanding the ‘missing majority’’. Summary and review at https://law-tech-a2j.org/digital-self-help/seeking-legal-help-online-a-must-read/.

8 December

Software engineer Jordan Leigh comments on twitter: ‘The things that form the substrate of 2020 were created ~15 years ago: Facebook (2004) Youtube (2005) Y Combinator (2005) AWS (2006) Bitcoin (2008). So the new things that will form the substrate of the next decade were probably created 5-8 years ago. Some candidates: Dev Bootcamp (2012) Apple Podcast App (2012) Tinder (2012) Oculus (2012) Zoom (2013) Ethereum (2015) Discord (2015) OpenAI (2015).’

The indefatigable Joshua Browder reports 1m active users on his DoNotPay.com website.

9 December 

Legal Cheek’s reports LexisNexis research that ‘Home-working: 3 out of 4 solicitors experiencing feelings of isolation and lack of motivation’.

French privacy regulator is preparing to issue 100m Euro fines on Google and 35m on Amazon for violation of privacy rules.

13 December

Guardian publishes piece by Tabitha Goldstaub detailing how apps have helped her deal with her dyslexia: ‘I rely on apps such as SwiftKey and Grammarly as one might an old friend. SwiftKey in particular is a huge help in my day-to-day life. It’s an app for your smartphone keyboard that uses AI to make much better recommendations than the inbuilt spelling and grammar check. Even better is its new feature that turns my voice to text so I don’t have to type or leave a voice note when I’m struggling to find exactly the right way to say something. Grammarly is my go-to for my laptop. It combines rules, patterns, and AI deep learning techniques to help you improve your writing.’

14 December

Law Society of England and Wales establishes a new online community for small firm members. 

The Engine Room reports on shifting its annual in-person retreat online. ‘We … knew eight hours of video calls over four days was a recipe for feeling drained, so we planned for the retreat to start and end with half days, with two full days in the middle … scheduled fun … We played online pictionary, tested our wits in multiple rounds of trivia, learned about each other through games of ‘guess who’, listened to songs together, did yoga, built a mood board of what brought us joy in this tough year and played a few rounds of Among Us. In these spaces, we learned about each others’ drawing skills and levels of competitiveness, but we also came to re-learn that play is an important element of care and community, too … By the end of the week, many of us felt a twinge of that sweet exhaustion we often felt at the end of in-person retreats. In the virtual retreat space, we were able to have conversations that would have been harder to have–or just out of place–in our typical work-filled weeks. We felt a sense of pause, reflection and starting up once again. We even started looking forward to another virtual retreat in the future. And, yes, we had plenty of fun, too.’

15 December

People’s Law School of BC holds free webinar on legal issues relating to covid. 

The Nieman Journalism Lab, a media research provision linked to the Neiman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, publishes blog arguing that ‘virtual events are here to stay’. ‘As we enter 2021, the era of virtual events — even in a post-pandemic world — is here to stay, at least as one way for news organizations to hold these gatherings.That’s not altogether a bad thing. While we all suffer from Zoom fatigue, consider the virtues of virtual events:

  • Events are far cheaper to put on. No travel costs. No catering … 
  • It’s easier to lure (often paying) attendees when they don’t have to travel. So there’s an opportunity for scale, even if you can’t charge as much for a virtual event as you can an in-person one.
  • It’s possible to have high-level private break-out sessions that might have been harder to pull off in person.
  • Sessions lend themselves to interactivity, like polls or the opportunity for participants and audience members to vote up (or down) questions …’

Another Brexit consumer victory. ’Facebook Inc will shift all its users in the United Kingdom into user agreements with the corporate headquarters in California, moving them out of their current relationship with Facebook’s Irish unit and out of reach of Europe’s privacy laws,’ reports Reuters.

16 December

HMCTS announces on twitter that ‘Nicki, a business product owner for the crime programme [will] tell us all about her role here at HMCTS and her work on our new digital case management system, Common Platform.’ O Tempora, O Mores. Where to start in deconstructing a ‘business product owner’ of an element of a public service?

‘Yet more trouble brewing for Facebook: Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is suing the tech giant over its use, in 2016 and 2017, of the Onavo VPN app to spy on users for commercial purposes. reports TechCrunch.

17 December

It was the Litigant in Person Network. It is now the Network for Justice. The rebranding organisation (‘a community of individuals and organisations which share a common goal of supporting vulnerable people access & use their legal rights’) announces, ‘We’ve known for while that our members thought “LIP Network” wasn’t quite right as a name for our growing community, so we’re changing it to better reflect what we do and who we serve, while keeping the importance of access to justice for those most in need at the heart of our work.’

US government subject of cyber attacks as New York Times reports, ‘Federal officials issued an urgent warning on Thursday that hackers who American intelligence agencies believed were working for the Kremlin used a far wider variety of tools than previously known to penetrate government systems, and said that the cyberoffensive was “a grave risk to the federal government.’ Biden say he is concerened: Trump says nothing.

The New York Times also reported, ‘More than 30 states added to Google’s mushrooming legal woes on Thursday, accusing the Silicon Valley titan of illegally arranging its search results to push out smaller rivals.’

Joshua Browder turned 24 and celebrated that in the last year he had ‘Met hundreds of new collaborators, dozens of friends and one true love. Started a $2.5m VC fund with 15 investments so far. Grew DoNotPay by 20x to over 1,000,000 MAUs, $16m raised and 100k subs.’

21 December

Salt Lake City Justice Court announces arrival of is new kiosks for use by litigants in virtual court hearings – an interesting blend of the physical and digital.

27 December

BBC reports that Citizens Advice was contacted by 12 people a minute on problems exacerbated by Covid 19 on benefits or employment. ‘Its advisors gave one-to-one advice to 1.1m people in 2020, which it said averages to 12 people a minute. It also amassed a record-breaking 47.7m website page views, a 23% rise on 2019.’

31 December

The once revolutionary Adobe Flash player is laid to rest. The BBC reported that ‘By 2009, Adobe said Flash was installed on 99% of internet-connected desktop PCs. But by then the world was shifting towards mobile devices and Adobe was slow to react. “We had optimised for lower-end phones with Flash Lite,” explains David Mendels, former executive vice president of products at Adobe. “It was incredibly successful in places like Japan, but it wasn’t the same as the full desktop Flash. It wasn’t fully compatible.”

Leave a Reply