From blockchain to inclusiveness, diversity to impartial juries, leading experts in and around the legal profession share their views on some of the underlying shifts in the industry they see, and what comes next.
The Hearing, a new legal podcast from Thomson Reuters hosted by lawyer and social media commentator Kevin Poulter, offers insight from the most interesting people and topics in and around the legal profession. Here are some of the most insightful quotes from the podcast’s guests so far.
1. Dame Fiona Woolf, former Lord Mayor of London, on collaboration in diversity initiatives:
“What encouraged me to set the Power of Diversity Programme up was the fact that as I said, lots of people were very supportive of the idea of a Diversity & Inclusion Programme, and a lot of the captains of industry said to me ‘we are actually quite frustrated at the lack of progress.’ And some of them were openly saying actually we’re just not very good at it so we’d like to know what everybody else is doing, so felt it was a collaboration.
So 34 organisations got together and after six months or so of talking and comparing notes, we decided that actually we really needed to focus on the workplace cultures and practices, and particularly on what was happening at mid-level, the keepers of the talent pipeline, because the pipeline was leaking and people were not being pushed up it. The leaders might like to pull people up but they needed the push as well. So that was really what motivated it.
2. Joe Raczynski, Technologist and Futurist at Thomson Reuters, on the use of blockchain in the legal profession:
“I’ve spent the last 12 years going into firms, talking with them about their initiatives, what they want to do with technology, and traditionally it’s always been ‘oh we’re going to make adjustments to our portal, we’re going to add share point, we’re going to update our operating systems which are still very important, and a core part of the business, but now you’re seeing law firms investing sometimes millions of dollars in new technology.
They are downloading a copy of Ethereum’s blockchain. And they’re starting to develop their own tokens. A tokenised system to see how it works, how they could eventually pay their clients in tokens. Or accept tokens from them.”
3. Lord Michael Howard, on moving from private practice to government:
“I think private practice experience does help. It helps you master a brief. That’s very important. And up to a point it helps you marshal an argument. But there’s a very big difference between addressing a Court and addressing the House of Commons. And I think some lawyers never quite get the hang of the difference. Whether I was one who did or didn’t I’ll leave it to others to decide. But there is, it is very different.”
4. Robin White, first transgender barrister in the UK, on inclusiveness of the Bar:
“Actually though, look at the Bar, it’s very diverse and what really matters these days is can you do the job and it doesn’t matter whether you’re white, black, pink with blue spots, whatever. I think that’s more and more true of the whole legal profession but the Bar, particularly, can accommodate the odd balls and allow us to do the best for our clients. What matters is: Can you do the job?”
5. Sir Rupert Jackson, recently retired Lord Justice of Appeal and a legal reformer, on lawyers opposing self-represented litigants:
“The growth of litigants in person is, as you say, a fact. It’s not going to change in the foreseeable future. It is tiresome, for clients, when they see the solicitors and the counsel they are paying doing the job of the other side as well. On the other hand, if you don’t point out relevant authorities to the court, or you let the court be mislead, it can be very damaging to your client at the end of the day. So it’s actually in your client’s interest that you present the case fairly and don’t let relevant matter escape the attention of the judge.”
6. Yasmin Sheikh, disability advocate and founder of Diverse Matters, on disability accommodations in the workplace:
“Law firms are very traditional in that there’s chargeable hours, and your worth is determined really by how many hours you put in. And what we need to do is think outside the box sometimes and think, okay, how can we give some sort of flexibility so that you can work from home a bit more now?
People with different disabilities probably have times where actually they need to go to appointments or perhaps just be at home to rest their leg or, you know, deal with fatigue. We always think, how does that person fit into the organization? It’s never the organization, how can [the organizations] fit to get the best out of this person?”
7. Ayesha Vardag, high-profile family lawyer, on courts adapting to same-sex marriage:
“Fundamentally, the courts don’t approach things for same-sex marriage any differently, and I’ve had to deal with this a few times. But I suppose the one thing it does do, which is very positive, it gets the court to break free a little bit from some of the conventional gender stereotypes.
So you’ll have someone who’s adopting a home-making role or someone who’s working, or both will be working and mixing it up, and the courts are just having to approach all of those different roles with a more flexible, more creative way. It makes for more nuance in the law and more understanding, more insight, however it has the corollary effect of making it even more unpredictable.”
8. Dean Strang, Wisconsin district attorney in Netflix’s Making a Murderer, on the importance of impaneling impartial juries:
“I think what it’s past time to look at is whether judges and lawyers are fulfilling our duties in paneling impartial juries and impressing upon juries the rules by which this system has to operate if it’s going to operate safely and reliably at all. In a day of social media and the ability to get information out of court about a matter that has to be decided in court, the inaccuracy, outright falseness of much of that information.
Judges especially and lawyers secondarily have to do a much better job about screening who serves on a jury and impressing on that jury in more than a perfunctory way the burden of proof, the presumption of innocence, the basic rules by which this system has to operate again, if it’s to operate reliably and safely. I think in the main American judges have not met that challenge and tend to, if anything, try to shorten the process of selecting a jury and reduce it to very perfunctory effort. Lawyers are to blame for that as well. I would not place the blame on citizens who, by and large, come to jury motivated to do justice.”
Binge your way through the entire first season of The Hearing and learn more by visiting tr.com/TheHearing. Subscribe to never miss an episode wherever you get your podcasts.