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Legal profession must take fresh approach to service, entrepreneur says

23 January 2012

The legal profession needs to take a fresh approach to the delivery of legal services if it is to survive the challenges of the Legal Services Act, entrepreneur Ajaz Ahmed has said.

The Freeserve founder, who teamed up with law firm Last Cawthra Feather to launch the service LEGAL365, said lawyers needed to adapt to modern customer needs and “start talking the customers’ language”.

Ahmed has expressed similar thoughts before. This time he was speaking as a panellist at last weekend’s meeting of Law Without Walls, the international legal education initiative developed under the aegis of the University of Miami which aims to bring together lawyers and entrepreneurs.

Set up in 2008, LWOW describes itself as a “part-virtual, collaborative academic model” bringing together students, universities, lawyers and business people “to innovate legal education and practice”.

Teams of students from 12 universities around the world – the British member is University College London – work on project under the supervision of legal and business mentors from other jurisdictions to foster greater understanding of different cultures.

Although it has a strong international flavour LWOW aims to have an effect a local levels, with teams working on projects such as access to justice for individuals ineligible for legal aid, coordinated assistance for litigants in person and a cross-border platform for cooperation between legal regulators.

The panel on which Ahmed sat at the so-called ‘KickOff’ session, held at St Gallen, Switzerland, considered the power and innovation and entrepreneurial spirit.

Ahmed said participants were keen to hear about the changes taking place under the Legal Services Act. “People wanted to know how their countries could change and the answer was that only governments could force change like what has happened in the UK,” he said.

He went on: “The whole world is watching the UK as we are innovating and no other country is, so we may see other countries follow if we can get it right in the UK.”

Law Without Walls was set up under the impetus of former US managing partner of Baker & McKenzie Peter Lederer and formally set up by Michael Bossone and Michele DeStefano, of the University of Miami.

The initiative, which remains an informal unincorporated structure, ‘kicks off’ in a European country at the beginning of the year. Students in team of four, supervised by business and legal mentors from other jurisdictions, report in April at a so-called ConPosium held in Miami.

The final report is not a pitch for funds but team have occasionally benefited from funding from some of the businessmen involved to implement their recommendations.

In between teams and their supervisors get together online every Wednesday to review progress.

Although the whole operation has an international flavour, the projects are intended to benefit local communities. Recent examples include the setting up of a Facebook-style lawyer directory in China – where no such service existed – access to justice for claimants not eligible for legal aid, and assistance for litigants in person, and – currently in progress – a web-based platform allowing legal regulators across the world to communicate and exchange information.

“Along the way, they learn about business plans, seeking funding etc. and acquire a whole portfolio of skills beyond what they learn at law school,” says John Flood, professor law and sociology at University of Westminster.

Flood, who is involved in LWOW in his capacity as visiting international professor at Miami, said the exercise was an example of how law and business could be brought together and could usefully feed into what legal education should aim to deliver.

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