Robert Weber

History is littered with examples of Aussies sticking it to the Brits: from early convict rebellions to the time Rupert Murdoch bought our favourite tabloid newspaper, The Sun, and had a photo of a topless woman placed on its inside page each day — a tradition that continues to this day (semi-NSFW link).

Last week they were at it again when Australian law firm Slater & Gordon used some of the millions generated from its 2007 public listing — the first ever for a law firm — to snap up the large British personal injury firm Russell Jones & Walker (RJW), in an unprecedented £54m ($85 million) cash and shares deal. Once again, the people of the U.K. were left shaking their heads.

Of course, we should have seen it coming. British lawyers have been talking about the deregulatory provisions of the U.K. Legal Services Act (LSA) for years now. And it’s not as if we haven’t been watching the rapid growth of Slater & Gordon — where turnover, staff numbers and office locations have nearly tripled since the firm responded to Australia’s enactment of a similar law by going public — with eyebrow-raised interest from afar.

For some reason, though, we failed to put the two together….

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* Obama took a break from his vacation to sign the NDAA. But don’t worry, as long as he’s president, he’ll never indefinitely detain American citizens. Oh boy, we get a one-year guarantee. [New York Times]

* “By your powers combined, I am Captain Primary!” Four Republican presidential candidates are joining forces to assist Rick Perry in his quest to conquer Virginia’s evil election laws. [Bloomberg]

* 31% percent of lawyers are planing to make new hires in the first quarter of 2012. The other 69% are busy doing Scrooge McDuck-esque swan dives into vaults full of money. [Washington Post]

* What will happen as a result of non-lawyer firm ownership? More money may be good for lawyers, but not clients. But if it leads to bigger bonuses, most lawyers won’t care. [Corporate Counsel]

* Howrey going to get out of these class action cases? Howrey going to pay the rent? Screw all of that, here’s the most important question: Howrey going to get paid? [Am Law Daily]

* Here’s something for all of the Roe v. Wade opponents to celebrate: two doctors have been charged with murder for performing late-term abortions in Maryland. [Star-Ledger]

* And in other abortion news, according to a lawsuit, babies are no longer kosher at this Long Island deli. A woman claims her boss forced her to lose her kid or lose her job. [New York Post]

* In case you missed our coverage on these cases, the Institute for Legal Reform is rehashing last year’s craziest lawsuits in its survey of the Top Ten Most Ridiculous Lawsuits of 2011. [Yahoo!]

The Financial Times Innovative Lawyers Awards ceremony, held in London last Wednesday, was most notable for the contrast between the puppy-like excitement of the lawyer nominees and the auto-pilot professionalism of the host, FT editor Lionel Barber, whose aura was of a man who’d rather be at home watching TV.

This was a shame, not only for the confused lawyers struggling to understand why Barber wasn’t high-fiving them as they collected their trophies, but because it overshadowed the setting of a world record. Never before has the adjective “innovative” — or its derivations “innovate,” “innovation,” and “innovator” — been used with such frequency in a single evening.

Between them, these four words featured in 14 of the 15 award names, peppered the subsequent acceptance speeches, dominated the copy of the awards brochure, and strangled the dinner conversation. Hypnotised by the repetition, I was convinced by the end that lawyers could see the future and were responsible for all of the great achievements of humankind.

However, having regained my sense of reality during the Tube ride home, it slowly dawned on me that most of the innovation I’d spent the last five hours being bombarded with wasn’t innovation at all, but simply lawyers doing their jobs. The “innovation in corporate law” award, for example, went to two law firms which acted on a merger, and the “innovation in dispute resolution” prize was given to a firm that won a case.

At other times, “innovation” was employed as a euphemism for not especially original ways to cut jobs….

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I should have written about this days ago, but the pain was still too near to me. The humans have lost to the machines. We might as well start digging towards the Earth’s core, where it’s still warm, and start building our own Zion.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know the terrifying story of “Watson.” It’s a computer built by IBM that just kicked Ken Jennings’s ass on Jeopardy. If you are not particularly scientifically inclined, I can see how that might not sound like a big deal. You probably remember Deep Blue beating chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov and think that this kind of thing has been happening for a while.

That’s just what the machines want you to think. Teaching a computer to understand the subtle nuances of trivia — the puns, the innuendos, the ordering of information — is frightening. It’s a lot different than writing an algorithm that allows a machine to work through all possible chess moves and pick the correct one.

It makes you wonder: “What else could a computer be taught to do?” Over at the WSJ Law Blog, Ashby Jones wonders if the answer might be, “Your job”….

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