I've interviewed dutch lawyers and entrepreneurs in the past, but like keynote speaker Jordan Furlong I've never actually been to te Netherlands before. I spent the weekend leading up to the event sightseeing, and as I strolled the beach in Zandvoort aan See, the cobble streets of Haarlem and the canals of Amsterdam, I pondered how a smallish country with around 17 000 lawyers has come to rival even the UK (where legal conferences of this magnitude are typically held) in terms of innovation and progression in the legal sector.
Amsterdam has an active legal tech meetup community run by Jelle van Veenen and the aforementioned Jeroen Zweers, Stockholm does not. I've been asked to run one, but after doing some research I've concluded there simply isn't enough interest. So, what's going on in the Netherlands and why? Let's look at some of the evidence.
First off, there's Lexpo. Jason Moyse (MaRS, CodeX) is sitting next to me in the hotel lobby as I write this. Next to him, professor Daniel Katz is having a conversation with online dispute resolution expert dr Jin Ho Verdonschot. Other speakers and guests include consultant and author Ron Friedmann, analyst Jordan Furlong, futurist Rohit Talwar, Acritas CEO Lisa Hart Shepherd, Harvard professor David B Wilkins and and representatives from Ernst & Young, ABN AMRO Bank, RAVN, HighQ, iManage, Dentons, Kluge and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise. This is pretty much a who's who of legal tech. Those who aren't here are most likely listening to Richard Susskind at #Cloc2017 in Las Vegas - another space you definitely will want to watch. So perhaps it's not hyperbole to call Lexpo THE legal innovation event.
Then there's the startup scene. The government has invested substantially in helping startups and there is a special residence permit for entrepreneurs from outside the EU. The Netherlands, home to TomTom and Booking.com, have been at the forefront of smart energy and fintech - and now of legal tech it seems. There are equivalents to Ligo and Signrequest in Sweden, but as far as I know there are no equivalents to Clocktimizer, Kopjra, Lexoo or JuriBot. There's also an annual Legal Tech Startup Award competition.
What about academia? In his keynote speech this morning, professor David B Wilkins said there are very few law schools around the world thinking about the future of the profession. I've conducted interviews with professors in Sweden as well as in the US about this particular issue, and I recently put together a list of forward thinking, or at least tech-oriented law schools. Two of them happen to be dutch, one of them recently launched a center for entrepreneurship and innovation in the legal sector.
And dispute resolution? This is where the Netherlands really stands out to me. There's the Hague Institute for Innovation of Law and their Justice Accelerator, tackling the global access to justice problem head on. There's the Rechtwijzer dispute resolution platform for divorces, landlord-tenant issues and employment disputes. And the courts themselves are going digital, much like their british counterparts. In the future, litigants will in certain cases be able to submit documents in digital form. Civil procedures will be simplified: "The basic proceedings will be one written round and one oral hearing before the court, followed by a judgment".
On top of this, the Bar association seems to be at least acknowledging the trends discussed at events such as Lexpo, and has among other things launched an innovation platform.
There doesn't seem to be a clear-cut answer as to why all this is happening here. Maybe it's part of a bigger picture. The Hague has, after all, been a center for law and justice for centuries.
The dutch are good at english. Amsterdam is well connected - the transfer to Schiphol airport takes about 20 minutes, and from there most of Europe is about 1-3 hours away. There are a multitude of flights to Chicago, NY, Houston, LA and Washington daily, with no layovers. Also, entrepreneurs can actually afford to live here. Amsterdam is relatively affordable compared to other major European cities - or at least it was until about 2-3 years ago (see above).
Regardless, this is all very interesting as it's been said in the past that innovation first and foremost will be driven by and for players in bigger, english-speaking markets. Lawyers, politicians, entrepreneurs and law schools elsewhere, take notice.
Lexpo is wrapping up and I'm en route back to Stockholm. We'll follow up with interviews with select speakers as well as with a podcast - stay tuned.