Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future

Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future

Sarah Hill Wheeler joins the conversation about Richard Susskind’s new book.
Isn’t this just another book about lawyers, written by an Ivory Tower academic?
No. True, Professor Richard Susskind is an academic. Adviser to the Lord Chief Justice and Honorary Professor at UCL, Susskind’s specialism is the future of professional services, particularly the impact of IT and the internet on lawyers. However, there is nothing stuffy about him. 
Last year, he infamously addressed the Law Society Management Conference and warned lawyers to prepare for a 50% cut in fees.
Love him or loath him, Susskind has become one of the most influential figures in today’s rapidly changing legal landscape. However, you probably know that already….
Well, yes. Didn’t he write a book called The End of Lawyers?
Yes. And a substantial part of Tomorrow’s Lawyers is an updated, simplified, restatement of the views Susskind popularised in his earlier works–The Future of Law (1996), Transforming the Law (2000) and The End of Lawyers (2008). 
Briefly, Susskind argues the legal market is in an unprecedented state of flux. Three main drivers of change (the more-for-less challenge, liberalisation and the rapid growth of IT) are putting the traditional working practices of lawyers under pressure. So-called disruptive technologies (Susskind lists 13) are hastening this process. 

Which leads to the end of lawyers…?

Well, not exactly. Susskind doesn’t actually prophesise the end of lawyers, just a radically different future, one that “is neither Grisham nor Rumpole.” However, he foresees the end of the current dominant model of dispensing legal advice, face-to-face, consultative and individually tailored. 
Instead, law will become increasingly systematized, packaged and commoditised. You can already see this with the growth of so-called conveyancing factories and on-line services, like Probate Wizard.
Thanks. I get the picture. Do I need to know more?  Shouldn’t I pack in some chargeable hours instead of reading this book?
Well, some law books make heavy reading, but not this one. I found it Susskind’s most useful and insightful work yet. It’s certainly his most accessible. 
At only 208 pages, as legal books go, it’s a quick read.  Susskind’s clear writing style, at times verges on the brutalist (“This will be the end of lawyers who practice in the manner of a cottage industry”).But it’s always engaging.
Tomorrow’s Lawyers covers recent and significant developments (ABSs, Web 2, legal process outsourcing, for starters). It also gives a more detailed vision of what the legal landscape may look like in 2035 and offers guidance to young and aspiring lawyers.
2035, that’s a relief.  I’ll be long retired by then. 
Don’t relax too soon. The date is arbitrary. Many of the changes Susskind refers to are already at work. Take, for example, what Susskind calls the more-for-less challenge.
Despite the Government’s so-called Red Tape Challenge, we live in an increasingly complex and regulated world. There is a clear need for legal services. Yet in today’s difficult economic environment, with corporate legal budgets and public funding slashed, lawyers must provide more for less. 
We’re already seeing the effects of this. Clients are no longer able, or willing, to pay for costly advice, charged hourly. The profession has responded with the alternative fee arrangement (or AFA). For example, many conveyancers, even on the High Street, will now charge on a fixed fee basis. 
My firm offers fixed fees for wills and conveyancing. It sounds like we’re already on the case.

Don’t be too sure. According to Susskind, this type of AFA still derives from hourly billing thinking. For many firms the starting point is the amount they would ordinarily expect to charge on a conventional, hourly, basis. Very few firms intend to become less profitable or to change the way they work when proposing an AFA. 

Susskind argues that this is no more than “repackaging the original (too costly) version.” It fails to meet the more-for-less challenge. To do that, firms must become more efficient or more collaborative. Lawyers must cut costs, or find ways of allowing clients to share costs.  Tomorrow’s Lawyer explores ways to achieve this, some of which are already with us. For example, decomposing transactions to tasks and careful process mapping allow non-lawyers to carry out work conventionally undertaken by lawyers. Bulk conveyancers are thus able to charge less than more traditional solicitors, who may still pride themselves on offering a more tailored, individual, service. 

However, Susskind believes that today’s lawyers should respond positively to these challenges. He contends that many partners in law firms concentrate too much on short-term profit at the expense of building a legacy for tomorrow’s lawyers. 
My niece is studying law. I was considering buying Tomorrow’s Lawyers for her, but it sounds like Susskind will only depress her.
Actually, overall, he’s quite positive. Susskind doesn’t see the current system of training or legal practice as sustainable. However, Tomorrow’s Lawyers contains an interesting analysis of where future opportunities may lie. 

There may be less demand for the traditional lawyer (which Susskind splits into the specialist Expert Trusted Adviser and the more multi-purpose Enhanced Practitioner). However, new roles will evolve. For example, as legal knowledge becomes more standardised and computerised, we’ll need people who understand and can maintain these systems (legal knowledge engineers).  As we decompose transactions and near-source, outsource or co-source their constituent parts, we’ll need people who can manage the process (legal project managers). You get the picture.

It’s all a bit speculative. However, it’s also thoughtful and provocative. Susskind encourages young and would-be lawyers to think carefully about their choices.  Managing partners and those in charge of recruitment take note: There’s even a chapter on questions to ask a potential employer. Read it if you want to avoid some tricky silences in interviews.

You’ve almost convinced me. How much does it cost?
It’s a snip (for a law book), at £9.99 for the paperback. And for those of you who, like Susskind, are embracing the digital age, the Kindle edition is just £8.57.

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