There is no doubt we are on the brink of huge change in the legal profession. It is not just the Legal Services Act that makes me think we face massive change. The original seed was planted in my mind by Richard Susskind’s book ‘The Future of the Law’ – a book I found unputdownable when I first read it in 1996. He predicted things like the tremendous future importance of e-mail which was then an emerging technology introduced to us during the IT module of the LLM studies I was doing at QMW. The JANET system had been mentioned, and I was all fired up about e-mail’s likely future role in society. So, when I started work at Eversheds I suggested we include a provision in the standard boilerplate clauses about notice sent by e-email, which the partner in question rejected out of hand, no doubt writing me off as having little grasp of security or confidentiality issues.
Naturally I am always interested to read other books by Richard Susskind, and will be buying 'The End of Lawyers?' when it is published later this year. I have read the series of 6 articles he has written about the book for Times Online here In these he develops his theme of standardisation and commoditisation, and expresses the view that what lawyers currently do can be undertaken more quickly, more conveniently and less expensively, and in a less forbidding way, by systems than by conventional work. He mentions document assembly, personalised alerting, online dispute resolution, and open-sourcing as examples of “disruptive legal technologies” in that they do not support or complement current legal practices, but challenge and replace them.
Another theme he picks up is that of the Legal Services Act provisions which will allow non-lawyers to invest in law firms. Such investors are not going to be committed to the ways of the past. They are likely to be introducing call centres, outsourcing to India, online legal services, the automatic generation of documents, and more. The delivery of legal services will be a very different business when financed and managed by these non-lawyers. It is improbable that investors would choose to put cash into the traditional business model of most law firms – hourly billing, expensive premises, pyramidic organisational structures, and the rest.
His conclusion is that the market is increasingly unlikely to tolerate expensive lawyers for tasks (guiding, advising, drafting, researching, problem-solving and more) that can equally or better be discharged, directly or indirectly, by smart systems and processes. It follows that the jobs of many traditional lawyers will be substantially eroded and often eliminated. At the same time, he foresees new law jobs emerging which may be highly rewarding, even if very different from those of today. Any views on these thoughts anyone?