Wednesday 23 September 2009

Professor Susskind acknowledges SOLO contribution

It well worth listening to the College of Law podcast in which Professor Susskind and Mike Semple Piggot engage in conversation about the future of the legal profession.
You will be well aware of Professor Susskind's evangelistic advocacy of all things IT and commoditised that he believes will replace large swathes of lawyers' work in the future. He has seen this future for many years but maybe we are really getting closer now. One of the examples he discusses is a sole practitioner, so it is encouraging to believe we may be part of the future.
Certainly the IT tools I use in my practice for case management, accounting and communication are essential and I could not practice unsupported without them. Indeed they free me to add that strategic advice and wisdom that only an individual brain can add.
I am however less enthused about the idea that we and our clients should outsource entirely. Rio Tinto has taken their patent work offshore. Professor Susskind sees this as extending the team, which is fair enough. I suspect they might have done better to re-examine a strategy that demands they factory file patent applications in the first place.
Another area that concerns me about factory drafted legal agreements is that they tend to be verbose and beyond the comprehension of many clients. So, sadly, do many law firm drafted products. Having learned to draft contracts after I learned to draft patent specifications, I tend to make less use of precedents. My short documents can cause consternation and frequently are substituted by the other side's prolixity. However I keep coming up against problem situations created by misunderstood or missing legal documents:
  • a negotiation between two small firms held up because one wants a 9 page confidentiality agreement
  • investment delayed because the proposed investors don't want to spend the entire investment on drafting the shareholder agreement
  • disputes unsettled as the drafting of the settlement agreement takes forever and the parties forget where they are going
  • re branding prevented because there is no licence to use the new logo

The less0n must be that we do need to keep some sensible legal advice available at a reasonable price. If the price of the real advice can be reduced by IT and commoditisation then I am a supporter but don't take the lawyer out of the equation.


  1. Agreed. There is nothing worse than an overly complex agreement that the client doesn't understand then hacks about with poor-quality revisions.

    When I read about the Rio Tinto offshoring, I was puzzled (as was my wife, who was an in-house lawyer there for nearly 10 years). How could they outsource anything other than very routine documents - in effect, form filling? Surely they cannot outsource a complex joint venture agreement? It was difficult to tell from the press reports exactly what was being outsourced.

    I have thought of running an advertising campaign targeted at Stock Exchange 100 companies, with the tag line "you don't have to go to India for high-quality, cost-effective legal advice". Anyone want to share the costs with me...?

  2. I think you are spot on. I too find myself substituting short and specifically drafted contracts for prolix boilerplate that clients have been offered or had inflicted upon them.

    I also agree with Mark that we do offer high-quality and cost-effective legal advice, although the bar has its own problems about how it is going to compete in the future.

  3. I sympathise Francis, Bar regulation seems to hamper your business freedom. The barriers have to come down. Gone are the days when Counsel can say to a client they must instruct a solicitor to draft the contract they have advised on.