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Book Review: 'Tomorrow’s Lawyers' by Richard Susskind

About The Author

Chris Bridges (Executive Editor)

Chris is an IT and Data Protection solicitor at a top 20 full service firm and the founder of Keep Calm Talk Law. He also contributes to Computers and Law and other sector specific publications.

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I have just yesterday finished reading ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyersir?t=kecatala-21&l=as2&o=2&a=019966806X’ by Richard Susskind, which was in three words, incredibly eye opening. Susskind believes that in the next twenty years, the legal sector will change more than it has in the past two centuries. He asserts that there will be three crucial drivers of this change: the ‘More-for-Less’ challenge, liberalisation of the legal market, and information technology. Based on these drivers, Susskind suggests many ways law firms can and will have to adapt in order to survive, which perhaps is particularly poignant at the moment with a seemingly solid law firm, Manches LLP, recently going into administration.

Not only will ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’ help you form an understanding of what the legal profession may be like in the future, it will also help you understand a law firm as a business, both of which are incredibly value at any legal job interview. For those of you going into the legal profession hoping to earn huge salaries in your later career, the book may also encourage you to reconsider. Going by Susskind’s predictions, the days of hourly billing, pyramid structures and multimillion profits per partner are numbered.

I should also tell you a little about Richard Susskind, for those that do not know of his work. This is certainly no inexperienced lawyer making wild assertions. To mention just a few things Richard does: he is a leading expert on technology and law, independent adviser to many leading law firms (to some of which you will likely have applied), independent adviser to several national governments, President of the Society of Computers and Law and IT adviser to the Lord Chief Justice. Therefore, his opinions are mostly certainly worth some time of day. (Indeed only some time of day is needed. The book is extremely easy to follow and should take no more than three or four hours to get through.)

The above albeit brief review should be enough to entice you into adding ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’ to your Christmas list. However, in case it has not, below I will seek to tease your interest with a brief summary of some the issues he discusses.

Most will agree that the legal services sector is currently incredibly conservative. However many will also deny that it is finely balanced on the edge of revolutionary change. By the end of the book’s first short chapter, you will already understand Susskind’s argument for why this is the case. In turn, Susskind addresses why each of the aforementioned ‘change drivers’ will force the legal sector into evolution.

The ‘More-for-Less’ challenge, he states, is concerned with the ever growing demand to cut legal spending, while meeting increasing legal demands. For commercial lawyers, their greatest clients will be the General Counsel of large corporations who are under pressure to cut in-house staff, reduce spending on external law firms, whilst meeting increasing compliance requirements. The only way this can happen is for external law firms to provide more for less. The problem is not unique to General Counsel; managers of smaller companies face disproportionate legal costs they cannot afford and therefore take the risk of not seeking legal advice. With increasing cuts to legal aid this is also applicable to individuals. Now only very rich or very poor citizens can easily seek legal advice. How exactly a law firm can provide more for less is discussed in great detail throughout the book.

Liberalisation, you may think, refers only to the changes that have recently been rolled out regarding law firm ownership, in the form of alternative business structures (ABS). However, ABS is simply facilitating liberalisation. Many lawyers are starting to realise that lawyers are not inherently good managers, and can benefit from management professionals being involved. Lawyers are also starting to realise that hourly rates are not the way forward. They are inherently inefficient, which does not bode well when clients are seeking more-for-less.

Finally, Susskind suggests lawyers adopt irrational rejectionism when it comes to information technology. He quotes Eric Schmidt: every two days we create as much data as we did from the dawn of time to 2003. According to Moore’s Law, every year the power of computers double, and the cost halves. On this basis, which is proving to be true, by 2050 a single household computer will have more processing power than every currently living human brain put together. It is clear that with this much processing power at their disposal, lawyers would be foolish not to utilise it, and clients even more foolish not to demand it.

Susskind suggests that changes in pricing structure alone will not be enough to provide more for less, predicting that due to an ‘hourly way of thinking’ lawyers will always give fixed prices based on an estimate on the amount of hours, reducing costs by only circa 10%. To succeed in providing more for less, he suggests two strategies: the efficiency strategy (cutting the costs of legal services) and the collaboration strategy (clients collaborate by sharing the costs of routine work they have in common, for instance advice on banking regulation, where such advice is none competitive.)

To achieve these strategies, a spectrum of commoditization is suggested. Bespoke services, standardised services, systemized services, packaged services, and at the far end, the commoditization of services.

Some work will always be bespoke, so individual to the clients’ needs it could not be standardized, let alone commoditized. Standardised services may be ‘standard form’ work where the core elements will be similar, but may need adjusting. This may be the case for employment contracts. Systemized services take this a step further. Software automatically generates a document based on answers to certain questions. A step further and this is packaged and provided as a licenced online service directly to clients. A step further and the service becomes commoditized – provided free online. By adopting technology and utilising the right system for given work, law firms can cut costs, or even generate new revenue streams through packaged services.

As legal issues are complex, Susskind believes they should be ‘decomposed’. To explain this, he takes litigation, which can be broken down into a series of tasks: document review, legal research, project management, litigation support, electronic disclosure, strategy, tactics, negotiation and advocacy. By breaking these down, and using the correct service, and the correct sourcing method, costs can be cut. Susskind suggests a comparison to a construction company. A construction company acts almost as a project manager, acquiring the appropriate service from other providers, or other sections of their own organisation in order to deliver a finished product. This is the future law firm.

This will result in a change in the legal landscape. Susskind details what exact changes will likely take place including a reduction in junior and trainee lawyers, a reduction in traditional advocacy, an in-house approach focused on risk management and dispute prevention, a greater focus on client care by law firms, a focus on efficiency via alternative sourcing driven by clients and a greater collaborative sprit between law firms (working together for one client). It may appear unlikely that this will all happen just like that, but ultimately it will have to. In-house lawyers will have to become more assertive due to shareholder pressure, forcing law firms into change. The bill payer ultimately calls the shots.

Whilst Susskind believes law firms have much change ahead, he believes judicial processes are even more outdated. Some judicial work could be sourced by other means, freeing up much time in a judges busy schedule, allowing him or her to cover more cases, reducing the cost per case. Furthermore judicial IT and project management systems are outdated, threatening to hold the UK back on the international scene. The problem however, is a lack of initial investment to implement such changes. He highlights many UK courts are far behind the times on computer-assisted transcription, electronic document display and electronically displayed evidence. In the present state, it seems unlikely that courts could be virtualised by video teleconferencing anytime soon, however Susskind suggests this to be the long-term goal.

With these things in mind, it is unsurprising that prospects for young lawyers may same bleak. Whilst ‘traditional’ lawyers may always exist, they may not exist in such vast numbers. Therefore, Susskind reserves the final section of the book to prospects for young lawyers.

He suggests new roles may exist for those that are “sufficiently, flexible, open minded, and entrepreneurial to adapt to changing market conditions.”

The two kinds of traditional lawyers will continue to exist. The expert trusted adviser “who can fashion new solutions and strategies for clients who have complex or high value legal challenges” and delivers his service in a tailored and personalised way. The second, an ‘enhanced practitioner” who will often be a legal assistant to the expert, doing work which requires the skills of a lawyer but not expert knowledge. Very few of each will continue to exist. Instead of having a team of associates below him, the expert trusted adviser will likely have just one enhanced practitioner.

Despite this, he suggests there is still hope for future lawyers, as new roles will likely arise including ‘the legal knowledge engineer’, ‘the legal technologist’, ‘the legal hybrid’, ‘the legal process analyst’, ‘the legal project manager’, ‘the ODR practitioner’, ‘the legal management consultant’, and ‘the legal risk manager’, each of which he explains in more detail. He also explains what sort of organisation a young lawyer is likely to work for in the future, as the traditional law firms dwindle in numbers. He emphasises that this is not to say you should not qualify as a lawyer. He encourages aspiring lawyers to qualify, as they will set them up well for the future.

One of Susskind’s greatest concerns is that we are not training lawyers to be 21st Century lawyers. Whilst law remains a very good, very intellectual stimulating and well-regarded degree, it does not prepare future lawyers for the reality of the legal profession of the future, he argues.

Susskind concludes with an excellent analogy from a power drill producer’s training program. They ask new recruits if a drill is what the company sells. All answer yes. Wrong. The answer is the result, a perfect hole. Unfortunately, Susskind suggests, many lawyers are not familiar with ‘the hole of the legal profession’. Susskind provides suggestions of how to achieve this hole, and that is why this book is a must read. He suggests that instead of relying on traditional, conservative lawyers for advice, as future lawyers we should prepare ourselves for the future of the legal profession.

These issues are just a sample of the issues Susskind examines in ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyersir?t=kecatala-21&l=as2&o=2&a=019966806X’, and whether they are accurate are not, they make interesting reading and encourage thought into law firms as a business, key knowledge legal employers will look for. I hand on heart suggest this to any aspiring lawyer preparing for an interview. Whilst many law firms may deny that these changes will ever take place, showing an understanding of the developing legal market is a crucial. Even if you do not (or do not want to) agree with what Susskind asserts, you will undoubtedly come away from the few hours the book takes to read much better prepared for the applications and interviews before you.

Moreover, if you want to put your interviewer on a back foot, Susskind provides a number of questions for you to ask an employer at the end of your interview, allowing you to really judge the firm and what they can offer your future career. Although I would not recommend everyone ask these questions verbatim, they are certainly food for thought when thinking of post interview questions.

My only regret is that I did not read ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’ sooner. Get it on your Christmas lists.

Buy Tomorrow’s Lawyers on Amazonir?t=kecatala-21&l=as2&o=2&a=019966806X

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Tagged: Legal Business, Legal Careers, Review

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