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Bar News - January 15, 2014

Book Review: Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future by Richard Susskind


Oxford University Press (2013)

Richard Susskind is a law professor in Glasgow, a visiting professor in Internet studies at Oxford University, and the IT adviser to the Lord Chief Justice of England. Tomorrow’s Lawyers, his latest book on the future of the legal profession, expresses optimism for lawyers and judges, despite the broad changes he sees taking place, which will fundamentally change the legal world.

Susskind writes about three “drivers” of radical change. First, economic circumstances will continue to exert relentless pressure on lower-cost legal services. Second, there will be a liberalization of legal services, allowing non-lawyers to compete in the legal marketplace, which he predicts will have a profound and unavoidable global impact. Third, such disruptive technological developments as intelligent legal search, big data and problem-solving through artificial intelligence will have a deep and profound impact on the work of lawyers and courts.

As a result of these drivers of change, Susskind sees a new legal landscape emerging in which the roles of law firms and in-house lawyers will change dramatically, and in which the court process may be characterized by virtual hearings and online dispute resolution (ODR). He argues that many lawyers are still in a state of denial, hoping that the changes brought about by the Great Recession of 2008 are simply reflections of macroeconomic business cycles, and that the conditions for law practice will soon return to what they were in 2006.

He observes that law firms are being called on to develop alternative sources for the provision of routine legal services, with work once done by associates now being done by lower-cost paralegals. This is echoed by a May 2013 report, “Disruptive Technologies: Advances that Will Transform Life, Business, and the Global Economy,” in which the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that the work of about 10 million people in the finance and legal professions may be automated by 2025, creating a potential increase in productivity valued at $65,000 per FTE.

As part of Susskind’s discussion of how courts may be affected by these drivers of change, he notes some of the ways in which IT-enabled courts will differ from the past. We see evidence of what he suggests in New Hampshire courts, with the advent of the centralized call center and the implementation of “e-court.” The use of video technology for remote participation in New Hampshire court proceedings may reflect progress toward the “virtual courts” that Susskind and many others see on the horizon.

Going beyond this is Susskind’s discussion of ODR, with the Internet as a medium for settling claims and reaching solutions.

Susskind concludes with a focus on prospects for aspiring lawyers. He anticipates a number of new types of jobs for lawyers, including those of “legal knowledge engineer,” “legal technologist,” “ODR practitioner,” and “legal risk manager.” He joins many other commentators who call for the reform of legal education, urging that law schools give much more emphasis to online learning and simulated legal practice.

Famous physicists and philosophers have observed that it is difficult to make predictions, and this book does not overcome all of the challenges inherent in trying to predict the future. Susskind foresees developments that present major “adaptive challenges” for the legal community, which many may resist, because they require changes in values, beliefs, roles, relationships, and approaches to work.

As Paul Kirgis wrote in a 2011 review of Susskind’s earlier book, The End of Lawyers, Susskind never addresses issues of malpractice, conflicts of interest, and confidentiality that are embedded in the traditional practice of law and present barriers to technological change. Moreover, the changes he describes will require changes across organizational boundaries that are likely to take much longer than he seems to envision.

Nonetheless, this book succinctly presents valuable observations about practicing law in the future. It is an important book to read for law students and for younger lawyers whose careers are still largely in front of them. It is also critical for judges, bar leaders, and law school deans, because it raises issues about major developments that are already under way.

David Steelman

David Steelman is a resident of Manchester, NH. He retired from the Massachusetts and New Hampshire bars in January 2013. He is a principal court management consultant with the National Center for State Courts.

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