AN UNDERSTATEMENT OF WHAT REAL PROBLEMS THE LEGAL WORLD MUST FACE WITH THE FOURTH INDUSTRIAL REVOLUTION
An appreciation by Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers and Phillip Taylor MBE of “The Barrister”
Crystal balls have often been used as a spurious way to predict or explain things we know little about. And so it is here, with Professor Richard Susskind’s brave and excellent new edition of the international best seller “Tomorrow’s Lawyers” from OUP, which he ominously sub-titles “an introduction to your future”.
Some will say, “what future” although we feel Susskind does a rare balancing act between the realities of the future and what we will probably face in the next decade with this revised edition since the original appeared in 2013.
“Tomorrow’s Lawyers” is about prediction in a very changeable legal world at this crossroad as the pace accelerates. It is only four years since the first, out of date, edition appeared and much has happened since then. The real obstacle remains that the legal profession is quite “conservative” with a small “c” and does not like change. A great example is the continued reliance on the fax and the cheque book when most businesses have already moved on from them and embraced new technology.
If anything, Susskind may find that his vision of the future is also somewhat “conservative” with a small “c”. We do not want to spoil this book for the reader so we do not intend to set out in detail his views - all members of the legal profession and those thinking of joining should read this book very carefully because the subject-matter will not be going away for any of us.
We found the three parts most helpful where Susskind looks, firstly, at “radical changes in the legal market” (his “three drivers” revisited), “the new landscape” and finally (most importantly) “prospects for young lawyers”. The final chapter 18 concludes with the most devastating issue of all- “artificial intelligence (AI) and the long term”- almost certain to be the subject of detailed future research.
The word “devastating” is used with care following the effects of Brexit on every piece of UK business. What could be a sharper pace for the development of AI with the massive consequent job losses which look inevitable. And what remains shocking is the maintenance, by many lawyers, of restrictive practices based on a redundant understanding of how we conduct future legal business.
Susskind writes that “in the long run, the changes that I anticipate for lawyers and the administration of justice will be pervasive, irreversible and transformational.” He adds, “I am not suggesting that this means the legal sector will be turned on its head over the next 3 to 6 months”. “But”, he says, “I am confident we will see many fundamental shifts as we move into the 2020s”.
We keep the best bit for last when Susskind refers to 2036, which will be mid-career for young lawyers now (2017), “it is neither hyperbolic nor fanciful to expect that the legal profession will have changed beyond recognition.” You have been warned!
And on “online courts”, Susskind – a regular speaker at our Bar Conferences including the 2017 event – “I remain resolutely of the view that online courts will bring 2 great benefits – greater access to justice… and substantial cost savings, both for individual litigants as well as for the court system”. Yes, quite so.
“In a decade, we will look back and wonder why we didn’t introduce them sooner”, he says. Tell the Bar Council/Law Society that one and get them to read “Tomorrow’s Lawyers” … and Susskind’s follow up editions as this is work in progress against much Luddite opposition so watch this space.
The publication date for the second edition is 2017.
ON THE BRINK OF FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE FOR THE LEGAL WORLD
An appreciation by Phillip Taylor MBE and Elizabeth Taylor of Richmond Green Chambers
Richard Susskind has done it again with a very modern approach to what is the age-old issue of how the legal profession will evolve in the next decade. He did it before with “The End of Lawyers?” which we reviewed favourably at the time and which has achieved substantial critical acclaim for its thoughtful submissions.
Many of Susskind’s readers now will probably be looking at their roles in the profession afresh but from the wrong side of the career time line. However, the view is worth looking at for what he offers up is most thought-provoking and, yes, he can anticipate a lot of what is about to happen.
In many ways this is a serious strategy book. It peers into the future with a most interesting Part Three on ‘Prospects for Young Lawyers’ which is probably the biggest readership area for the book.
The question really is- should I bother to become a lawyer? Well, yes! It’s a tough profession and Susskind suggests that the role of the conventional lawyer may not be as prominent in future- it will be interesting to see if history bears this out or not. We don’t agree with him on that unless we see a little less law-making which is highly doubtful.
When one door closes another opens is a serious quote from Bell at the beginning of this book and it sums up the predicament we are all in. Susskind deals not only with the changing landscape of law, but the changing attitudes of the personalities, especially on the bench, and the sea change which is modern IT.
We feel that anyone who is contemplating a legal career today whilst still an undergraduate should read this book very carefully before they attend an interview for either further academic pursuit or gainful employment.
In 180 pages and 3 Parts, the book has a wealth of common sense about what the future probably holds (without too much anticipation). The best conclusions arising from ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers’ (and do read it cover to cover) are the refreshing and original concepts Susskind postulates. The thing is we don’t know what the future holds but Susskind gives us his best educated guesses… and for that he deserves our grateful thanks for his new legal paradigm. We wonder what will really happen!
In contrast to its promise to "introduce its readers to the future of the legal profession", Suskind's book falls astonishingly flat.
While stricter sourcing rules in large companies might indeed hamper the practice of some large law firms to bill endless hours on basic tasks like document review, the expectation that proper lawyering work might be outsourced to India for 10 USD per hour is preposterous.
The same holds true for ideas like the substituting legal professionals with the "knowledge of the masses", i.e. Wikipedia and so forth.
Many of Suskind's ideas read like 1990s style dot-com bubble cliches.
Moreover, the entire book is not really helpful in building a legal career as an entrepreneur, since the author is an academic who has - apparently - never worked outside university and some large law firms as an employee.
The author has no entrepreneurial experience in setting up a law firm (or any other business), which is clearly recognizable from the ideas presented in this book and his entire mindset. It is overly theoretical and lacks any hands-on advice.
Although it seems absurd given the outset of the book, the author never looks beyond the rim of his academic big law teapot: it all reads like a pseudo-McKinseyan memo prepared for hapless big law firm managing partners who have never had a taste of entrepreneurship.
Consequently, the book is rife with cliches and overly intellectual but ultimately almost childish expectations of the future of the legal profession.
Things that really matter in the legal profession, in particular the creation and maintainance of client relationships and trust, i.e. personality traits that can simply not be substituted or outsourced to India, are mostly ignored. However, this is what clients pay for, and not for some technical task like preparing a memo on a legal issue. Lawyering requires experience and making judgment calls, and this trait cannot be economically "sliced away" from the more menial tasks. The author has completely failed to grasp the notion that the job of a lawyer encompasses an emotional side in addition to its rational side. This emotional side might in many cases weigh heavier than any rational idea of possible cost-cutting.
Moreover, the idea that legal costs are generelly too high is grossly exaggerated. Apart from certain excesses in hourly billing, the average continental European lawyer's hourly rate is reasonable when compared to other professions, like physicians. As already mentioned, of course, tighter budgets in legal department will invariably lead to less billable hours, but this has nothing to do with the internet.
Although it is a common trope that the internet will change every business, it has to be noted that the WWW has already been around for 20 years now and is not as new as the author believes. Contrary to popular opinion, it might well be that not every business might be completely virtualized.
In sum, "Tomorrow's Lawyers" was a suprisingly uninspired, dull read providing little new insight. Not recommended.