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Richard Susskind says "Is this the end for lawyers'

Love it or hate it, Richard Susskind's 1996 book The Future of Law prompted many law firms – and legal IT suppliers – to rethink their longer-term ideas on the way the legal industry might operate in the future. Now he's back with a new book – The End of Lawyers?  Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services – to be published next year by Oxford University Press. This points to a future in which conventional legal advisers will be less prominent in society than today and argues this is where the legal profession will be taken by two forces: by a market pull towards commoditisation and by ongoing development and uptake of information technology.

Susskind says “a running theme of the book is the growing impact on the law and lawyers of online community – systems that enable easier and better communication and collaboration amongst human beings (celebrated examples of which are Facebook and Wikipedia). In that spirit, we thought it might be interesting, before the book is finally put to bed, to create an online community; to generate some online discussion that focuses on the central arguments and claims. And so, over the next six weeks, and starting today, draft extracts from the book will appear on Times Online. In releasing the ideas and the arguments a little earlier than normal, we are inviting people to comment and contribute. It will be fascinating, as an author, to see if readers are interested in offering ideas in advance of a book being written or whether there is a preference to wait for publication in the traditional way.”
 
Susskind goes on to say “I am hoping that some of you will find the time to go online and have a look at some of the draft extracts and the analysis and commentary that might grow around them. More optimistically still, I am also hoping that, while you are there, you might contribute some thoughts of your own.”
 
To read the initial article in The Times go to www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/system/topicRoot/The_End_of_Lawyers and from there you can also jump to the draft extracts – the first one is Legal profession is on the brink. You can comment on any of the drafts by filling in the form at the bottom of each article. And of course you can also submit your comments on this blog.
 

One reply on “Richard Susskind says "Is this the end for lawyers'”

So, after all the back-pedalling when the legal profession didn't mutate into a commoditised, computer-controlled sausage machine in just ten years, the eminent Prof. now plays the Nostradamus card and says his prognostications will all come to pass long after he's dead. Big deal.
The trouble is he doesn't explain how to create the intelligent systems that will replace the lawyers. I remember all to well how academia latched on to the concept of expert systems, explaining in hushed tones how they would replace doctors in the very near future. Spool forward 20 years and we've got the NHS Direct web site. Great if you've got a bit of a headache and want fuel your hypochondriac tendencies, but you still can't ask it to sew your leg back on.
I'm happy to concede that intelligent systems of the type proposed might be around in 100 years time, but if so we'll have a much bigger set of social and economic challenges than a few out of work lawyers. (I'm thinking that maybe a cyborg Arnold Schwarzenegger will beam himself back in time to kill my mother before I can be born, for example).
Confusing the argument by citing how the Internet has shaken up other business sectors doesn't really help either. Whilst selling fake Viagra online is far more profitable, efficient and less risky than selling snake oil from the back of a covered wagon, you can hardly call it a transformational business model.
The Internet (and global communication in general) is turning the legal profession from a non-tradable job into a tradable one, but that's simply a matter of where and how cheaply the work can be done, not a fundamental shift in the nature of the profession.
Still, it's nice to see academia displaying its green credentials by recycling unprovable theories into yet another lucrative book and lecture tour. Clearly this guy is in no danger of being thrown out on to the streets to live in penury, unlike all those dinosaur partners who will soon be kissing goodbye to their recently acquired million pound PEP status.

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