There’s currently a lot of excitement about Richard Susskind’s latest book The Future of the Professions and how technology will transform the work of lawyers and other professionals. However this is not exactly a new idea – it is an old idea – Richard Susskind himself has been banging this particular drum for the past 20 years. In fact it is not so much an old idea as a practically ancient idea.
Digging through the archives I found this story I wrote for the Law Society Gazette over 35 years ago in 1980. The Royal Commission referred to in the opening paragraph was the Royal Commission on Legal Services (aka the Benson Commission) which was set up by Harold Wilson’s government, spent a long time augustly debating all this issues and then published a report in 1979 which was promptly ignored by subsequent governments. Some indication of just how out of sync it was with the times was that it rejected the idea of solicitors having rights of access in the High Court, and also thought the existing system of self-regulation was all the legal professions needed. (It is arguable that Benson opened the way to the licensed conveyancers system.)
But, it did at least advocate computerisation: “We recommend that all solicitors should review their practices and office procedures to ensure that they take full advantage of the efficiency and economy which can be obtained with the assistance of modern technology.” And, 35 years later, lawyers are still being told they need to automate.