Written by Richard Susskind
Reviewed by Richard Birke
In his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers, Richard Susskind writes, “Tomorrow’s legal world, as predicted and described here, bears little resemblance to that of the past. Legal institutions and lawyers are at a crossroads, I claim, and are poised to change more radically over the next two decades than they have over the last two centuries.”
Susskind sees three major forces driving change in how legal services are provided. The first is something he calls the “more-for-less challenge.” As the name suggests, this driver involves clients asking lawyers to deliver more services for less money. One simple example of this principle is found in large corporate clients who demand that their in-house counsel reduce expenses—sometimes by as much as 30 to 50 percent—at a time when the amount of compliance work and due diligence is increasing. Susskind sees this as a factor that will “irreversibly change the way lawyers work.”
Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future
The second driver is liberalization, non-lawyers doing work formerly done exclusively by lawyers. Accountants, real-estate brokers, insurance adjusters and others have long been doing work that was once the exclusive province of members of the bar, and Susskind sees this trend continuing. Banks will take over work, lawyers’ assistants in Second World and Third World countries will take over work and legal “partnerships” involving many non-lawyers will take over lawyers’ work.
The third driver is information technology. Computers have already revolutionized the way discovery is handled, and document searches are now more likely to be conducted by electronic means. Many legal documents are available online, and with the continued growth of computing power, it is likely that pseudo-legal reasoning will soon become part of the future of technology.
However, despite the potentially dire future predicted by these three drivers, Susskind is not entirely pessimistic about the future of lawyers. He sees a world in which most lawyers will occupy different roles in the future than those they had in the past. In Susskind’s world, new lawyers will guide clients through form filling more often than form creation. Lawyers will sell and provide more routine services than they will create novel approaches to the resolution of common and age-old problems (like writing a will or renting an apartment).
In the midst of this rather unexciting world of form filling, Susskind sees some remaining role for lawyers to act as negotiators and researchers. He describes transactions and litigation as “decomposed.” Transactions decompose into nine categories: due diligence, legal research, transaction management, template selection, negotiation, bespoke drafting, document management, legal advice and risk assessment. Litigation similarly decomposes into nine categories: document review, legal research, project management, disclosure, strategy, tactics, negotiation and advocacy. It is notable that only legal research and negotiation appear in both realms.
No one is left untouched. There are cautions and advice for educators, older lawyers, newer lawyers, managers of law firms, consumers of legal services, paralegals and others. For the older lawyers, the advice is simple: Change or die. For the younger, the advice is stark: “You will find most senior lawyers to be of little guidance in this quest [to shape the new practice]. They will resist change and will often want to hang on to their traditional ways of working, even if they are well past their sell-by date.”
And then, in the next-to-last line, Susskind reveals the last bit of advice he has for tomorrow’s lawyers. He says, “In truth, you are on your own.”
The book is short, fewer than 170 pages. It’s challenging, to existing practices and the future of law. It’s well-written and entertaining. But is it accurate? Certainly, the trends Susskind has identified are real, but there’s no certainty that the future will come as quickly as Susskind suggests. But one thing is certain, it’s worth the short investment in time that it will take to discover Susskind’s prognostications. Even if 10 percent of them turn out to be right, that represents a huge change. Personally, I think the ideas are right on target, but I think the timeline is a bit too short. Nonetheless, Tomorrow’s Lawyers is well worth reading.
This article was originally published in the JAMS Dispute Resolution Alert Newsletter, Summer 2014 edition.