This is the second part of the book. Please find the first part here.
This is a new post in a whole series on the Legal Tech Blog, dedicated to interesting books for those, who would like to understand where the legal industry might be heading and which forces might drive changes. All books presented in this series will explain why legal service providers will work differently in the future. This time the book “Tomorrow’s Lawyers” by Richard Susskind will be presented. Please enjoy.
Part Two – The New Landscape
The Future for Law Firms. Most traditional practices don’t go through a lot of change. They are not yet adopting alternative methods of working. This is partly a management issue, as law firms tend to be busy serving clients and meeting their own financial targets, that they allow little time for internal reform – it is not easy to change a wheel on a moving car. But to survive under changing market conditions, lawyers will have to plot the obsolescence of what now produces their livelihood.
In due course, some firms may, for example, choose to strip away their junior and trainee lawyers, or to stop recruiting them in the first place. They might then operate with a team of high-powered partners, each supported by only one associate and the routine work will be resourced beyond the firm. These predictions were just investigated and largely confirmed by a recent study of Boston Consulting Group and Bucerius Law School (How Legal Technology will Change the Business of Law).
Other law firms may elect to build their own alternative sourcing capacities, such as internal teams of paralegals, or maybe through the establishment of their own off-shored legal facility. The global law firm Baker & McKenzie, for example, established a global service center in Manila, India, with several hundred employees in 2000. This facility provides a wide range of client and internal support functions.
Lawyers should not be overconfident in their belief, that there is no competitive substitute for the industry’s major product. So, if one leading firm breaks rank, or if a major new force, such as a Big 4 accounting firm, emerges, and brings a new proposition to the market, then this could fundamentally and irreversibly change the market.
Susskind has little doubt, for the foreseeable future, that very high-value and very complex legal issues will continue to be argued before conventional courts in the traditional manner. When there is a life-threatening dispute, clients will continue to secure the talents of the finest legal gladiators, who will combat on their behalf. However, it is less clear, that lawyers for lower value or less complex disagreements will continue to be regarded as commercially justifiable. Quite apart from a likely shift towards mediation, collaborative lawyering, and other forms of alternative dispute resolution, emerging techniques of dispute containment and dispute avoidance are likely to reduce the number of cases, that find final closure in courts of law.
The Timing of the Changes. Susskind expects an incremental revolution to unfold, in three stages – denial, re-sourcing, and disruption. The speed with which they move cannot be predicted with precision. This will depend largely on factors such as the state of the economy, the intensity of the demands made by clients, the impact of new competitors on the market, and whether or not some law firms choose to take a lead.
During the first stage, denial, the great majority of lawyers are wishing it were 2006 again. At that time, before the financial crisis hit, many law firms had more work than they could handle, with the added benefit, that it was not price sensitive. In this first stage, most, but by no means all lawyers, are in denial of the fundamental and structural changes within the legal marketplace.
In the second stage, re-sourcing, new third party providers of services to the legal profession – legal process outsourcers, publishers, accounting firms, private equity-backed start-ups, and many more – will come to play a more pivotal role in the delivery of legal services. There may not be a tipping point, but lawyers are likely to witness a significant upsurge in new competition.
Much more radical transformation will come about in the third stage, disruption, through the introduction of ever more powerful information technologies. In the main, these technologies will be disruptive, meaning, they will challenge and displace the traditional way in which legal work has been done in the past. Document review in litigation and basic contract drafting, for example, will in due course be replaced by information systems, that can outperform junior lawyers and administrative staff.
The widespread and pervasive deployment of disruptive technologies represents the endgame for some legal services, although even then there is no finish line in the world of IT. In the long run, increasing amounts of legal work can and will be taken on by advanced computer systems, with a light hand on the tiller from the human beings, who are their users. This will be the context and backdrop of the careers and working lives of tomorrow’s lawyers.
Price comparison systems, reputation systems, and online auctions for legal services will be used frequently, creating an electronic legal marketplace quite unlike the traditional basis of legal trading, that has endured for decades and more. Similar changes have been seen in many other sectors of the economy and there is no reason to think that law should be immune from IT.
For those aspiring lawyers, who hoped for a career akin to that enjoyed by lawyers of their parent’s generation, they will be disappointed. For those, who seek new opportunities and wish to participate in bringing about the advances, that are coming through the changes, Susskind believes, there has never been a more exciting time.
Access to Justice and Online Legal Services. The genuine good news is that information technology will be pivotal in overcoming many of the growing problems of access to justice. More people in the world have access to the Internet than access to justice. Many citizens do not know much of the law and cannot afford to obtain conventional legal advice. At this point, legal tech will help to decrease the access of justice gap.
In open source and wiki spirit, large communities of legal experience will build up so that people will learn of legal issues that affect them, not formally through notification by their lawyers, but informally through social networks.
Many of these online legal services will make the law available to people, who would otherwise have no affordable sources of legal help. Legal will revolutionize the access the justice.
Judges, It, and ODR. Judicial decision-making in hard cases, especially when judges are called upon to handle complex issues of principle, policy, and morality, is well beyond the capabilities of current and foreseeable computer systems.
However, Susskind believes, that some of the discussed techniques and lessons can be applied to judges as much as to other lawyers. Consistent with the ideas of decomposing and multi-sourcing, there is no compelling argument, for example, against analyzing and dividing judicial work into separate steps and, where appropriate, finding alternative and more efficient ways of undertaking some of these tasks. More, the judiciary would clearly benefit from the use of document assembly technology, where much of what appears in these final documents is standard wording with minor variations.
As for information technology, most systems for judges are sustaining. However, there is one category of system – online dispute resolution (ODR) – that could conceivable challenge the conventional judicial role.
With ODR, no traditional courtroom is involved. Instead, the process of resolving a dispute, especially the formulation of the solution, is entirely or largely conducted through the Internet. A blend of ODR techniques is used to sort problems on eBay. About 60 million disputes arise each year amongst eBay users. It is unimaginable, that these would all get resolved in conventional courts. Instead, ODR is used – swiftly, efficiently, and generally to good effect. In addition to the private approaches, the European Union has recently established an ODR-platform for consumers of the European single market.
To be continued.