on 6 December 2008
The timing of this vital read for every lawyer could not have been better. Economic downturn is accelerating the rate at which the candle of traditional legal practice is incinerating at both ends. Clients' increasing intolerance of legal uncertainty, risk and cost, and their growing need for transparency, combine to emphasize what Susskind identifies as ten technologies with the collective potential of overturning the commonly-accepted role of the practicing lawyer. The balance of power has shifted to clients, such as in-house counsel. Here, in under 300 pages, is a stream of ideas from someone long regarded as a futurologist for how lawyers can re-focus and re-apply their added value, and grow their practices - despite economic challenges - partly by leveraging emerging technology. It is persuasive, pithy, honest, illustrated with examples and browseable. Having been an in-house lawyer for 37 years, observing how traditional law practice has been deployed by leading firms, I would urge everyone in the field to read this one carefully and take its foresight seriously.
The legal world is changing very rapidly, and the central argument of this brilliant and imaginative book is that the future for lawyers is bleak unless they are prepared rethink the ways they work. Susskind notes that the methods adopted by legal businesses are now so outdated that teenagers `would be horrified by the antiquity of it all'. The same applies to the courts and Susskind sees reforming outmoded court procedures as one way in which the public's `access to justice' might be considerably enhanced. The rapid growth of online dispute resolution procedures provides a striking example of what he has in mind.
Susskind argues that market forces have meant that using lawyers has now become so expensive as to be unsustainable and that there is a pressing need for a `genuine transformation in the way in which legal services are delivered'. He provides a long list of ways that law firms might adapt (e.g. by embracing developments in IT, standardising and `commoditizing' legal work, off-shoring, outsourcing, multi-sourcing and subcontracting) if they are to survive. He also regards it as crucial that lawyers charge for the work they do by fixed fees, not on an hourly basis. For obvious reasons, efficiency is, as Susskind puts it, `the enemy of the law firm that charges on an hourly billing basis.'
Lawyers tend by nature to be highly conservative and many will doubtless see the message in this scholarly yet highly readable book as unpalatable. But lawyers who resist calls to adopt new (and very unfamiliar) working practices will do so at their peril. Susskind is right: the law does not exist to provide a livelihood for lawyers.
on 25 August 2011
Iconoclastic British lawyer Richard Susskind looks squarely at his profession and reports on its gross inefficiencies, outrageous fees and absurd structures. For Susskind's honesty, senior members of the prestigious Law Society of England and Wales have suggested that he not be permitted to speak in public. This would be a notable loss. Susskind's voice is witty and engaging, and his message is important. As an author, he does not offer a grand unified theory on what lawyering will look like in the years to come. Instead, writing with panache, he presents a "buffet of likely options for the future," including trends in the US as well as the UK. Susskind's drollness makes his book a delight to read. For example, he claims that most lawyers now accept his views on future trends for legal practice, having moved through these four stages: 1) "This is worthless nonsense"; 2) "This is an interesting, but perverse, point of view"; 3) "This is true, but quite unimportant"; and 4) "I always said so" - in accord with biologist J.B.S. Haldane's "four stages of acceptance." getAbstract suggests that law students, attorneys and the executives who pay them will benefit from reading Susskind's entertaining, thought-provoking book.