The Times of London has published the first of six excerpts of Richard Susskind’s new book, “The End of Lawyers.” (Click here to go to the excerpt.) The book will be coming out in May 2008.
Susskind is a well-known English commentator on law and technology. I’ve previously had occasion to mention him, namely in this post. To this casual reader it seems that he’s been saying the same thing for a while now. That can make for repetitive journalism, but I don’t think he can be faulted—the trend that he writes about has been percolating for many years.
Here are a couple of paragraphs that caught my eye:
That said, I do admit, if I may give away the ending, that these articles will point to a future in which conventional legal advisers will be much less prominent in society than today and, in some walks of life, will have no visibility at all. This, I believe, is where we will be taken by two forces: by a market pull towards commoditisation and by pervasive development and uptake of information technology. Commoditisation and IT will shape and characterise 21st century legal service.
I will argue that the market is increasingly unlikely to tolerate expensive lawyers for tasks (guiding, advising, drafting, researching, problem-solving and more) that can equally or better be discharged, directly or indirectly, by smart systems and processes. It follows that the jobs of many traditional lawyers will be substantially eroded and often eliminated. At the same time, I foresee new law jobs emerging which may be highly rewarding, even if very different from those of today.
This time around, I imagine that even the most hard-boiled members of the legal profession will recognize that Susskind isn’t offering some utopian vision but instead is describing a phenomenon that has already changed the way many lawyers practice. The pace of that change will only accelerate.
Note that Susskind includes drafting in the functions that could be handled by smart systems. No surprise there—the technology is more than up to the task. In fact, the focus should now shift back to content. The challenge will be to ensure that the inadequate language of mainstream contract drafting doesn’t subvert the efficiencies offered by the technology.
In that regard, I expect an exciting 2008. Watch this space!