The End of Lawyers?

First thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers – Shakespeare, King Henry VI

About 400 years ago, Shakespeare thought the people would rise up and kill all the lawyers. Now, Richard Susskind reckons technology will put most of them out of a job. And just in case you don’t get time to read his new book, the key message is neatly summed up in the title: The End of Lawyers?

But don’t worry, despite the provocative title, it’s not all doom and gloom for the legal profession. It’s only the “outdated” lawyers that need to worry. All you modern, hip, crackberry-types are safe.

Or are you?

In the first of several draft excerpts from the book, Susskind challenges lawyers to look deep inside and ask themselves what they can do that can’t be done just as well (or better) by Jo Public with a nifty online tool, or by a cheap paralegal in India with a nifty online tool?

Clearly, Susskind thinks that “smart systems and processes” will take work away from “traditional lawyers” and send it somewhere cheap, or turn it into a self-service online solution. He tries to soften the blow with the promise of “new law jobs” which may be highly rewarding. But he doesn’t hazard a guess at how many of these mysterious new jobs might be available.

What’s driving this change? Susskind reckons there are two forces at work: the market pull of commoditisation and the development and uptake of information technology.

If, by commoditisation, Susskind means fixed pricing, we agree. In fact, we think this is the only driver that matters. The technology to automate legal services has been around for a while. But until clients demand work for a fixed price, there’s no reason to package it, streamline it, or automate it, and thus not much likelihood of commoditisation.

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