Change is coming, ready or not
Tomorrow’s legal world bears little resemblance to that of the past, according to Richard Susskind in his book Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future. The next two decades will bring more changes to legal institutions and lawyers than have the last two centuries. While traditional job opportunities for young lawyers are diminishing, a whole range of exciting new legal occupations will soon be created.
First, the bad news. The changes in the legal profession coinciding with the global recession are here to stay. Even if and when the global economy recovers, the three main drivers of change will not be going away:
- The “more for less” challenge, in which companies have been putting pressure on their general counsel to cut legal budgets by 30 to 50 percent
- Liberalisation, which is allowing people who are not qualified as lawyers to provide particular types of legal services
- Information technology, which is becoming increasingly sophisticated so that computers can perform tasks that previously required skilled lawyers
To cope with the “more for less” challenge, law firms have tried charging less and alternative fee arrangements, but these efforts fail to achieve the cost reductions demanded by clients. The only two viable strategies, according to the author, are the efficiency strategy (which finds ways of cutting the costs of legal service) and the collaboration strategy (which involves clients sharing the costs of particular legal services). These strategies will require the breaking down of legal services into standard parts and custom parts, with the standard parts being commoditised and outsourced, in-sourced or computerised.
Courts will also experience radical changes, as access-to-justice issues are resolved not through higher levels of funding but through greater use of information technology. We can expect to see a whole range of online legal services including virtual courts and online dispute resolution. There will be new types of legal jobs, such as legal knowledge engineers, legal technologists, legal project managers, and online dispute resolution practitioners.
As with any predictions of the future, those relating to the immediate future based on currently observable trends are more likely to be accurate than those relating to the more distant future. Nonetheless, I found this to be a fascinating and easy-to-read book, which should be of great interest to anyone involved in law firm management.