Richard Susskind is one of the most forward-thinking authors and leaders in the legal technology space. For more than two decades, he has accurately predicted the most important technology shifts to watch and has provided keen insight into their impact on the legal industry.
His most recent book, the second edition of Tomorrow’s Lawyers, continues this trend. I reviewed the first edition in 2013, and thus was eager to read and review the latest edition of this book, hoping to glean his insights on what tomorrow’s lawyers can expect as rapid technological advancements shape the practice of law.
The first section of the book focuses on identifying the radical changes occurring in the legal market. In the first paragraph of chapter one, Susskind adeptly sums up the premise of his book: “Unless they adapt, many traditional legal businesses will fail. On the other hand, a whole set of fresh opportunities will present themselves to entrepreneurial and creative young lawyers.”
Of course, the same could be said about the state of the legal industry in 2013, so you might wonder why a second edition was necessary. As Susskind explains in the preface to the second edition, “One of the central claims in the first edition of this book… was that the legal world would change more in the next 20 years than it has in the past two centuries. Three years on, I believe we are on course.” Among the factors he lists which support this proposition, are:
- Major law firms setting up low-cost service centers for routine legal work
- An upsurge of legal tech startups, with more than 1,000 existing worldwide
- An increasing interest in the potential of artificial intelligence
- Judges advocating the wider use of technology
- Professional bodies, such as bar associations, releasing studies on the future of legal services
Chapter five is one of the more interesting parts of the first section of this book. Susskind believes these will be the most disruptive technologies to the legal industry:
- document automation
- relentless connectivity
- the electronic legal marketplace
- online legal guidance
- legal open-sourcing
- closed legal communities
- workflow and project management
- embedded legal knowledge
- online dispute resolution
- document analysis
- machine prediction
- legal question answering
In the next section of the book, he turns to the new landscape and what it means for the lawyers of tomorrow. In chapter six he delves into his predictions about the future of law firms, including solo and small firm attorneys, and how they fit into the next stage of legal practice.
Midway through this chapter he acknowledges that his contention in the first edition—that the demand for solo and small firms would largely disappear by 2020—resulted in criticism from some reviewers (of which I was one). As such, he provided some additional insight into his views on the future of solo and small firm lawyers and offered this great piece of advice to help guide the decisions of solo and small firm lawyers seeking to thrive in this new world order: “Ask… in the 2020s, what unique value can we bring as a small legal business? Here are a few answers that pass muster: our clients have told us unequivocally that they do not want us to change; our community requires a wide range of legal services and there are no obvious competitors to our traditional offering; we are acknowledged specialists and, although small, we are as expert as anyone; although we are lawyers our clients come to use because we are their general business advisers; because we are smaller, we can offer a higher quality of service at significantly lower cost than any other legal businesses; our clients come to us because they are prepared to pay extra for a high touch, face-to-face service.”
In this chapter he also notes an important, and unfortunate, trend that is affecting law firms of all sizes: managing partners’ focus on short-term survival instead of the long haul. He explains “Regrettably, most law firm leaders that I meet have only a few years left to serve and hope they can hold out until retirement before much that I predict engulfs them. Operating as managers more than leaders, they are more focused on short-term profitability rather than long-term strategic health.”
Susskind notes that since change in law firms is typically engineered from the top, this presents a distressing situation for junior partners who comprehend the cognitive dissonance of the senior partners but are not in a position to facilitate change. For these lawyers, Susskind suggests that the future may be bleak.
But, for young law school graduates not yet chained to a sinking ship, he offers the following advice: vet potential employers with an eye toward the future. Ask the following questions and make sure that the answers provided are indicative of a firm that is adjusting its course instead of being anchored in the past:
- Do you have a long-term strategy?
- What will legal services look like in 2036?
- Are you comforted by other firms’ lack of progress? Lack of progress?
- What are your preferred approaches to alternative sourcing?
- What role will technology play in law firms of the future?
- Do you have research and development capability?
- If you could design a law firm from scratch, what would it be like?
These questions are worth thinking about even if you’re not a fledging lawyer. As Susskind has pointed out for more than 20 years now, technology is having a profound effect on the world around us. Lawyers who fail to acknowledge this fact and adapt accordingly will undoubtedly pay the price. Don’t be one of those lawyers. Educate yourself about the changes, their impact, and then do everything you can to adjust course. If you feel overwhelmed by the prospect and aren’t sure how to go about it, never fear, I’ve got some advice for you: buy this book. It’s a great place to start.
Tomorrow’s Lawyers Second EditionRead More