by Richard Susskind. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2008. 256pp. Cloth. $50.00/£24.99. ISBN: 9780199541720.
Reviewed by Mark C. Miller, Department of Government, Clark University. Email: mmiller [at] clarku.edu.
Richard Susskind has come out with another new book predicting how technology and other social changes will affect the art of lawyering and the nature of the legal profession. While the title of this new book is quite provocative, the real theme is in the subtitle, RETHINKING THE NATURE OF LEGAL SERVICES. Susskind wants lawyers to think about how their work could be undertaken more efficiently and more cheaply. He thinks changes in the legal market and client expectations will force lawyers to decide what kind of work they should continue doing and what kind of work could be better done by non-lawyers using new legal technologies. This book builds on and updates the arguments he made previously in THE FUTURE OF LAW: FACING THE CHALLENGES OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY (1996) and TRANSFORMING THE LAW: ESSAYS ON TECHNOLOGY, JUSTICE, AND THE LEGAL MARKETPLACE (2000). Given the fact that he holds degrees both in law and in computer science, it is not surprising that he has spent a great deal of time thinking about the effects of new technologies on legal practice.
Susskind is British, and his starting place is certainly with the practice of law as undertaken in the United Kingdom. However, he is really talking to a much broader audience in the entire English speaking world. Almost all of his arguments could be made about any of the legal professions in the Common Law tradition, and some of his insights might even apply to lawyers in certain parts of Continental Europe. Although he uses some strictly British terminology throughout the book, he does translate almost all of these terms into American English for readers not familiar with the British usage.
In his opening chapter, Susskind talks about the need for lawyers to approach the world from a multidisciplinary perspective. He notes, “Whether consciously or not, in order to survive, many lawyers are widening their range of skills, broadening their sphere of impact, and are anxious that the world does not pigeon-hole them as detached scribes who sit in ivory towers. Many lawyers, in other words, can no longer eke a living from the law alone” (p.6). He hints that English law schools are too narrow in their training, although he does not comment on the trend in many American law schools to begin to bring interdisciplinary perspectives into the faculty and thus into the classroom. He also thinks that law firms will include many non-lawyers in the future.
As he pondered the future of the legal profession, Susskind makes the following rather startling assertions that underlie his thinking: “(1) lawyers [*332] might fade from society as other craftsmen have done over the centuries; (2) lawyers are denying that they are lawyers because they recognize they need to change and diversify in response to shifts in the market; (3) no-one seems to be worrying about the fate of the next generation of lawyers; and (4) the delivery of legal services will be a very different business when financed and managed by non-lawyers” (p.12). But the rest of the book really does not talk about the end of lawyers as we know them. Instead he explores how the legal profession and the work of lawyers may change because of technological advances. His point is that new communication technologies require rapid changes in the law and thus the legal profession, even though most lawyers are slow to adopt new technologies.
After a broad and sweeping introductory chapter, the second chapter explores a model of what the provision of legal services might look like in the future. Susskind believes that a great deal of legal work can be standardized and computerized, thus resulting in lower legal fees for the clients. He is clearly interested in the interplay between client demand for the commoditization or standardization of legal services with information technology advances. The model of legal work he presents (p.29) says that some legal work is personalized and individualized (“bespoke” in British usage), some is standardized, some is systematized, some is packaged, and some is commoditized like form wills or software to help prepare individual tax returns. Lawyers assume that all of their work is highly personalized and individualized, but Susskind argues that much legal work can and will fall into the latter categories. It is these latter types of legal work that threaten the future of the legal profession as we currently know it.
The third and fourth chapters deal with what Susskind expects in the development of future technologies. He argues that these technologies will accelerate the movement toward more commoditization of legal services. He notes, “Many lawyers exaggerate the extent to which their performance depends on deep expertise. Lawyers, like other professions, cloak themselves in a web of mystique, jargon, and apparent complexity, in part to project market value and partly, no doubt, as a matter of bolstering their self-respect. My point here is that simply because lawyers assert that expertise underpins their performance, we should not take this at face value” (p.90). Susskind continues, “Lawyers often overstate the extent to which the content of their work is creative, strategic, and novel” (p.90). He does say that new technology can also help lawyers be more creative. Comparing lawyers to medical professionals, for example, he argues that lawyers need to develop closed on-line communities where they can ask and answer legal questions among fellow professionals much like medical doctors already do now.
The fifth chapter is an unusual exploration of how new technologies will affect corporate in-house counsel and their legal work. This chapter also looks at how the changing expectations of clients will affect the legal work of all lawyers, not just those who are in-house. But the main thrust of the chapter is to predict how the practice of law will [*333] change in the future for those who are in-house corporate lawyers. Chapter 6 examines how litigation will change for law firms as technological changes come to court filings, discovery, and the like. In Chapter 7, Susskind focuses on the concept of access to justice, which he defines as preventing legal disputes from arising in the first place. Thus he compares the work of lawyers to the work of medical doctors practicing preventative medicine. The final chapter serves as a summary of the arguments and a call to action for the profession. As Susskind concludes, “I predict that lawyers who are unwilling to change their working practices and extend their range of services will, in the coming decade, struggle to survive” (p.268).
For those who ponder how the practice of law will change as technology advances, this book raises a host of fascinating issues. Thus Susskind does not really believe that the legal profession will cease to exist. Instead, Susskind argues that, “I believe that lawyers, in order to survive and prosper, must respond creatively and forcefully to the shifting demands of what is a rapidly evolving legal marketplace” (pp.272-273). This book makes some clear predictions about what lawyers will do and not do in the future, but it is most valuable for raising the issues in the first place. It is a provocative peek into the possible future of legal work and the lawyers who perform it.
Susskind, Richard. 2000. TRANSFORMING THE LAW: ESSAYS ON TECHNOLOGY, JUSTICE, AND THE LEGAL MARKETPLACE. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Susskind, Richard. 1996. THE FUTURE OF LAW: FACING THE CHALLENGES OF INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
© Copyright 2009 by the author, Mark C. Miller.