WHAT IS THE FUTURE FOR LAWYERS?
May 17, 2013 § 4 Comments
If you haven’t noticed, the legal profession is at a pivot-point. The big firms have been downsizing for years, finding it more and more difficult to payroll armies of lawyers as damage caps and other litigation-discouraging measures have eroded the caseloads of both defense and plaintiffs’ firms. Corporate clients in a bad economy are relying more and more on in-house counsel and alternate dispute resolution as ways to cut legal costs.
Here in Mayberry, the everyday folk simply don’t have the money to pay big fees when a divorce or custody war looms. They look for cheaper ways, and the internet beckons with the alluring promise of bright success via fill-in-the-blank forms.
Against this backdrop, law school grads are finding more and more that there simply are no jobs. Those student loan repayments loom large as unanswered resumes and rejections pile up.
Richard Susskind, a UK lawyer who has studied the British and American legal systems, has been probing these and other developments to discern the future of the law and the legal profession as society moves inexorably deeper into the technological age. In his book, The End of Lawyers?, he raised the question whether lawyers had not become an anachronism, to be replaced by legal technicians handling routine legal matters, a handful of litigation specialists doing courtroom work, and platoons of document-analysis specialists, financial advisors, legal counselors, and others performing at greatly reduced cost the components of what lawyers do now for $300-$500 an hour. His point is that delivery of legal services will yield to the forces of economics and technology until it offers cheaper, more efficient ways to serve the public.
Susskind’s latest book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your future, condenses all of the foregoing into a concise, quick read, readily accessible to any busy practitioner. The pocket-size book is only 164 pages of text, but it is crammed with provocative ideas. Susskind not only talks about the forces that are reshaping law and the practice, but also how they impact the courts and delivery of legal services.
This is a brilliant book. I commend it to all lawyers and judges, particularly those who will be involved in the legal system over the next 15-20 years. The forces of change that Susskind highlights will be either a sweeping tide of change or a sweeping tide that carries many away. We can ride it and adapt to it, or we can drown in it. We get to choose.
In my opinion, many of the ways we do business in our courts are straight from the nineteenth century. There have been some intrusions of technology, but for the most part Abe Lincoln and his contemporaries would likely find themselves right at home in our courts. We should not be afraid to examine the ways we plead, offer proof, take testimony and otherwise carry out due process in trials and hearings with a view toward streamlining the processes, making them less costly, and trimming months — if not years — off them.
I encourage you to read Mr. Susskind’s book and give this some thought. It’s your future.