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Tomorrow's lawyers by Richard Susskind, the best book about future of our profession

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Tomorrow's lawyers by Richard Susskind
Richard Susskind, one of the most famous visionaries of the legal profession, is the author of a lot of books and articles on this topic, and you do not need to go further than the Amazon website to make sure of this.

His latest work, the third edition of Tomorrow's Lawyers, is a collection of observations about how our work is changing. The following is a summary of those observations which I found particularly interesting:

About law firms and legal markets

Law firms don't usually innovate. Few people will be ready to chop down the branch on which they are sitting. Therefore, we should not expect traditional law firms to be the source of a real transformation of the legal service market. Others will make that transformation for them.

A revolution in the legal profession will occur when the traditional ‘one-on-one’ approach to legal consulting gives way to legal support for a wide range of clients through online services. From ‘selling time’ (billable hours) to ‘selling licenses’ to use the content.

A cheap labour force from other regions, the mass standardization of legal products, the development of technologies, as well as both the accessibility of legal knowledge and one’s ability to process and use it independently – all this will take away from lawyers what has traditionally been their ‘sacred knowledge’.
Susskind: ‘Hourly billing is an institutionalised disincentive to efficiency. It rewards lawyers who take longer to complete tasks than their more organised colleagues, and it penalises legal advisers who operate swiftly and efficiently.’
The pricing of the most law firms continue to be based on the hourly system. Even if you get a capped or lump quote, it will include the lawyers' working hours. And this is risky for the law firms themselves. Alternative forms of legal services – online providers, primarily – will create pressure on the market prices, which could lead to the diminishing profitability of traditional law firms. They will have to either reduce the salaries of their lawyers or the profits of their partners, offer fewer ‘freebies’ to clients... or switch to new business models, to adjust to the ‘new normal’ of the legal market.

For in-house legal teams, there is a great potential to save money in the process of ordering services from law firms. Sometimes corporate counsels buy the same advice or memos from different law providers. By combining their requests into a single one and then buying a legal product that they can share amongst themselves, the service will be cheaper for their companies.
Susskind: I should say immediately that I have nothing against small firms. I just cannot see how these corner shops will manage to keep afloat in the face of the metaphorical supermarkets, whether larger businesses or online services.
Susskind is rather sceptical about the prospects of small law firms, since they will either lose to large law firms that provide more services and have a bigger safety net, or online platforms that make legal services remarkably more affordable.

A strong trend in the coming years is the transformation of the work of lawyers into risk prevention, mitigation, and compliance. ‘The future is for medical prevention,’ a famous surgiest Nikolay Pirogov said at the time. This well-worn thesis is becoming an important engine of the legal profession. Like a marketing department, lawyers can increase the attractiveness of their employer by ensuring its compliance with laws and other rules because people prefer to work in or with companies that are fully compliant. By minimizing legal risks, lawyers thereby make their companies more attractive to external stakeholders – be it job seekers, customers, suppliers, banks or investors, to say nothing of the state control bodies.
Susskind: ’Another risk-related trend will be towards the greater sharing of risk between in-house lawyers and law firms.’
Another important trend is the growing desire of heads of legal departments to share risks with law firms. For instance, law firm remuneration may depend on the real effects achieved and value delivered to client.

“Know your customer” is a universal formula for any business – but law firms often do not fully apply it. Many partners of law firms behave arrogantly when dealing with clients and have little interest in the client's business and problems. At the same time, as Susskind writes, ‘Clients already respond favourably … to law firms that express ongoing, and even passionate, interest in them. They like to feel that the firms to which they pay substantial fees are bearing them in mind and have their interests at heart, even when not working together on a particular job.’

About law schools and legal education

A significant part of the book relates to how we educate future lawyers, and what legal education could look like. Susskind is quite sceptical, suggesting that today we teach lawyers of the 20th century rather than lawyers of the 21st century. He provides a list of law schools that offer the most modern education today.
  • University of Miami School of Law (LawWithoutWalls),
  • Harvard Law School (programme on the legal profession),
  • Georgetown Law ( ‘Iron Tech Lawyer Invitational’),
  • Chicago-Kent College of Law (J.D. Certificate Program in Legal Innovation + Technology),
  • Michigan State University (Center for Law, Technology & Innovation), and
  • Stanford University (CODEX, a centre for legal informatics, and the Deborah L. Rhode Center on the Legal Profession).
How can this problem be overcome? Susskind proposes (and I fully agree with him) that closer cooperation between universities and both law firms and companies is a key step in bringing our legal education up to speed with current business needs. Legal departments need to open their doors for “tomorrow’s lawyers” and start to work more closely with universities and law schools. “The rescue of drowning people (in this case, employers) is the work of drowning people themselves”. It is difficult to question this statement.

New trends in legal profession

At this moment, there are three basic trends within the legal profession:
  • The ‘more for less’ challenge – an increase in the requests for legal services accompanied by a decrease in the willingness to pay for them
  • The liberalisation of the legal services market – low barriers for legal professionals to enter into the market
  • The Rapid development of legal technologies
Young lawyers live in two worlds: a modern one outside the office, and a more anachronistic one within the office. In their personal lives, they use the most modern instruments of communication and work, like social networks, blogs, sharing and streaming services, etc..... And then, surprisingly, they come to the office and throw themselves back 15-20 years, without using any of these instruments in their tasks. This is partly due to cyber security limits, of course. But who prevents us from requesting feedback from internal customers, in the way that Uber does? Who forbids someone (I do not dispute that someone really forbids) to post on the corporate portal some news in a form like stories on Instagram? Who prevents us from changing our processes iteratively like startup teams or even Apple, whose every iPhone release is getting better for customers? (Unfortunately, new versions of the iPhone are usually released more often than lawyers release updates to their standards or to contract forms.)

About technologies in legal profession

As Susskind writes, ‘By 2050, according to Kurzweil, the average desktop machine will have more processing power than all of humanity combined. You can call me radical, but it seems to me that if we can see the day in which the average desktop machine has more processing power than all of humanity combined, then it might be time for lawyers to rethink at least some of their working practices.’
Before the digitalisation of legal processes, it is important, first of all, to optimise them. Otherwise, we can get ‘mess for less’.
Susskind: ‘The global spend on lawtech lies somewhere between $10 billion and $20 billion. Which may sound a lot, but the global legal market itself is creeping towards $1 trillion. Relatively speaking, much more is spent on technology in financial services and in healthcare. As important, if not widely discussed, is that (on my estimation) more than 90 per cent of that global spend on lawtech is by law firms. To drill down a little deeper, it is my experience from advising law firms that more than 90 per cent of that lawtech spend is itself on back office systems (laptops, servers, data centres, software licences, and the rest).’
Susskind proposes an illustrative frame for the law tech strategy of a law firm or legal department. This frame includes four zones:
  • The zone between business and technology, which includes CRM systems or constructors of documents,
  • The zone between business and knowledge: knowledge management systems that help business units navigate in complex legal landscape (service desks, internal legal Wikipedia, etc),
  • The zone between the legal department and technology: programs that automate internal processes of the legal team (like intake management systems),
  • and finally, a zone between the legal department and knowledge: internal knowledge management systems.
It seems to me that this is a good format for the systematisation of digital solutions that can be implemented in the legal department. At the same time, it makes it possible to understand both where your digitalisation tasks have already been solved, and where there is still work to be done.
Susskind highlights 15 disruptive technologies, which could change the legal market in the near future:
  • Document automation,
  • Relentless connectivity,
  • Electronic legal marketplace
  • E-learning,
  • Online legal guidance,
  • Legal open-sourcing,
  • Closed legal communities,
  • Workflow and project management,
  • Embedded legal knowledge,
  • Blockchain,
  • Online dispute resolution,
  • Document analysis,
  • Machine prediction,
  • Natural language processing,
  • Legal platforms
Among such well-known tools as document automation (LegalZoom, Rocket Lawyer) there are some very interesting solutions which could change the model of how clients get legal services:
Electronic marketplaces
We have long been accustomed to shopping in online stores. While choosing a product, we can find out everything about its seller and reviews from thousands of customers. Unfortunately, the legal services market is not so transparent yet. Most of the orders of law firms, as before, are based on ‘offline’ recommendations from one specific customer to another.
Legal crowd sourcing
Lawyers like to share their experience, even though their profession is quite closed. By joining legal communities, they can jointly create legal products, such as contract forms, checklists, manuals, and so on. There is already a wide practice of unification of agreements on non-disclosure of confidential information (https://www.simplawyer.com/legal-design/simplenda/). This is definitely just the beginning.

About decomposition of lawyers’ work

Richard Susskind: ‘In every legal business I visit or advise, I find significant amounts of work being undertaken by young lawyers that is administrative or process-based. The work requires more process than judgement, procedure instead of strategy or creativity. Examples are document review in litigation, due diligence work, basic contract drafting, and rudimentary legal research. Here is the great opportunity for change.’
One of Susskind's key ideas is the decomposition of legal tasks into separate sub-tasks according to different professionals' skillsets and experience levels. So, it is not necessary to call "litigation" everything that relates to trial and buy it from expensive law firms. Litigation consists of at least nine different actions (like document analysis, E-discovery, Negotiations with the opponent etc.), each of which may have a different price and provider.

While you really need a strong lawyer, a partner of a law firm, to develop a strategy or tactics for the court case, there is no need to hire an expensive lawyers for e-discovery or technical support.

Another example of such ‘decomposition’ relates to M&A – and it's not even just about handing over “due diligence” work to the “Big 4”. It's about the allocation of, let’s say, ten types of different tasks related to M&A (due diligence, research, contract drafting, negotiations, technical support, etc.), and getting differentiated price offers on these types of tasks with appropriate rates from law firms. More transparency means lower expenses.

About evolution of legal products

Any legal product goes through several stages of transformation:
  • From bespoke to standard: Everyone needs standardisation. As Susskind says, “Clients have no interest in paying for re-invention of the wheel”.

  • From standard to unified: Susskind refers to the next step in bringing the product to uniformity when he writes, ‘Where there are many tasks, activities, and people involved, and yet the process can be proceduralised, automated workflow can greatly enhance the efficiency of legal work.’ An example of automation is a contract constructor with checklists included in the self-service system and chatbots. Automation of document flow may have an additional advantage: the end-user (not a lawyer) does not necessarily have to be a legal expert to get a legal knowledge or a document without lawyer’s assistance.

  • Finally, at the third stage, legal products can follow one of three paths: 1) they are created online (by the clients themselves) for a fee, 2) they are created online for free, 3) they are provided by lawyer. An analogy with theatre and cinema comes to mind. At first there was only theatre; then there was also cinematography, which created an opportunity to enjoy drama without having to visit a theatre.
The demand for innovation is gradually taking over all areas of the legal market. Internal lawyers are no exception. Working with such progressive functions as R&D, marketing, sales, and finance – which are at the forefront of changes – the chief lawyer can no longer afford to remain on the margins of the corporate world. Chief lawyers should become as innovative as their colleagues in corporations, and even better – they should lead this movement, bringing new organizational ideas to the company that will be picked up by other functions and departments.

About online courts and new forms of dispute resolution

A large part of Susskind's book is devoted to the future of judicial procedure. Here I would highlight a few of the most important theses:

A ‘robot judge’ is not scary if his decisions are based on millions of court cases. It's fast and unbiased. In a number of countries, the litigation process is very cumbersome, and disputes resolution with robots could significantly accelerate legal protection. For example, in Brazil, the backlog is about 70 million court cases.

The day is not far off when lawsuits can move into virtual reality. Here is a link to a real trial that took place in the Meta universe. Perhaps it will remain a funny case that will be presented at technology conferences, and it will not become a general practice, or maybe some elements from this solution will be reproduced in practice. In particular, such a trial will let to exclude bias in the judge's perception of the court participants.

Those who oppose robot justice, as a rule, argue that there is a high risk of robot error. But who rules out emotional mistakes, errors related to work overload, and other mistakes on the part of human judges? Or why do we think that people who seek judicial protection lose less from delays in the court processes and from the costs of external lawyers? Why is the corruption factor excluded? If the litigation procedure is digitalized, it may not completely exclude all forms of abuses, but it will definitely reduce them.

Proponents of online justice also note that there is a significantly greater level of transparency associated with this form of judicial process. By and large, anyone with access to the broadcast of the trial will be able to see how the robots make their decisions.

In addition, an alternative online dispute resolution may be a preliminary, pre-trial stage, preceding a real trial (which may thus be avoided).

Another interesting thesis is that it is worth considering allowing the asynchronous submission of evidence to the court. Under this arrangement, each party would be allotted a conditional period of time to provide evidence, accompanied by an audio or video speech, which would be able to be heard / seen by the judge at his/her convenience. This would significantly speed up dispute resolution, since the parties would not need to appear at the same time in the same place.

On the topic of alternative forms of legal disputes resolution, we often forget that today millions of proceedings on the eBay platform are held automatically. It is impossible to imagine how these disputes would be resolved if they assumed the need for human participation in them.

About evolution of legal profession

A large (and, in my opinion, the strongest) part of the book about new forms of legal professions is preceded by the following thesis, with which I cannot disagree: ‘The point about shifting from a legal to a business focus is that many problems, for small and global businesses alike, do not come neatly packaged as ‘legal’. Rather, legal questions invariably arise in a broader business context and should not be divorced from that broader setting. I predicted in 1996 that online services would be likely to be multidisciplinary in flavour.’

Susskind does not exclude, of course, that some traditional lawyers’ domains will be kept. But over the years, their “advising” role will become less and less dominant, giving way to new forms of legal and “near-legal” work that are still emerging today. Below is a list of them:
  • Legal design thinker,
  • Legal knowledge engineer,
  • Legal no-coder,
  • Legal technologist,
  • Legal hybrid,
  • Legal process analyst,
  • Legal project manager,
  • Legal data scientist,
  • Legal data visualizer,
  • R&D worker,
  • Digital security guard,
  • ODR practitioner,
  • Moderator,
  • Legal management consultant,
  • Legal risk manager
Some comments on these jobs
Legal designers are not only "contract text simplifiers", but also process technologists who optimize the work of lawyers in different areas.
Legal knowledge engineer is the one that packs all the variety of legal knowledge into unified tools prepared by legal designers and legal technologists.
No - code lawyer - lawyers who create/ adapt simple IT solutions to the needs of their company without resorting to programming. For example, these are the same contract constructors.
Legal technologists are already deep programmers in the field of law.
Legal process technologists are designers of lawyers’ business processes. They work together with Legal designers to ensure that the way lawyers work is optimal and cover all risks. They can also decompose legal tasks into different types of job for different level of lawyers.
Legal project managers are, to put it more simply, line managers who distribute tasks decomposed by Legal process technologists to different providers.
Legal R&D experts. As the author puts it, a law firm or a legal service cannot help but think about development and the future. Like Apple, or any other large company that has entire R&D units, legal teams also need to think about how they will develop their service in the coming and distant years. This is what the development specialists from lawyers are doing.
About evolution of legal businesses
At the same time, Susskind cautions that “…the bigger mistake here is to think that these new jobs will always be injected into old legal businesses”. In this regard, Susskind offers a whole set of legal structures that will provide services in a new way:
  • Global accounting firms,
  • Major legal publishers,
  • Legal know-how providers,
  • Legal process outsourcers,
  • Big-brand businesses,
  • Legal leasing agencies,
  • Law companies,
  • Online legal service providers,
  • Legal management consultants,
  • Lawtech companies
The author identifies as many as 16 forms of organisation of legal work. From well-known in-sourcing and out-sourcing to such forms as crowd sourcing (guess what it means in relation to lawyers?), leasing (business on the lawyers' secondment), and co-sourcing (joint use of external lawyers by several clients). In practice, legal professionals are not necessarily doing all this work. Some forms of this legal work are not allowed yet, while in other cases, there is no market for particular legal products...but who could have imagined ten years ago that now we would be looking for legal information not only in LexisNexis, but in different social media channels and TikTok reels? As scientist William Gibson notes, ‘The future is already here; it is only unevenly distributed.’
Of course, all these forms of businesses may work in combination. For example, if there is highly flexible demand for some legal tasks, it is worth using lawyers’ secondment more intensively. In some cases, it makes sense to replace the work of a lawyer with an automatic analysis of documents. Finally, in some cases, legal support should be abandoned altogether, because the cost of lawyers' work far exceeds the risks that it minimises. Finding optimal combinations of legal work, arranging a balanced legal support model that would mitigate legal risks relatively inexpensively – this is a new task for today’s leaders of legal functions (and “tomorrow’s lawyers”).
Susskind identifies two types of startups: 1) those that change the market and the very way of satisfying a request for a legal service, and 2) those that only optimize current approaches to the work of lawyers. The second type include startups offering new means of text input, conflict of interest check, control over cash receipts from customers, CRM systems. Among the first are startups that create solutions that make the usual role of lawyers superfluous, such as analysing the texts of AI contracts, chatbots, and self-service systems that let clients solve their legal issues on their own.
Most law tech startups will not live long. But those that do remain on the market will change it. At the moment, there are 3,000 to 4,000 technology startups in the legal field worldwide. This is quite a large number, considering that ten years ago there were only a few hundred of them. There are even a few unicorns on the market – companies that are already worth more than $1 billion: Ironclad, LegalZoom, and Clio.
Without doubts, this book is one of the best in its class today. Being at the frontier of legal profession studies, Richard Susskind opens a new vision on how lawyers could work in the near future. Absolutely “must read” for any lawyer on our planet!