Tuesday, April 16, 2013

The Perfect Storm for Reform: An Overview

You'll have to read Richard Susskind's Tomorrow's Lawyers (2013) or his more in-depth book, The End of Lawyers (2008).  Both books are very good and essential reading.   He argues that the shifts in the legal market are permanent, accelerated by the 2008 market collapse, and reflect several things. 

First, corporations and in-house lawyers are demanding more-for-less from outside law firms.  This demand undercuts the ability of traditional law firms  to use new lawyers to do document review and due diligence reviews.  My earlier posting in this series talks about my experience as a young lawyer doing exactly these tasks.  In addition, law firms will no longer be able to expect clients to pay for a new lawyer's on-the-job training.  Hence, law firms are hiring associates with some practice experience, de-leveraging the number of associates per partner, and farming out the document review to tech based reviewers.  They are also farming our legal research to Asian common-law lawyers, who produce high-quality work at affordable prices.

Second, in many parts of the world, legislators are changing the structure of the delivery of legal services by allowing banks, accounting firms, and other entities to provide legal services, as well as allowing greater use of para-professionals.  Susskind calls this "liberalization."  The U.S. is lagging on this dimension, but the ABA's 20/20 Commission is looking into many of the same issues.

Third, information technology can do what new lawyers once did.  It can analyze a bunch of data for a host of themes, patterns, and words.  Now a computer program can do document-based discovery in litigation  at lower cost and with greater accuracy.  Soon, artificial intelligence will allow a client to answer questions (like on Tax Cut) and get a computer (or online program) to create a basic corporate document, a will, or other legal document.  That legal service will be much more available and cheaper than the same service offered by a traditional lawyer.  The middle class and some poor folks will meet their legal needs through this channel. 

Susskind lists the following sources for legal services: in-house counsel or in-sourcing; de-lawyering; relocating; off-shoring; outsourcing; subcontracting; co-sourcing; near-shoring; leasing; home-sourcing; open-sourcing; crowd-sourcing; computerizing; solo-sourcing; and no-sourcing.  He explains each concept, but I won't. 

He predicts that new types of legal services will emerge (and some of our grads are doing them).  Future lawyers will fall into the following categories: the expert trusted adviser (increasingly rare); the enhanced practitioner; the legal knowledge engineer; the legal technologist; the legal hybrid; the legal process analyst; the legal project manager; the on-line dispute resolution practitioner; the legal management consultant; and the legal risk manager.   He describes them in much detail. 

In the end, the legal landscape will change so dramatically by 2030, this old barnacle (I'll be 76 then) won't recognize it.  But, our graduates will need to work in it.  

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