Sometimes one gets the sense of being tangibly at the end of an era – the door is closing and, perhaps, others are opening. I felt like that, quite suddenly, on my way to LegalTech in New York a few days ago as a result of the conjunction of three different sources. One of them involves the year 1599, the end of chivalry and the rise of a new merchant class, and another features dinosaurs and a yellow scooter. Those who have been with me a while are used to apparently random elements coming together in the last reel to reach an eDiscovery conclusion.
Richard Susskind’s Tomorrow’s Lawyers
The door which is closing will leave behind it the traditional law firm structure of partners selling at hourly rates the services of themselves and legions of associates. There is nothing new in this prediction – Professor Richard Susskind has been making it for years, and one of my sources is his latest book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers. The book is addressed to those starting out in the legal profession and to junior partners, and is subtitled An Introduction to Your Future. It restates views expressed in Susskind’s earlier works, especially The End of Lawyers?, sketches out the new legal landscape as he expects it to be, and (most interestingly) looks at the prospects for younger lawyers and at the skills they will need for the new legal landscape.
The points are all familiar ones – Susskind is cheerfully unrepentant about saying the same things for years, not least because time has invariably proved him right. The most specific predictions – about the use of e-mail and websites, and about the use of technology to standardise and commoditise the delivery of services – were once derided but are now part of life. The broader predictions, effectively signalling the end of the traditional law firm model, have always seemed reliable but distant, something on the horizon which lawyers might hope not to reach before retirement. My sense on finishing Tomorrow’s Lawyers is that we can now see the waves crashing on the rocks. We have reached the horizon.
More specifically for litigation departments, the “cottage industry” approach which Susskind derides will die, and probably in 2013. eDiscovery / eDisclosure, the major cost component in many cases, is still about finding the evidence, but has become an exercise in search, in project management, in statistics, in budgets and metrics. The point is not so much that lawyers are unused to this, but that technology, and those who know how to use it, can do it better, more cheaply and to a higher quality – you will perhaps recognise a well-known Susskind paragraph in this. The quality and accuracy of such tools increases yearly; just as significantly, the rise of managed document review providers offers the transparency and predictability of time and cost which (not coincidentally) is the aim of both courts and clients. It is not that lawyers cannot compete with these new business models but that that few of them seem willing to try.
I will come back to that in a moment. What does the year 1599 have to do with it? Read the rest of this entry »