Technology in Practice: The "End of Lawyers" - or Start of a New Legal Dynamic?

07/01/2010
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Few recent books about the legal profession have had a more provocative title than that published in 2008 by British technology consultant Richard Susskind: The End of Lawyers? As early as the mid-1990s, when the Internet was still a rumor to most people in the legal world, Susskind was writing that information technology would transform the practice of law. In his 2008 book, Susskind claims that the legal profession will be driven by two forces in the coming decade: a market pull towards the commoditization of legal services and by the ongoing development of new legal technologies. Lawyers who do not adapt to this trend, the author claims, will find their roles eroded – or even displaced. In his words, Susskind sees:

"a future in which conventional legal advisers will be much less prominent in society than today and, in some walks of life, will have no visibility at all. ...Commoditisation and IT will shape and characterise 21st century legal service. ...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. Meanwhile, those who embrace new technologies and novel ways of sourcing legal work are likely to trade successfully for many years yet, even if they are not occupied with the law jobs that most law schools currently anticipate for their graduates."

In my view, such an analysis goes too far. Computers will not replace lawyers; they have, in fact, made our jobs much easier. The time savings, efficiency and commoditization of routine tasks and services afforded by computers and other electronic technology have freed most lawyers to focus on the creative, problem-solving aspects of their law practices. Those, like Susskind, who believe that technology will transform our profession need to remember that such innovations are just another turn of the wheel in the law's evolution from profession to business, albeit a speedier evolution than in previous decades. Technology is merely a tool to allow us to do more and do it faster, but it is still the human who makes the decisions and provides the value.

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