A lawyer, tomorrow
Published by Oxford University Press, January 2013
For nearly 40 years, BBC Television broadcast Tomorrow’s World, a programme that brought science and the future to millions of ordinary viewers and wide-eyed teenagers. In its seventies heyday, the programme was presented by former second world war Spitfire pilot Raymond Baxter, who lent a boffin-like, pen-pointing sense of authority to the prognostications.
Scottish lawyer and academic Richard Susskind is the legal profession’s equivalent – bringing a smouldering element of Caledonian charm to his technology-based predictions. His soothsaying can be summed up as this: before long all but the biggest-brained lawyers at traditional law firms will end up on the professional scrap heap, having been replaced by computers and ranks of worker-bees in developing world sweatshops, who will far more cheaply deal with run-of-the-mill legal work.
Indeed, Professor Susskind’s previous book, The End of lawyers? forecast a dystopian legal world of virtual law firms and courts, working in a commoditised and outsourced environment. That book was published the best part of five years ago, and as is the core of Prof Susskind’s thesis disseminated through countless lectures, five years is a very long time in the current evolution of the legal profession.
Therefore, his latest contribution to the debate, Tomorrow’s Lawyers – an introduction to your future, is an update on the same theme. Although, having scared the wits out of many a lawyer with End of ..., his latest effort is designed to reassure those forward-thinking members of the profession that they do in fact have a future. (However, it should be pointed out that perhaps not everyone has been paying attention to Prof Susskind, as despite his dire warnings of professional Armageddon, there are more lawyers than ever in the developed jurisdictions, and students still clamber to get into law schools.)
The author has certainly rallied the great and the good of the forward-thinking mob in support of his latest publication. Top lawyers from New York white shoe firms to London magic circle outfits are cited as enthusing wildly over the prophetic nature of the book as well as its nuts and bolts advice. Even members of the old-school brigade, such as Lord Neuberger, the current president of the UK’s Supreme Court, provide testimonials of praise.
As to what the author himself was hoping to achieve, it is probably best left for him to say: ‘Wayne Gretzky, perhaps the finest ice hockey player of all time,’ writes Prof Susskind, ‘famously advised to “skate where the puck’s going, not where it’s been”. Similarly, when lawyers are thinking about the future, whether about their law firms or law schools, they should be planning for the legal market as it will be and not as it once was. In ice hockey terms, however, most lawyers are currently skating to where the puck used to be. My purpose, then, is to show where that puck is most likely to end up.’
But then ice hockey is a game renowned more for the players thumping the sense and teeth out of each other than for its skill and sportsmanship. Perhaps that is the subtext of Prof Susskind’s advice – ultimately a lot of blood is going to be spilt.