Law Firm 2.5 – Richard Susskind – The End of Lawyers

If you are a lawyer and haven’t read Richard’s book, you should.  And no, reading the reviews and the articles about the book won’t suffice.  Buy the book, sit in a quiet room and read deeply about his predictions of the future of the practice of law.

The title is provocative, for sure and he doesn’t really argue that lawyers are going away, but a central tenant is that much of the legal services we use today will soon be commoditized.  In other words, many lawyers’ practices are headed downward as outsourcing (both human and technological) is rapidly on it’s way.

I’ve written a lot of what I see are the changes going to occur in the legal world in my Law Firm 2.0 series.    I’d say that Richard is at least Law Firm 2.5 to my 2.0.  He has many interesting thoughts, but two really struck home to me.

One of his first propositions is that lawyers aren’t getting paid to give legal advice, so why are we paying them for it?  He says that if you ask a lawyer (especially a corporate lawyer) why they are "successful" not one of them will say "because I know the law."  In fact, most technical lawyers are shunned to back rooms while the "relationship managers" make the big bucks and bring in the clients. 

I’ve seen this and even made the statement myself.  I never thought that I got ahead by knowing the law better than anyone else, rather knowing enough law that I could then give good business advice.  In fact, I subconsciously have always considered my legal knowledge "my commodity" while I considered my judgment my "secret sauce."  So I can see where Richard feels that the practice of "core law" is going to become commoditized.

Secondly, Richard believes that innovation in the legal profession will occur in two areas.  First, there will be innovative technologies that will change the way that lawyers practice.  We’ve seen it first hand with companies like Stratify in the e-discovery space and believe that we’ll see it again (soon) in the document generation space and have made an investment in FirstDocs.  He also predicts that other innovation will occur at the highest level of the legal practice – new theories, new ways to apply law to fact, new ways to deal with new legal structures, etc… – the stuff that you are willing to pay big bucks to top partner level people.

The big issue is where does that leave the "middle class" of lawyers (defined either as by ability or by seniority) if the top parts of the practice are being innovative and valued and the bottom parts of the practice are being commoditized by technology and outsourcing. 

This short review doesn’t even scratch the surface of the book and like all books there are plenty of theories that I don’t see happening, but it’s the most in-depth look into the future of lawyers that I’ve seen and a must read for anyone who makes their living by the billable hour.

  • One thing I've noticed lately is that Big Co lawyers "de-commoditize" themselves via agressive agreements. We recently had a Big Co client insist that we sign a licensing agreement on one of our standard plans. We never do this. You either like the TOS (which are very liberal) or don't buy.

    But they insisted and we told them it would cost more money, which they agreed to. The draft they sent us was ridiculously one-sided. I just kept saying no to all the crazy terms (not even involving our laywer, because I insisted this was not a negotiation where we meet halfway, just removal of craziness by them) until they finally relented on pretty much everything. The one thing they wouldn't back down on is 45 day payment terms. I told them that was fine but they couldn't have the product until we received payment. They agreed.

    Eventually the deal got done, but they paid more for our product as a result, they probably spent more than the product costs on their lawyers, and they delayed their own access to the product by up to 45 days. How is the client served by this?

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