Summary of "The End of Lawyers?" webcast by Richard Susskind 4/22

Following Richard Susskind's presentation at Harvard yesterday, I summarized some of his observations on the disruption of technology on the legal industry. I'm sure some traditional laywers, if they have watched it, would be rolling their eyes. Most of his points really have already happened or are already happening in other professional fields (all adopting and adapting at different rates, depending on how flexible the particular industry is, and definitely spearheaded by the IT industry.) Law of course, as part of its historical culture, is one of the slowest to change. You can view the hour-long webcast through

Below is my summary of his presentation:

1. Starting Point needs to change to: "What do Clients Need?" 
  • -This should be the starting question, which is more crucial as current technologies continue to disrupt current patterns of consumption. Lawyers, as a unique breed within the service industry, seldom ask what the client needs- we tend to do things as they have been done, through tradition. However, to cope with the fast changing world right now, this is a critical question, and a starting point for responding. 
  • Clients:
    • Need our "knowledge"- in particular, structured, not haphazard
    • DO NOT need one on one interaction per se
    • Find us too reactive: they don't want problem solving, they want to PREVENT the problem in the first place ("legal risk management)
    • Want more for less: less expensive, better knowledge, better service

2. Technology's Role and 10 disruptive legal technologies to watch for:
  • IT in legal world has two related impacts:
    • AUTOMATION- doing current things more efficiently
    • INNOVATION- different way of doing things, new way of delivering service
  • Lawyers, to the extent that they do, are focusing on the first, but the real impact will be via the second. 
  • Ten Disruptive Tecnologies
    • closed client communities
      • sharing of knowledge peer to peer
    • online dispute resolution
    • embedded legal knowledge into processes (eg legal compliance built into current systems)
    • e-legal market place (e-surance, price comparison)
    • expert vs. routine work: new ways of outsourcing the routine
    • access to law will change from the traditional Rolls Royce, one on one model via:
      • document assembly
      • online legal advice
      • open sourcing of legal materials
      • communities of experience
      • FAQs, flow charts, decision trees
3. How should individual lawyers change? (= Learn from medical and other fields already learning to cope)
  • Outsource the routine!
  • Deliver service through the internet
  • Focus on issues that need deep expertise, complex communication
  • Notice that in all areas direct contact will decrease
  • Learn hybrid, multidisciplinary skills: eg
    • legal project manager
    • legal risk manager

4. How should the law business change?
  • Continue to increase efficiency through automation, but more importantly, through innovation. We do much routine/repetivitve legal work repeatedly, and at high costs. Let's think about new ways to be efficient, and perhaps thinking about the ways that clients can collectively share the costs so that cost per transaction decreases. 
  • Legal practice will have to transform, catch up with IT, and think about business possibilities: eg Online community, IM, blogging, mass collaboration, social networking, twitter, virtual pets
  • Think of legal service like assembly line, do multi-sourcing (farm each task out to most efficient source, includes IT) (Note: "The Singularity is Near" predicts that by 2020, average desktop machine will have processing power of human brain, by 2050 more than all of humanity)
  • Some possible business models follows, ranging in a spectrum from traditional one on one (high transaction cost) to full commotization (off the shelf, low cost). 
    • Customized solutions (one-on-one traditional way of doing law)
    • Standardized solutions, for example:
      • process- checklist, manuals, methodologies, pre-articulate the steps
      • substance- templates, standard form documents, precedents
    • Systemization- more automatic standardization
      • automatic document (answer a series of questions on software)
      • automatic workflow
    • Package knowledge
      • provide software to clients (via license), eg tax software by deloitte
    • Full commodotization
      • remembering that law information, craeting an 'information world' online service
      • creating more open competition: more than one law firm offering service in one marketplace
  • Advantages as we move this listed spectrum:
    • Note marginal costs of delivery reduce 
    • Easier to fixed fee (hourly billing not attractive to clients)
    • Cheaper
    • Quality

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