CLOC Interview: Susskind Discusses Tomorrow’s Lawyers

Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Client Relations, CLOC, Law Firm Profitability, Law Firms, Legal Innovation

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LAS VEGAS — Legal futurist and author Richard Susskind says the new jobs for lawyers will be in the area of designing, developing and implementing systems that will transform the way legal services are ultimately delivered.

“I often say that the only career decision you need to make as a lawyer and only strategy decision you need to make if you’re in the commercial world is, do you want to compete with machines or build the machines? Surely our generation will redefine the way that law is practiced,” said Susskind, speaking Tuesday at the Corporate Legal Operations Institute (CLOC) in Las Vegas.

In a Q&A session with Jeffrey Franke, assistant general counsel of global legal operations at Yahoo! Inc., Susskind discussed his views on the effect of artificial intelligence and the impact of new players in the legal services industry, as well as what law firms need to do to produce lawyers who can be successful in the future.


“I often say that the only career decision you need to make as a lawyer and only strategy decision you need to make if you’re in the commercial world is, do you want to compete with machines or build the machines? Surely our generation will redefine the way that law is practiced.”

— Richard Susskind


While many are predicting that AI and other tech tools will eliminate jobs for lawyers, Susskind, author of Tomorrow’s Lawyers, An Introduction to Your Future, says the time is now to embrace technology and to find a future in the disruptive areas. He says the legal sector is going through three stages, the first being denial, although that stage is coming to a close as most industry players recognize that substantial change is afoot and there is no turning back.

The second stage is re-sourcing — using cheaper people to do legal work. Whether it is outsourcing, offshoring or setting up low-cost legal resource centers, the idea is to take the high cost out of legal services.

The third and current phase is the stage of disruption in which technology takes on more of the tasks historically done by intelligent human lawyers. “On top of AI, I think a lot of the hype just now is unhelpfully overstating the short-term impact but is underestimating the long-term impact of these technologies,” he said. Despite what many are preaching about the increasing capability of machines to do legal work, he doesn’t foresee a decade of unemployment for lawyers but rather one of “redeployment.”

“We can increasingly see — whether it be undertaking due diligence, document review litigation, drafting of documents, contract life-cycle management, or rudimentary legal research — that there are technology tools that if not yet quite replacing, playing at least a very strong role in taking out some of the costs,” he said.

That means for law firms and in-house legal departments it will be important to have legal technologists — those trained in both law and technology — to know how to deploy the tools efficiently and effectively. Indeed, progressive lawyers in the future will be doing legal process analysis, legal project management, legal knowledge engineering and legal systems design, he said.


“By and large, with prosperous firms, I always say it’s hard to convince a room full of millionaires that they have a business model wrong. These are often very successful individuals with a few years to run to retirement.”

— Richard Susskind


When it comes to innovative law firms, Susskind said the best tend to be the ones where the leadership team is driving innovation, or two or three individuals are producing compelling evidence to embrace innovation. “The most successful law firms are the ones who just get on with it — they stop talking about it and actually start experimenting — very much in the R&D spirit of consumer electronics and the pharmaceutical industry where these businesses don’t know where their income is coming from in five years’ time, so they engage in R&D. We’re seeing a small number of firms doing that,” he explained, adding, however, that for many firms not yet touched by a significant loss of business, it can be a tough argument to push.

“By and large, with prosperous firms, I always say it’s hard to convince a room full of millionaires that they have a business model wrong. These are often very successful individuals with a few years to run to retirement,” he noted.

But until there is constant, relentless demand from the market, there won’t be widespread innovation from law firms. “You won’t move beyond what is tokenism in law firms where innovation is fairly piecemeal. You won’t get thorough innovation until there is constant, relentless, informed, discerning demand from the market,” he said. “As long as there is limited competition, law firms will continue to practice as they have always done.”


For more of our coverage of the CLOC Institute event, click here.