Book Review: Tomorrow’s Lawyers

January 10, 2013


From Scott Allardyce, an Associate working in the Commercial IP/IT Department at Bristows

As an NQ lawyer working in a mid-sized City firm, I found ‘Tomorrow’s Lawyers‘ to be interesting and thought-provoking. By looking 10-15 years into the future, this book offers a dynamic perspective for those who are just starting to consider, at a high-level, their firm’s future business opportunities and the strategic plans for the practice areas in which they operate.  

Although Susskind’s book makes for an engaging read, many of his predictions are far from comforting. The disruptive trends which Susskind examines lead him to several troubling conclusions. The prediction which had the most impact for me was that, in the not-too-distant future, law firms will scale back the number of trainees and junior lawyers they take on. As well as causing anxiety to those who are yet to secure training contracts, this prediction will be a source of some consternation for current trainees and juniors. 

It is best to approach this book with an open mind, as some of Susskind’s views are likely to affront those committed to conventionality. Such traditionalist readers will be inclined to discount a lot of the book. Susskind notes that this has indeed been his experience (perhaps traditionalists cannot stomach his views on the cannibalization of legal services: “if it’s going to happen, you should want to be one of the first to the feast”). However, the book warns that it would be foolish to adopt this approach. 

Susskind describes his book as “a short introduction to the future for young […] lawyers”. I believe it functions as rather more than that; at times, it can be read almost as a help-guide to those interested in modernizing the institutions around them. In this respect, a clearer and more focused analysis of the changes which are already occurring in the legal industry (such as the change in attitudes to hourly billing) as indicators of long-term change would be useful. 

That said, the book is pithy, wide-ranging and very readable. It will be of real interest to those readers who are willing to concede that the future of legal services is unlikely to be stable.  

From Laurence Eastham, Editor of Computers & Law

I was slow to realise that I was not the target audience and that anything said by me about the book would do little to shed light on its pluses or minuses. By the time that light dawned (which was embarrassingly late in the day, given that the subtitle is ‘An Introduction to Your Future’), I had read most of it and was not going to stop until had finished. To make life more complicated, the fact that the author is President of SCL might justify some in doubting my objectivity.

For what it is worth, I took a very positive view of the book. I started out thinking that it might usefully have been titled ‘Susskind for Dummies’ because a good deal of the material in the early chapters is a restatement of much of what has gone before in Richard Susskind’s earlier works, albeit freshened with new examples. At just 200 pages and with a cover price of £9.99, a simplified rehash might be all that one could expect. But the reality is that this is Richard Susskind’s best book yet. The discipline of presenting primarily to a younger readership, and the assumptions that can be made of that readership about digital literacy, allow arguments to flow quickly and speedily to conclusions. At the risk of overdoing the flow metaphor, the fact that we are some way further down the river than when Richard published his earlier works allows him more opportunity to point to the rising tidemarks on the bank, and all of us can begin to identify some of the naysayers who are up a creek (mainly without paddles).

It has become much harder to disagree with the analysis of Richard Susskind than once it was. The pace of change has not slackened and, as he has always reminded us, there is no finishing line with IT.

I had the odd doubt. I feel that, while the book looks beyond technology driven change (eg it recognises the economic downturn as a driver of change), it pays insufficient attention to the switch in international clout that arises from the rise of the China and many other emerging economies; this is a book about the future for UK and US lawyers but their future is going to be moulded by expectations from very different cultures and those expectations may have an impact rivalling that of technology. I also feel that Richard is overly optimistic about the chances of courtroom technology improving much, in the UK at least. There are no votes in it and other demands on government cash will probably scupper any advances – even those that require only a modest contribution from the Exchequer. A failure to advance in courtroom technology may well put lawyers in the UK at risk of losing lucrative business but, unless the big litigators pay for it themselves, that is a risk they may be stuck with. The sadder part is that such failure to invest may well threaten Richard’s positive hopes for ADR too (although it shouldn’t).

As Scott initially observed to me ‘Susskind’s book is not solely aimed at aspiring lawyers and those who have taken only a few steps on the legal ladder …. The book is also aimed at partners, general counsel and the judiciary; anyone, indeed, who has energy and an “opportunity to be involved in shaping the next generation of legal services”‘. That’s true enough. The more senior figures to whom Scott refers will certainly want to read about Susskind’s ‘more for less challenge’, requiring private firms to find increasingly varied and creative methods of billing which provide better value for money for clients, and the evolution of a slender pyramid-structure, with fewer junior associates and trainees at the base.

But the main target audience, young and aspiring lawyers, need to read it to plan their lives. Yes, seriously – looking ahead at the crunches that are to come matters that much. Outside Hollywood, you will not find a smoother-coated futuristic pill to swallow than this one – and this one is relevant. 

Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future is published by OUP on 10 January. 208 pages ISBN 978-0-19-966806-9, Paperback, Price: £9.99