Book Review: Tomorrow’s Lawyers

June 26, 2017

The second edition of Tomorrow’s
, updated from its original 2013 publication, ought to be re-titled ‘I told you so’. Professor Susskind has been
writing on the future of the legal profession for the past two decades, gaining
the title of legal futurologist along the way. 2015’s ‘The Future of the Professions’ forecast a future in which
professionals utilised new technology to their benefit, while simultaneously technology
such as AI displaced the work of professionals.

Tomorrow’s Lawyers aims
to serve as a guide for nervous aspiring lawyers, and as a warning to
established and perhaps complacent lawyers – to comfort the afflicted and
afflict the comfortable perhaps?

The theme of the book is discontinuity; when looking to the
future of the professional we cannot any longer extrapolate from the past as
‘pervasive’ technology will result in entirely new ways of delivering legal
services. Susskind identifies three drivers of change; the economic imperative
of businesses and consumers seeking ‘more for less’, a predicted liberalization
of regulatory structures, and the advent of technology – from greater
processing power to wider access to information – which enables this.

Susskind predicts the end of bespoke legal services, with
firms increasing the automation of lower-level work, introducing collaboration between
organisations, and shrinking the human lawyer pool, at least at the entry
levels. Consumers will similarly access law through standardised and lower-cost
online systems. Every legal problem, no matter how complex, can be
‘decomposed’, and broken into constituent tasks, from document review to
advocacy, with a solution sourced for each in different ways, not necessarily all
from a legal provider. Competition will come not from rival legal firms, but
from the ‘Big 4’ accountancy giants with extensive project management

None of this is revolutionary. Private and public sector
organisations have been moving towards a shared services model for some years.
Legal aid cuts have resulted in consumers resorting to ‘decomposed’ or
‘unbundled’ services out of financial necessity.

While the book concentrates on ‘Big Law’, Susskind also
strays into the territory of the courtroom lawyers. He rightly notes that more
people have access to the internet than access to justice, but feels that the
judiciary is overly concerned with dispute resolution instead of ‘dispute
containment’. To Susskind, in such situations it is lawyers not just parties
which need to be contained in order to prevent disputes from escalating, with
‘regular human beings’ preferring there be no dispute, rather than one neatly
resolved by lawyers.

Susskind’s future alternatives to qualified lawyers making
things worse are online legal services staffed by apparently skilled volunteer
non-lawyers, the CAB, free government and charity websites, and chargeable
services from alternative providers. He pays homage to the ‘wiki spirit’ and
quotes William Gibson, but not any of the numerous reports into difficulties
experienced by litigants in person, whom he suggests will be able to find a
lawyer after consulting a tripadvisor-type ratings site.

The population percentage without access to the internet,
given here as less than 5%, is downplayed, and the ability of the other 95% to
investigate their own legal problem because they can use Google is perhaps
overstated. The book also assumes further deregulation of currently reserved
legal services will happen across a range of jurisdictions, something which
will be resisted on a country-by-country basis.

Lawyers will be expected to provide a great deal of their
advice for free, ignoring the retention problems for those at the junior bar
who struggle to survive financially. Similarly Susskind’s vision of
sophisticated online systems with embedded legal rules which will literally
prevent potential litigants inputting a mistake reads like the predictions of a
man who has never encountered a government IT project.

Susskind also wants to bring e-working to the judges,
delivering ‘tomorrow’s courts’, and has done considerable work for the
government on the provision of Online Dispute Resolution (ODR), heading their
advisory group for low value civil claims. His solution is a multi-tiered
system, which is part of the courts service, and government funded, and which
attempts to facilitate a resolution pre-hearing. However this still remains a
technologically facilitated improvement of an existing trend towards ODR,
rather than an emerging concept.

Susskind has interesting things to say about the glut of law
students chasing roles in a contracting market, and the need for Big Law to
adapt to changing consumer demands, and presents a coherent vision for
adaptability and flexibility. Where the book is less strong is around the
future of civil justice and the effect on individual litigants of ODR and their
inability to obtain qualified advice. This is surprising given Susskind’s
obvious commitment over many years to improving access to justice. His technological
vision can appear Pollyanna-ish for a man who has seen many a court system ‘upgrade’
crash and burn, and seems not to appreciate that while technology will allow
greater access to online legal advice, the litigant may not be in a position to
properly evaluate its merits.

‘Even my fiercest
critics will concede that…I have been right more often than I have been wrong’
states in his introduction. The future is presented as inevitable, with ‘law’
delivered efficiently, cheaply and quickly, but with less questioning of how
that law is delivered with sufficient quality. 

Cathryn Evans is about to start her
BPTC at City University, having undertaken her LLB at UCL and LLM at QMUL. She
is interested in criminal law and civil liberties.

For more on Tomorrow’s Lawyers, click here.
It is also available as an ebook.