Brief Comments on Susskind’s “The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services”

There have been numerous blog posts in the blogosphere on Richard Susskind’s new book, The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, including a recent post from Adam Smith, Esq. and several SLAW posts.

I finally read the book last night and enjoyed it, although it is largely a continuation of many of the same trends in the legal profession that Susskind has previously identified, essentially being “a market pull towards commoditization and [a] pervasive development and uptake of information technology” (p. 1). However, the book remains essential reading for anyone connected to the legal profession.

Rather than attempting a more fulsome review, here are three brief comments on passages that particularly caught my eye:

1) Legal Wikipedia (p. 128): Susskind is optimistic that a law-related Wikipedia will arise: “[W]e should not be surprised when, in the manner of Wikipedia, legal content and experience is user-generated and gathered on a mass collaboration basis . . . . I am suggesting that wiki-like legal facilities will spring up and will be available to all Internet users” (p. 128). He correctly acknowledges that such content is more likely to be built by consumers of legal services rather than lawyers. However, I remain sceptical (SLAW has discussed legal wikis numerous times, including my own naïve proposal for a free web-based legal encylopedia).

The main difference between Wikipedia and a specific law-related wiki (such as WikiLaw or is the disproportionately small number of potential contributors to, and users of, a purely law-related wiki compared to a much broader audience for Wikipedia. In addition, the complexity of law and the fact that laws are always changing add to the challenge of training to maintain a law-related wiki. Susskind acknowledges this challenge elsewhere in the book when he discusses BaiLII – making case law and legislation freely available is great (and a necessary first step) but BaiLII and the other legal information institutes cannot “solve” legal problems or provide advice. Perhaps the best chance for law-related wikis would be in the areas affecting consumer law, landlord and tenant, and the like, where the law is relatively straightforward and the need fairly high.

2) Importance of knowledge management in law firms: Susskind identifies that knowledge management in large law firms will typically fail where the attempt is to apply a single knowledge management system (such as a search engine) to the entire firm and across all practice areas, without taking into account the differing needs of practice groups and the changing role of lawyers (p. 41). However, he is also clear that knowledge management (or knowledge systems) – properly applied – are key to turning knowledge into value for clients (pp. 158-60) (sometimes referred to as creating actionable knowledge. I therefore felt relatively smug to have part of my work validated in this context.

3) Evolutions of types of lawyers in the future: Susskind predicts there will be five types of lawyers in the future (pp. 271-73): the expert trusted adviser, the enhanced practitioner, the legal knowledge engineer, the legal risk manager, and the legal hybrid (read the book to get the details of each category). Personally, there is not likely too much future for me in the first two categories (and there likely never was) but I am intrigued by the last three categories, many of which would describe colleagues with combined law practice and information science working experience working in the field of knowledge management.

Of course, the future is difficult to predict (and this point is made in the book) but the need for a flexible approach to adapt to changing client needs and market pressures is essential.

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