It’s always interesting to hear what thought leaders in other fields are saying about the future of their profession. A recent Oxford University Press podcast features Richard Susskind who is (among other things) Visiting Professor in Internet Studies at the Oxford University Internet Institute. He is also the author of The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the nature of legal services. In the podcast, Susskind outlines some of the key challenges facing the legal profession and recommends some fundamental changes. Not only will the future landscape in which lawyers work be transformed but the lawyers themselves will look quite different.
The pressure on costs will transform the legal profession
The prohibitive costs of going to law will mean that customers will be looking for more value for money. Even though there will be an increase in legislation and regulation, there will be pressure to reduce the number of in-house lawyers in corporate institutions. Those left behind will need to do more with less – Susskind suggests that legal budgets may be squeezed by 30-50%. The figure is so high that fundamental changes are required. Although high end legal work is not so price sensitive, other legal services will need to be delivered in new ways. Susskind suggests that legal work will be broken down into component parts and work that can be carried out more cheaply – though outsourcing or subcontracting for example, will be identified.
New structures required
The challenge of these new models is to the profitability of law firms. The ‘old school’ pyramid structure in law firms will become less relevant because other suppliers will provide the services currently supplied by junior lawyers.
New service providers
The liberalisation of the legal profession will see new players delivering services. The legal market is currently worth £25 billion per year in England and Wales and unsurprisingly other players are looking to take some of the action. Susskind suggests that individuals with experience of running businesses in other sectors could transform the provision of legal services. For example, NHS Online has managed to distil health and medical information for the layperson and it must surely be possible to do something similar for law.
Physical vs virtual spaces
More legal services can and will be offered outside of the ‘physical’ spaces of the courtroom. There will continue to be an increase in online dispute resolution for example.
New models of collaboration
Collaboration is another way to cut costs. Clients could share costs with like-minded others in either non-competitive industries or even share non-commercial services with competitors. For example, banks could collaborate to manage compliance issues.
Susskind says that lawyers should not be fixated on current or historic representations of ‘what lawyers do’. For him the key attributes needed to make the most of the new opportunities opening up are nerve and imagination.
Something to aspire to!