No end of lawyers!

If you happen to be in Oxford today, there's a little treat in store for you. "The End of Lawyers? The Future of Legal Service in the Internet Age", is an address delivered from 1600 to 1700pm by Professor Richard Susskind OBE at the Gulbenkian Lecture Theatre, Oxford Faculty of Law, St Cross Building, St Cross Road, Oxford OX1 3UL. A reception will follow the lecture, which anyone can attend -- but can they please email first, presumably to ensure an adequate supply of wine and peanuts. This lecture will lay out the central arguments of Richard Susskind's latest book, published by Oxford University Press, The End of Lawyers? According to the IPKat's information, Professor Susskind will argue that,
"in this time of grave economic uncertainty, the market will no longer tolerate traditional, expensive lawyers who handcraft tasks that can be better discharged with the support of modern systems and techniques. He will claim that the legal profession will be driven by two forces in the coming decade: by a market pull towards the commoditisation of legal services, and by the pervasive uptake of disruptive, internet-based technologies. The threat here for lawyers is clear - their jobs may well be eroded or even displaced. At the same time, for entrepreneurial lawyers, Susskind foresees quite different law jobs emerging which may be highly rewarding, even if very different from those of today".
The IPKat is having none of this. Traditional, expensive lawyers are a product of the market in the same way as traditional, cheap lawyers are -- and in the UK there are far more thin cats than fat ones if the statistics are anything to go by. Merpel agrees: commoditisation of legal services and the pervasive uptake of disruptive, internet-based technologies will affect the legal profession at the lower end of the market, where legal services are more amenable to commoditisation, but will enable the expensive, specialist kind (the species to which IP lawyers aspire) to deliver their expensive services more efficiently and profitably.
No end of lawyers! No end of lawyers! Reviewed by Jeremy on Tuesday, December 02, 2008 Rating: 5


  1. Professor Susskind can also be heard on the Radio 4's Start the Week programme from of 1 December 2008 (available as a podcast and on Listen Again). Quite entertaining, really, if you're into fantasy fiction ...

  2. Remind me: does "the death of the lawyer" come before or after "the end of hourly rates"? And will "the paperless office" arrive before either of them? ;-)

  3. There will be no end to hourly rates if lawyers keep referring to "1600-1700pm". I only thought it was possible to bill until 11.59pm but does IPKAT work even later? Another 1588 hours in fact? Per day?

  4. To lighten things up - a joke. A famous lawyer dies and arrives at the Pearly gates. He meets St Peter, who makes a tremendous fuss of the new arrival, asking him all sorts of questions about his life and shaking his hand vigorously. The lawyer, suitably flattered, says "Gosh, I won a few cases in my time, but I didn't think you'd be so impressed", to which St Peter replies "Well it's not so much your career that interests me, its the fact that, according to my records and based on the number of hours you billed your clients, you are 278 years old!".

  5. Out of curiosity - do EU/UK lawyers have the same rules for unauthorized practice of law that the U.S. does? I would think this would prohibit at least some commoditization of the field.

    -Anonymous U.S. IP lawyer.

  6. Mine was the original anonymous comment and, on reflection, I feel I should add that I work in an area of law (or at least a firm) where most of what can be done by a computer already is. In fact, to some extent I would say that some of what ought not to be done by a computer is, too, but that's the partners' (and their insurers') problem.

    Where that leaves me is spending my days doing value add work and charging by the hour. For me, this has not changed over the last ten years (although the computers used to be clerks).

    My main issue with Professor Susskind's thesis, as discussed in the Start the Week programme (I haven't read the book), is that it seems to be unsustainable. Lawyers and (I'll give it away, here) patent attorneys have to be trained, and I simply can't accept that a computer system can be developed (in the near future) which can do the training, at the same time as keeping itself up-to-date. What does this computer system change in its training of, say, Australian patent attorneys to draft patent specifications in light of KSR v Teleflex? Or G02/06?

  7. Susskind is also a one-trick pony. Sounds to me he has written again the same book he keeps writing. I wonder if he is in breach of the doubtless exclusive copyright licences he gave to earlier publishers.

  8. If anyone interested in this topic happens to be in Sydney on 17 December, the New South Wales Society for Computers and the Law is holding an event entitled "Will Legal Expert Systems Determine Standards of Professional Duty of Care?".

    At the event, a "sample quality control application of eGanges [will be] shown along with a large complex application of the Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorism Financing Act 2006 Cth.

    For more information, contact the society.


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