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Commentary – Is There a Future for Solos and Small Firms?

Sam Glover: “Susskind’s most-recent book, Tomorrow’s Lawyers, is short and worth a read, but I will try to do it justice in brief. Basically, the future according to Susskind will come about due to three drivers of change:

  1. Clients, who are demanding more work for less money  2. Liberalization, or the spread of non-lawyer ownership; and 3. Technology

In the near future, cost will be the biggest driver of change. On the big-corporations-and-big-firms end of the spectrum, Susskind says in-house counsel are being pressured to reduce their legal “spend” by 30–50%. I recently covered the other end of the spectrum, at which lots of people cannot afford the legal help they need. The bottom line is that people and corporations cannot or will not pay the same prices today or going forward that they have been paying — or at least, were paying up until 2006 or so. Downward pressure on legal fees, Susskind believes, must drive sweeping changes to the way firms and clients operate. The end result is that few clients will tolerate lawyers who bill time for doing work that does not require a law degree, and the amount of “bespoke” legal work performed by lawyers will shrink as far as possible. Some of the things lawyers do now (document review, legal research, project management, negotiation) do not require a law degree. Lawyers will not be doing those things. Some of the things that require a law degree (everything LegalZoom does) do not require a human being. Lawyers will not be doing those things, either. What’s left? Litigators will still be around for strategy, tactics, and advocacy. Transactional lawyers will still be around for bespoke drafting and legal advice. The rest of the lawyers will be performing non-traditional roles, which Susskind describes in Chapter 11 of Tomorrow’s Lawyers. Here they are, as he names them:

  • legal knowledge engineer; legal technologist; legal hybrid; legal process analyst; legal project manager; online dispute resolution (ODR) practitioner; legal management consultant; legal risk manager

If those sound more like supporting roles than what you went to law school for, then you are on the right track. None of them require a law degree, and all of them require skills not currently taught in law schools. Those are tomorrow’s lawyers, according to Susskind, with the exception of the few (“expert trusted advisors” and “enhanced practitioners”) who manage to find a traditional role to play.”

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