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Tomorrow's Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future (Third Edition, 2023)

By Richard Susskind

If you are reading the third edition of Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future for the first time, you may well wonder: Haven’t some of “tomorrow’s lawyers” already arrived today, given that the first edition of the book was published in 2012? Surely, with the rapid technological changes in the past decade, we should now be seeing numerous disruptive, innovative and transformative law firms. Professor Richard Susskind, however, paints a more modest picture of the gains made by the global legal profession 10 years on, observing that we are merely “at the foothills of technological change in law”.

Readers of the first or second edition of Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future will no doubt be familiar with Professor Susskind’s theory of the three drivers of change in the global legal market that he reiterates in Chapter 1 of the new edition: the “more-for-less” challenge, liberalization and technology. The first driver – how can clients get more legal services at less cost? – assumes that the demand for legal services will only increase in “an increasingly regulated and complex world”. But the “big question”, as Professor Susskind posits, is whether this increased demand will be met by traditional law firms or alternative legal service providers.

On the second driver (liberalization), Professor Susskind points to the opening up of the legal industry in many common law countries such as England and Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Scotland and most recently the United States, with the introduction of alternative business structures (essentially legal businesses owned by non-lawyers) being one of the most prominent changes. He views resistance to liberalization as essentially futile – “[l]awyers should survive and thrive because they bring value to society that others cannot, and not because they regulate others out of the field”.

The final driver (technology) probably needs the least explanation as it is all around us. Web3, GPT-3 and blockchain are just a few of the innovative technologies that he discusses in the book, albeit briefly. Professor Susskind acknowledges that “most lawyers do now accept that technology will affect them”, but suggests that the real challenge is for lawyers to adopt innovative technologies, and not merely use “lawtech” tools to automate what they currently do in practice today.

In the post-pandemic era that we now live in, it is perhaps trite to say that the Covid-19 pandemic has played a significant role in compelling lawyers to re-examine their operating paradigms. Predictably, Professor Susskind devotes one new chapter (Chapter 2) early in the updated edition to analyzing its impact on the legal profession. He notes that the pandemic had “in effect, accelerated numerous technological advances that [he had] discussed in [his] work over the years”. However, he cautions against drawing any conclusive findings from the new remote working technologies that lawyers had to employ to serve their clients. While the agile adoption of such technologies has been “remarkable”, he does not think that “the legal profession has irreversibly and comprehensively embraced technology”. Much work remains to be done in adopting “[t]he more ambitious and transformational technologies” such as artificial intelligence.

Three other new chapters in the third edition of the book are “The Grid” (Chapter 7), “Lawtech Start-ups” (Chapter 10) and “Innovation” (Chapter 21). In particular, “The Grid” (Chapter 7) offers a number of simplified frameworks (using a four-quadrant layout) to help law firm managers to strategize and plan the use of legal technology in their law firms and understand how they relate to client expectations. The other two chapters explore the phenomenon of start-ups in the global legal profession (some of which were in fact initiated by law firms) and develop his argument that law firms need to effect “radical change” through “second-generation” legal innovations. The latter includes features such as “new business models” and what he calls “proactive innovation” which aims to “secure sustainable competitive advantage”.

Another interesting chapter is “New Jobs for Lawyers” (Chapter 16) where the author lists 15 new opportunities for lawyers, five of which were not found in the second edition of the book. These additions are legal design thinker, legal no-coder, legal data visualizer, digital security guard and moderator. These job titles may sound fanciful, but young tech-savvy lawyers would no doubt be familiar with the use of design thinking and data visualization in non-legal fields. A “legal no-coder” may also sound somewhat obscure, but in fact “no-code” or “low-code” tools to chart legal processes (without the need for computer programming expertise) are already in use in the legal profession.

Whether you buy in to Professor Susskind’s arguments about the future of the legal profession may well depend on whether you are a “pragmatist” or a “purist”. The Covid-19 pandemic has greatly reinforced his arguments for online courts and online dispute resolution, which are set out in detail in his 2019 book Online Courts and the Future of Justice. In Chapter 14 of Tomorrow’s Lawyers, he frankly acknowledges that he is inclined to “the pragmatic rather than the purist way forward” for online courts, even to the extent of allowing machines to replace judges in making some judicial decisions. This is admittedly a controversial view, given the opaqueness of machine learning systems and the danger of relying on biased data. Nevertheless, it is well worth considering how one would respond to his question: “even on a cautious or negative analysis of the dangers and limitations of current machine learning, would it not be better on at least some occasions to dispose of cases by predictive systems rather than leave parties to wait for the human judicial decision that will never come?”

If you are an aspiring or a young (or young-at-heart) lawyer, there is no better time than now to pick up Professor Susskind’s book to appreciate one possible trajectory that the global legal profession may take in the next 10-20 years. It would be best not to wait for the fourth edition of Tomorrow’s Lawyers, as you may by then have become one of “yesterday’s lawyers”.

All views expressed or reflected in this article are those of the author and are not reflective of the views of The Law Society of Singapore.

Tomorrow’s Lawyers is available at Books Kinokuniya and Amazon.

Author: Alvin Chen

First Published in the April 2023 issue of the Singapore Law Gazette