From April 2-4, I had the pleasure of attending ABA Techshow in Chicago. The much-anticipated keynote speaker was Richard Susskind, author of The End of Lawyers?: Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services.
Susskind’s presentation expanded on his central thesis, which is that, in the next ten years or so, advances in technology will change, in fundamental ways, how legal services are delivered. While others have summarized the address as a whole, or focused on various subtopics (such as Susskind’s comments about social networking), I’ll be concentrating here on two aspects of the talk that hold particular interest for independent U.S.-based contract lawyers.
First, Susskind explained that the provision of legal services will increasingly be decomposed into component tasks that can be “multi-sourced”: in other words, each component task can be delivered, by different providers, in a manner lying somewhere on the following continuum:
A few of the types of multi-sourcing he listed fall squarely within the experience of today’s contract lawyers. (I should note here that Susskind did not have time to define each type of sourcing; in this post I am using generally-accepted definitions of the terms he used. If you’ve read his book, I invite you to expand on his definitions of these terms.)
Of the twelve types of sourcing models Susskind touched upon, “outsourcing,” is one of the broadest (and is the term that is probably most familiar to contract lawyers). As Wikipedia defines it, “outsourcing” is “subcontracting a process . . . to a third-party company.” In this sense, all work performed by a contract lawyer has been outsourced by the hiring attorney. Susskind also separately mentioned subcontracting as a sourcing model; I would be interested to learn more about the distinction he draws between outsourcing and subcontracting. Most contract lawyers are also a prime example of homeshoring, which, although commonly defined as “the transfer of service industry employment from offices to home-based employees with appropriate telephone and Internet facilities,” can also include the provision of professional services from a worker’s home.
Second, although Susskind predicts that, under pressure from clients who seek lower cost and greater predictability, an increasing percentage of legal work will be provided in a manner that falls farther and farther towards the right side of the continuum illustrated above, as my friend (and Techshow roommate) Nicole Black observed, Susskind specifically noted in both his speech and his book that litigation practices would be affected the least by technological changes because litigation matters are very fact specific, and because litigators must necessarily appear in court. The fact-specific nature of litigation means that there will always be a demand for contract lawyers who can provide high-quality legal research and writing services. The “face time” required in many litigation matters means that busy solos will continue to seek the assistance of contract lawyers who can handle “outside” work such as depositions and court appearances.
In my view, independent U.S.-based contract lawyers are well-positioned to ride the wave of technological innovation into the legal landscape of the future. Are you ready?