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What Susskind’s ABA Techshow Keynote Means for Independent U.S.-Based Contract Lawyers

Richard SusskindFrom 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:

bespoke (customized)>standardized>systematized>packaged>commoditized

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?

Comments (3)

  1. Reply Venkat

    I think contracting work out to lawyers will only increase as the big firms take hits and work goes away from the bigger firms. I agree that contract lawyers are well poised to take advantage of the changes and we may see a class of contract lawyers. (This seemed much less possible 10 years ago, where contract lawyers seemed to live at the fringes at bit more.) Work from home options will only increase this trend.

    I don’t disagree with this. I also agree that many tasks will be performed by non-lawyers. Sending down web-content/copyright take-down notices is a good example. I had a client who had a frequent need for this. Eventually we just decided that I would put together a sort of training on what steps to take and a company-side employee could handle it.

    Susskind still seems heavy on the buzzwords though..I instinctively recoil when I see buzzword-heavy speaking or writing 🙂


  2. […] As Karen Sloan writes in a recent National Law Journal article (for full article, click here) ”cost-conscious clients are more willing than ever to retain smaller outfits that offer lower rates, and new solos can build their practice on that foundation.”   And there are more and more freelance opportunities as discussed by Lisa Solomon in a recent post (click here). […]

  3. […] Solomon, What Susskind’s ABA Techshow Keynote Means for Independent US-Based Contract Lawyers, (Apr. 12, […]

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