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April 22, 2009

Susskind on "The End of Lawyers? The End of Law Schools?" - liveblog

The Harvard Berkman Center's Law Lab sponsored a talk today with Prof. Richard Susskind at Gresham College / University of Strathclyde on the future of the legal profession and legal education. The live video stream can be found here.

Liveblog to follow...

The Future

Black & Decker does not sell drills; they sell holes in the wall. What's the actual value that lawyers offer? Maybe as KMPG describes it: "Transform our knowledge into value for clients."

Today's law firms are too reactive -- they don't anticipate client needs. Clients don't want dispute management but rather risk management.

Automation vs. Innovation: Automation merely systematizes that which already exists.

The Market

Most major clients face a dilemma in three parts:

  1. Pressure to reduce internal headcount
  2. Pressure to increase internal speed
  3. Yet more legal and compliance work than ever (and it's riskier too)

In short: clients want more for less. Two strategies in response:

  1. The efficiency strategy: cutting costs by moving towards commoditization or multi-sourcing. How do we take the costs out of the routine work? Or clients can share costs of similar problems.
  2. The collaboration strategy

(As of 2007, England allows private non-lawyer investments in and management of law firms. This stimulate investment and innovation of business models -- and the genie will be out of the bottle.)


Susskind's model: Bespoke > Standardized > Systematized > Packaged > Commodity

Law schools teach us to think of all problems as bespoke (esp. our study of appeals, Supreme Court), but that just isn't true. In reality, we start with precedent documents, not blank paper; often we even use automated templates. Why can't we package our expertise for clients to use for themselves, just as banks generate their own term sheets? We need to realize that we provide value for the client, that our value is not embedded with the form of our relationship. The last step, commoditization, is likely to happen online, and is often unattractive because the price trends to zero.

Law firms imagine themselves as bespoke, but that is both factually incorrect and strategically misconceived. Clients are strongly pulling towards commodity. We need to chunk client work down into these boxes. And much of it can happen by "multi-sourcing" such as outsourcing, subcontracting, leasing, open-sourcing, computerizing, etc... Who will manage this process?

Information Technology

There's a tendency to resist technology-driven change. But just as email swept law firms, other communication media are also going to transform legal practice.

Four examples of disruptive technologies:

  1. Closed client communities, as is happening across doctors (clients, not law firms, will join to share experiences).
  2. Online dispute resolution
  3. Embedded legal knowledge. [What I call "codelaw" -gk]
  4. Electronic legal marketplace

The Shape of Law Firms

The traditional pyramid, with junior lawyers as profit centers, will change to new modes of sourcing. [How, then, will new lawyers be trained? This was a question I've raised earlier -gk]

Access to Justice

Rolls Royce service for the rich, free services for the poor, nothing for the rest. How about online legal advice, open sourcing of legal materials, establishing communities of experience among "clients." Remember Voltaire: "The perfect is the enemy of the good."


What parts of lawyers' work can be undertaken differently -- more quickly, cheaply, efficiently, or to a higher quality -- using alternative methods of working?

What are lawyers' competitive advantage?

Future jobs for lawyers?

Law Schools?

The curricula of most law schools have serious gaps, because we are training the one-to-one, face-to-face, bespoke crafters. Instead we need more emphasis on complex teams reflecting all of the above. Even in the world today law firms complain about what law schools aren't teaching -- globalization, technology, etc.

Should we extend the mission of law schools to include other disciplines such as risk management, project management, legal knowledge management, and disruptive legal technology.


Some concern about embedded systems appearing to the users as "natural" and not amenable to challenge. Likewise, concern about mistakes becoming hardened inside systems or packages.

Existing disencentives from change, including up-front investment in new systems. But the market is demanding it, and it will eventually get what it wants. Law firms need a more R&D mentality.

Will the firms win or will the new winners be other players? How can you convince a room full of millionaires that their business model is all wrong? Maybe 2/3 will suffer and decline, and we'll see new service providers. Multi-sourcing model may allow US firms to innovate without the need for external investment.

- Gene Koo

April 22, 2009 in Legal profession realities and developments, Teaching -- research, The mission of law schools | Permalink | Comments (6) | TrackBack

Too much of a good thing at the new site The Legal Workshop?

I am pleased to report on a new scholarly on-line project (which I hope will evolve to better achieve its laudatory goals).  The project is the Legal Workshop, and here is its basic mission statement:

The Legal Workshop is a website providing a single online forum for cutting-edge legal scholarship from the top law journals in the country....

The Legal Workshop features “op-ed” versions of the articles published by the member journals. These concise and lively pieces are written for a generalist audience, combining the best elements of print and online publication.

Each Legal Workshop Editorial undergoes the same rigorous editorial treatment and quality screening as the journals’ print content, but readers are able to offer comments and esteemed academics have the option of submitting response pieces, which are checked for citations and substance.

By aggregating the work of multiple law reviews, The Legal Workshop is able to provide frequently updated content. New article-based content is posted every Monday and most Wednesdays and Fridays. The Legal Workshop provides a one-stop forum for readers wishing to stay abreast of contemporary legal scholarship.

Larry Solum has a terrific early analysis here, which includes these three spot-on reactions:

First, the basic idea of creating an outlet for short-form legal scholarship is to be applauded....

Second, I am a bit skeptical of the ambitious claims in the press release about reaching "the general public."...

Third, I am also skeptical about potential for the format of "The Legal Workshop" to produce pieces that will directly influence practitioners -- lawyers and judges, who are most interested in descriptive doctrinal scholarship.

The fact that there is currently only this single criminal law piece now posted on the site, and that it runs nearly 4000 words and proposes a radical change to modern habeas law, confirms all that Larry has to say about this new project.  It is great to have a short-form version of this 70-page habeas article from the Duke Law Review, but I doubt that either the general public or practitioners are going to find the short-form version much more useful and accessible than the long form version. 

Plus, on a very practical level, I will be much less likely to cite the short-form version of the article inbecause its cite form -- which much include this cumbersome URL: http://legalworkshop.org/2009/03/18/habeas-corpus-and-state-sentencing-reform-a-story-of-unintended-consequences -- is much longer than the cite form for the full article.

Posted by DAB

April 22, 2009 in Scholarship -- online | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

April 20, 2009

Rankings leakage and other buzz-worthy stuff around the blogosphere

The US News law school rankings are officially due out later this week, but there is already much buzzing in the blogosphere about the leakage of the (perhaps official) results.  Here is just a sample of all the blog talk on the rankings from various different law professor blogs:

I am, of course, eager to have comments about all the comments about rankings here.  But I would also like to recommend other law school blog reading that, in my opinion, deserves more attention from law professors than the latest round of the usual ranking wrangling:

April 20, 2009 in Rankings | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack