Paul L. Caron

Sunday, November 8, 2015

How Technology Will Transform The Legal Profession

FutureRichard Susskind (Oxford) & Daniel Susskind (Oxford), The Future of the Professions: How Technology Will Transform the Work of Human Experts (Oxford University Press Dec. 1, 2015), reviewed by Paul Lippe (ABA Journal), Will There Be a 'New Deal' for the Legal Profession?:

[T]his is the best of Richard’s books, situating the changes facing the legal profession in both the long history of professions generally and the parallel challenges facing other fields such as medicine, accountancy, architecture, journalists, clergy and teaching.

Richard and Daniel begin by describing the implicit “Grand Bargain” between the professions and society, whereby the professions retained many of the protections (including, perhaps most importantly self-regulation) of the medieval guilds. Professions can define the appropriate nature of their service, the credentials needed to offer it, and enjoy reasonably high prestige and income. In exchange, professionals are expected to maintain their expertise, act honestly and in good faith, and put the interests of clients ahead of their own.

But the Grand Bargain has broken down in at least two ways for law. First, because lawyers have been slow to accept that knowledge about the means needed to deliver services is a necessary concomitant to subject matter expertise. Second, because lawyers are widely perceived as maximizing their own income at least independent from, if not divergent to, the interests of clients. More broadly, professions have seen a breakdown in the traditional information asymmetry. ...[W]ill we see a New Deal replace the Grand Bargain? ...

[T]he Susskinds take a fundamentally optimistic view of the future for law as well as other fields—both the utility of law to society and the utility of and rewards to lawyers. In particular, the Susskinds prefer to avoid the term “disruption,” because they see the trends around technology substitution as innovative and liberating to the consumers of professional services. Lawyers will enjoy new flexibility and skills development and mastery, and the satisfaction of meeting heretofore unmet needs. The broad trend will be “demystification,” and the critical skill the ability to manage data.

The Future of The Professions is an especially useful book for lawyers, because it encourages us to think outside ourselves—both to see the parallels in other fields and to imagine a different future. In the end, it comes down to a simple question: Do we imagine that the future of the (legal and other) professions is to be ever more unique and unlike what else is happening in society and work, or do we imagine that the future of law is to be more like what else is happening in society and work?

Or, as the Susskinds put it: “The professions should survive and prosper because they bring values and benefits that no system or tool can.” To do that, we have to both understand and take the best from the New Normal, and refresh the Grand Bargain through our commitment to being the best profession we can be.

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Where are the clients? Do they get any say in this?

I'm guessing our customers will be the ones who determine the future of our professions. After all, they are footing the bill.

Posted by: Dale Spradling | Nov 9, 2015 1:41:35 PM

What the Susskinds really want to see is a diminution of the rights of doctors, lawyers, etc., to self-organize their conditions of work and structure the sequence, scope, and intensity of automation in their fields in ways not responsive to corporate profit maximization. Sure, some economists will snidely characterize such professions as conspiracies against the public interest—largely because their background assumption about how markets do and should operate is a quaint Jeffersonian vision of perfect competition among actors unburdened by (and not benefiting from) state regulation or help. That vision is unrecognizable in modern finance, health care, food, defense, & myriad other industries. Even Elon Musk’s Tesla is largely a product of industrial policy.

I’d also put the burden on the “automation of the professions” crowd to explain precisely why the professions, but not all occupations, should be automated. I don’t think the Susskinds can answer the charge that their take on automation “proves too much”—i.e., it’s a prelude to singularitarianism. They also give us little sense of why doctors or lawyers are next to be, or will soon be, automated, relative to the 750 or so job types that Frey and Osborne rank in their own study. And Frey/Osborne themselves put lawyers in the low-risk category. Richard Susskind himself, in Transforming the Law (204), recognizes big challenges to full computerization. The review cited here:
is still relevant.

Posted by: Frank P | Nov 9, 2015 9:48:36 AM