This afternoon’s lawyers: Part 1

In the continuation of his career long narrative about the evolution of the legal services market and the people who deliver those services Richard Susskind’s Tomorrow’s Lawyers draws a fairly detailed picture of some of the types of legal professionals we should expect to see in the future. Susskind describes these professionals in detail, putting them into groups with specific names (some of my favorites include ‘The Legal Knowledge Engineer,’ ‘The Online Dispute Resolution Practitioner,” and ‘The Legal Management Consultant’).

Listen, Dick Susskind’s a smart dude. He’s an OBE (ugly American that I am, I can’t figure out whether that means he’s an
actual knight), he has his own Wikipedia entry, and he’s written a bunch of great books. He’s the legal tech Moses. And yet, as I’m busy in my own little corner of the world trying to figure out how to help lawyers be awesome today I feel like there may be a step between today and the vision of the specific types of lawyers laid out in Tomorrow‘s Lawyers.

One specific reason I’m bearish on immediate prospects for tomorrow’s lawyers is that I’ve watched a couple of people try to fill the specific roles Susskind lays out in the book. While I am as optimistic and even booster-ish as anyone for these kinds of roles one of these people who took one of these roles said to me “I know that the legal profession is supposed to look more like me than a traditional lawyer, but I don’t see it in the market today.”

The other reason I think there’s a gap comes back to demand. Regular readers will know I’ve been thinking a lot about demand lately and the important question of “will anyone use, let alone buy, the thing/service/product you are offering?” I’m concerned that the demand for Tomorrow’s Lawyers, as least as they’re currently described and named in the book, is not there yet. And if no one’s buying what you’re selling, you’ve got a problem.

So, what to do? Well, let’s talk about how technology is reshaping our economy in broader strokes and see what we can apply to Tomorrow’s Lawyers.

One thing the internet does well is lower barriers to information and expertise. It also eases the delivery of information-based services. For legal service providers this means they have access to a larger and more diverse market (read “new customers”) and they have the opportunity to deliver different types of services (read “new products”).

Let’s tease these apart for a moment. Regarding new customers, the internet means that legal services can be delivered remotely much more easily – have a relative that died on the other side of the country? You don’t necessarily need to travel there. You can hire and retain a lawyer without ever setting foot in your deceased relative’s state. Dealing with a legal problem that’s largely driven by federal law – say immigration, tax, or patent – you can acquire help from anyone in the country who is licensed to solve your problem. One’s options for hiring a lawyer are no longer limited by geography.

Regarding new products, the internet is transforming the way people consume information. The possibilities for lawyers here are many, but a few simple examples are the plethora of incorporation and startup advice big firms like Perkins, or Cooley, or Goodwin Proctor, and others are giving away as a marketing loss leader. Another example is the Avvo Q and A forum that generates tons of online real estate for savvy lawyers and delivers to them clients who are that much closer to being ready to hire a lawyer. I’m also a big fan of Jonathan Tobin’s subscription Creator’s Legal Program.  

Whether it’s building a new product for an entirely new customer, tweaking an existing product to sell to a repeat customer, or some combination of the two, there are some basic skills lawyers must develop in order to stay economically and professionally relevant today and simultaneously prepare for tomorrow. For convenience in discussing it, we’ll call this period between today and tomorrow “this afternoon” and in the next blog I’ll share some of the specific skills that I believe will characterize this afternoon’s lawyers.


If you think you might be one of this afternoon’s lawyers or want to tap into a group of folks who style themselves that way, join the RightBrainLaw mailing list.