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Tomorrows Corporate Lawyers: Some thoughts on Richard Susskind's Five Categories

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I just read a very interesting article by Richard Susskind (author of The End of Lawyers) on Law.com today.[1]  In it he discussed what he predicts will be the five types of corporate lawyers in the future. These are:

  • expert trusted lawyer

    "[T]he provider of bespoke legal service." Predicted to become increasingly rare as legal servers are commoditized, but there will always be some occasions where it will be unavoidable.

  • enhanced practitioner

    This is the lawyer who will support the provision of "standardized,  systematized and (when in-house) packaged legal service." Again, the amount of such work in the future will be less than today. Much of this work being done by lawyers today can, and will, be done by paralegals, non-lawyer litigation support staff, and legal assistants. In the future, Susskind argues, lawyer involvement will only be tolerated where legal experience is really needed.

  • legal knowledge worker

    These will be the people who create, monitor, and progressively elaborate on the standardized processes and documents.  Susskind sees this as an emerging field that will not only create many opportunities for lawyers, but will become "the central occupation for tomorrow's lawyers."
  • legal risk manager

    "This category of lawyer is sorely needed and is long overdue. Senior in-house lawyers around the world insist that they are in the business of legal risk management -- clients prefer to avoid legal problems than resolve them. And yet, my research suggests that hardly a lawyer or law firm on the planet has chosen to develop methods, tools, techniques or systems to help their clients review, identify, quantify and control the legal risks that they face. I expect this to change."

    "Urgent demand from the market will lead lawyers (where possible, perhaps bolstered and emboldened by external funding) to offer a wide range of proactive legal services whose focus will be on anticipating and pre-empting legal problems."  

  • legal hybrid

    [S]uccessful lawyers of the future...will be increasingly multi-disciplinary. Many already claim that they are deeply steeped in neighboring disciplines, as project managers, strategy and management consultants, market experts, deal-brokers and more. In truth, though, most of these forays into other fields are not strategically conceived, formally planned or supported by rigorous training. They are rather ad hoc and piecemeal initiatives. In contrast, legal hybrids of the future will be superbly schooled and genuinely expert in these related disciplines and will be able to extend the range of the services they provide in a way that adds value to their clients.

I think Susskind could tighten up the above categories. "Knowledge worker" is rather vague, are not all lawyers today knowledge workers? Perhaps "legal process engineer" doesn't fully capture all he is trying to convey, but "knowledge worker" is too mushy for my taste. Also, does the "legal risk manager" really need to be broken into a category separate from the knowledge worker? Shouldn't anyone engineering the processes also engage in risk management? 

While one may quibble about the categories, the overall trend away from lawyers providing bespoke legal services is hard to argue with. That the commoditization of legal services is gathering momentum is evidenced by increased acceptance of outsourcing legal work to lower-cost lawyers overseas and domestic, non-lawyer, legal-support talent. It is also evidenced in the increasing downward pressure on U.S. contract attorney wages for work such as document review.  I also believe that growth of legal support organizations and certificate programs (for paralegal, litigation support, e-discovery, etc.) are also related to the increased commoditization of legal work.

Lawyers who resist this trend will find it increasingly difficult to compete. But this trend is also creating new opportunities for lawyers who can adapt. Susskind's "legal knowledge worker" category recognizes that legal expertise (training and experience) is necessary to set up and suppervise the systems churing out commoditized services. Also, I would add--and I'm surprised I don't see more discussion about this--that a lawyer's professional ethics brings exceptional value to the supervision of commoditized processes.

Susskind's ideas as set forth in his book, articles, and speech are often met with resistance from lawyers. The title of his book The End of Lawyers doesn't help. Yet, as he points out in this article, the news isn't all bleak. Technology and globalization have caused radical change in many industries. This has caused disruption and some pain at times, but it has also created a great deal of opportunity. Lawyers who learn to adapt can still thrive.

Much of what lawyers learn in law school will continue to be relevant to the legal knowledge worker, but there are many skills needed by future lawyers not taught in law school. For now, new lawyers must take responsibility for future-proofing their careers. This can include:

  • dual JD/MBA programs;

  • obtaining training and certification in project management and process improvement standards and methodologies (PMP, SIx Sigma, TQM, etc.); 

  • becoming familiar with current legal technologies, including case management, litigation project management, document assembly, business process mapping, knowledge management, and collaboration applications;

  • joining and remaining active in aligned professional organizations, including ARMA, PMI, ALSP, and others; 

  • gaining international experience; usually, we only hear about the negative effects of globalization, but the opening of legal markets creates opportunities for U.S. lawyers as well;

  • most importantly, develop your connections and rain making skills; position yourself as a trusted adviser.



[1] Richard Susskind, Five Types of Corporate Lawyers Predicted for the Future, The Corporate Lawyer, Oct. 19, 2009, available at http://www.law.com/jsp/article.jsp?id=1202434690687&Five_Types_of_Corporate_Lawyers_Predicted_for_the_Future

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This is guest post by Antony Smith, a solicitor by training with qualifications and experience in project management. He is the owner of Legal Project Management Limited, and offers legal-project management services to legal-service providers... Read More

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This page contains a single entry by Paul C. Easton published on October 18, 2009 9:12 AM.

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