Recently Richard Susskind delivered the Society for Computers & Law's annual lecture on the topic of "The Next Ten Years". The title was chosen as it is now ten years since he delivered a similar SCL lecture outlining the ideas contained in what was to become his best-selling book The Future of Law and because it marks the half-way point in what Susskind believes is a transition in legal services that will take 20 years to complete. In his lecture Susskind reviewed progress over the past decade and gave his revised predictions for the future.
In his review of the last ten years he wonders why we are not more amazed at the pace of development: the exponential growth of the Internet (over one billion users); e-mail; laptops; blogs; knowledge management and such like. Perhaps the explanation is "hedonistic adaptation" - our ability to absorb new developments and move on without much effort. Yet as stunning as these developments are, we are merely warming up and the pace of development in the coming decade will be more profound than during the last.
He predicts that technology is heading towards an exponential growth, where processing power will be such that we will achieve information satisfaction - the ability to personalise what we need to know and to get it whenever we want it. Another key trend he identified was the growth of community collaboration - a "symantic web" - and knowledge-sharing, the online Wikipedia encyclopaedia and the growing use of open source technology being examples of this. IT is becoming second nature for young lawyers of the "net generation", resulting in advice and information being increasingly delivered via multimedia. Such trends will mean that the concept of intellectual property will have to be rethought.
He also introduced a new five-stage model that explains the evolution of legal services from being a bespoke service to one where the service is fully commoditised and the same across all firms, with price being the only differentiator. Lawyers will resent such a move as it devalues what they do and a balance will have to emerge. But ultimately, "it is likely, or at least possible, in most areas, that a law firm will break rank and charge towards the right [commoditised end], and in so doing will be able to undercut the prices within the market."
It will be futile, he concludes, to resist the shift.
Pod cast of the lecture