“Yeah! That told you, Susskind!”

More conservative reaction in the Law Society Gazette letter pages this week.

The letter author wonders “Will we now see Professor Susskind eat a large slice of humble pie, presumably at the creditors’ meetings of those defunct practices?”

This is because two large conveyancing factories/organisations folded last week. According to the letter author they were the “Biggest examples of firms who followed …Susskind’s regular entreaties… to `commoditise’ legal work.”

Not quite the point is it?

1. Just because those models failed does not mean that legal practice can remain static.

2. Those ventures failed because of the downturn in the property market and economy generally and the massive reduction in bank interest rates, not because of lack of need for legal practices to adapt to technological advances.

3. Susskind does not suggest that legal services should be commoditised in any event. That is a frequently repeated shorthand reduction of the argument. There are no less than 3 levels of work between the conventional bespoke level and the far side of commoditisation.

What Susskind advocates, if I have understood the book correctly, and I think I have, is not that we rush to commoditisation at all. Instead, consider where we provide value to our clients, and where the intervening grades of service might enable us to provide those services in a fashion more in keepng with the markets changing demands and expectations.

At this time when we are celebrating Darwin’s life and writing, it seems to me that an analogous situation is seen in our own profession between those who embrace evolution – a word Susskind does use in place of commoditisation – of legal services and the legal profession’s equivalent of creationist thinking.


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2 responses to ““Yeah! That told you, Susskind!”

  1. Nice one Neil

    Don’t blame the messenger, I say.

    Conveyancing was the first legal process to be packaged and thence commoditised, way back in the mid 80s, well before Susskind articulated his thesis.

    Susskind is a convenient target for those in denial. But he’s just telling it like it is:

    “He’s not making this stuff up, and he’s not just throwing darts at a board. He gathers all the facts on the ground and trends in the air (the unprecedented pressures on the traditional legal marketplace), ties these disparate strands together, and figures out where they logically must lead. As a result, his conclusions aren’t nearly as radical as they might seem — they’re the natural outcomes of forces and developments that he clearly has demonstrated are already taking shape.”

    – Jordan Furlong on Law 21 http://www.law21.ca/2009/02/10/book-review-the-end-of-lawyers/

  2. Interesting post Neil.

    Where these conservative responses fall down (in my view) is in assuming that we have some kind of choice about elements of legal services becoming commoditised.

    The reality is that even in the most complex areas of law there are large parts of the work which are capable of being commoditised. What we have at the moment is a “perfect storm” of technology and de-regulation which will assist market forces in making this happen.

    There is obviously room for debate about how best to react to this, but I can’t see any logic to suggest that the collapse of these mass conveyancing operations supports an approach of clinging to the traditional model of legal practice.

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