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Richard Susskind on the future of law

In the latest episode of the Oxford Law Vox podcast Richard Susskind talks to George Miller about the gaining momentum of technology and AI in the law profession. They discuss just how vital it is that lawyers learn to reinvent themselves and work alongside technology.

He also address the importance of the opportunity young lawyers have to bring about and be a major part of social change in the legal profession.

Below are selected excerpts from their extensive conversation, with access to the full episode on the Oxford Law Vox, as well as a bonus episode on his longstanding interest in technological change.

George began by asking about Richard’s motivation for writing the second edition of the book.

“When I read through the book I realised it really wasn’t serving its purpose anymore … I don’t think the tone or the message has changed. The messages are the same – that if we want to improve access to justice in our society then technology provides a great route. I think our law schools are still out of step. I think if you are a conventional lawyer and you’re not prepared to adapt to the [2020’s] you’ll struggle to survive, but if you are entrepreneurial and enthusiastic, forward looking, open minded, then there’s probably never been a more exciting time to be in the law.”

Richard addressed the issue that the people who are most supportive of innovation in the profession often do not yet have the power to implement change.

“If you don’t have a group of leaders within your business that are supportive of technology and you are sitting there as a junior lawyer who has all sorts of ideas for rethinking legal services … you’re probably not in the right business, I’m afraid. It’s very hard to manage upwards and to help fundamentally rejig, reorganise your firm if you’re a very junior partner or not a partner at all … Now is the time to think less about safety and more about legacy. What is it as a business that we’re leaving to the generation that’s coming through? … More often we call a firm innovative by referring to the group of people who happen to be running it at one point in time, who are forward-looking, and there’s not a lot you can do about that if you haven’t got that group of leaders. As I say, you may have to find a firm that actually does support new ideas and innovation and change.”

They discussed if Richard felt that there are new career options opening up for lawyers which are as stimulating and rewarding as conventional roles.

“I do but others don’t, by which I mean I think there’s certainly a whole new range of legal jobs emerging … I go back to this general phenomenon that we are seeing across society that so many different sectors have had to reinvent themselves, people have had to retool and retrain … The question about whether or not there is a viable legal profession out there really is a question of whether or not there will be a sufficiency of new tasks for lawyers that will emerge for lawyers to do …

I say to young students – you are wanting to make the world a better place, you’re studying law, you want to help people understand their entitlements. So one thing is you can go out and learn a lot as a lawyer and you can advise maybe 10,000 clients in your career. How about actually instead developing an online system that can help a few million people, why don’t you use your legal knowledge in different ways?”

George ended by addressing Richard’s optimism that there are positive developments happening in the profession to encourage legal access for all.

“We are expected all of us under the law to know of our rights and obligations and yet it has become a perilous system to which very few of us have ready and reasonable access, and I think that’s tragic and we need to do something about it … A system that can help us avoid having disputes in the first place, whether it be by public access to legal materials, public legal education, online legal services, better advisory services and so forth. It’s important I think that people have ready access to the law that’s applicable to them … We should want our systems and our technologies to help us, alert us, to occasions not just where there is a legal threat or risk, but also where there is a legal opportunity.”

Featured image credit: ‘Background, Circuit, Grey, Digital’ by 3mikey5000. CCO via Pixabay.

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