‘Lawyers are like plumbers — both will be immune from the tech revolution’

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The legal profession’s ‘Uber moment’ is a long way off, FT says

Image credit: Wiki Commons

Lawyers and plumbers have more in common than you might think, according to an article in the Financial Times that says both are immune from the so-called tech revolution.

The piece’s author, columnist Michael Skapinker, says he recently found himself in a room of lawyers discussing how they traditionally bill by the hour. You can see Legal Cheek’s various reports on crazy billable hours targets and the methods adopted by some firms to ensure they’re met.

One lawyer, Skapinker said, asked in what other job people could “get away” with charging this way. Skapinker responded: “Plumbing.”

Both law and plumbing are “essential services” that “we cannot do without”. He explained that “when a pipe bursts or a toilet stops working, they require immediate attention”, while in terms of commercial law:

“[N]o company would embark on a takeover, buy a building, relocate its head office or fire its chief executive without extensive legal advice. And that is where the largest, hourly billed legal fortunes are made.”

The similarities don’t stop there. The article (£) goes on to explain how “neither plumbing nor law has been significantly disrupted” by technological advancements, despite some tech businesses “boasting how artificial intelligence will soon make much drudge legal work redundant”.

Law is yet to reach its “Uber moment” because, Skapinker argued in a previous article, “those at the top of the most successful law firms have little incentive to change”; partners share profits among themselves, so why invest in emerging technology? “Other forces” work in the traditional legal profession’s favour. These include that, since the financial crisis, regulation has increased and companies are scared of getting things wrong, “so they will continue to spend on legal services”.

The 2018 Firms Most List

Despite Skapinker’s scepticism, City firms continue to engage with the ever-growing lawtech sector.

A host of top outfits including Allen & Overy, Slaughter and May, Mishcon de Reya, Reed Smith and Dentons have launched innovation hubs in recent years to attract entrepreneurs through their doors, while other firms have signed deals with AI software providers with the aim of improving efficiency.

Technology is having an impact on law schools, too.

Earlier this month, we revealed that the University of Manchester was teaming up with magic circle player Freshfields and AI company Neota Logic to deliver a new optional module called ‘Legal Tech and Access to Justice’. The course will use Neota’s software to teach students to build applications that improve access to justice. Freshfields, which has a large legal services base in Manchester, is covering the cost of the software license and course materials.

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Hehe, don’t tell Susskind. The charlatan has made millions peddling unmitigated sh!te that says the complete opposite, with little or no scrutiny.



And wrote books about with… his son!


A trust fund with a trust fund

This comment has been moderated because it breached Legal Cheek’s comments policy.

Hasn’t worked a day in his life outside academia
Literally can’t do the one thing economics academics are supposed to do (policy recommendations) without relying on daddy’s name!



No, the other son has also started writing bogus books on technology.

The whole family have created a useless cottage industry…


Trust fund with a trust fund

Lol I had to look that up and yes he has.
How long before he realises there’s more money in this witch doctory then in employment law and becomes a door tenant?
Top Oxbridge first and champion debater to employment lawyer must feel like a bit of a letdown


I give it one year at the bar before the realisation dawns that you get more money publishing this pulp-worthy material than you do from an honourable profession.


I took the decision to read law 30 years ago and have moved up the ladder to in-house General Counsel. I enjoy my work, but, if I was starting again, I would very seriously consider qualifying as a plumber instead. I am serious.



Yer well I didn’t even do my GCSEs so I can’t become a plumber!
And I’m a judge!



This is rubbish. Susskind is correct.

Lawyers had better get to grips with deontic programming within 2 years.

Lawyers can learn to code without any great fuss. Coders cannot become legally literate with quite the same ease.



Nah, coding is easy to do simply/badly, but to build anything at scale you do have to be very skilled.




You fell for the Susskind rubbish.

You are literally keeping that Charlatan in his unjustifiable expensive London lifestyle.



Total rubbish.

As a coder i can assure you deontic programming will not be the paradigm in law; For a start it reads like complex algebra and mathematics and we all know lawyers suck at maths.

However, technology has the capacity to reduce a great number of the training contracts on offer…but not destroy the profession.



Try being a criminal lawyer without any tech skills now.

It would be impossible.



You can be a criminal lawyer without any legal skills.

Quite why you think you need tech skills I’m not sure.

I can only assume you are some variety of wind up merchant.


Corbyn. Sympathiser


Criminal lawyers …. skills… hahaha

Good one.



Any lawyer who excelled in latin and/or greek will find deontic programming interesting, challenging and rewarding


Solicitor who solicits


Corbyn. Sympathiser









Surely the grunt work is different? If automation can scan 10,000 pages in minutes, and AI can then summarise relevant facts, identify statute, case law, causes, defences and mitigation, you can do without plenty of junior lawyers.

Presenting the results to clients and deciding on strategy and acceptable risk is probably irreplaceable (although even some of the risk assessment might be done or supplemented by AI).



No, the other son has also started writing bogus books on technology.

The whole family have created a useless cottage industry.



The journalist who produced the FT article is a journalist. He does, however, have a BA in Law so he must be right and Susskind must be wrong. And I am sure that block chain, the internet of things, smart contracts and artificial intelligence that will transform society will have no effect on lawyers.



Susskind is already proved wrong. He predicted Armageddon would occur around 10 years ago.

In that time I have qualified as a lawyer and enjoyed a good career.



And the up and coming generation who have never known like before the internet and/or smartphone are not going to take advantage of their competitive edge over quill and ink partners retiring at 55.


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