2020s is the decade of legal change, says Richard Susskind

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Exclusive interview: AI and online courts will flourish and replace ‘old ways of working’

Professor Richard Susskind, speaking at the Future of Legal Education and Training Conference

The 2020s will be the key years for the legal profession, according to Professor Richard Susskind, who spoke exclusively to Legal Cheek ahead of his keynote speech at yesterday’s Future of Legal Education and Training Conference 2019.

“It’s [2020s] the decade when many of the radical tech-led programmes being designed now will really come to life: namely artificial intelligence and online courts. These will replace our old ways of working,” Susskind said.

The top futurologist, who is currently advising the Lord Chief Justice on the UK’s online court-future, argues that there is a choice for lawyers now. He told us:

“If you are a young lawyer or you are running a law firm, you should ask yourself, should I compete with these AI/online systems or should I be one of those who is building these systems? Which will you do?”

Susskind is convincing in his belief that the next generation of lawyers will have a different job to do: “Lawyers will less and less simply advise clients, they will build systems that will, in turn, advise clients.”

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If this is the future, then this impacts on what legal education and training will look like, according to Susskind:

“If you are going to simply compete with AI, then you may feel that the current system of training is fit for purpose. But if you want to be involved in that latter project I outlined, in building and design, then may be you would argue that your training needs have changed, that legal education needs to adapt to be fit for future purposes.”

There is a concern, however, that many young lawyers do not have proper insight into this: “I don’t think they really appreciate how significant a shift there will be.”

Susskind does agree that there has been a “far wider acceptance of change within the profession” since he has been working in this area, and that we have got to a stage where the conversation is not about “if” but about “when”. But there are still issues which lawyers struggle to overcome. He continued:

“Lawyers worry about AI because they think that the machine will simply replace him or her: that if someone were to break the job down into specific tasks, they’ll believe that the machine will ‘take’ a percentage of that. We call this the ‘AI fallacy’. It is not either as straightforward or as bleak as that: AI does not replicate what a lawyer does, it has a problem that needs solving and finds a machine-like way to solve it.”

In researching for his next book, Online Courts and the Future of Justice, being published in November, Susskind explained how he has been looking at the challenge of law and tech in global terms: he said there are great things happening in many countries such as Canada, China and Singapore. Luckily for the UK, it appears, there is also “good work” being done here, for instance, with the judiciary taking a lead on online courts.

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I thought the 2010s was? And the 2000s too? Anyone else spot a pattern here…



In fairness to Susskind, he has made a lot of correct calls. He was way ahead of the game on legal tech.



Not being funny – can you give one example of something Susskind has accurately predicted? Vague statements like “technology will become more important” are not helpful are they?



When you were born he predicted you would turn into a prick.



Hi Alex!



Indeed, he has predicted 20 out of the last 2 legal revolutions



Why doesn’t he mention his son’s career at the Bar to illustrate the changes he envisions for the profession?



It’s a fcuking scandal isn’t it?

All the same names, again and again and again.

Just stop them from entering the profession.



So tribal, isn’t it?


Virgin Bottomley

I might change my pants in the 2020s


Regular LC troll

So many of the articles comments sections are closed or shut down that this is getting boring.



Alex also tends to delete all the good comments!



How would you describe a small version of that poultry sold at KFC?



I’d like to say ‘paltry poultry’ …



It’s a bit like trying to predict the next recession. If you call it every year, eventually you’ll be right.


Bored of this man

Susskind is as repetitive as Charlotte Proudlove, or even one of the dull, ‘vlogging’ none-entities who Legal Cheek occasionally waste time on. I agree with the previous comments criticising him: he’s a waste of oxygen. Current ‘legal tech’ largely automates existing processes: it’s hardly a revolution.



Who’s Charlotte Proudlove?



The female barrister who publicly called out a male solicitor who messaged her to say her LinkedIn profile photo was ‘stunning’. Best career move she ever made.



That’s handy, Mr Astrologer Sir.



Whatever you think about his views, most people who’ve seen him agree that Susskind is an excellent speaker. I was at this event yesterday and he was good.



Have a day off.



Repetitive dire predictions
Go buy his books


Banter Merchant

Firstly the transactional world:

In 5-10 years time we will see a standardised AI assisted platform for contract negotiation becoming the market leader. At the moment we have tons of options and much like DVD/Blu Ray/ Betamax it will take a while for a front runner to be adopted, bought by everyone etc, but after this transactional law will be heavily automated. This may take even longer because the organisations who benefit from it most, large banks/funds/corporates are resistant to change due to the shear cost of updating computer systems. The lawyers they hire, are only as good as the clients internal framework.

If you want to do transactional law, qualify as a solicitor quickly and learn how these pieces of software are coded so you can contribute something once the new status quo is established. Salaries of everyone who can’t do this will fall off a cliff because graduates operating out of regional “tech hubs” will do all of the button clicking once the software is ubiquitous. It is already happening slowly but surely. The fact these people are reassured by a big brand firm and constantly dangled a non existent TC is equally bad but that’s a problem for another comment (it’s also largely their own fault for believing it).

This whole thing about AI freeing up lawyers to think about the law is absolute rubbish because nobody thinks about the law in transactional work at all. The entire process from start to finish is following a client mandated flowchart (which in itself is eerily similar to computer code) until the contract is signed.

In short, yes it’s happening maybe it will really take off in the 2020s.

Now for the litigious world:

The idea of online court in the same timeframe as AI contract negotiation is an utter farce. 50% of the Bar still uses paper files and same for solicitors. I’ve even worked in a now international firm that insisted on keeping duplicate paper and digital records because “it’s hard to read things on a computer screen”.

The existing “technology” in court amounts to a video phone that needs to be booked 3 days in advance.

The combination of entrenched attitude, resistance to training and the poor public funding of the courts has got us to this point.

If you go to court with a 2 year old iPad you are essentially the bleeding edge of modernity.

Software like Lexis Draft promises to automate your legal research and order writing etc yet I’ve never seen anyone use it. Very little incentive for the self employed to spend hard earned on things they refuse to learn to understand.

By 2030 we may see the paperless court system which was promised in the late 1990s but scrapped due to cost. You might get a very bad video connection to do your telephone hearings. We won’t have online hearings or any proper use of AI.

I’m bored now and should probably go to work.


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