Much has been written recently about new technology disrupting the traditional law firm model of providing legal services. Susskind and Susskind predicted the failure of professions, including the legal profession, due in large part to the external pressure of disruptive technology. However, concentrating blame on the technology is misguided; it blames the tool used to disrupt rather than the root causes of the disruption. In short, computers do not kill lawyers. Neither is the disruption aimed at the profession as such, but rather at the business models of modern day legal practices that have developed under the auspices of the profession. Under the guise of a profession, the legal profession has established the barriers to entry that have allowed lawyers to hold a monopoly on providing legal services. The monopoly has allowed law firms to develop business models through which they have been able to charge high, sometimes extravagant, prices for their services. It has also produced barriers to innovation. Clients have begun to react to perceived consistent overcharging and inefficient services of the BigLaw firms that benefit from the monopoly at the same time that technologies are becoming more powerful and effective. Meanwhile, new and hungry legal service providers who provide alternative business models to law firms are also using new technologies to open access to law and erode the monopoly. Lawyers are facing increasing competition that is set to destroy the BigLaw firm model. The disruption, though, will not be limited to BigLaw, and will also impact smaller law firms and sole practitioners.
As the dynamic between clients and lawyers changes, the next generation of lawyers will be required to perform a vast number of roles to satisfy client demands while all the while being asked to maintain their professional responsibilities. Lawyers, as humans, will be incapable of, or disinterested in, managing the demands of this multi-faceted role, and the professional aspect of the role will further recede. However, computers have vast technical knowledge, they do not seek financial reward, and they can be programmed to work ceaselessly and to put the client’s interests ahead of their own. It is computers, therefore, that will be in a much better position to display “professional” characteristics than humans in the future. If it is desirable to have a legal profession, then it is in the interests of our society to allow computers to take the role of legal services providers. It will be necessary to take the profession out of the hands of self-interested humans and to develop a technological profession that would provide legal services, initially with the assistance of lawyers, but then, as with the introduction of autonomous vehicles, in a five-staged deployment, develop a fully autonomous legal profession. This new technological profession would also subordinate “personal aims and ambitions to the service of . . . [the law] discipline and the promotion of its function in the community” and begin to regain the trust so lacking in the legal profession today.
New Technology, the Death of BigLaw Monopoly and the Evolution of the Computer Professional,
N.C. J.L. & Tech.
Available at: https://scholarship.law.unc.edu/ncjolt/vol20/iss3/4