Sunday, January 30, 2011

Is Richard Susskind's prophecy about the "end of lawyers" coming true?

I just started reading Richard Susskind's book "The End of Lawyers:  Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services" in which he argues that because much of today's legal work involves routine tasks, in the future we'll see a lot of it outsourced to lawyer-drones (and possibly non-lawyers too) who can handle it more cheaply and efficiently than today's big firm model.  Susskind predicts that the future of legal practice will find a cadre of highly paid lawyers at the top of the pyramid (or at the center of the donut to use his metaphor) offering "bespoke services" in complex matters while the remaining work is farmed out to cheap labor.  

It so happens that Above the Law reported on Friday that WilmerHale is creating a "discovery-track" attorney position that involves recruiting attorneys to do the kind of routine legal work Susskind describes.  The WilmerHale hires will be doing the same type of work that contract lawyers have been doing for the last several years except that these jobs represent a career option, complete with benefits, rather than a temporary weigh station until something better comes along.  Elie Mystal suggests this could be the beginning of a bifurcated legal job market:

[T]here’s nothing inherently wrong with hiring law school graduates to do grunt work. Hell, for years that’s what Biglaw did — only they’d pay these young associates a huge amount of money, and charge clients an arm and a leg for work that can really be done by an intelligent and conscientious high school student. It makes a lot of sense to find a way to do this work more cheaply. And clients are demanding that this work be done more cheaply.

The main reason that all this is bad news for law students and recent graduates is that law schools are light years away from admitting this reality to themselves and charging appropriately. If we’re going to have two different “tracks” for attorneys, then shouldn’t we have two different tracks for legal education? Why require three years and charge six figures to train people for jobs that they have nearly no hope of getting?

You can read more about WilmerHale's new program here and Elie Mystal's thoughts about it here.


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