Thursday, February 3, 2011
We previously blogged about Richard Susskind's book The End of Lawyers in which he predicts that routine legal work will become commoditized and sold to clients much more cheaply than it is presently billed. Essentially Susskind believes that the same free market forces that drive down the cost of most fungible goods and services are about to hit the legal market big time. That's good news for clients and those lawyers who are able to adapt; bad news for most lawyers who stay wedded to the billable hour.
For instance, Susskind predicts that innovative firms will gain market share by developing software that allows them to dispense legal advice at the push of a button (after inputting some client background information much the same way that the big accounting firms dispense computerized tax advice). According to this column from the ABA Journal blog, at least one New York law firm is already on board:
[During a presentation by] Michael Weber, a partner at Littler Mendelson . . . to a group of New York law students participating in an innovative class on knowledge management . . . [he] described how Littler has organized its internal legal research and document information so it could provide answers to legal questions “at the touch of a finger,” thus providing fast and reliable advice to clients, but doing so in less time and therefore at lower fees. Not content with just creating an internal environment, Littler has also streamlined and automated the high-volume administrative dispute work for one very large client through technology and developed a pool of former associates who could manage basic procedures virtually. In this scenario, Littler was doing work that other firms might dismiss as “commodity,” but at profitability levels comparable to normal billable-hour work.. . . Weber explained that Littler had to take “an R&D approach,” led by Littler's innovative Chief Knowledge Officer Scott Rechtschaffen, making a short-term investment (and therefore necessarily impacting near-term shareholder distributions) to be able to create the capacity to deliver better value at lower costs, thus also impacting short-term revenues to some extent, but creating a better platform for long-term revenues.
The future is now, baby! And you can read more about it by clicking here.