Alison Laferla reports from The Lawyer's Ninth Annual Conference on Information Systems

Lawyers should seize the opportunity to provide legal information on the World Wide Web or they will lose out to the competition, legal IT expert Richard Susskind has warned.

Susskind, a special adviser to Masons and author of the Future of Law, was speaking at The Lawyer's ninth annual conference on information systems for the legal profession last week.

In his keynote speech, Susskind outlined his vision for the future of the profession, saying there was a market for practical, concise legal advice that was available on the Web.

"It is the sort of advice lawyers give to their family and friends, but not to their clients," he said, adding that if the firms did not provide this information, then others would.

Susskind claimed specialist one-to-one advice for complex or socially significant cases would not die out, but represented the tip of the iceberg of the potential legal market. He stressed competition from accountancy firms and publishers of legal information were lurking under the surface, ready to seize the market.

"I believe that legal guidance, expertise and experience will be available through the Internet alongside all sorts of other types of information," Susskind said. "It is absolutely clear that we are going to have collaborative multidisciplinary legal services available on the Web. It seems likely that all professional services will be packaged together and this might not be at the instigation of lawyers.

"For me, the biggest challenge of all is for lawyers to consider and realise the oppor- tunities of being the provider of a legal information service and of giving multidisciplinary services as well."

Susskind made five predictions on the way existing technologies will develop over the next decade:

The world will be covered by fibre optics. Developments in telecommunications structures will lead to unlimited and instantaneous transmission of information for negligible transmission costs.

Home computers and television will converge so that PCs become the first port of call for information and "the main window on the world".

People will be talking to their machines.

The Internet and World Wide Web will pervade our social and working lives. "It will be as inconceivable not to be using email in a few years as it is to say: 'I don't use the telephone' now," he said.

The technological lag will be reduced so that technology will provide the user with only the information he or she needs. This will be achieved using filters, agents and intuitive search facilitators.

"We are going to be living in such a different world," Susskind enthused.

"Will legal life ever be the same?" he asked. "Of course, I argue absolutely not."