I don’t want to get too apocalyptic for this first issue of 2009, but it’s increasingly clear that the golden age enjoyed by the UK commercial legal profession has been brief. These are not going to be a comfortable few years for anyone.
Still, as at least 17,000 lawyers mentioned to me last year, with crisis comes opportunity. I met up with Richard Susskind recently to discuss some of the ideas from his book The End of Lawyers? (the title of his book is a question, not a statement, by the way). The crisis in Western capitalism is one thing, but there are other factors that will change the way legal services are delivered, and the prime one is the communications revolution.
The move from orality to manuscript to print and now to online have been accompanied by profound social and economic changes. It took 80-odd years for the printing press to even start to transform human thinking, but the internet has already changed the world (although not yet the law or the legal industry) in less than 10 years.
There is a complex set of arguments underpinning Susskind’s thesis, and this short column cannot begin to do it justice, but we will be examining those arguments this year.
The realisation that fundamental structural change is coming is underlined by our findings today in a vast survey of 2,000 lawyers conducted in association with YouGov (see story). Some 69 per cent of senior lawyers recognise that we are on the cusp of a profound upheaval. I’m not quite sure where the other 31 per cent are living.
But now to old-fashioned lawyering, namely litigation. This week we publish the 10 top cases of the coming year, something that has become an annual must-read (see story). But they will account for just a fragment of our litigation reporting in 2009 – this year we’re launching a weekly email on what’s happening in court and ramping up our coverage with a special section on TheLawyer.com.
So far we’ve amassed more than 100 upcoming cases of note. Given the number of your comments we publish online on current litigation topics, there’s a thirst for information. This year, we hope to help you quench it.