Richard Susskind revealed his view of the future at the Global Law Summit this week. For many, it’s not pretty.
This week’s Global Law Summit (GLS) has offered up far more than simply a celebration of 800 years of Magna Carta.
The UK legal market’s best-known cheerleader for change Richard Susskind spoke of a “gargantuan shift” as the world moves from a print society to a technology-driven one; the “inevitability of change” and the “explosive exponential curve” in the power of computing and, by extension, the pace of legal market evolution.
Susskind, who earlier this week urged law firms to borrow from the auditors and diversify, offered up a blistering vision of a legal market struggling to cope with the accelerating pace of technology-driven change.
It was a presentation packed with sucker punch statistics that left many in the audience feeling battered but awed by the data.
The rise of artificial intelligence was a key theme as was the increase in processing power and storage capacity, with Sussking pointing out that within a few years the average desktop PC will easily have more power than “all of humanity put together”.
In that context it was “possibly time to rethink how lawyers draft documents,” quipped Susskind.
High-quality video-conferencing; mobile communications; flexible and dispersed working; the threat of the accountancy firms snapping up law firms’ lunch; IBM’s Watson project, self-driving cars and affective computing; digitisation, decomposition and diversification; all were touched upon in what was described by former Allen & Overy chairman Guy Beringer, as “an inspirational and magisterial” presentation.
While much of what he said was not new, there was no doubt that Susskind was laying out his vision of the future of the legal profession to a rapt audience at the Queen Elizabeth II conference centre.
Similarly there was no doubt that what he was outlining resonating with the delegates.
“For the legal profession, change is inevitable,” he concluded.
Susskind’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion featuring Allen & Overy (A&O) senior partner David Morley, Thomson Reuters’ president (legal) Susan Taylor Martin and FTI co-chair (EMEA) Chris Osborne that picked up and expanded upon Susskind’s arguments.
“The UK is a fantastic petri dish of innovation,” Taylor Martin said, adding that in all of the areas where change was taking place, the most “uncomfortable was the squeezed mid market.
“Change only happens when the pain of staying where you are is greater than the pain of moving,” she added.
A&O’s Morley reinforced this message: “There are still people thinking that what’s been happening over the past seven years is more cyclical than structural.”
The lesson from the GLS: as far as the legal market is concerned it is most definitely the latter. If you’re not already adjusting, it’s high time you started.