Way back in 2000, Professor Richard Susskind made a series of predictions about how the market for legal services might evolve, driven by the innovative use of IT. And, over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed that several of his predictions are showing signs of coming true - at least in the UK. If I ever get the chance to speak to Professor Susskind in person, I’ll ask him to pick my EuroMillions lottery numbers for 2024. He might not help me pick the jackpot. But I’ll happily settle for four matches and a lucky star.
In his 2000 book, Transforming the Law, Professor Susskind said (on page 29): “By 2015, the main way in which legal service is delivered across the world will be through access to online legal service as opposed to consultation with human lawyers. I still stick to that prediction.” At page 55, he added: “While the larger firms have the investment capability to develop all manner of systems of their own, I anticipate all manner of joint ventures, collaborations, and entrepreneurial exploits by the hungrier, smaller, and sometimes less profitable firms.” And, finally, on page 67, he said: “My prediction is that the great legal businesses of the future will…maintain a blend of online service and traditional service supported by physical meetings with clients.”
Last night, I attended the launch of Rocket Lawyer UK. Rocket Lawyer is a Google-backed combination of automated, online, self-service legal documents, supported by a panel of small and mid-sized law firms. This arrangement pretty much describes Susskind’s vision.
Weirdly, the launch of Rocket Lawyer was the second time in a month that I’d come across a convergence of online legal service providers and smallish, independent law firms. On 9 November, wearing my freelance copywriter’s hat, I attended the LawNet annual conference in Kenilworth, to produce a report of the event.
One of the advertisers at the event was Evident – Simplify the Law™. Evident provides self-service document assembly software to law firms, for those firms to use on a “white label” basis. In reality, the type of firms who attended the LawNet conference probably wouldn’t have the resources to build such software themselves. But Evident’s business model assumes such firms want to offer online legal services to their own clients, and would be willing to partner with Evident to make that happen.
And, of course, in September 2012, Quality Solicitors announced its partnership with the soon-to be launched UK operation of LegalZoom. “The partnership”, the announcement stated, “will see a wide range of legal products and services offered online, combining LegalZoom’s technology with Quality Solicitors’ expert solicitors, who will offer local support and advice from over 400 locations across the UK.”
I can only imagine the look of quiet satisfaction on Richard Susskind’s face when he heard that news.
In reality, it’s unlikely that, by 2015, most clients will use online providers for their legal needs – even in a dynamic legal market such as the UK. But one thing is for sure: we certainly seem to be moving in that direction. What’s more, it seems to be the smaller law firms who are be driving this trend, working in collaboration with legal IT software providers.
In all honesty, this is not a development I’d seen coming, even having read Professor Susskind’s book when it was first published. Instead, I’d pinned my hope on Tesco or the RAC as the main driver of legal service innovation. But I guess that’s because my name is Richard Parnham – and not Richard Susskind.
So, anyway, Professor Susskind, about that 2024 EuroMillions lottery draw….