R&D Susskind, father and son, legal technology expert and economics professor have published a book (OUP, 2016) suggesting that the future of the professions will be transformed by technology.
Attorneys, as professionals, are treated by society in a special compact. The professionals who provide and apply specialised talents in an ethical manner and in return, will be rewarded both financially with special respect and prestige, are described as a ‘grand bargain’ by the Susskinds. However, the legal professional is moving from a print based learning to a technology – based learning and practice approach. Using IT to research matters and communicate with clients removes a whole layer of person–ality from serving your client. It allows for intellectual energy to be directed at higher level issues. At least some of the growth of international firms into South Africa is surely due to the lower costs available compared to the average five hundred or so dollars per hour in the US. Do the work in Johannesburg, press the button and the work is transferred to a higher charging environment. Of course, there are other reasons for the invasion by international legal firms which can be discussed at a later stage.
The exponential growth in computing power will continue. No doubt the development of AI, artificial intelligence, will have a greater impact on future legal practice than for example robotics. Will AI enhance lawyers’ competence? Or will it replace them? Will de-skilling take place such that staff at a lower educational and intellectual level will become highly adept at small “chunks” of legal practice? The Susskinds suggest that “such changes may leave the profession without a function or place in society” and create new roles such as knowledge engineers and data scientists. At the same time, those “ordinary” folk will have brighter prospects.
The Susskinds’ view of the future for professionals is so contra-Luddite that it suggests a gradual loss of the need for human intellect. My view is that attorneys will be empowered to function at a higher level in terms of complexity by USING technology rather than becoming subservient to it.