Susskind on The End of Lawyers

I’m belatedly reading Richard Susskind’s 2008 book, The End of Lawyers, and finding it particularly relevant in light of the debates on legal education stirred up most recently by Paul Campos at Inside the Law School Scam.

Susskind writes at “1.3 A Journey” (I’m reading the Kindle version, so no page number):

To recap, the four thoughts that contributed to the writing of this book are as follows: (1) lawyers might fade from society as other craftsmen have done over the centuries; (2) lawyers are denying that they are lawyers because they recognize the need to change and diversify in response to shifts in the market; (3) no-one seems to be worrying about the fate of the next generation of lawyers; and (4) the delivery of legal services will be a very different business when financed and managed by non-lawyers.

As insightful and provocative as Campos’s current blog project is, even he (at least so far) doesn’t appear to question the continuance of business as usual in the legal profession; he simply argues that law school does not (and has not for many decades) adequately prepare law students for practice upon graduation. In fact, law school has probably never done that, but for many years, the unspoken understanding (the “Cravath model“) was that law associates would be trained on the job by large law firms–and that the lucky few would eventually make partner, while the rest would presumably move on to other firms, if they were not already burned out by years of tedious practice.

William Henderson and others have certainly noted the end of the Cravath model. Many suspect that the law firm market is currently undergoing not just a cyclical downturn, but a long-term restructuring that will result in leaner firms unwilling or unable to continue their customary training function. Susskind, however, goes beyond that to suggest that much of what has been traditionally seen as lawyers’ exclusive domain will be unbundled and taken over by other professions and semi-professions. Lawyers, after all, are information professionals, not that much unlike librarians, journalists, and other professions currently threatened by changing technologies. It is unlikely that the professional guild and it’s regulations (either in the form of law school accreditation or control over ethical rules and bar admissions) can keep technology and the marketplace at bay forever.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Susskind on The End of Lawyers

  1. Bill Altreuter

    I think Campos is saying more than just that law schools fail to teach real lawyering skills– he is saying that most law students are never going to find work sufficiently remunerative to justify the investment in the training. (He also has some pretty harsh things to say about the present state of legal scholarship.)

    I molify my conscience with the thought that the thing I teach (and the stuff I’ve written) has a practical value, but that doesn’t change the fact that my students have spent a pile of dough for a degree that may not have an equivalent value in the marketplace.

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