Thursday, May 21, 2009

Two Interpretations of the Same Reality

Mark Ross, brings forth two different points of view in his article with respect to the future of the legal profession. On the one hand, Richard Susskind, renowned authority on future trends impacting the legal profession and author of "The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services," sees a wave of change happening in the legal domain owing to currently jeopardized economic situation. On the other hand, Keith Wetmore, Morrison and Foerster Chairman, sees the maintenance of status-quo in the legal terrain after the economy revives. While the former sees a change in perspective regarding legal services, their delivery and technology connected with it, the latter is of the opinion that antiquity would continue as ever.

Richard Susskind foresees a rapid and fundamental change in terms of delivery of legal services. This change in his opinion is an outcome of current economic crisis. The legal market will become a “buyer’s market” with clients paying focused attention on mitigating costs, enhancing quality and finding alternative ways of sourcing work. Lawyers will have to find more innovative ways to sell their services and make them cost-effective. One of the ways suggested by Susskind is through collaboration. Social networking tools would be used to do much of the work that was otherwise done by the law firms. Another path breaking change that Susskind envisages is the commoditization of legal services. Many of the legal tasks will become standardized and systematized. Accordingly it would be outsourced or offshored depending on the benefits accrued by adopting either of the option.
At loggerheads is the opinion voiced by Keith Wetmore. “I think it’s wrong to say things have fundamentally changed. The world economy will grow again and when it does clients will need lawyers to advise in that growth”. He believes that basic law firm set-up will continue without many changes, though he does recognize that recent layoffs “highlight some of the short-term tweaks that are taking place”. He blames the dysfunctional aspect of the set-up to the absence of attrition. “The entire law firm model is built on a number of assumptions. One of which is that there will be 20 to 23 per cent attrition of associates year-in, year-out. Without that attrition, the entire system collapses”. Thus Wetmore is convinced that traditional law firm will continue to operate provided the economy grows and there are high rates of attrition.