ABA Journal


Business of Law

With radical changes, law firms can beat recession, says Susskind (video)

May 2, 2013, 03:20 pm CDT


His newest book is a must-read for anyone in the legal field.

By Paula Marie Young on 2013 05 03, 12:05 pm CDT

"Tomorrow's Lawyer" is a very good book. Now what Susskind describes though are disruptive notions for the practice of law. Clayton Christensen, the Harvard Professor who coined the phrase disruptive innovation, demonstrates through case studies that disruptive innovations are primarily created by new entrants not incumbents. That is why Susskind's intended audience are new lawyers. But are new lawyers incumbents? They have been through the similar legal training and taken on the same debt load as lawyers in the industry. They have supposedly been trained to think like a lawyer. The risk might also be too great for them to try something so different with the debt levels they have taken on.

Susskind should make his next book directed to Paralegals, Project Managers, and Computer Programmers. They will likely be much more receptive to the ideas of what the legal industry could be and will not have the debt level that new lawyers have. They can afford to take the risks. They only need to convince one of two lawyers to work with them, some of which could be big law attorneys that want a better life, in order to avoid the unauthorized practice of law risk. Having worked with attorneys before for several years I would suggest having as few attorneys involved as possible in new ventures. Innovation requires risk taking and going against traditional notions, while attorneys are trained to lower risk and adhere to precedent.

Further, there are already disruptions occurring in the legal industry. Susskind mentioned ODR, Modria is a great example. They handled disputes on Ebay, but have now expanded as an online dispute resolution platform. They have taken on numerous kinds of disputes, including legal disputes. They cover lower sums for now but I can see them emerging as a viable substitute to hiring a lawyer or going to small claims court. There are numerous businesses like this but people tend not to know about them. The real issue in the legal field is marketing not quality, that is why legalzoom has been so successful. They understand the need for marketing to the growth of their business. Susskind didn't mention paralegals is his book but they are a major disruption in the legal field. Why would small firms want to hire a lawyer when they could hire 2-3 experienced paralegals that could do 80-90% of what the new lawyer could do with very little to no training. That is why there are as many legal jobs out there for lawyers, the law school debt is only a small part of a much larger issue.

By BCReed on 2013 05 05, 12:25 am CDT

Lawyers at big firms are having a classical case of innovators dilemma. Many of their existing customers continue to pay them, which makes them think all is well, nothing to see here. All the while the entire industry is changing right underneath them.

BigLaw would be wise to read Susskind's book and Clayton Christensen's Innovator's Dilemma to avoid repeating history.

By Andy Wilson ( on 2013 05 06, 10:48 pm CDT

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