Ashgate Publishing, Burlington Vt. (2011)
A Book Review by John G. Kelly: October 25, 2012
To adapt a phrase from the title, this is an edgy book about the present and future prospects of the legal professionalism. The author, a law professor at Keele University in the U.K. does an excellent job in providing readers, particularly law students and aspiring lawyers, with background on what the legal profession is all about. It’s a guild whose members have done an excellent job in building a reputation for being the keepers of a uniform body of knowledge ensconced in qualifying law degree programs that entitles them to have government sanctioned self-regulated control of the practice of law. However, as is the case with any guild there comes a time when the public questions the veracity of the guild’s assertions and begins to correspondingly look for alternatives. Potential competing models begin to emerge at the “edge of law” and it becomes open to question as to whether and to what extent the guild will continue to thrive and prosper in its existing format.
Notwithstanding, the ideology necessary) rhetoric of equal access to education, a profession tightly manages the numbers and types of people it allows access to its knowledge, and the legal profession was historically dominated by white middle class men.
In a white male dominated society the legal profession the power and prestige of the legal profession was secure. In a multi-cultural society in which different classes of people are finding themselves less than well served the guild is coming under fire. More than 50% of law students are now women who are less than enamored with the male dominated model of work that drives the traditional law firm. The less than affluent are looking for alternative careers in the legal field that are more open and receptive to them than the law school/law firm model.
The U.K. has taken the lead in commencing a wholesale overhaul of the legal profession. The passage of the Legal Services Act (LSA) in 2007 has resulted in the creation of an independent oversight board, the Legal Services Board (LSB) and the opening of the legal profession and awarding of self-regulatory status to emerging groups of legal services provider. Most notable has been the elevation of legal executives (legal assistants, law clerks) to self-regulatory status.
Within the legal profession innovative lawyers are breaking away from the traditional law firm model and establishing practices that integrate law into a closely aligned professional service. For example, the Pilot law firm in Vancouver has integrated a criminal practice into a series of advocacy activities associated with poverty law and social justice.
One of the difficulties in having lawyers go to the edge and embrace integrated legal services is the convincing them to let go of the prestige of being identified as a lawyer first and foremost and a professional services provider as an ancillary activity. The Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP) www.step.org/, www.step.ca has evolved into a vibrant association of niche professional services providers who combine law, trust, estate and financial planning into client centered service packages. There is pressure from within the banking, trust and financial planning communities to seek to self-regulatory status in the U.K which would carry over into other common law jurisdictions such as the U.S., Canada and Australia. However, the lawyer component within STEP is adamant on wanting to retain their primary status as lawyers.
The legal profession is in the process of going through a transformation. Professional services providers are emerging on the edge of law and will succeed in carving out their respective niches. However, lawyers and law firms won’t disappear in the short or even medium term. They’ll just be relegated to sharing a smaller piece of the legal services pie.
Thus rather than a traditional law firm selling a “Rolls Royce” product of bespoke legal services, Susskind argues that firms (particularly new entrant firms with less attachment to the traditional way in which lawyers have worked) will start to break down legal services down into smaller component tasks which could then be delivered in a range of ways, for example by outsourcing, sub-contracting, off-shoring or fully computerizing the smaller tasks.