Susskind: UF on cutting edge of a changing legal profession

Published: September 23rd, 2013

Category: News


Richard Susskind speaks with students before delivering the Marshall M. Criser Distinguished Lecture at UF Law on Sept. 12. (Photo by Javier Edwards)

By Andrew Steadman (2L)

The legal profession is changing and the University of Florida is on the cutting edge.

The University of Florida Levin College of Law’s Marshall M. Criser Distinguished Lecture Series hosted world-renowned legal futurist Richard Susskind on Thursday, Sept. 12. Susskind, whose writings are required reading in the law school’s newly minted Introduction to Lawyering classes, commended UF for working to prepare its students for an evolving legal profession.

Susskind, author of Tomorrow’s Lawyers: An Introduction to Your Future, delivered a presentation entitled “Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services” in which he elaborated on predictions that the current legal business model will be replaced by a more commoditized, consumer-focused system.

“The cost of lawyering has become too high,” Susskind said. “Most people find it difficult to afford the services of lawyers.”

The driving factors behind this change will be evolving technology and a continued demand for cheaper, more efficient legal services, Susskind said. He predicted that the combination of the two will result in the proliferation of services like LegalZoom and Axiom. LegalZoom provides customers with basic forms that allow them to handle some legal problems on their own instead of going to an expensive firm for advice, while Axiom is more of an in-house version of LegalZoom.

“Routine legal tasks don’t need to be expensive,” Susskind said.

Cost pressures in today’s economy are driving clients away from firms and forcing some partners to rethink the ways they charge for legal services. Susskind argued that hourly billing, the longtime hallmark of the legal profession, runs counter to the idea of increased efficiency in legal work.

Susskind, who is from Scotland and attended the University of Glasgow, explained how the United Kingdom the Legal Services Act of 2007 allows non-lawyers to own and run legal businesses. This change means traditional law firms are now forced to compete with companies that treat legal advice more like a commodity to be produced and sold than a personalized, individually tailored service.

Though such liberalization has not yet reached the tightly regulated legal profession in the United States, Susskind said similar change is on the horizon.

“The future has already arrived, it’s just not equally distributed yet,” Susskind said, quoting science fiction author William Gibson.

In order to take the legal revolution in stride, Susskind said law schools should focus on teaching students to be flexible rather than simply prepping them for traditional careers at law firms.

“In many law schools, the law is taught as it was in the 1970s,” Susskind said.

This, Susskind said, is where the Levin College of Law sets itself apart from many of its peers. He commended the University of Florida for taking a progressive approach to legal education — jokingly adding that including his books in the curriculum was key to successfully preparing students.

As for current practitioners, Susskind said lawyers may need to completely change their mindsets toward what it means to work with clients. However, despite the downturn in the market and the challenges the legal profession is facing, Susskind said many lawyers are unwilling to tackle the problem head-on. Rather than looking for ways to modernize their practices, for example, partners are merely concerned with avoiding becoming outdated.

“The key thing that concerns them is not being left behind,” Susskind said.

However, Susskind said, smart partners should be working on staying ahead of the curve. Susskind advocated for an approach to the future he referred to as “blank sheet thinking.”

“If you could start from scratch, what kind of legal profession would you build?”

The answer, in Susskind’s view, should be very different from the current model.

The program also featured small-group discussions with several legal experts concerned with the future of the legal field. Those experts convened in the afternoon for a panel discussion moderated by UF Law Professor Amy Mashburn (JD 87). The panel included David R. Vetter (JD 84), general counsel, senior vice president and corporate secretary at TechData; Renee Knake, professor at the Law College at Michigan State University; Gwynne Young (JD 74), partner at Carlton Fields and immediate past president of The Florida Bar; Roger Blair, UF Law affiliate professor and professor in the UF Warrington College of Business; Judge Anthony Porcelli, federal magistrate judge of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida; and William Hamilton, University of Florida Law adjunct professor, partner at Quarles and Brady and executive director of the UF Law’s International Center for Automated Information Research. Eugene Pettis (JD 85), current president of The Florida Bar, and Greg Coleman, The Florida Bar president-elect, also participated in a lunchtime discussion with students in the faculty dining room.


Missed the lecture? Check out Dean Jerry’s message to find out where you can view rebroadcasts on campus:

As you know, last week professor and lawyer Richard Susskind, a preeminent “thought leader,” independent advisor, and author on the future of law practice, was at our law school to give a Marshall M. Criser Distinguished Lecture.  The Chesterfield Smith Ceremonial Classroom was full, and could not accommodate all of you who wanted to attend.

To make it possible for more of you to see and hear the lecture, we have scheduled 10 rebroadcasts on different days and times here at the law school, and hopefully you will be able to watch it at one of these times.  Because of intellectual property restrictions, all of our rebroadcasts will occur in the next 30 days, and there will be no further showings after that time.  (I should add that these restrictions prohibit collecting any portion of his lecture in any digital medium, including phone or laptop recording, and retransmitting it to third parties, website, etc.)

The dates and times of the rebroadcasts are as follows:

Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2013

12:00 – 1:15 pm HOL 283

2:00 – 3:15 pm – AC 210

4:00 – 5:15 pm – HOL 285D

Wednesday, Oct. 2, 2013

11:00 am – 12:15 pm – HOL284

12:00 – 1:15 pm – HOL 283

4:00 – 5:15 pm – Faculty Dining Room

Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013

11:00 am – 12:15 pm – AC 209

2:00 – 3:15 pm – HOL 285D

4:00 – 5:15 pm – AC 210

Friday, Oct. 18, 2013

11:00 am – 12:15 pm – AC 210

12:30 – 1:45 pm – AC 210

The roundtable discussion that followed the lecture, and which includes commentary by Richard Susskind, will be placed on our website soon and will be available for viewing at any time.

I strongly encourage you not to miss the Susskind lecture.  For those of you who wish to delve further into Richard Susskind’s thinking and ideas about the future of the legal profession, I recommend his book “Tomorrow’s Lawyers:  An Introduction to Your Future.”  This was published by the Oxford University Press in March 2013; it is a concise (165 pp.) discussion of trends in the profession and it is written specifically for law students and others thinking about a career in law.

Dean Bob Jerry