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Richard Susskind Live – First Take

2012 September 12
by John Wallbillich

I don’t follow many people on Twitter. But when I do, I prefer Richard Susskind.

So yesterday this tweet shows up in my “stream”:

That’s one tweet that caught my attention. When Professor Richard Susskind is (a) nearby and (b) speaking to the public, the value proposition is overwhelming (even with paid admission, it would be compelling). Since that auditorium is only 90 minutes from the Wired GC compound, I moved some things around, and four hours later I was sitting in the audience, waiting for the lecture to start.

There was a Twitter inbox projected onto a screen at the left side of the stage. An announcement encouraged attendees to tweet about Professor Susskind, so I tapped this out on my iPhone:

Now I can’t help it, but whenever I am in a large room, waiting for a law professor, I experience flashbacks to a decades-old nightmare.

This lecture was sponsored by MSU Law’s Kelley Institute. It was titled “The Future of Lawyers” and was targeted at the largely student audience in the auditorium.

So today, here are a few rapid-fire reactions to Professor Susskind’s talk. I’ll have more next week, after I can review my notes and think more about what I heard.

1. If you ever have a chance to see Richard Susskind live, do it. Although I am familiar with his work since he published The End of Lawyers? (note the question mark), I think I am starting to grasp more of the bigger picture he is painting for the legal profession.

2. While the audience again was encouraged to “live tweet” the talk, I would say “maybe not.” You have to give your full attention to what he is saying. It’s true (but somewhat ironic) that being distracted by technology does not help your understanding of Professor Susskind’s argument of legal change brought about by technology.

3. Global BigLaw should watch what the global BigFour accounting firms are doing. More than once, Professor Susskind mentioned how much an investment of time and money they are making in technology and using it to offer competitive services for clients. Including legal services (again…).

4. One such firm, KPMG, came up with this trenchant distillation of what they really do:

Turn knowledge into value for the benefit of clients.

Another, Deloitte, is making a huge nine-figure investment in partner knowledge and deploying it online for the benefit of (and retention of) clients. Meanwhile…

5. The American Bar Association’s fear of alternative services and related investments is not stopping change, and will ultimately be reversed (his words) or be irrelevant (mine).

6. This remark really hit me hard:

There is no finish line in information technology.

In other words, change isn’t episodic, it’s a constant. Even those who are embracing it now have to keep changing and innovating or they too will fall behind.

7. One reason to see Professor Susskind live is that he is so enthusiastic about lawyers and the potential for improving access to legal services and thus increasing benefits to clients. He mentioned the “irrational objectionism” of many entrenched actors on the international legal stage, which he defined as:

The dogmatic rejection of things they don’t understand.

The legal version of Wikipedia would have this alternative definition: See also “American Bar Association.”

8. Professor Susskind ended on a positive note, using Alan Kay’s words deftly for the aspiring lawyers in attendance:

The best way to predict the future is to create it.

What a great treat for law students to hear from Professor Susskind at the start of their legal careers. MSU Law’s Kelley Institute is co-directed by faculty members Hannah Brenner and Renee Newman Knake. I spoke with them at a reception after the lecture (which closed with on-target comments from the institute’s namesake, former Michigan uber Attorney General Frank J. Kelley). The institute co-director are very aware of how the legal profession is changing and sound determined to bring new perspectives to law students and the larger Michigan legal community.

In that regard, Professor Knake is also co-director of a new initiative, ReInvent Law, which was seeded earlier this year with a Kauffman Foundation grant.

I noted as I was leaving the auditorium that the audience didn’t include many practicing lawyers. It’s easy to surmise that some may have been too busy logging hours to take a break and let Professor Richard Susskind shine a bright light on what’s ahead, ready or not.

I remember early in my first year of law school a professor reminded us that “ignorance of the law is no excuse.” Turning away from the winds of change is no defense, either.

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