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Richard Susskind

Professor Richard Susskind has worked on technology for lawyers since 1981. He holds professorships at Oxford, London, and Strathclyde universities, and...

Daniel Susskind

Daniel Susskind is a lecturer in economics at Balliol College, University of Oxford, where he researches and teaches, and...

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Episode Notes

“The question is not can a machine exhibit empathy or judgement but instead for what problems are empathy, judgement, or creativity the solution?” -Richard Susskind

After years of writing and thinking about the future of the legal profession, Richard Susskind began to run into legal professionals whose careers are being affected by technology. In addition to lawyers, those in the medical, architecture, financial, and other fields have begun to notice a shift in the provision of professional services. Richard got together with his son, Daniel Susskind, at the time working in justice policy, education policy, and health policy for the British Prime Minister, to examine how technology is increasingly playing a fundamental role in how all service-based professions work. They recently published a book on the subject called “The Future of the Professions.”

In this episode of The Digital Edge, Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway interview Richard and Daniel Susskind about their new book and key topics within that might interest lawyers who wish to prepare for the future. They discuss a “grand bargain” concept of exclusivity, the capability of machines to replace cognitive, physical/manual, and emotional skills currently provided by human professionals, and the right questions to ask about the future of legal services. Are there any tasks that computers won’t be able to do?

Topics include:

  • Society’s expectation for affordable, accessible, and reliable professional services
  • Computers and artificial intelligence as a threat to the legal profession
  • Professionals to be redeployed into new roles
  • Embedded knowledge
  • Free sharing of information through online avenues
  • Incremental changes versus complete changes
  • Commercial and social circumstances of the current systems

Professor Richard Susskind is an author, speaker, and independent advisor to international professional firms and national governments. He is president for the Society for Computers and Law, IT advisor to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and chair of the Oxford Internet Institute Advisory Board. His books include the best sellers, “The End of Lawyers?” and “Tomorrow’s Lawyers.”

Daniel Susskind is a lecturer in economics at Balliol College, University of Oxford, where he researches and teaches, and from where he has two degrees in economics. He was also a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard University. Previously, he worked for the British government as a policy adviser in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit and as a senior policy adviser at the Cabinet Office.

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Digital Edge: The Future of the Professions: An Interview with Richard and Daniel Susskind – 1/21/2016


Advertiser: Welcome to The Digital Edge with Sharon Nelson and Jim Calloway. Your hosts, both legal technologists, authors and lecturers, invite industry professionals to discuss a new topic related to lawyers and technology. You’re listening to Legal Talk Network.


Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome to the 96th edition of the Digital Edge, lawyers and technology. We’re glad to have you with us. I’m Sharon Nelson, president of Sensei Enterprises.


Jim Calloway: And I’m Jim Calloway, director of the Oklahoma Bar Association’s Management Assistance Program. Today our topic is The Future of the Professions: An Interview with Richard and Daniel Susskind.


Sharon D. Nelson: Before we get started, we’d like to thank our sponsors. CloudMask offers cost-effective and efficient data encryption for law firms. Whether large or small, in Google Apps, Office 365 and other Cloud solutions. Sign up now for your 60 day free account at We also thank Serve-Now, a nationwide network of trusted, prescreened process servers. Work with the most professional process servers who have experience with high volume serves, embrace technology, and understand the litigation process. Visit to learn more.


Jim Calloway: We are happy to welcome as our guests, Richard and Daniel Susskind. They are the father and son authors of the new book, The Future of the Professions, just published by the Oxford University Press. Professor Richard Susskind is an author, speaker, and independent advisor to international professional firms and national governments. He is president of the Society for Computers and Law, IT advisor to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, and chair of the Oxford Internet Institute Advisory Board. His books include the best sellers, “The End of Lawyers?” and “Tomorrow’s Lawyers,” which many of our listeners are familiar with. Daniel Susskind is a lecturer in economics at Balliol College, University of Oxford, where he researches and teaches, and from where he has two degrees in economics. He was also a Kennedy Scholar at Harvard University. Previously, he worked for the British government as a policy adviser in the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit and as a senior policy adviser at the Cabinet Office. Thanks for joining us today, Richard and Daniel.


Professor Richard Susskind: Thank you for involving us, it’s a great pleasure to be here with you.


Daniel Susskind: Thank you very much, it’s great to be with you.


Sharon D. Nelson: Richard, I have enjoyed – indeed I have devoured – all of your books. How did you come to write this particular book going beyond the legal profession to all professions and how did you come to write the book with your son Daniel?


Professor Richard Susskind: As you know, Sharon, I’ve been writing and thinking about the future of the legal profession for about 34 years now. And as a speaker, it has interested me often that after my talks, perhaps I’ll see an architect or a doctor in the audience and they’ll come up to me afterwards and say, “You know, Richard, what you’re saying is not just about law, it’s applying in our professions, too.” And that got me thinking there are broader issues going on. And at the same time, Daniel, my son, he was working in the prime minister’s office and he was working in justice policy and in education policy and in health policy and looking at the impact of technology. And as we come to discuss our role and experiences, we thought that technology was really playing a fundamental role, not just in changing the way the professions work, but in how we share expertise in society. So we thought this was a subject worth our considerable investigation, and so we set off on this journey together – I’m privileged to be doing so with my son. And we did research, we spoke to professional writers across the world, we put our heads together and we produced the book.


Jim Calloway: Daniel, our audience is the legal profession, so we’re going to be asking you questions from their point of view. One of the most interesting concepts of the book references the grand bargain and suggests that lawyers have failed in keeping their part of the bargain. Would you please explain what the grand bargain is and how lawyers have failed to keep that bargain?


Daniel Susskind: So the grand bargain is an arrangement under which the professions – and this includes the legal profession – often to the exclusion of others, and this exclusivity is key – they’re asked to provide certain services to the public. So only doctors can provide certain types of medical advice, only lawyers can provide certain types of legal advice and so on across the professions. And in return of this exclusivity, we as a society expect that the professions will make their knowledge, their experience, their skills, their know-how, and the term we use in the book for this is practical expertise. They’ll make their practical expertise available in a way that’s affordable, accessible, and reliable. And of course, the details of the grand bargain vary across the different professions. And you can think of it as what a political theorist might call a social contract. It’s not a traditional contract drafted by lawyers. It hasn’t been reduced to writing or signed, its terms haven’t been exhaustively articulated. And one way to think about the grand bargain is as a metaphor for this arrangement that we have in place between the professions in society. And the central idea is that the professions are granted exclusivity, and in return for that exclusivity, there’s this expectation that they’ll make that practical expertise available and affordable in an accessible way, as I’ve said before. So that’s the grand bargain and it’s clearly in place in the legal profession. To answer your question of why has the legal profession failed, because the legal profession – and it’s not just the legal profession, it’s across the professions – they’re not upholding their side of the bargain. Most people in most organizations can not afford the services of first rate professionals or indeed any professionals. The expertise of legal professionals is a very, very scarce resource in society. We’ve built a Rolls Royce service for a few and everyone else seems to be walking.


Sharon D. Nelson: Richard, might you have called this book, The Rise of the Computer Overlords? It seems like that was a major theme of the book. I know that you may not have precisely have meant them as overlords, but certainly the computers and the development of artificial intelligence come across as a major threat to the professions generally.


Professor Richard Susskind: That’s true, there is a threat there. I’ve been – throughout my career – I was struggling to know what to call my books. I should correct Jim in his introduction, he called my book The End of Lawyers but he forgot to put the question mark at the end of it. So I’ve got bad forms as regards titles books. We called it The Future of the Professions because really that is what we were looking at. Although technology is a vital role, we really wanted to focus on human beings and the extent of which these experts’ work will be relevant for the future. But there is no question that the essential theme of the book is in our language. The machines are becoming increasingly capable. And what we thought we would do when we looked to the book was think what is it that human beings do as professionals? What expertise do we have? And we thought in the first instance, we have cognitive skills. This allows us to solve problems, offer advice, reason, and draw conclusions. And as human beings, we have secondly physical skills, psychomotor skills, manual skills; very important for people like dentists and surgeons and so forth. Thirdly, we have emotional skills. We can hopefully listen to or respond to those we advise in an appropriate way. And fourthly, we have some kind of moral capability. We recognize that the implications of our work are often good or bad and we take responsibility for the decisions we make and for the advice that we offer. And what we argue in the book suggest that each of these skills – particularly the cognitive, the manual and emotional skills – are being taken on one way or another by these increasingly capable machines. So when you look at cognitive skills, we think of its ability on a TV quiz show to outperform even the best human experts. We think of manual skills and what’s going on in robotics. We think of the American field of affective computing; computers that can both detect and express human emotions. And we draw the conclusion that many of the tasks that are involved in professional jobs, if not now, then in the future as the machines become increasingly capable, will be taken on by machines. But one vital question that we do ask is this: We’re still at the stage where we can essentially draw a line and see if there are some tasks that even if machines can take them on were effectively in us as human beings, we may want to reserve these tasks for human beings. In medicine we suggest you wouldn’t want a machine to make the decision to switch off a life support system. Or in law, it seems to us we wouldn’t want a machine to pass on a life sentence. So even if machines are becoming increasingly capable, we look at great detail in artificial intelligence. But even if these machines are becoming increasingly capable, we may want to say enough. We may want to indicate the areas that we think are the exclusive preserve of human beings.


Jim Calloway: Daniel, I fear that a lot of lawyers will take the lesson of this book as doom and gloom for their future; particularly those lawyers who aren’t exactly comfortable with technology. Do you have some hope that you can offer them for their future?


Daniel Susskind: I think to read the book as doom and gloom would be to misread it and I say this for two reasons. The first reason for hope is that at least in the near future, there’s going to be a great deal of work that still has to be done by people. Our book isn’t about – in the median term – isn’t about the end of work. It’s about how the work that human beings do will change. So these increasingly capable systems take on more and more tasks that were previously done by human beings but new tasks and new roles were created and there’s new things for people to do. And our book looks at what these new roles might be. But it is true that in the book that we predict – and it’s one of the opening predictions that we make – we predict the decline of the traditional professions. And with them, the decline of traditional professional roles. But as I said, we also define a set of new roles that current professionals and also those outside the professions might befall. And in fact, we identify 12 of these new roles and we look at each of them in quite a lot of depth. Now of course, if you’re off the mindset as a lawyer that the only way to practice the law is to do so as the law was practiced in the 19th century and the only way to practice the law is as a traditional lawyer, you are going to be disappointed and the book will read like doom and gloom. But if you’re off the mindset that as a lawyer I want to solve legal problems and I want to find the most affordable, most accessible ways of solving those legal problems, then this is an incredibly exciting future, it’s a hopeful future. So yes, many of the new roles that we look at for human beings that will be unfamiliar to traditional professionals. But the promise of these new roles is that they will allow us to make legal expertise far more affordable and far more accessible. So this relates to what we think is a second reason for hope. Too often in thinking about the future of the professions, we do so from the standpoint of the provider; so in this case, the traditional lawyer. We ask, what do these changes mean for traditional lawyers? But when you ask about the future of the professions from the standpoint of the recipients of professional work, clients of lawyers, is that it’s a very exciting future. This is a promise of a future where they can get access of legal expertise far more readily and far more affordably. And that again is as we argue, a reason to embrace this future and to be hopeful and optimistic.


Sharon D. Nelson: Richard, one of the quotes from your book that I especially took to heart is that you said, “There is no way of softening the blow. Decades from now, today’s professions will play a much less prominent role in society,” and I think that’s the doom and gloom standpoint. There are some uncertainties that you express and there is charm in your own doubts and uncertainties, so I enjoyed that too. And then you have an entire chapter devoted to objections and anxieties, which I love because I think you’re going to have hyper anxiety if you’re a professional reading this book. Your doubts seem to center not so much around the conclusion but around the speed of which it will happen where we go from automation to the machines effectively being able to do much of the work in the professions. Is that a fair statement and how would you comment on that?


Professor Richard Susskind: There’s a lot going on in your question. I think Daniel’s absolutely right in what he says that it’s not doom in gloom but in the short term. And we want to stress again that what we’re seeing is the decline of the professions as we know them, that’s to say professionals behaving and undertaking their tasks as they do today is not that there won’t be work to be done in the median term. The second thing to say that we have that chapter, you’re right, called Objections and Anxieties, and actually they’re not so much my objects or anxieties or Daniel’s. They’re the kinds of objections and anxieties that others raise, usually preferenced by the phrase, “Yes, but,”  when people say, “Yes, but what about X, Y & Z?” So we know there’s kind of a preemptive strike. Let’s pick out 9 of these objections and just lay them out. So for example, a very common one is people will say, “Luke, the whole essence of any professional service is one human being sitting down with another, emphasizing, understanding, sitting in their shoes.” So we did a little bit of an analysis where we’re saying, of course, empathy is important. But we do point out that it’s true right across the professions that often deeply expert people are not particularly empathetic. So we often say we shouldn’t be expecting more of our machines than we get from our human beings. We also point to the American field as I mentioned a second ago of effective computing, machines that can both recognize and express human emotions. So a lot are riddled with what’s going on, and thinking about whether or not at least the effect of the empathy of a human being can be replicated by machines. And we focus on the issue of empathy because it strikes a chord with many people because many people will say under their breath, “Well of course, what I do as a professional of solving problems, I exercise judgement or I’m creative or empathetic, and no machine can ever do that, can it?” And we say you’re actually asking the wrong question there. Because the question is not can a machine exhibit empathy or judgement. The question we ask is for what problems are empathy and judgement and creativity a solution? And we take some of the judgement, because every lawyer wants to say with some justification that we exercise judgement in our daily activities. It transpires on analysis that the reason we call upon experts to exercise judgement is because as human beings, we operate under conditions of uncertainty. We don’t know precisely what’s going on around us, we don’t know the knowledge that it’s going to apply to our particular circumstances. So we call upon experts to exercise their judgement. But if you think about this for a second, the solution or problem for which human judgment is a solution is this uncertainty. And it turns out of course that computers are wonderful at dealing with uncertainty. And one clear example of this that I know of that’s of interest to both of you is the whole question of big data. We can actually eliminate a lot of the uncertainty or machines can cope with our uncertainty on the basis of large bodies of data and brute force. So it may well be that we solve problems differently in the future. This is one of our running themes that problems for which professionals have been the answer in the past may now in the future be sorted out by these increasingly capable machines. But you are right, thirdly, to say that we’re uncertain about the time skills in this. And I generally have been reluctant over the decades in my work to be pinned down to when the changes will occur. It’s not really in the hands of an author or a consultant, a father and son, to change the professions. That’s not our job. What we’re doing is identifying the whole bundle of trains. We believe machines are becoming increasingly capable. We believe human beings are becoming increasingly connected. We believe the devices we use are becoming increasingly pervasive. Whether or not that’ll mean by 2030 or 2040 or 2050 that much of the work of, say, the everyday lawyer, will be eliminated we’ll predict. But it does seem to us that the least likely future is that nothing is going to change. We see no plateauing. We see no leveling out in the power and potential in information technology. So you’re right, we are uncertain of the timescales. But we do believe that the decade of the 2020’s is going to be the decade where many professional roles – a phrase we often use – is not going to be about unemployment, it’s going to be about redeployment. Beyond that, we can point to the broad trends, but we’re uncomfortable with being pinned down to any specific dates.


Jim Calloway: Daniel, can you explain the concept of embedded knowledge and how it pertains to the legal profession?


Daniel Susskind: So when most people think of how we apply expertise to resolving everyday problems, we tend to presume that human beings and in particular, a human professional, needs to be involved. So if there’s a medical issue, a legal issue, or tax issue to be sorted, then necessarily, we expect that we require a flesh and blood advisor. Now the existence of what we call in the book, embedded knowledge, challenges this assumption. It involves the application of knowledge and it doesn’t directly involve human beings. So a good example of this is the card game of Solitaire, also known as Patience. One of the rules of that game is that you can’t put two cards of the same color on top of each other. If you’re playing that game with a real deck of cards, of course you can cheat. You can put a red 9 on top of a red 8. But when you play that game on your computer, it is not possible to lay a red 9 on top of a red 8. The system will not let you do it. There are rules of the game built into the electronic version of the card game that don’t allow you to break the rules. And in the professions across the professions, we see a similar thing happening with embedded knowledge. So in medicine, for example, there’s insulin pumps and they are moving towards automated dosing that’s based on sense input rather than the deliberation of a medical expert. It’s not possible to not get the dose right given some sense of it. There’s no way of breaking the rules that are represented in the technology, similarly in the world of religion. Smartphones are being reprogrammed to have limited web browsing capabilities so that, for example, observing jews don’t have to worry about visiting non kosher websites; it’s just simply not possible to do. So in the legal world, when legal rules are embodied in working practices and systems and processes, noncompliance becomes far more difficult. So you can imagine in a building, you might have environmental legislation that dictates what temperature has to be or what humidity it must be, and you can design systems in the building such that are in compliance with that environmental legislation must happen. In the financial world, you can imagine financial regulation that dictates what trades are acceptable and are not acceptable. And similarly, you can imagine in a bank systems can be designed to ensure that those trades that are not acceptable can’t be carried out to ensure that noncompliance is not an option. It’s worth saying, though, that this idea of embedded knowledge – we call it, in fact, the embedded knowledge model – and it’s only one of six alternative ways of producing and sharing expertise in society that we set out in the book. So alongside this embedded knowledge model we look at five other ways of producing and sharing expertise.


Sharon D. Nelson: All the more reason for them to buy the book. But for the moment, let’s now pause for a quick commercial break and then we’ll be right back.


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Sharon D. Nelson: Welcome back to the Digital Edge on the Legal Talk Network. Today our subject is The Future of the Professions: An Interview with Richard and Daniel Susskind. And our guests are Richard and Daniel Susskind, the authors of the new book, The Future of the Professions. Richard, I especially like the concept of the comments, the free sharing of information, which already has had a huge and ever growing impact on lawyers. Would you expand on what you see happening to the legal profession based on this free sharing of information?


Professor Richard Susskind: The context of this concept is online legal service. This idea that human beings will receive legal guidance, get legal help, get help to draft legal documents, by consulting online services. And in the book, we suggest there’s three different ways that this could be made available. On the one hand, it could be made available as a kind of chargeable online service, and we’re already seeing law firms around the world move in this direction. So people who use these services pay for use. A second model favored by many governments and charitable organizations, is that the contents made available at no cost to the users, but the content is controlled very much by these governmental and charitable bodies. And the third option is when legal content, legal advice, legal documents, legal experience, is made available on a commons basis. And this is a huge oversimplification, but it’s like a Wikipedia of practical expertise. And this is where people not only can get advice and guidance, but can actually share the experience they’ve had of receiving legal advice with others. And the key characteristics of this is it’s not owned or controlled by a government or a major commercial provider. It’s actually held and stored and nurtured on behalf of the people as a form of common property. So you don’t enclose this knowledge or expertise. You don’t control it externally. And of course, this is being so dominant in the software engineering industry – in the spirit of open source community where code and systems and services are shared, then we believe the same should be happening with professional content. At the end of the book, when we ask the question what future should we want, we find this very attractive. We think the idea that people around the world could have ready immediate low or no cost access to medical help, to educational services, and in our context to legal advice, this is something we should aspire to. It’s a very different future. It takes away from the idea of lawyers being the gatekeepers. Lawyers as the gatekeepers would be the people who own and control the online legal services. If you make legal content available on a commons basis, there is on the face of it, less legal business for lawyers. But from the point of view of the recipients of the legal advice – ordinary citizens, small businesses and so forth – this is a huge move ahead in our society in our view.


Jim Calloway: Daniel, lawyers are trained to look at the past precedent to guess and predict the future. Your book correctly points out the tendency of many in the legal profession and others, I assume, to make small incremental changes. When you say a complete change of mindset is needed, what does that mean exactly?


Daniel Susskind: So what we mean by that is that in thinking about the future of the professions, most professionals tend to take what they do today. So in the law, some form of one to one consultative advisory service often is on an hourly billing basis. And they ask how can we make that service a bit quicker, a bit cheaper and a bit better? But rarely do professionals ask themselves a more fundamental question, to what problem are the current professions the solution? In the legal case, to what problem is the legal profession the current solution? And when we look at this from the standpoint of all the professions, our answer to this more fundamental question is that all the professions in analogous ways are a solution to the same problem. And the problem is that none of us have sufficient specialist knowledge to cope with all our daily challenges in life. Nobody can know everything. Human beings have rights of what we call in the book limited understanding. So we look to doctors, we look to teachers and we look to lawyers and other professionals because they have the expertise that we need to make progress in life. Professions are the traditional ways that we solve these daily challenges. Professionals have knowledge, they have experience, skills, and know how that those they help don’t. So why does this change in mindset matter? Why does this shift away from thinking about the current professions to thinking about the problems to which the current professions are the solution? Why is that a useful one? And the answer is this: Because it helps us to recognize that there might be quite different solutions to the problem. There are ones that are entirely unlike what we have put in place, namely the traditional professions. That encourages us to look beyond the traditional professions and open our minds and recognize that there might be an alternative and there might be better ways of resolving the underlying problem. And this is in fact what the book is arguing. We’re arguing there is one future where we use technology to make current professional service a bit quicker, a bit cheaper, a bit better. But there is a second very different future where we use technology to solve these problems in fundamentally different ways. And that’s what we’re talking about when we talk about a shift in mindset.


Sharon D. Nelson: Richard, your book offers up a revolution that you say will resolve in a dismantling of the traditional professions. Are you really convinced that that will be the result? And the reason I ask is because the professions have been failing the grand bargain for a very long time and they have survived.


Professor Richard Susskind: It’s funny, this is the most frequent criticism of our book, people say we don’t understand that professions have been around for centuries. They’re not going away quickly and indeed it will require the willingness of the professions themselves to bring about the change. We see a number of things that are happening. We did a lot of empirical research in preparation for the book. We looked at thought leaders, market leaders around the world who really are already changing the professions and we also looked at the commercial circumstances and the social circumstances of current professions. As Daniel said, they’re creaking, we can’t really afford our medical services or legal services or educational services any longer. So we concluded that we are at a bit of a crossroads and this is unprecedented. Because what we’re seeing is what I’ve called for many years in the legal context is the more for less challenge from ordinary citizens right through to major corporations that need radically to reduce the cost of legal services. We’re seeing in many professions a liberalization. This is the opportunity for people who are not traditional providers to come in to the marketplace and offer technology-based solutions that surplan to replace challenge conventional ways of working. We see an appetite, particularly amongst  the internet generation, for work to be done differently. We don’t see this dismantling as going to happen overnight. We call it an incremental transformation. It’s not a big bgang revolution. We’re not saying the professionals will be dead within the next few years. But I think if you look over the next few decades, and if we’re right, increasingly capable machines will take on more and more of the tasks that human beings currently undertake. And if you bear in mind that most people can not any longer afford legal services delivered in the traditional way. And I look, for example, locally at the success we’ve had in promoting online dispute resolution. I look at the growing interest in online legal help for consumers. We see all of these drivers pointing the same direction, away from one to one consultative advisory service that underpins the current professions towards some kind of online delivery of legal services, often on a commons basis. And often than not, the direct involvement of the traditional legal professional. So we’re not saying for a second there will be less need for legal help. Actually, as our economies grow, there’s more need for legal help. But what we’re seeing is as legal service becomes less and less affordable commercially and societally, socially immorally, it seems to us that would impale you to find new ways to delivering legal services. And while in the past, these have been occasional changes of the edge, what we foresee is that these changes will actually become center screen and that these transformations will characterize the way of which problems are sorted out rather than be exceptional. And, “dismantling the professions,” may sound rather melodramatic. I stress again, it’s not over the next few years, it’s over the next few decades. But we look to the crafts in the past. We look to the Tallow Chandlers. We look to the mercers. We look to the wheelwrights. People who are involved in manufacturing candles of silk and of wheels. We still need candles. We still need silk. We still need wheels. But these antiquated ways of working based on craft were displaced by modern technology. We see the same in the professions. The antiquated dependency on professions as a craft will be displaced by – in large part – either by increasingly capable machines working autonomously, or by less expert people performing at a high level with the support of systems. So we don’t make any apologies for our prediction that in the next few decades, the professions as we know them will fade and we’ll find new ways of sorting out the problems to which they currently are the solution.


Jim Calloway: Daniel, what’s the most interesting question that people have asked you about the legal profession and your predictions after they’ve read the book? Could you tell us the question and answer it and also tell our listeners where they can pick up a copy?


Daniel Susskind: Of course. I think the most interesting question that I get asked about the future of the legal profession – and in fact the future of all the professions – is the question about the very long run. A lot of the book is looking at the median run and looking at the new roles the people will do that legal professionals will do. But a lot of people also, as I said, want to know about the very long run. They read about the ongoing debate about the future of work and the question they ask is, “But surely, there must be some tasks that machines can’t do?” And our answer to that question is not to be so sure about it. And what we say in thinking that there are some tasks that machines can never do, even in the longrun, legal professionals tend to have what we call a Rubik’s Cube conception of machine capability. And the reason it’s called the Rubik’s Cube conception is there’s a machine that was built by a man out of combination of a lego and his smartphone that can solve a Rubik’s Cube in under 3 and a half seconds, and he built this on his dining room table. That 3 and a half seconds is significantly better than the leading human expert. And most legal professionals aren’t surprised by this capability of machines. Although the task of solving a Rubik’s Cube is a complex one, it’s manually dexterous. It’s also self-contained. It’s a rules based problem, it’s logical. It’s what legal professionals might call a routine task. And so of course, machines can do this. What many legal professionals say is they do much more than carry out routine work. Legal professionals say that that work requires creativity, requires judgment, requires empathy. And all of these sorts of tasks are surely non routine tasks, and therefore beyond the capability of machines. And is usually, at this point in the conversation that lawyer’s shoulders are relaxed and say, “That’s me, I’m safe in the long run,” our response to this is to not be so sure. We think there’s two mistakes being made here. The first relates to decomposition of work. Our research and our experience suggests that when you break legal work down into a small basic task, it turns out that many of these legal tasks are routine rather than non routine. Not everything – and in cases not very much that a lawyer does – requires empathy, creativity and judgment. And the second mistake that’s been made, we think, when lawyers say, “Surely there must be some things in the future that can never be done by a machine,” is to think that these non routine tasks, those that require creativity, judgment and empathy, can never be handled by machines either. This relates to an idea that we spent quite a lot of time looking at in the book called the artificial intelligence fallacy. And very, very briefly, it’s the mistaken belief, it’s a fallacy, that the only way to get a machine to replicate, to perform a task that a lawyer currently performs is to try and understand how a lawyer performs it and then articulate how a lawyer performs it in a set of rules for a machine to follow. That’s simply not true. The temptation is to say that because computers can’t think, they can’t be creative. Because when computers can’t feel, they can’t be empathetic. And the mistake is the artificial intelligence fallacy is to fail to notice that many of new systems and machines can perform the sorts of tasks that lawyers performed, but not be copying the way that human beings do them – with creativity, with judgment, with empathy – but doing them in very, very different ways. A good example of this, last year on eBay, 60 million legal disputes arose and were resolved online using what’s called an eMediation platform. No traditional lawyers were involved, and the way the system resolved the legal problems looked nothing like the way that a traditional lawyer would esolve it. It didn’t require creativity, judgment and empathy. It was doing it in a very, very different way. And where we see this across the professions, these systems and machines are able to perform tasks not by copying the way that a doctor or a teacher or an architect performs them, but as I said, doing them in a very different way. As to your latter question about where the book is available, it’s currently available in online bookstores, on Amazon, and over the first few weeks of the new year, it’ll start appearing in most major bookstores as well.


Sharon D. Nelson: Well, we’d like to thank you both for being our guests today, Richard and Daniel. It’s a wonderful book. I personally recommend buying it not as an eBook but as in an actual book because I found myself highlighting a lot and making notes, et cetera, et cetera. It’s full of engaging ideas; you may not agree with all of them but they are definitely presented in a very entertaining way. Both of you are very witty fellows. So I was one of the two readers that ventured into one of your chapters that you said you could skip, but I didn’t skip it. There are a lot of interesting tips, topics, ideas for you, and many anecdotes that would be fun to share over a couple of pints at the local pub which is what Jim and I wish we could do with you two. But we are denied that privilege so we will just stop and say thank you very much for being with us today. I know the audiences are going to get a lot out of this.


Professor Richard Susskind: Sharon and Jim, thank you very much for involving us, it has been our great pleasure.


Daniel Susskind: It really has, thank you.


Sharon D. Nelson: That does it for this edition of The Digital Edge, lawyers and technology; and remember, you can subscribe to all the editions of this podcast at, or on iTunes. And if you enjoyed our podcast, please rate us on iTunes.


Jim Calloway: Thanks for joining us. Goodbye Ms. Sharon.


Sharon D. Nelson: Happy trails, cowboy.
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Episode Details
Published: January 19, 2016
Podcast: The Digital Edge
Category: Best Legal Practices , Legal Technology
The Digital Edge
The Digital Edge

The Digital Edge, hosted by Sharon D. Nelson and Jim Calloway, covers the latest technology news, tips, and tools.

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