Richard Susskind is a tempting target for satire. Gazette readers will know him as a stalwart of conferences on the future of the legal profession (short version: ‘We’re all doomed’) and as author of books with titles such as The End of Lawyers?.
Now he has teamed up with his son, Oxford economist and former Downing Street policy wonk Daniel Susskind, to broaden his scope to all white-collar professionals.
True, there is something a little slick about the jacket photo of the Susskind family firm, which reminds me of one of those ads for Swiss watches you see in in-flight magazines. But inside is thought-provoking and topical stuff.
Of course, futurologists have been saying for 30 years that technologies such as artificial intelligence will do for skilled white-collar jobs what tractors did to agricultural workers. But after numerous false starts, from simple expert systems to Japan’s ‘fifth generation’ computer program, these predictions are now coming true. Counterintuitively, the legal sector is a bit of a pioneer, here: just the other day I was talking to a partner in a firm already using AI to process light-obstruction notices.
According to the Susskinds, the revolution will have implications not only for jobs but for what it means to be a professional. Again, a glance at the way some law firms have successfully commoditised work gives us a foretaste.
They end on an optimistic note: while the revolution will be uncomfortable for practitioners, society as a whole will benefit from professional knowledge being disseminated without the intermediation of highly paid individuals. Perhaps they are betting on there always being a job for Cassandras.
Michael Cross is news editor at the Law Society Gazette