Tuesday, 13 August 2013

The Lawyer's Email Hysteria of the 1990s

In an interview with litigator-turned-presenter James D. Zirin, Richard Susskind spoke of how his mid-1990s suggestions that lawyers would use email were rubbished and silenced by the settled legal establishment. Backing-up the discussion a bit, Richard Susskind explained the context in this way:
“I look at the tax profession. I look at the way they handle tax risk, the way they identify, control, manage, hedge, monitor tax risk: they use sophisticated tools and techniques to help clients, not simply resolve their problems, but say, on the horizon are 4 problems you’re likely to face and here’s how you can manage and control these risks." 
 James D. Zirin then breached the email-hysteria topic. He asked Susskind:
"You’ve been working in this area for about 30 years. When you got started there was considerable resistance at the English Bar to your ideas, isn’t that true – that the Law Society (what we in the US call the American Bar Association) didn’t want you to speak in public?”

 Richard Susskind responded:
“Yea, I think many people don’t want me to speak in public. At the time I was suggesting that the dominant way that lawyers and clients would communicate would be by email. I know in retrospect that sounds rather obvious; though at the time it was radical thinking and senior officials in England and Wales were saying that I didn’t understand confidentiality, that I didn’t understand security and that I was bringing the profession into disrepute by suggesting they use email. 
And it seems to me, at the time and in retrospect, clearly that was silly; that we shouldn't embrace new technology, new techniques and new ways of working that are proven in other sectors. And much of what I say isn’t great insight and my own imagination; I look around in other sectors and other industries to see what work for them and ask: What if we had that in law? Why aren’t we using social networks?"
 Richard Susskind continued:
“I don’t see why lawyers should be immune from these changes and methods that are working elsewhere.”
 He then said:
“We have to be open minded – and above all else that’s what I ask from law firm leaders."
Video discussion in full here.


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