Writing a piece here in September (The Way Lawyers Work Now) drove me back to the sustaining works of Richard Susskind: “The Future of Law” (1996), “Transforming the Law” (2000), and “The End of Lawyers?” (2008). They remain a most impressive achievement, and as well a rare effort to forecast the future of work in a particular vertical market sector. The trends that are apparent now align closely with the Susskind theses, especially in terms of the moves into practice solutioning, where Lexis now pursue PLC much more closely in the UK, with the benefit of being able to support their solutions by invoking the whole research environment as well. Whether these moves support ideas of the democritization of access to the law – Richard quotes Shaw’s dictum that “all professions are a conspiracy against the laity” – is not the question for this blog. However, they certainly deliver a vision of deskilling and cost erosion, and thoughts that many corporate and individual clients may in future have a very different procedural access to the law and its requirements.

I was encouraged in this thinking by discovering that Lexis UK last month published some of their own research survey findings, under the title “Practice Points”. This was a very worthwhile process, though not so that we could learn that 66% of respondents forecast 10% growth per annum over the next two years. With so many UK law practices currently debating their status after the last government’s liberalization measures, no one contemplating incorporation of floatation would say anything else. What impressed me more was the high score that lawyers gave to increased competition associated with the ABS (Alternative Business Structures) legislation, and the increase in M&A activity that this foretold. In order to hold costs and even reduce them (those surveyed saw fixed fee not hourly rates as the future business model) the gearing had to change – they needed to recruit more support staff who were not going to share  profits or become partners. The way in which many would do this was by outsourcing to a fixed fee legal outsourcing company, often in the UK but sometimes offshore as well. And IT was the critical element – 60% looked to process automation to reduce costs and create the communications with clients and third party suppliers which will make this work.

This plays well with the line on practice solutions now being taken by Lexis and long held by PLC in the UK. PLC’s US expansion still appears on course, though moving more slowly in the recession. But I wondered about continental Europe, especially given the traditional positioning of German lawyers between clients, and provincial regulation, Federal law and EU requirements. Do not forget that both Thomson Reuters and Lexis, in various ways, quit this difficult marketplace in the last decade. So I was delighted at Frankfurt to find Christian Dirschl of Wolters Kluwer Germany on my panel, and to be able to ask him whether German law publishers were having to adjust their positioning and move towards new access models  alongside their existing commitment to research tools. And, since I have always found WK Deutschland very difficult to understand as an outsider, since it has 8 constituent law companies and another four tax imprints, I was hugely impressed by the answer: WK Germany has fully embraced semantic technologies by launching the Jurion interface (www.jurion.de) to make much of its own and growing amounts of third party content  accessible in a contextualizable environment.

There are a number of very striking points about Jurion. In the first instance WK have gone back and re-engineered their content acquisition, enrichment and bundling cycle. With their metadata ducks all in a row, and fundamental problems of delivery format and functionality solved, they have been able to invite third parties on to the platform to work through the same interface. So here you can get your Haufe content as well as your Lucterhand WK content, and if you are not a subscriber to the particular Haufe service, you can join up in 20 seconds. Then again they are members of the EU-supported LOD 2 project (http://lod2.eu), with 15 other companies in 12 countries. This lets Jurion swim in the world of EU Open Government (via the publicdata.eu platform), and provides not just another layer of content accessibility, but a context in which open source semantic technologies (DBpedia, Virtuoso, Sindice, Silk) can work jointly. Add to this rich stew a few more ingredients: their ability with semantic analysis and the LOD (linked open data) environments has propelled them into the development of major taxonomic instruments, with the legal thesauri now covering a large range of public/private content and WK becoming the effective gateway and standards setter for legal access. And then consider that at the same time they have integrated document construction and document location, using the same metadata. And then search all of this on legal terms and legal concepts. And then add, from the end of this year, web data as well as web content (look at the Wikipedia -style work accomplished here). Very impressive.

But what does it look like from the user screen? When I open my Jurion desktop I have options. jSearch is a normal law database environment with semantic search. jStore has the WK products, its partners’ products, fast purchase and – almost inevitably, a recommendation system which is likely to be very important. jLink will allow annotation sharing  and thus becomes a gateway to social media. jBook allows personalization and rebundling of content – and you can have it as an eBook or print copy too. jCreate allows content creation, metadata allocation and sharing – via jStore for a fee if necessary. And jDesk, which subsumes the lawyers user desktop, giving him indexation, and coverage of the whole or parts of the firm’s network. Here clients have OCR, citation recognition, topic classification, and document creation. This is not yet fully completed, but remains a startling step forward. It potentially transforms the competitive structure of the German law and tax market, and it is based on vital ideas of collaboration which have to underlie all of these developments in future.

WK Germany have gone horizontal in their effort to supply the lawyer in Germany with a complete access point. Lexis in the UK have gone vertical in their bid for practice solutions. Both of these legitimate approaches will one day end in the same place, with comprehensive and collaborative  service environments that eventually begin to democratize access to the law.


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3 Comments so far

  1. Steve Sieck on November 4, 2012 23:07

    Stimulating as always, David. But I don’t see an argument for your last point. Is it that integration and collaboration will lower barriers to use by the laity through standardization and contextualization? Or will the cost (and power) of these tools help maintain the legal priesthood?

  2. dworlock on November 5, 2012 10:49

    Steve You were always my best critic !What I am rying to say is that lawyers will use these tools in the short term as a way of staying in the race , but gradually the lower reaches of what lawyers do most profitably – fill in forms , make submissions etc – is being eroded – first of all by a new cadre of semi-skilled law personnel who will do the grunt work cheaper , using the technology , and then by direct layman access to the network itself. As with the teacher , the lawyer moves into a new position as a moderator and auditor of what is happening in the network , not as the prime mover . Direct lawyer activity becomes concentrated around litigation , advocacy and contentious business , just as teachers concentrate on difficult or gifted exceptional learners . Forecast 2022 ?

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