The days of lawyers as trusted advisers are numbered because a reliable outcome to their issue is more important to clients than a relationship with their lawyer, Professor Richard Susskind has claimed.
Along with his son Daniel, he also expressed concern about the impact of Brexit on the UK maintaining its focus on what a period of unprecedented technological progress means for the country.
The pair have written a preface to the new paperback edition of their 2015 book, The future of the professions.
Its central thesis is that machines are becoming increasingly capable and are taking on more and more tasks that were once the exclusive province of human professionals. In the medium term, during the 2020s, this will not mean unemployment, but “retraining and redeployment”.
However, in the longer term, “we find it hard to avoid the conclusion that there will be a steady decline in the need for traditional flesh and blood professionals”.
The Susskinds conceded that this vision has received a mixed response, with strong feelings on both sides. In very general terms, they found lawyers to react conservatively, while their professional bodies have “gathered protectively around their members”.
Dealing with the frequent questions they have encountered in presentations based on the book in more than 20 countries, they said they were often asked whether they honestly believed that the days of the trusted adviser were numbered.
“Surely, we are regularly invited to concede, human beings will always hanker after the reassurance that a warm and empathetic person can afford a fellow human being. We do not deny for a second that great comfort can be given from person to another. Indeed, we identify the ‘empathiser’ as an important future role.
“However, our experience suggests that many of the recipients of professional services are in fact seeking a reliable solution or outcome rather than a trusted adviser per se.
“Looking ahead, when the standard of the output of, say, an online service is very high and its branding is unimpeachable, this will offer its own level of comfort and reassurance. In many circumstances, this will be sufficient for users and invariably more affordable than the warm adviser.”
When asked what students should look to for a career, they suggest either that they seek jobs that are likely to favour human capabilities over AI – those requiring creativity and interpersonal skills rather than technical knowledge – or become directly involved in the development and delivery of the technology itself.
“In this context, we remain deeply concerned that our colleges and universities are continuing to generate 20th century professionals rather than graduates who are equipped for the new millennium.
“It is disturbing that current educational systems around the world continue to focus on teaching our students to undertake tasks for which machines are now better suited.”
Without stating a view on the merits of the referendum vote, the Susskinds said the decade or more that they thought “disengagement” from the EU would take “will also be a time of greater technological progress than the world has ever witnessed, a time when our businesses and government should be highly responsive to rapidly evolving technologies and shifting market conditions”.
They continued: “However, a country that is submerged in executing Brexit is unlikely at the same time to be sufficiently concentrated on innovation, on overhauling the way it educates and trains its citizens for new roles, and on investing in the next wave of transformative technologies. This is troubling.
“Somehow, Britain must be sufficiently disciplined to compete with those many other countries that will entirely focused on emerging as leaders in these critical activities.”