Susskind: 8 careers for J.D.'s who'd rather build machines than compete with them (plus, who'll hire you)

What can you do with your J.D.?

Students at American law schools take the employment tracks as given - 1) BigLaw, 2) Medium/Small Firm, 3) Public Interest, or 4) Government. 

At many law schools, mine included, the number of students who covet BigLaw jobs far exceeds those who'll get the opportunity.  At other schools, students feel they have no choice but to go to BigLaw, even if they have different aspirations.  Without addressing 2-4 in depth, I'll ask the obvious question. 

Is there anything else on the menu?

A few months ago I'd have told you no.  Then I read "Tomorrow's Lawyers" by Richard Susskind.  

The book confirmed my intuition from years working in the technology sector (at an investment firm, and then as an entrepreneur).  Computers and business model innovations are changing the legal hiring market structurally, meaning there are fewer entry-level opportunities on "the track."  Today feels like a trough - there are fewer jobs than before, and there's more competition for the existing ones.  Could that change?  

"The challenge for a young lawyer looking ahead at the [2020's] is, do you want to compete with the machines or build the machines?" - Richard Susskind¹

Don't ruminate too long on the jobs that are gone - new jobs should appear soon if you know where to look.  

As mentioned above, computerization and innovation in legal is well under way, but disruptive to business as usual. [JNC - hope to elaborate on this more fully in another article].  In this way, legal is no different than the broader economy.  If disruption means some jobs doing the work will go away, it seems like a good bet to learn how to build the new machines (and implement them, fix them, maintain them, etc).  

In chapters 11 and 12 of his book, Susskind offers useful predictions about what and where the new jobs will be:

What:

  • 1) Legal knowledge engineer
    • Susskind describes a knowledge engineer as professional with a deep knowledge of substantive law and (along with years of practice experience) whose mission is to productize their expertise for others' use
  • 2) Legal technologist
    • (JNC - probably requires more technical prowess than J.D.'s with no prior background can practically achieve,  but many enter law school with a strong technical background)
  • 3) Legal hybrid
  • 4) Legal process analyst
    • CLOC is doing interesting work on this problem, which exists within corporate in-house departments.
  • 5) Legal project manager
    • If it's possible to source legal work from technology, low cost providers, firms, and from in-house lawyers, how does it all fit together?  PM's figure out.
  • 6) Online Dispute Resolution practitioner
  • 7) Legal management consultant
    • management requires entirely different skills than those of an expert practitioner! 
  • 8) Legal risk manager
    • For further reading here I recommend Daniel Martin Katz, whose thesis is that the law is headed towards financialization/quantification of an unprecedented scale (12).  NB - Katz's ideas are distinct from Susskind's.  

Where:

  • 1) Global accounting firms
    • they already have contacts with the decision-makers at would-be clients
  • 2) Major legal publishers
  • 3) Legal know-how providers
  • 4) Legal process outsourcers
  • 5) High Street retail businesses
    • aka - "main street" - think walk-in retail branches for legal needs, possibly in a bank or supermarket
  • 6) Legal leasing agencies
  • 7) New-look law firms 
    • (JNC - others might call this NewLaw)
  • 8) Online legal service providers
  • 9) Legal management consultancies

What now?

These predictions should give you a sense of where the puck is headed.  If this brief overview captured your imagination go read Susskind's book. It's on Amazon/Kindle and your local library probably has it.

If you want to get one of these new legal careers Susskind is describing, how can you find the firms that are working on these problems?  The challenge in 2017 is translating between map and territory.  The fact that this is so hard (and the CDO probably can't help you) seems like the opportunity of a lifetime for those who crack it.


¹ - see 6:00 mark of Richard Susskind's recent video interview with UK-based magazine Legal Cheek