The power of peer production

17 Jan 21

Richard Susskind is “an author, speaker, and independent adviser to major professional firms and to national governments. His main area of expertise is the future of professional service and, in particular, the way in which the IT and the Internet are changing the work of lawyers.” In the words of Jordan Furlong: “We talk a lot about ‘visionaries’ these days, but in the legal profession, nobody seriously competes with Richard Susskind for that title ….”.

In 2009, Susskind published The End of Lawyers? Rethinking the Nature of Legal Services, a pioneering work that served as a wake-up call for the legal profession. Lawyers are not “entitled to profit from the law”, Susskind wrote. Susskind’s was one of the first voices to challenge lawyers to “identify their distinctive skills and talents, the capabilities that they possess that cannot, crudely, be replaced by advanced systems ....” Above all, lawyers should not “feel exempt from assessing whether at least some of their current workload might be undertaken differently in years to come. And no lawyers should shirk from the challenge of identifying their distinctive capabilities.”

Not every prediction Susskind advanced has borne fruit. But one prophecy that has stood the test of time, however, is what Susskind described as the coming emergence of “closed legal communities” (p. 131):

Where mass collaboration harnesses the power of numbers and what has been called the ‘wisdom or crowds’ in evolving a shared product …, closed communities build up knowledge on the basis of the more focused process of ‘peer production’—a restricted group of like-minded individuals or organizations with shared interest come together online, as a club of sorts, to collaborate and collectively build a body of knowledge and experience.

By challenging ourselves and teaching our expertise, we will improve the law and its practice.