How Lawyers Can Benefit from the Digital Revolution

11 March 2020

Is it time for a radical rethink of court systems globally? According to Richard Susskind’s latest book, ‘Online Courts and the Future of Justice’, it is.

Susskind posits that such a transformation could ‘help remove all manner of manifest injustices’, providing a refreshing pragmatic approach as opposed to a ‘tech-topian’ outlook. Simply, online court systems are a good idea because they are useful, not because they will, by nature, solve the world’s problems.

In realistic terms, however, the change he predicates is already happening. New forms of online dispute resolution are constantly emerging around the world, in Australia, Cananda, Singapore and even the UK. Using this reality, Susskind has a vision of how dispute resolution may evolve, and how lawyers can best take advantage of the changes.

Susskind’s vision is that court systems could be – and should be – completely transformed digitally in order to save justice from the expensive, complex and outdated service it stands as today. He argues that courts do not need to have a physical space, and that we could extend the current system by taking it ‘upstream’. By this, he means that people should be able to enter an online court service to determine whether they have a legitimate claim and whether that claim has merit. This would not be performed by a case officer or lawyer, but rather by digital pathways. The benefit of this is that it ‘assists users in turning an unstructured grievance into a recognisable, justiciable problem’.

Secondly, the court system would then contain that potential dispute by providing at first, case officers, and in the future, technology to facilitate resolution. He points at the success of eBay’s dispute resolution system, which resolves 60 million issues per year ‘without third party intervention’. This acts as an embedded step in the system, rather than an alternate path.

Lastly, if the dispute is not resolved, then it will need a judge. He envisions that this judge does not need to be in a courtroom, the parties need not be present, and a single hearing is not necessary. This is how we arrive at online judging, where the hearing is continuous over a period of time. For now, we still need to use human judges for this step.

To be clear, Susskind is focusing primarily on civil disputes, not criminal justice, and more on the common, low value disputes as opposed to complex, multi-party, multi-jurisdictional commercial cases.

In advice to lawyers, Susskind stresses that it is important that lawyers engage in as much online digital justice once it becomes available. In his view, this may be the difference between lawyers who excel in the digital transformation and those that get left behind.

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