I, For One, Welcome Our Robolawyer Overlords
Are machines about to take our legal jobs?
Are robo-lawyers poised to take over corner offices at top law firms leaving attorneys in threadbare suits holding signs that say “Will litigate for food?”
By the time you read this, automation and artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to have affected countless legal practitioners. In the UK alone, over 100,000 legal jobs are at risk of automation and one study found that AI could do 23% of an average attorney’s job. Is it already too late for the practice of law?
This question of whether lawyers are going to replace legal practitioners comes up at nearly every event I speak at, because people are afraid of the velocity of innovation. If we are to believe the pundits and navel-gazers, the end is nigh and legal practitioners should be counting the days until the AI takeover. Thankfully, as they so often do, the experts have gotten this prediction wrong. Technological innovation has changed the practice of law, but not in the way you might expect.
No robolawyer is coming
Autonomous cyborgs are far from replacing the uniquely human aspects of legal reasoning. Legal AI today differs from what John McCarthy envisioned when he first wrote about smart machines replacing humans. The future of legal AI is less about emulating human cognition and more about augmenting it. Modern legal AI is more focused on amplifying the human lawyer by reducing time to evidence and automating low-level tasks.
The use of advanced machine learning and AI to handle repetitive tasks frees up humans to focus on higher value tasks that are probably closer to the reason you went to law in the first place. Technology aimed at amplifying human capability, known as augmented intelligence, drives efficiency and cost savings and creates opportunities for job growth and higher earnings for individuals and businesses.
Rather than machines replacing humans outright, the newer evolution of machine learning is augmented intelligence — more akin to the film Ironman. In the film, a technologically advanced suit provides a wealth of information and amplifies mere mortal, Tony Stark, to superhero status. Modern augmented intelligence in law functions much in the way: as a force multiplier for tech savvy legal practitioners who know how to use it.
Should we be very afraid?
Should legal practitioners be afraid… be very afraid? Simply answered, no. Legal AI offers massive opportunities for practitioners to thrive if they adapt. Augmented intelligence combines the human mind and advanced technology to improve and amplify human decisions. The future of law is not some sentient machine. Instead, it is you, supercharged — faster, smarter, and more able to focus on the legal questions that brought you to law school in the first place.
Adapt or die
Technology has shifted how humans live, work, and play, and legal professionals are no different. To find key evidence across the vast data-verse, practitioners must embrace technology. The alternative is obsoletion.
Attorneys at every station in their legal career have nothing to fear from robo-lawyers. But have everything to fear from their peers who quit being afraid and embrace the tech enabled future. From practice optimization to reducing time to evidence or identifying risk before it becomes a compliance nightmare, technology impacts all aspects of legal practice. The most successful lawyers today and into the future are those that can master technology and reap the many benefits.
Law school and even most of the on-the-job training lawyers receive leaves them woefully unprepared for the realities of law today. The affinity for partners to teach upcoming lawyers the way things “have always been done” is holding a generation of legal professionals back. To become the tech-savvy lawyer clients demand, practitioners must take their legaltech education into their own hands.