There is no doubt that artificial intelligence (AI) is going to change the world. And not in the next 100 years. Most experts are saying we will see massive changes in the next 20 years. A recent article in the New York Times states that recent advances in AI has led lawyers to worry that they will soon be collecting unemployment benefits, having been made redundant by robots. Is this the end of law as a profession?
Most will admit that the legal profession is not one to embrace change rapidly. And AI will be no exception. It is likely that one or two tasks will become automated, but tasks such as meeting clients, strategising and drafting contracts, negotiation, and working out complex corporate and public law matters will remain in the realm of humans for some time.
It was always assumed that although manual jobs would eventually be taken over by machines but professions such as law would be safe because they relied so much on communication.
Complicated, repetitive tasks are done better by AI; algorithms have a lower margin of error when it comes to completing these tasks and can complete them much faster. And law is full of such work. Form filling, contract review, title searches, document discovery; these tasks are ideally suited to be handled by a machine.
However, many tasks performed by lawyers may not ever be replaced by AI. Negotiation and other skills involving emotional intelligence will always be done by humans (well at least for the foreseeable future). It is hard to imagine a robot having the skills to negotiate a financial settlement between a divorcing couple or managing a complex procurement process.
There is hope that AI will help make justice more accessible to the wider population. It may also help clients feel like they are receiving value for money. James Yoon, a partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati in California, told the New York Times that people are willing to pay for his experience; “What clients don’t want to pay for is any routine work.”
A paper entitled Can Robots Be Lawyers? Computers, Lawyers, and the Practice of Law released in 2015 calculated that the time saved by automating the ‘drudge work’ of law could result in a 13% reduction in lawyers’ hours. This is in line with other industries. Another recent study concluded that although 50% of tasks could be replaced with AI, only 5% of professions could be run entirely by robots.
The other point to make is although AI will cost jobs, it will create many too. It is estimated that 80% of the roles that today’s children will eventually hold do not exist yet.
AI will change the legal profession, as it will change all sectors, but innovation is likely to be taken up slowly and cautiously. And although clients, especially corporate ones, may be unwilling to pay a junior lawyer by the hour to perform routine tasks, they are likely to be more open to paying higher fees for strategic advice and experience.
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