Will robots replace lawyers?

Nicole Black
BridgeTower Media Newswires

Over the past year, there’s been a lot of talk about artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential, both negative and positive. Some tout an idyllic world where robots cater to the every want and need of humans. Others, like Elon Musk, take a more guarded approach and warn of a world where machines gain sentience and threaten humanity.

Philosophical issues aside, AI remains in its infancy but already shows great promise. You need look no further than self-driving cars for proof of that.

But what does it mean for the legal industry? How will AI impact the practice of law and will robot lawyers soon become a reality, thereby eradicating the need for human lawyers? The short answer: AI won’t replace lawyers, but it will automate the more mundane aspects of practicing law, allowing lawyers to focus on more interesting, high-level analytical tasks.

Not convinced? Consider the results of the 2016 Deloitte study, “Developing Legal Talent: Stepping Into the Future Law Firm” (online: https://www2.deloitte.com/content/dam/Deloitte/uk/Documents/audit/deloitte-uk-developing-legal-talent-2016.pdf ). The central thesis of this report is that by 2020, the practice of law will be dramatically different than it is today, in large part due to the effects of technological change, with AI playing a large part.

For starters, one of the conclusions was that 114,000 jobs in the legal sector will become automated within the next 20 years. And, according to the report, automation has already resulted in the reduction of 31,000 jobs in the industry, mostly in administrative roles. For lawyers, those most at risk are predicted to be entry-level attorneys; highly skilled lawyers will be safe from the reductions. The report indicates that demand for highly skilled lawyers will increase to 25,000 more by 2020.

Specifically, over the next 10 years, it is predicted that the following changes will likely occur because of changes in technology:

• Fewer traditional lawyers in law firms;

• A new mix of skills among the elite lawyers;

• Greater flexibility and mobility within the industry;

• A reformed workforce structure and alternative progression routes; and

• A greater willingness to source people from other industries with non-traditional skills and training.

And it’s not just transactional law that will be affected. Litigation practices will also feel the touch of AI. Look no further than the news from last week that Ogletree, Deakins, Nash, Smoak & Stewart, a labor and employment-focused Am Law 100 firm, now uses LegalMation, AI software that works with IBM’s Watson technology to draft an answer to a complaint. With this software, users drag and drop a PDF of the complaint into the platform and designate a practice area. The software then drafts an answer to the complaint, which it provides within approximately 2 minutes.

Ready or not, AI is here. AI and the automation of much of the mundane aspects of law practice will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on the practice of law — and much earlier than you might think. So it’s worth learning about how it might affect our profession so that you can take steps to position your practice and your firm to take advantage of the changes, rather than be displaced by them.

Mark my words: AI will undoubtedly change the legal profession. You can either resist its impact to your detriment, or take steps to acclimate and use it to your advantage. The choice is yours.


Nicole Black is a director at MyCase.com, a cloud-based law practice management platform. She is also of counsel to Fiandach & Fiandach in Rochester and is a GigaOM Pro analyst. She is the author of the ABA book “Cloud Computing for Lawyers,” coauthors the ABA book “Social Media for Lawyers: the Next Frontier,” and co-authors “Criminal Law in New York,” a West-Thomson treatise. She speaks regularly at conferences regarding the intersection of law and technology. She publishes three legal blogs and can be reached at niki@mycase.com.