updated on 27 February 2018
Robots and AI (artificial technology) are reshaping the legal profession – with a Deloitte Insight report released last year estimating that nearly 40% of legal jobs could end up being automated in the long term. For those joining the legal sector now, expectations around their job as a junior lawyer are going to rapidly change.
Gareth Dickson, partner at Taylor Vinters, said: “There’s a perception that the legal industry may be reluctant to be early adopters of new technology, but this is not the case – we embrace new technology and use it to help capitalise on efficiencies and to expand the volume of work we can do for our clients. We’re already using a range of tools to help us, for example, with contract and disclosure review and to better understand how entities and people might be connected to one another.”
Companies like Legal Geex, Riverview Law and Thought River are all focused on using robotics and AI to deliver better results more quickly and more accurately than their human counterparts. But while new joiners to the world of law may justifiably be nervous for clarity over their roles, automation will almost certainly prove to be a long-term benefit for the lawyers of tomorrow, today.
Robotics excels in areas like process automation, document review, financial analytics and predicting litigation outcomes. Therefore, corporate clients are beginning to re-evaluate who is best placed to do what job and at what cost. Routine work is now being outsourced, both by law firms themselves and the ‘Big Four’ accountants.
According to Dickson: “Machines don’t get tired or distracted. They are as good at 11:00pm as at 11:00am, and they can work 48 hours without a break. But they lack some of the key qualities of the best lawyers, such as insight, a big picture awareness of the client’s business objectives and even empathy for what their client is going through or trying to achieve.
“So while they are better at reviewing certain types of document, and are often cheaper than lawyers, they are best suited for the type of high-volume, low-value, low-risk work that many trainees do today. If that work is performed by automation and AI, then hopefully it means trainees will be freer to focus on higher value, more interesting work.”
Newly qualified lawyers shouldn’t take the attitude of competing with machines; if you have a lawyer whose job consists almost entirely of work that could be done adequately and more cost-effectively by another source – a paralegal, an outsourced lawyer in another country or a machine – then that work is going to go away. But by using robotic process automation (RPA) to automate the repetitive and mundane tasks, legal teams now have more time to dedicate to tasks and cases that make a difference.
The next stage of evolution is ensuring that the two worlds – robotic and human –work seamlessly. Whether it is updating processes to account for minor changes in litigation, right through to reacting to unplanned global crises and landmark legal cases, the critical element is being able to orchestrate who is doing what in the process.
Dickson continues: “There are a lot of different competing interests in most legal matters and to date lawyers remain better at weighing inputs against a client’s overall objectives to find the best path forward. It is also true that for any technology to reach its potential, users (and their insurers and regulators) need to understand how to use it: if your lawyer doesn’t know how to properly configure or integrate a software solution, then how can you be confident that its automated output is the best solution for you?”
At least one large immigration law firm has recently freed up personnel to focus on the ‘human element’ of their business; meaning new legal recruits must focus on being very entrepreneurial and as flexible as possible. It seems undeniable that the skills which are going to be required of future lawyers will be quite different from the ones that served previous generations. What will be important? Some of the most human attributes of all; insight, ingenuity, counsel, judgement, leadership, creativity and risk assessment. It’s all about human expertise applied to decision-making, optimised by automation, AI and orchestration.
Kit Cox is the CEO of Enate.