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Are Our Days as Lawyers Numbered?

published September 04, 2018

David Dorion
( 105 votes, average: 4.2 out of 5)
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Summary: Yes, robots/AI are changing the landscape of the legal world. But will they one day take over completely?
Are Our Days As Lawyers Numbered?
  • There is no doubt technology has made enormous strides since the budding days of computers and the internet.
  • In fact, those technological strides have been so vast that they are now taking over jobs and careers once held down by humans.
  • In a recent list of 25 professions that will soon disappear due to technology, lawyers are ranked fourth out of the 25.
  • But can a robot truly represent a client in a legal case, and do so with the human investment currently associated with a living, breathing lawyer? Many say no…at least for now.
Another survey has come out, this one from Work + Money, claiming that there are 25 professions we should avoid only because these professions will soon be replaced by artificial intelligence (AI).

Titled 25 Dying Professions You Should Avoid, the article’s writer, Dave Copeland outlines the latest casualties due to fall from the slicing algorithmic sword of technology.

While some of these professions can be understood as on the brink of extinction from advances in technology, one career that did come off as a surprise was the fourth listed profession, which is a lawyer.

Now before we throw up our arms in mournful lamentations, then go outside to burn our JD degrees in the streets, let’s establish the fact that surveys like Copeland’s have been around since the advent of the modern computer, the first inkling of the infinite reaches of the internet, and the continual advances in software.

In other words, there’s nothing new here. Tech-like people have predicted the end of this and that profession for decades, none of which have occurred in earnest.

Example #1: Go to a hotel and a bellhop will still more likely than not carry your bags to your room, not a robot.

Example #2: Grocery store checkers still scan through a basket filled with groceries faster than you or I can at the self-checkout kiosks, and at that with a computer helping us out. Not to mention the fact that self-checkout, at least in my grocery store, continually breaks down, needing human assistance to reset its parameters to normal, i.e. the robot inconveniently telling us, “Please rescan your items.”

Example #3: Self-driving vehicles – a pipe dream of transportation planners and those who are willing to surrender the accelerator and brake as well as the steering wheel to some super intuitive black box voodoo circuitry that according to The Verve, close to 75% of American drivers wholeheartedly distrust.

In short, much of this is science fiction for now, and will more than likely be science fiction for the immediate future.

This, I’m willing to bet, will also be the case with lawyers. Only the most mundane tasks that occur within the profession of law is something that AI can possibly handle with aplomb. This is because...
  • Robots/AI don’t need JDs.
  • A senior associate or partner can flog an AI source as hard he or she wants;
    1. AI won’t complain.
    2. AI won’t make mistakes.
    3. AI won’t quit because of successive 60-hour weekly workload.
  • Robots/AI will always accept more work…and more…and more after that.
  • They don’t need to be paid $190,000 yearly as a new incoming associate.
  • Actually, robots/AI don’t need to be paid at all.

Yes, but what about the future you might ask; you, who are in the throes of finishing law school and beginning to search out legal careers lucrative enough to at least help you pay down your law-related student debt? You might ask, “What am I for if robots can practice law with as much ability as I?”

A recent article published on the site Law Technology Today suggests machines will only partially affect lawyers. The article cites the fact that robots to lawyers will act much like autopilot to those who fly commercial jets. And while lawyers hate drudge work, this is where robots/AI can come into their own as viable tools for law firms.

With that said, even with AI looming in the future, it will never stop the influx of new lawyers into the profession, simply because AI can’t hold a candle to the way a lawyer thinks and deducts information.
It is something that machines have yet to accomplish, though some in the technology world are in fevered pursuit to accomplish that next step in which AI develops human-like intuitiveness.

Of course, there are those who hail from the technological side of the equation who maintain legal-oriented robots, even today, can quite handily outperform human lawyers.
Are Our Days As Lawyers Numbered?

In an article published on the site Top Bots “Now That Lawyers Have Lost to AI, What is the Future of Law?” the AI system achieved a 94% accuracy rate at surfacing risks in non-disclosure agreements (NDAs), while experienced human lawyers average out at an 85% accuracy for the same task.
The same defeat occurred when a human attorney faced off against AI in reviewing NDAs. In that contest, the robot took only 26 seconds to complete the NDA review, while the human took over 92 minutes.
“It is crucial to make mundane contract work more efficient, especially when there are 50-100 pages of contracts for some major deals,” emphasized Zakir Mir, a counsel for Allegiance International. “AI can really help lawyers sift through these documents, and cut down on the sometimes deliberate verbosity of these documents which can allow one party to mask core issues.”

Drafting and reviewing contracts, mining documents in discovery, answering routine questions or sifting data to predict outcomes are all facets of a legal career that a robot can easily take over. The saving grace here is that these tasks are mundane and boring, and in the end aren’t the best uses of real attorneys who could be much more valuable in lieu of more complicated legal issues.

Again, this is one more reason the practice of law will continue to exist securely, thank you very much, while faced with the onslaught of tech into today’s law firm.
Yes, but how did we get to this point of AI?

If the world abided by Moore’s law, all of us would be so technologically ahead of the game, we would hardly need to get out of bed in the morning.

Robots would clean our homes and fix our meals, while self-driving cars would take us to our destinations such as work.

Of course, while certain aspects of this technology remain fantastical, few people would probably be surprised if the above projections of a workday accompanied by robots built to make our lives easier will be our reality in the next handful of years.

This, in particular, could occur if the lion’s share of technology follows the course forecast by Moore’s law in which tech is reinvented every 18 months. Companies like Intel follow this schedule almost religiously and have tried themselves to introduce new, faster and more accurate products to their clientele at a measured pace.

Needless to say, out would go dreary work such as house cleaning, dog walking, car washing and garden maintenance.

As far as lawyers are concerned, it’s case preparation, which is a tedious task in and of itself. Think of it: a robot – or in this case, some form of AI, could put together a brief or prepare a case for litigation, saving valuable time for an associate who would be better used in more human aspects of a case, such as meeting with plaintiffs or defendants, or preparing themselves to argue points about a case, which is something few feel a robot is not appropriately equipped for…yet.

At any rate, this is the extent of Moore’s law and how it can work both for and against any professional, attorneys notwithstanding. The beauty of the law at this junction is that it has not evolved to the point where attorneys are truly rendered obsolete. That can’t possibly happen, at least it can’t happen now.

So if this AI takeover happens, when will that be?

In a semi-sarcastic atmosphere of lawyers and others who aren’t lawyers, you may invariably hear a person claim loudly that lawyers aren’t human.

They can’t be with how they act, how they think, react and when faced with an opponent, mercilessly beat that person down with words that are as sharp as a gladiator’s sword.

Despite what people do think, criticize or even hate about lawyers, one thing is true about all attorneys: they are human. Sure, person A or B may not necessarily want to think or believe that, but it is, nevertheless, a fact: yes, lawyers really are human, which, conversely, robots and AI simply are not.
Are Our Days As Lawyers Numbered?

Robots and AI represent algorithms, calculations, keywords, and code – not true human interaction. And true human interaction is exactly what makes the profession of law what it is.

Law represents an interaction between humans. That’s because laws were designed and implemented for humans.

Given this, lawyers intuit. They understand and have compassion. They “get” the legal dispute between one person and another, or one entity and another, and with that, comprehend the emotional distress and pain a human client can experience, then turn that pain into a valid argument on the client’s behalf.

Can a machine do that, particularly if it represents a human? Not in this day and age.

When it comes to the nitty-gritty of law, it’s interpretation, and how law, whether it’s a broken law or not, has distressed a client, only a human lawyer can give adequate representation. The robot, on the other hand, should be left to sort the mail.
But when intuition is programmed into machines, what happens then?

There’s no doubt some programmer is being paid by some big company with a crapload of venture capitalist cash to come out with a robot as real as those in the Blade Runner movie series.

They are dexterous, thinking and plotting. They experience jealousy, rage, hurt, and glee. Hell, they can even reproduce.

So even though it’s mentioned in the above section that robots as of now cannot replace attorneys, that’s only as of now. 50 to 100 years from now, maybe more, maybe less, who’s to say if a robot attorney can’t replace a human attorney?

To that end, writes Copeland, an attorney may find it imperative to specialize in a particular practice area, a factor which John Pugliano, author of “The Robots are Coming: A Human’s Survival Guide to Profiting in the Age of Automation.”

In Pugliano’s view, staying one step ahead of AI as a lawyer can entail becoming expert in one form of law. This makes sense as future AI within the legal system will become increasingly broad with its knowledge of law, but that a human specialist will be needed for cases with practice area complexities.
Beware though, your attorney job may only be temporary.

It is claimed that a computer, robot or anything else technical is only as intelligent as the person who programs it. In one way that’s reassuring, while in another way, that is positively terrifying.

How this theory is reassuring arrives simply from the fact that a computer or robot can be made as intelligent or dumbed down as its innovator chooses.

For instance, robots that work auto assembly lines usually do only one task. So honestly, there’s very little to fear from a machine that drops engines into a car’s engine bay or bolts on doors, rearview mirrors and wheel/tire combinations. That type of machine isn’t going to threaten anyone other than a union worker who, ironically, can save their own job by learning how to program and maintain the robot that took their job in the first place, i.e. a win/win.

The terrifying aspect of a machine – particularly to a profession such as law – is if the machine has the capacity to learn human-like behavior, or worse yet, be in a position to teach human behavior to other machines.

Again, this sounds very Orwellian. It is Dick-like in the same way that “Do Robots Dream of Electric Sheep?” (i.e. Blade Runner) brought to life what humankind previously viewed as the inanimate nature of robots.

In fact, one recent example of the dangers of this sort of human substitution (or realization) among robots occurred at a Google R&D facility in which scientist set up two computers to communicate with one another their thoughts and actions.

All this was fine and good, and went swimmingly well until the computers suddenly began to develop their own language they shared between each other – a language that the scientists themselves could not understand.

In short, the computers were programming themselves, leaving the scientists out of the interaction, and just in this one scenario, opening a small hole into an abyss in which computers gained autonomy beyond any human interaction or programming.

So alarming was this development that Google immediately pulled the plug on the entire experiment, vowing to never again resurrect it.

Needless to say when Moore’s law is considered – a law some believe has been eclipsed as technology is developing at a much faster pace than 18 months – this type of post-programmer socialization between machines can become a bold reality when put to task by an enterprising programmer/builder. When that happens, to the wayside will go many more professions other than the assembly line worker.

On the chopping block would be:
  • Doctors
  • Professors
  • Artists (of every style and genre)
  • Architects, urban planners, and builders
  • and Attorneys

Fortunately, that time, if it’s every truly realized, has not come about yet.

Sure, robots can dig for coal and oil, bolt doors onto cars and then potentially drive those same cars. After all, we have to remember the tasks that we employ these machines to do are fairly mundane. They are repetitive in nature and lifeless when it comes to any sort of job fulfillment.

On a related note, real jobs require real human interaction. As is the case with lawyers, those real jobs involve the ability to read and understand true emotions, and in return, give back heartfelt empathy.

Emotions and empathy; these are the cornerstones that make up who (not what) an attorney is. This is how they initially understand and then fight for a case. Without emotions and empathy, a true attorney may as well be a robot…at least in today’s world.
Lastly, the company law keeps as a disappearing profession is really no company at all.

If you are still unconvinced…if you are still of the fear that your $300,000+ law school education and the five years of age you’ve spent of yourself in only one year as a first-year associate has gone to waste now that you know someone has ranked lawyers as the fourth most likely profession to be taken over by technology, consider the other professions this survey lists:
  • Travel Agents
  • Mortgage Brokers
  • Bookkeepers
  • Broadcasters
  • Middle Managers
  • Casino Cashiers
  • IT People
  • Financial Planners
  • Floral Designers
  • Postal Workers
  • Photo Processors
  • Data Entry Clerks
  • Telephone Switchboard Operators
  • Farmers and Ranchers
  • Fast Food Cooks
  • Newspaper Reporters
  • Jewelers
  • Textile Machine Workers
  • Furniture Finishers
  • Door-to-Door Salespeople
  • Print Binding and Finishing Workers
  • Detectives
  • Routine Architects
  • Primary Care Physicians
Are Our Days As Lawyers Numbered?

To be certain, we’ve seen quite a number of the above professions already evaporate into the new world of technology. Will more professions become extinct due to technology, such as newspaper reporters and primary care physicians? That depends on the technology and the amount of trust humans will have to put into that sort of technology. The same will stand for law and lawyers.

Do you think a client will ever trust a robot to represent him or her in a legal issue?

Sure, it’s a loaded question, particularly now that Moore’s law is the most violated tech-related edict to date.

So maybe the one best answer is only time will tell, which, to be honest, isn’t really an answer at all.

For more information, look into these articles:

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