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Wow, we weren't even three days into the new year before we got the latest in "The machines are taking our jobs!" And I don't just mean in general, I mean specifically lawyers. Every year, we're reminded that our judgment can be mimicked by a computer.
Emphasis on can be. Well, more like could be. Well, more like "it's theoretically possible, but it's expensive and still not as good as a lawyer."
This year, 2015, is supposed to be a game-changer for technology. Flying cars, hover-boards, and pizza rehydration: We were all promised these things. I suppose replacing lawyers with robots was sort of implicit in that promise.
Anyway, a British legal consulting firm issued a report stating:
AI bots could foreseeably take over any work with a systemic component that involves the processing of information. That includes low-level knowledge economy work, like due diligence, that is currently performed by very junior lawyers.
OK, OK. I take back everything I said about the crazy Jeremiads of futurists. Actually, some of this is coming to fruition. You think the 2011 battle between two "Jeopardy!" champions and IBM's computer, Watson, was just for fun? Really, it was a demonstration of computers' abilities to understand language in context (and it was a wild success, in case you didn't see it). Discovery tools already exist that can scan a document and determine pretty accurately whether it's privileged, for example. They're only going to get better and more powerful.
To be fair, the report does acknowledge that robots can't yet take the place either of human judgment, when it has to be made, or of the "counseling" part of being a counselor. There's still a great deal of value in being a human, having empathy, and using reason and creativity. As with most jobs that have been replaced by machines, those that require repetition and following a pattern are the first to go, so junior associates don't have to worry quite yet (unless doc review is all they're doing).
Artificial intelligence, though, isn't the only way that lawyers can be replaced. As websites like LegalZoom demonstrate, consumer self-service is the other side of lawyer redundancy. Why pay a lawyer to draft a residential lease agreement when they never change and the only thing a lawyer needs to do is explain what the terms mean?
So, no, 2015 isn't going to herald a new way in which lawyers get replaced by Terminators. We're just going to get replaced in the same old ways, so at least that's progress!
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