Will lawyers be made redundant due to AI?

 In Gill's Blog, Practice Management

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Gill Steel - Solicitor, Trainer in Wills Probate Trust TaxThe answer to this is a guarded ‘yes’ – some lawyers will be when the tipping point is reached – we are not just there yet.

Examples

According to Daniel Susskind(1), JP Morgan has developed a system that reviews commercial loan agreements; it does in a few seconds what they estimate would take about 360,000 hours of human lawyers’ time. Allen & Overy has built software that drafts documents for over-the-counter derivatives transactions. A lawyer would take about three hours to compile the document; while they say their system does it in three minutes.

Private client practice

In private client practice we pride ourselves on using our capacity for dealing with human feelings and emotions and use empathy to ensure we obtain the right instructions and offer appropriate support to our clients. Surely this kind of capability cannot be replicated by computers. In fact, according to Susskind, an entire field of computer science is focused on producing systems which can do this, known as ‘affective computing’.

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Cost v productivity

Until now machines have not been generally used to automate legal tasks overall because of the cost of implementation. It is not really the productivity issue which has dominated the debate but the relative expense of creating the computer programme alternative to the human cost.

According to Steve Brooker, Head of Policy Development & Research at the Legal Services Board(2), the Government’s ambition is for the UK to be the most innovative economy in the world. At the moment we lag behind other countries in the adoption of technologies.

Mr Booker also said that in a survey conducted by the LSB there was above average uptake of technology in firms serving private clients – albeit they may use chatbots, automated document assembly or other interactive tools rather than AI.

Which businesses are more likely to use AI?

There does appear to be momentum to invest in AI – what will this mean for lawyers? We are a risk averse bunch and would like to see more evidence that unproven technology will not leave us open to criticism before we commit. However, those investing from outside the traditional law practice e.g. Alternative Business Structures, will inevitably invest in technology to deliver high quality customer service which may make it hard for traditional practices to compete on price.

Where will lawyers of the future come from?

Will we be able to engage lawyers in the future who are skilled in both law and technology to help firms be more innovative? The answer to that is also ‘yes’ with now two Universities at least offering combined degrees.

Although turkeys will not vote for Christmas, those managing law firms will want to see the firm succeed and need to weigh up the investment in AI against the investment in lawyers. This produces all kinds of dilemmas for the future. What will redundant lawyers do with their time? Will they find other jobs with similar pay? How will law firms ensure there are sufficiently skilled lawyer entrepreneurs to own and run the practice if the pool of young lawyers reduces as job prospects diminish?

What’s your view?

There is a lot to think about – what is the ethically correct position to take? Do we invest in AI to reduce the costs ultimately of providing much needed legal services to those who currently cannot afford them but reduce our pool of talent or do we seek a different kind of talent? As ‘old foggies’ how will we spot the relevant talent?

We need to start discussing these dilemmas – the LSB includes in their Business plans “a new 5 year policy objective to increase access to legal services through the promotion of responsible technological innovation that carries public trust.” The Regulator has started the ball rolling – what do you think?


(1) “A World Without Work” p.82

(2) Speaking at the Westminster Policy Forum on Technology and the legal market: service development, partnerships and the impact on regulations, competition and the workforce on 27 February 2019

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Gill Steel - Solicitor, Trainer in Wills Probate Trust Tax