The New York Times published a thoughtful article about this topic, concluding that lawyers don't have to worry about being replaced by artificial intelligence – yet.
Frank Levy, a labor economist at MIT and Dana Remus, a professor at the University of North Carolina's law school are the authors of a paper entitled, Can Robots Be Lawyers? Computers, Lawyers, and the Practice of Law. They concluded that document review is largely automated and outsourced, now consuming only 4% of lawyers' time at large firms. That is quite a shift, but it is consistent with what I am hearing from former lawyers/contract reviewers who basically lost their employment, poor paying though it was.
Levy and Remus predict that the gradual pace of AI will reduce lawyers' work at a rate of 2.5% a year over the next five years. That's actually quite a lot in a short time. My own prediction is that all this will go faster than we think.
"Where the technology is going to be in three to five years is the really interesting question," said Ben Allgrove, a partner at Baker McKenzie, a firm with 4,600 lawyers. "And the honest answer is we don't know."
John Fernandez, the chief innovation officer at Dentons, points out that a fair piece of legal work is already being outsourced to Axiom, Thomson Reuters, Elevate and the Big Four accounting firms. Dentons, a global law firm with more than 7,000 lawyers, established an innovation and venture arm, Nextlaw Labs, in 2015. Besides monitoring the latest technology, the unit has invested in seven legal technology start-ups.
Fernandez says "Our industry is being disrupted, and we should do some of that ourselves, not just be a victim of it."
He's right of course, and that is precisely why large law firms are beginning to make sizeable investments in AI. Clients want its efficiencies and lower costs. But the price is certainly going to be human jobs – we can only speculate on how many and when it will happen but it seems a foregone conclusion to me.
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