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Is artificial intelligence making lawyers redundant?

Posted by Gizem Akilli. Gizem has just graduated from her LPC and LLM course at BPP Law School, and has been working with Legal Futures Associate Casedo [1] for the last two years

Akilli: Impact of AI is daunting to those wanting to enter the profession

In its 2018 report, Will robots really steal our jobs? [2], PwC suggested that artificial intelligence (AI) threatened 30% of jobs in the UK [3].

Much of the discussion on the introduction of AI and the potential effects on the legal sector is equally negative [4]. Legal professionals have raised concerns that developments in AI-powered technology could threaten the security of junior roles, such as paralegals and research positions [5], within the next decade.

Impressive advances in AI technology tailored for legal work have led some lawyers to worry that their profession is in jeopardy.

However, in reality the likelihood of a lawyer’s replacement is relatively low compared to that of a law student or a paralegal.

It is likely that law students will find it extremely difficult to standout in training contract applications without understanding the impact of AI and machine learning on the future of legal services.

Many law firms now offer training contracts for tech savvy recruits [6]. Unfortunately, many students are graduating without the necessary skills to excel in this new legal market as most of the universities continue to teach a traditional route and offer little-to-no guidance [7] to the ever changing job markets.

The legal sector currently relies on many junior legal professionals to assist in investigating, collating and crucial case information. However, these meaningful roles are a significant expense for law firms and many AI-systems offer similar results for the fraction of the price.

While it is difficult to blame them for leveraging the advantages provided by emerging AI-driven systems to boost profit, the drastic impact on the job market cannot be ignored. This seismic change can be especially daunting to those aspiring to join the legal profession, like myself, as our career in law crucially depends on junior roles that might soon be replaced by AI.

A 2013 study [8] on the future of employment calculated that, in the following 20 years, lawyers would only have a 3.5% chance of losing out to robots, compared to an incredible 94% for paralegals.

What’s more, by restricting valuable work opportunities, we may witness less interest from talented would-be lawyers. This likely departure away from the legal sector will diminish the potential for creativity and innovation that can only be brought about by human intelligence [9].

Aspiring lawyers in the field contribute a great deal to firms by bringing fresh ideas, innovation and perspectives [10] to allow firms to continue to appeal to their clients. If AI restricts the potential for career development, juniors will likely move away from the law.

Further, Deloitte has estimate [11]d that about 114,000 jobs in the legal sector will be automated by 2036 [12], and the foundations behind this transformation are already being built.

Legal tech start-up Ravn has a new system that analyses Land Registry title deeds, producing data in land disputes. Much like the private sector, public sector organisations are harnessing technological advances [13] to deliver efficiency and cost-saving solutions such as digitised platforms and enabling citizens to self-serve, while streamlining key administrative functions, to boost efficiency and cut costs.

Some larger law firms have already initiated the implementation of AI which has resulted in the termination of meaningful junior roles that the legal sector widely employs and depends on.

Although the concept of technological singularity appears far-fetched, it remains a plausible concern that will have to be addressed.

The cost-effectiveness of AI-driven solutions threatens thousands of meaningful jobs in a competitive industry that suffers from limited demand [14]. But, while it is clear that AI will leave a mark in the legal sector [15], lawyers won’t face extinction.

AI technology is yet unable to replicate aspects of a lawyers’ work that require emotional intelligence and human judgement. Meaning, lawyers will always be better at negotiating deals, communicating with their clients and mediating disputes.