Will Advanced AI Spell the End of Lawyers?

HughPickens.com writes: Lawyers have been described as the canaries in the coal mine in the face of a wave of automation now beginning to displace highly skilled white-collar workers as the increasing reliance on so-called “e-discovery” software in lawsuits raises the specter that $35-an-hour paralegals as well as $400-an-hour lawyers could fall victim to programs that could read and analyze legal documents more quickly and accurately than humans. Now John Markoff writes in the NY Times that a new study, “Can Robots Be Lawyers?”, by Dana Remus analyzes which aspects of a lawyer’s job could be automated and concludes that many of the tasks that lawyers perform fall well within human behavior that cannot be easily codified. “When a task is less structured, as many tasks are,” writes Remus, “it will often be impossible to anticipate all possible contingencies.”

According to Markoff being a lawyer involves performing a range of tasks including counseling, appearing in court, and persuading juries. Reading documents accounts for a relatively modest portion of a lawyer’s activities. Remus estimates that about 13 percent of all legal work might ultimately fall prey to automation. According to Markoff, if that amount of work disappeared in a single year, it would be devastating but implemented over many years, this amount of technological change will be less noticeable. Even in the case of start-ups like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, two sites that can aid in the preparation of legal documents, the impact of automation will more likely be in expanding into underserved markets rather than in displacing existing legal services.. “”A careful look at existing and emerging technologies reveals that it is only relatively structured and repetitive tasks that can currently be automated,” concludes Remus. “These tasks represent a relatively modest percentage of lawyers’ billable hours.”

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