Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Robot Lawyers

One of my lawyer friends recently wrote a somewhat unsettling  post about re-reasing Asimov and the coming of our robot overlords and it reminded me of reading an interesting article in the New York Times dealing with technology, artificial intelligence and law practices.  The subtitle was "I, Robot, Esq.? Not Just Yet".  The article, written by Steve Lohr contained some fascinating insights.

            For example one study shows that the adoption of automation could result in a reduction of 13 percent of lawyers' billable hours over the next several years.  Another study shows that nearly half of all tasks performed by lawyers could in fact be performed by robots.  Anecdotal reports show impressive results from using artificial intelligence in both legal research and in drafting legal memorandum. 

            All of this made me think how much the practice of law has changed in the three decades I have been at it.  When I started, legal research meant spending hours in the library (something I actually  enjoy) and word processing seemed to require massive technological skills.  Today it is shocking how much information can be accessed instantly via Google and other search engines and perhaps more importantly, how much we rely on these services.

            It is daunting for lawyers to consider this information while at the same time dealing with competition from automated services like Legal Zoom and Rocket Lawyer which have created competition in the areas such as estate planning and corporate formation.  I also read this week that legal fields such as personal injury are expected to decline as auto makers continue to make safer vehicles (artificial intelligence again). 

            It occurs to me that all lawyers  should embrace new technology the same way that large firms have begun to embrace technology for things such as document review and e‑discovery.  It cuts down the cost of delivering legal services.  However, when clients have problems, they want things from an attorney that a robot cannot provide, at least not yet.  The article identifies four particularly human  areas:  strategy, creativity, judgment and empathy.  I might add "communication" to the list but as anyone who has ever shared a joke with Siri or Alexis might attest, maybe that too can be outsourced to artificial intelligence.