ArtificiaI intelligence (AI) may soon render many jobs obsolete. Remember how popular one-hour photo shops were in the 1980s and into the mid-1990s? That’s just the tip of the tech iceberg, as AI now seems to be gunning to take over the legal world.

The UK-based Law Society noted in a study earlier this year: “Over the longer term, the number of jobs in the legal services sector will be increasingly affected by automation of legal services functions. This could mean that by 2038 total employment in the sector could be 20% less than it would otherwise have been, with a loss of 78,000 jobs — equal to 67,000 full-time equivalent jobs — compared to if productivity growth continued at its current rate.”

The legal technology company InCloudCounsel, which incorporates AI as part of their legal tech solution, said AI doesn’t replace staff, but helps employees do a better job, by having routine legal work automated, so that human employees can focus on “higher-value,” more ROI-driven work.

Lane Lillquist, CTO of InCloudCounsel said, “I don’t really think of ‘robot lawyers’ or AI, as I refer to it, as gathering data. Generally speaking, AI is fed data by people, both in the training of AI and through the use of AI. A researcher will compile a dataset to train an AI model that they carefully choose for the specific task they want the model to be able to perform. That model pours over the data again and again as it optimizes its ability to make predictions. Then, once a model is trained, a human gives the AI model new data to make predictions on.”

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He added, “AI can automate repetitive tasks that traditionally take up large amounts of time for people to complete. The result is that legal staff are freed to spend their time on more meaningful work, generating a whole lot more business value for their firms.”

AI models contain significant data and InCloudCounsel’s models range from 50MB to more than 3GB. “They are just a bunch of numbers,” she says, “that can be quite challenging to get any insights from.”

AI concerns

And it’s that nuance that has attorneys across the country concerned. “Analysis and client contact and court appearances require a human touch,” said Bridgeport, CT-based personal-injury attorney George P. D’Amico of Miller, Rosnik, D’Amico, August and Butler.

Beverly Hills estate planning attorney Joelle Drucker agreed, “Technology allows lawyers to be more efficient and creative; but technology itself will never replace lawyers because the human element of caring, compassion, and advocacy cannot be translated into a computer program. Human interaction between a lawyer and a client, between a lawyer and opposing counsel, and between a lawyer and a judge, is complex and cannot be simplified into a binary code.”

“Traditionally,” said Los Angeles-based environmental and insolvency lawyer Alex Fisch, “technological innovation in the law has been driven by what big firms will buy. Consumers are an afterthought, and the basic needs of people in civil society are not a factor at all. That’s troubling.”

Transforming the practice of law

Lillquist believes there is a role for AI in law practices. “AI will continue to transform the practice of law,” he said. “Rather than replacing jobs, it will instead require lawyers to develop an increasing number of skills in order to make use of the latest technologies and maintain a competitive edge. These potential changes are an opportunity for lawyers. They will be able to leverage AI-enabled legal tech solutions that can help them complete more work at a higher degree of accuracy, freeing up time to focus on more meaningful work that can create greater value for their companies or clients.

“AI will continue to take on repetitive tasks of increasing complexity, especially in data extraction, requiring that new systems be built in order to exact value out of new kinds of data. Lawyers will be responsible for working with technology to train it on datasets and law’s nuances. Deep legal expertise is required to create technology that successfully operates in the legal space, and that knowledge resides in humans. We will probably also see a redefinition of what it means to be a lawyer, and what it means to work at a law firm or as an in-house counsel.”

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Echoing D’amico and Drucker, Lillquist added, “‘human touch’ is an essential part of the practice of law and will continue to be for the foreseeable future. The creative thinking, value judgement, and goal setting that expert lawyers offer isn’t something that AI is capable of doing. AI provides the greatest benefit when paired with lawyers so that each can play to their own strengths to together accomplish results not possible with one or the other.”

AI has taken over many jobs: Manufacturing and delivery jobs, including, and, as well as assembly-line workers, truckers, field technicians, call-center workers, sorters, data entry, insurance underwriters, tax preparers, sales reps, translators, bookkeepers, accountants, travel agents, and fast-food employees (consider how many automated ordering kiosks are available now). But, don’t worry, there’s plenty of room, and need, for human employees.

While there aren’t really any “workarounds” the inevitable envelopment of robot employees, experts recommend that “adaptability trumps all.” Get to know how the AI in your office works and learn as much as you can about how tech is being incorporated in your job (and hopefully not taking over).

But in the legal world, “the practice of law continues to undergo digital transformation,” Lillquist said. “The legal space will continue to place a premium on attracting intelligent professionals that possess strong creative thinking and value judgement skills, even amidst technological innovation. AI isn’t going to give us the answer to questions requiring a value judgement. Entry-level lawyers shouldn’t be afraid of robots replacing their jobs. They should, however, reassess what it means to work in the legal industry and what kinds of skills beyond traditional ones such as legal reasoning and writing are required to be successful in that industry. As industries continue to adopt new legal tech solutions, young lawyers should invest in honing their technology skills to complement their traditional legal education.”

For more, check out 3 ways robots can support human workers on TechRepublic.

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Image: iStockphoto/AndreyPopov