The Impact of Technology on the Legal Profession

  • Brian Wick, Vice President of Marketing at Seal Software

  • 18.08.2017 07:45 am
  • technology

There has been a lot of buzz in the legal profession about the impact of technology, in particular machine learning and artificial intelligence on the future of legal. Especially, what the roll-out of those technologies might mean for jobs and functions in the legal profession going forward.

You may have listened to the Above the Law interview with Zach Abramowitz called “Do Robots Make Better Lawyers.” In this online conversation, Zach, with Laurie Brasner, Seal Software’s Sr Director of Legal Services, and Scott Trainor, DocuSign’s Deputy General Counsel, explored this concept and provided some clarity on the types of legal functions that might benefit from automation. 

What is clear is that as law firms continue to pay untrained lawyers hundreds of thousands of pounds / dollars in base salary alone, tech companies are figuring out how to automate many day-to-day tasks using machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI).

Although AI has a futuristic feel, its impact on the legal industry is no longer a question about the future, it is very much a pressing, present issue. Whether it is eDiscovery, contract review or practice management, today’s cutting-edge software is utilizing AI and machine learning.

While many lawyers tend to focus on AI as a threat, “can a robot do my job better, faster and cheaper?” the other approach is to figure out how AI can give your business and/or clients an edge. Another key question is how has AI ‘all of a sudden’ become commercially viable and how much better has the potential to become?

Another interesting article has been recently published on the website Futurism, which is far more specific. It refers to a new analysis from Deloitte Insight that states within the next two decades, an estimated 114,000 jobs in the legal sector will have a high chance of having been replaced with automated machines and algorithms. According to the article, those 114,000 jobs represent 39% of all jobs in legal. Wow, what a statement!

In that article, Peter Saunders, lead partner for professional practices at Deloitte states, “advances in technology mean that an ever greater number of traditional, routine tasks within the legal sector can be automated by smart and self-learning algorithms.”

He continues, “explaining this disparity requires an examination of the changing nature of legal work. Firms have been using robotics and algorithms to automate routine processes, with some firms already using virtual assistants to assist clients and perform in-house functions. To handle large volumes of contract information and data, law firms have also turned to advanced analytics, an indication of the potential of outsourcing repetitive processes to algorithms.”

Of the 114,000 jobs lost in the legal profession, the article explains how there are new jobs being produced by the change, ones that design, implement, and manage and new disruptive technologies, and those are more highly skilled and better compensated than the ones being lost.

These concepts bring to mind what is being referred to as “New Law.” This term is in opposition to “Big Law,” which describes large staffs, highly paid lawyers or legal professionals, heavy expenses, and lots of billed hours.

New Law challenges this with significant disruption, using technology such as contract discovery and analytics, virtual teams, contract resources, alternative fee arrangements, and other major changes to cut costs and provide higher levels of client satisfaction. An interesting read on the concepts of New Law can be found here.  

What this all points to is a sea change in the legal profession, for both legal firms and legal ops teams.

I see this every day. Our team’s engagement with firms and in house legal ops teams supports the fact that the effort, time and cost of manually finding, extracting data, managing contract data on an ongoing basis, and reporting on that data is being recognized as unfeasible and impractical.

It makes perfect sense to automate manual processes in these time consuming, costly and error-prone functions. Besides the speed and efficiency of automation, there is a direct impact on customer satisfaction as well, whether that’s a client of a law firm or a line-of-business stakeholder inside an organization.

Clearly, as the article implies, there will always be a need for skilled lawyers, with the training skills and experience to provide high value legal guidance and advice for decision making. But for the lower value and more administrative processes within the legal profession, such as contract discovery and analysis, the robots are coming.

The sea change is happening now and will continue to build momentum. The “robots come in peace,” but for those legal professionals who understand the changes, prepare for them, and take a proactive approach to the disruption.

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