Gina Pickerrell

Are We Being Replaced? Artificial Intelligence and the Legal Profession

The legal profession has long been regarded as one of intellect, advocacy, and prestige. The process of obtaining a legal education alone exemplifies the commitment lawyers make to the profession. Although there may be outliers—the bad eggs or misguided egos—overall, the profession is steeped in tradition, guided by the precedent of brilliant legal scholars. To adapt from such an institutional legacy, through and beyond the addition of digital technology, can be challenging when confronting prideful centuries of dedication. Change can seem not only impractical, but impossible to accomplish. Nevertheless, as the law itself must adapt to changing times, so too must the lawyers. In doing so, questions surrounding the legal field now face a new hurdle: “The legal profession – tradition-bound and labor-heavy – is on the cusp of a transformation in which artificial-intelligence platforms dramatically affect how legal work gets done.”1

As technology rapidly alters our daily lives, it consequentially creeps further and further into the legal profession. More specifically, in the last decade, the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has permeated the legal world. Staring through the sights of such a new, predominantly unknown technology leaves a lot of unanswered questions facing the legal community. Most notably, lawyers wonder about the longevity of their careers and individual job security when facing potential replacement by AI-capable machines.2

The trick to dealing with this transformation comes from the response of the legal community, especially that of young associates who are typically tasked with mundane assignments that could be replaced by the low-cost efficiency of AI. At present, some of the world’s largest law firms are introducing AI-capable databases and procedures into their everyday procedures.3 The introduction of platforms like ROSS Intelligence and Rainmaker.AI are just two “sophisticated machine learning algorithms” that build upon the cognitive computing capabilities of systems like IBM’s Watson.4 These high-tech combinations revolutionize the tedious legal work of the past into cheap, computer processing of the digital age.5

This emerging technology designs a whole new business plan to save clients’ time, money, and the inevitable worry of human errors.6 Lawyers must not reject this revolution or cower in fear. Rather, the legal community should realize the strength that comes from being the first, the author of the narrative, or in this case, the author of the new technology. Young associates have a platform to argue for this technology by entwining it with their own professional worth to position themselves into an inseparable package, best suited for future growth and business development.

Associates who have more time to read and research emerging law, to test their skill sets in client meetings, and to develop clever arguments that accelerate individual passions underlying the law, are more valuable. Young associates build the firm through growth, but the data continues to show that associates’ time is better spent away from the computer, participating in experiential learning and building client relationships.7 Lawyers have long been hindered by necessities of the occupation, administrative rules and structured checklists, for example, without time to develop legal theories and further legal concepts within the profession. Now with the aid of AI, there could be less time spent on Bluebooking, formatting, and the ever-looming fifty-state survey. Lawyers’ schedules can be freed to focus more on exploring the confrontations and conflicts of the technologically empowered, legal profession.

Not only should law firms be looking to cash in on their bottom lines, but law schools also face a need for transition away from the outdated concepts of law and business. As the profession adapts to changing times, law schools must also consider their future outlooks, which includes the potential of their output through students and research efforts. In April 2016, Professor Richard Susskind, IT Advisor to the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, said that he believes the legal profession needed to reinvent itself.8 He directs law schools away from “churning out 20th century lawyers” and towards educating law students in technology.9

Law and technology are not incompatible. In fact, technology has been aiding the legal world since the late 1970s, from the use of data processing and email of the 1990s, to the automated use of research databases and court submission systems of the 2000s.10 The introduction of AI, machine learning, and cognitive computing have great potential for the legal profession and will best serve those who are prepared for the inevitable change of pace.

At the forefront of AI and the law, it is imperative for legal professionals to move past the fears and unknowns. As a profession, lawyers and firms need to steer clear of the interesting, yet irrelevant, arguments preventing the use of predictive analytics and machine learning capabilities. Such fears of unmanned weaponry, unchallengeable analytics, and the exploitation of vulnerabilities will only convolute this new dynamic of twenty-first century jurisprudence and may prevent necessary adaptation. Rather, law schools, law firms, and lawyers should work towards harnessing the power of AI to better channel the use of big data and to improve the legal profession, accelerating it into the emerging world of digital technology and beyond.11

GLTR Staff Member: Georgetown Law, J.D. expected 2018; Ball State University, B.S. 2011. © 2018, Gina Pickerrell.