Could Lawyers Be Replaced By Robots?

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Around the world, the professional services industry is abuzz with talk about automation, innovation and artificial intelligence (AI).

This technology and automation (largely), seeks to cut out the very work that professional service advisors do!

I often find myself pondering these developments in the context of the legal industry, and ask myself the question: Could lawyers be replaced by robots?

I then ask, if we were, would anyone care, other than lawyers?

Honestly, I don’t think many people would! Lawyers have built a reputation as:

  • Inefficient
  • Poor communicators; and
  • Expensive

Technology advancement is relentless, the market is unforgiving, and clients won’t bat an eyelid in deciding to opt for a cheaper, more effective, and more transparent service.

And in my opinion, they wouldn’t be wrong to do so either. 

So what can we do?

#1: Be more human

We need to be more human. Much of the value we hold as lawyers means actively understanding both the commercial and emotional decisions and needs of our clients. This is something AI, technology and even automation cannot replace (yet).

Natural Language Processing, for example, can scan and predict which documents will be relevant to a case. However tasks such as writing legal briefs, negotiating and appearing in court, seem beyond the reach of computerisation for some time yet.

In any case, clients choose law firms who focus on giving the best experience, who address their needs with minimal fuss, clear communication and transparency on costs. None of those needs can be addressed by robots!

#2: Embrace technology

Technological advancements in the legal industry have a clear value offering – if they can’t replace us, they will make us better. Basic document review, electronic discovery, due diligence and contract review can be streamlined through technology, leaving lawyers to do high-rung work and lead teams instead.

Rather than focusing on occupations McKinsey’s research papers on the impact of AI and other automation recommends looking at the activities that are more likely to be automated, requiring entire business processes to be transformed. In many cases, the activities that will be subsumed are jobs that machines do better than people, which augments rather than replaces human work.

#3: Sharpen skills

If lawyers must embrace AI and build a legal culture that reinforces the human value, lawyers must improve their professional judgement, focusing on meaningful, complex and mission-critical work for clients. This means that we need to practice how to exercise human judgement that is complementary to machine analysis, whether technological competence, strategy, creativity, judgement and empathy. Lawyers will have more time to do what they were trained for, so leveraging those capabilities will reap the benefits.

Demetrio Zema is a director of Australia’s most innovative law firm Law Squared. Cubed by Law Squared uses Automio to deliver legal essentials online to startups and entrepreneurs.

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