Michio Kaku, a noted theoretical physicist and futurist, predicts, “The job market of the future will consist of those jobs that robots cannot perform.” Robots have recently entered the legal workplace, performing several tasks once assigned to newly minted law grads. What does this mean for current and future lawyers? Simple answer: robots will not replace lawyers but they will work with them.
Technology has already produced a new class of support professionals that work with lawyers — just as techs work with doctors in healthcare delivery. Lawyers, like physicians and other professionals supported by technology, will be freed to leverage their time and expertise to interpret data, render professional judgment, and perform functions that require their professional training.
Technology Is Already Transforming Legal Delivery
It’s no surprise that AI is rapidly becoming a staple in the delivery of legal services. The disaggregation of legal tasks fueled by globalization, technological advances, and the financial crisis propelled legal process outsourcing companies (LPO’s). The LPO model relies on labor arbitrage and technology to dramatically reduce the cost of high-volume/low-value “legal” functions like document review. This has enabled LPO’s to pry certain types of repetitive work from high-priced law firms. LPO’s demonstrated that law firms are not the sole—or most efficient and cost-effective—providers of all legal services. They also confirmed that technology and process management—together with legal expertise—are all essential legal delivery components.
AI is ushering in the second phase of legal delivery disaggregation. Technology—not labor arbitrage—is the engine for a “better, faster, cheaper” delivery of certain legal services. Several corporate legal departments, law firms, and service providers utilize AI for review and standardization of documents, for example. And the list of potential tasks is growing rapidly. AI’s impact on the corporate end of the legal market is in its incipient stage, but its impact on efficiency, risk mitigation, and dramatically shortening the time and reducing the cost of human review is significant.
AI’s Positive Impact on Access to Justice
AI’s broader potential to streamline legal services is also evident in the retail market segment. The inability of the vast majority of individuals and small businesses to secure legal representation due to lack of access and high cost is an acute problem often referred to as “the access to justice crisis.” It has profound implications for our society and its rule of law. AI is a game changer.
Consider DoNotPay, an online robot that has successfully challenged 160,000 parking tickets in New York City and London—for free and with a 64% success rate. Here’s how it works: users visit the company website and IM with an automated service (bot) that asks them a series of questions. Upon completion of the exchange, the bot takes the user information and creates a document that can be used to challenge the tickets. Time and hassle aside, a lawyer would likely charge far more than the infraction cost.
But that was just the opening act for DoNotPay. It soon extended its offering to petitions for flight delay compensation. More recently, DoNotPay has graduated to a life-altering service: facilitating applications for government housing in the UK. The user experience parallels the parking ticket process: the “client” logs onto the company site; responds to instant messaged questions related to health, reasons for homelessness, etc.; the bot synthesizes the answers; then it produces a completed application intended to increase the applicant’s chance of receiving placement in a home. But for this free service, users would not file an application. It’s a great example of technology being deployed to further the public interest and to address the access to justice crisis.
This does not mean that lawyers will be replaced by technology. But AI supported enterprises like DoNotPay enable those that cannot afford lawyers to have a measure of meaningful—and affordable—access to “legal” assistance. Lawyers could help with fine-tuning and arguing the client’s case to a tribunal, for example. And while their role might be limited to those core functions, AI would enable millions of presently unserved clients into the marketplace, reduce the cost of legal representation, and compress case disposition time. This would serve the public and the legal profession well.
AI Will Accelerate Structural Change In Legal Delivery
Lawyers—like other professionals—will increasingly work alongside robots. What matters in legal delivery is which resource—human or humanoid– is appropriate for the task; what kind of business structure delivers it; and what level of skill, efficiency, and cost is required.
The traditional law firm model—a pyramidal structure built on billed hours, high rates, and “partner tribute”—no longer seems aligned with consumer expectations. This helps to explain why demand for law firm services has been flat for three years and counting while overall need for legal services has increased steadily. And while about one hundred of the largest law firms recently elevated first-year associate salaries to $180K+, the smart money in the legal sector is investing in technology and service delivery models that meld legal, IT, and process expertise. LegalZoom and Axiom, two such established alternatives to the traditional delivery model, have each raised nine-figures of institutional capital– much of it going to technology. And a record number of AI companies are entering the legal market. This portends further change in the structures and tools of legal providers.
For another glimpse into law’s future, consider the medical profession as analog. Delivery of healthcare involves technological and process expertise as well as specialized medical knowledge and training. Robots have been used productively in a number of ways: professional training, patient care, and diagnosis, among others. And it’s not just robots; IT has accelerated disaggregation in healthcare delivery. That’s why, for example, doctors who once performed nearly an entire physical exam are now with the patient for only a small part of it. Physicians engage with patients at the outset to help identify the problem. They synthesize and interpret tests conducted by paraprofessionals before fashioning a course of action with the patient. The doctor’s time is leveraged and involves only those tasks that require specialized medical expertise, training, and procedures. Why should legal delivery be different?
AI will not replace lawyers but it will profoundly alter the way legal services are delivered. It will redefine the tasks and functions lawyers perform as well as the business models delivering them. It will also substitute data for supposition and hearsay that will be essential to more informed provider and resource selection as well as case management and outcome prognostication. AI will promote greater access to legal services, enabling tens of millions of individuals and small businesses to obtain representation by significantly reducing legal cost and providing a wider array of accessible service options.
Many lawyers believe AI will marginalize them. Ironically, AI’s biggest impact might be to enhance their standing by improving client access and service.
This post was originally published on Forbes.com