By Keisha M. McClellan • April 28, 2018•Writers in Residence, Careers, Firms and the Private Sector, Law School, Choosing a Career and Landing a Job, Internships and Clerkships
Fear that robots will rule the world, even the world of lawyers, is a major source of trepidation about developments in artificial intelligence (“AI”). But looking beyond headlines and considering other points of view is necessary. AI and the automation of certain legal tasks is not something to fear or outright reject because “AI in the legal profession is not a rogue robot storming the halls of justice.” Rather, AI has the potential to enhance the practice of law rather than simply decimating the roles of attorneys. According to the Brookings Institution, AI is a technology tool that “enables people to rethink how we integrate information, analyze data, and use the resulting insights to improve decision-making.” And because AI is less a future abstraction and more of a present reality, it is much more integrated in our lives than one may realize. In fact, “if you’ve recently chatted online with customer service, had an X-ray taken, or applied for a loan, you’ve likely experienced AI.”
How will AI impact the legal profession? Critics often point to AI enhancing business efficiencies at the expense of human jobs. As noted by Frank Levy, a labor economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, there exists “this popular view that if you can automate one piece of work, the rest of the job is toast.” He also comments that “[t]hat’s just not true, or only rarely the case.” From comprehensive and comparative document review, contract analysis, improved organizational frameworks, and earlier risk assessment research, AI intelligence offers attorneys a valuable opportunity to regain more time for critical work responsibilities and client engagement.
According to Adam Nguyen, co-founder and COO/CFO of eBrevia, a leading AI contract analytics software provider, “technology that automates tedious tasks, while not a panacea, can free up lawyers’ time to perform higher-level, more intellectually satisfying work which clients would be willing to pay for.”
While improving efficiencies can result in the phase-out of some roles and tasks, new innovations also offer new opportunities. Corporate clients may catalyze law firms to embrace AI. By example, industry giants such as Walmart and Nationwide Insurance are increasingly embracing AI tools “to free up attorneys for more strategic jobs.” They say the goal is not to eliminate jobs but to eliminate low-level tasks such as “cut and paste” work at the start of litigation.
For law students, AI offers a complimentary tool to make their performance as law clerks and summer associates more accurate and more efficient. To this end, law students may want to seek out courses and conferences that offer exposure to cloud-based electronic discovery and consider externships with non-traditional legal tech outlets. The prediction is that these innovative tools “will help make [entry-level lawyers] better lawyers faster.”
In being open to new artificial intelligence tools, you may find that your professional product is enhanced rather than marginalized. In the words of Dan Katz, associate professor and director of Chicago-Kent College of Law’s Law Lab (@LawLaboratory), the fusion of technology and humans within legal services is “more powerful than either group alone.”