AI in the Legal Field: A Prediction for the Future?

The exponential increases in the power and flexibility of AI, combined with the parallel massive growth of networked data AI feeds upon, has opened the door for AI to have significant impacts on the world economy in the very near future. For a glimpse of what that impact may look like, we may be able to learn from the already-occurring impacts of AI on the legal field.

AMR News recently published an article entitled “AI Eating Up Lawyer’s Jobs, Sends Wave of Worry Among Suitors”. The article outlined the ways AI is already affecting the legal field: processing and analyzing case histories and legal precedents far faster and more effectively than human paralegals can. They cite JP Morgan company as an example:

For instance, JPMorgan announced that it has been implementing a software known as Contract Intelligence (COIN) to perform document review work in [a] few seconds which took lawyers and paralegals 360,000 hours.

This sort of efficiency must certainly result in some lost jobs. However, the article also highlights the promise that the jobs that remain will be greatly improved by the removal of mundane and repetitive work. For example, the article points out that

…paralegals, who do not generally have [a] law degree must find a way to work alongside technology. AI has not overtaken their responsibilities completely yet, but they have eased up their work to great extent.

and that the efficiency AI brings will promise to

…help lawyers learn faster and become more prolific.

A prescient article from Business Insider in 2015, however, may provide the caveat. Its predictions that AI would eat up boring, repetitive work are coming true. However, it also warns that the superior jobs that remain may only benefit seasoned professionals and may remove training opportunities for newcomers to the legal field:

…a 2013 oft-cited Oxford study estimated that lawyers only have a 3.5% chance of losing their jobs because “most computerization of legal research will compliment the work of lawyers in the medium term.”

But Kaplan said this may only apply to seasoned lawyers who typically don’t do the kind of repetitive tasks entry-level lawyers share with paralegals and legal secretaries. These professions were estimated to have a 94.5% likelihood of automation, according to the Oxford study.

In other words, older lawyers who have moved beyond the paperwork and research stages may find their jobs both still stable and improved, while the tasks formerly allocated to new lawyers still cutting their teeth are perfect to be replaced by computers. The Oxford article mentioned is one that predicted 47% of all jobs may soon be eaten up by AI.

So what is the takeaway? If changes already present in the legal field are predictive, it looks like we may slowly enter a transitional period whereby jobs sensitive to automation are partially replaced by AI, and where the jobs in these fields that do remain involve learning to work alongside AI tools. Though AI will not likely be replacing entire professional fields, we may watch AI replace those jobs that support professionals in the legal, medical and other fields. The efficiency of AI support will likely improve the effectiveness of the professionals that remain, but also make those jobs highly selective and exclusive as training opportunities disappear. We may see less and less people bustling in a legal or a doctor’s office, perhaps working through a transitional period with support teams composed of combination human and AI ’employees’. It’s not unthinkable to imagine a phase where the employees left in these support roles are not only doing their work, but also helping to train their AI coworkers to become efficient enough to eventually replace them.