How susceptible are legal jobs to computerisation?

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With automation and artificial intelligence becoming increasingly large parts of modern-day technology, many people are worried that their jobs may be at risk of being taken over by a machine. Many jobs are simply outside the scope of what a computer can do, while others are greatly assisted and improved by having some tasks partly automated. In the legal field, a large study has found that some jobs are more able to be automated than others, with lawyers particularly unlikely to be susceptible to computerisation for a number of reasons.

Should we call it Computerisation, Automation, or Artificial Intelligence?

The term we use when discussing the increasing use of computers for everyday tasks and roles makes a difference in how we perceive this change. Using the word “automation” or “computerisation” rather than the words “artificial intelligence” can help people to feel more positive about the changes that are sure to come. People can get stuck on the idea that “artificial intelligence” is something dangerous, where robots are going to take over the world, while the term “automation” sounds more benign and mundane.

The extent to which automation can truly help and improve our lives should not go understated, with numerous businesses actively trying to automate major processes of their work. For example, a leading medical negligence law firm took the lead and is already working with in-house programmers to automate things that will help them to “improve their competitiveness and productivity”. The automation of certain processes allows staff to work more efficiently, with routine or pattern-based tasks being taken over by an automated system. This frees up staff members to work with more complex tasks, or focus their energy on the social aspects of their jobs. Fletchers Solicitors CEO believes that AI will become increasingly important in the workplace, and that for his organisation they will “strive to remain at the forefront” of their industry by using computerised tasks.

Which Legal Jobs Will be Computerised?

The study released by the University of Oxford examined in detail which jobs were likely to become computerised, and which ones weren’t. In the legal field, lawyers only have a 3.5% likelihood of being computerised, with paralegals and legal assistants at the other end of the scale at 94.5% chance of being automated. In the middle were court reporters, judicial law clerks, and judges, with likelihoods of 50.2%, 40.9%, and 40.1% likelihood of being automated.

Lawyers are less likely to be automated due to the social intelligence aspects of their role. It’s simpler for a machine to complete tasks that are based on rules and patterns, while interacting with people and creating a relationship of trust is difficult. This is such an integral part of the lawyer’s job, it’s easy to see that automation of this type of behaviour is a long way off.

On the other hand, paralegals and legal assistants have numerous aspects of their roles that can be computerised. For instance, document review and narration are easily automated, with speech recognition software effectively replacing the task of typing out a lawyer’s dictation into a document.

Another factor at play is that paralegals and legal assistants do not require a large amount of creativity in their work. Machine learning is based on rules and patterns, so the less creativity a job requires, the more likely it is to be computerised. Lawyers on the other hand are required to find solutions to a client’s problems, some of which might require creative reasoning to determine a good outcome.

Finally, the amount of relationship-building varies widely between the two professions: lawyers build relationships with numerous people every day, including clients, fellow lawyers, judges, clerks, and expert witnesses. Paralegals and legal assistants do have a variety of relationships, but their primary role is to assist one or several main lawyers. As such, the relationship-building aspect of their role is minimal when compared to a lawyer.

Judges, court reporters, and judicial law clerks are somewhere in the middle – some aspects of their roles follow a clear pattern, such as a judge relying on previous legal precedent to decide a case, or a court reporter following the same outline for reporting on a case.

What Comes Next?

As automation becomes a bigger part of our lives, it will begin to increasingly dominate tasks that rely on pattern recognition, as well as expanding further into “non-routine cognitive tasks” as time goes by. So while lawyers are not yet at risk, they may very well be in future, for at least some aspects of their roles such as document examination and inserting information into template contracts, for example. The thought that our jobs may be replaced by robots is a daunting one, but for many people it will only be parts of their jobs that become automated. It’s important to focus on how automation can help us, rather than fear it.

February 13, 2017 · Tim Kevan · Comments Closed
Posted in: Uncategorized