Should Lawyers be Afraid of Artificial Intelligence?

There is a 3.5 percent chance that lawyers’ jobs will be automated. That statistic seems appealing to those of us in the profession—especially relative to the chances for other “skilled” professions like financial advisers (58 percent of automation) and accountants (94 percent). However, this figure does not stand for the proposition that lawyer’ jobs will remain unchanged as the tendrils of artificial intelligence (AI) wind their way into jobs once thought too complex to be done by machines. Legal work is diverse. There are several categories of work, from litigation to transactional, from bankruptcy to investigations. Each brand of job entails routine work like document and contract review, but also cognitively complex tasks such as oral argument and negotiation. And it is the former type of work that will be first in line to be handled by a computer. Indeed, efforts in this space are already advanced. There’s LawGeex, a software company that handles contract review and approval that would otherwise be done by in-house counsel. LawGeex advertises substantial time and cost savings of 80 percent and 90 percent respectively. J.P. Morgan recently announced that its proprietary software COIN (short for “contract intelligence”) is now reviewing commercial loan agreements, saving 360,000 hours of legal work per year all while reducing mistakes. And then there’s ROSS, which uses machine learning to perform legal research. The software uses keyword analysis to sort among a database of documents and case law to deliver attorneys the answer to questions they’ve asked. Notice that these are exactly the type of tasks you’d expect to be automated: time-intensive, often repetitive work. In the large firm...