There’s been a lot of buzz about how technology will transform the legal business in recent years. There’s also been much hype around the promise of artificial intelligence.
With law firms experimenting with ROSS, a “robot lawyer” built upon IBM:s Jeopardy-winning platform Watson, and the victory of AlphaGo over Go champion Lee Seedol, we may have to rethink what machines are capable of. Indeed, analysts now project that millions of jobs will be automated by 2020 and that many of these will be white-collar jobs. And companies such as IBM and Google – and an ever-increasing amount of startups – expect the legal vertical to be the next sector to be disrupted.
Uptake among law firms has however, with a few notable exceptions, been slow. Now, however, with alternative providers of legal advice gaining ground, increased demand for efficiency and transparency, outsourcing of routine work and fewer young lawyers finding jobs in countries like the U.S., law schools around the globe are recognizing the need for change.
Applications to U.S. law schools have decreased with nearly 50 percent the last ten years. Some schools are offering students who can’t find relevant jobs reimbursement of fees. Others are on the brink of shutting down. Law professor and legal futurist Richard Susskind argue that law schools prepare lawyers for the 20th century. And according to Paul Lippe, CEO of Legal OnRamp, just cranking out ”old normal” law grads isn’t going to solve anything. Casey Flaherty, lawyer-turned-entrepreneur stresses the need for skills in areas such as document automation, data security and machine learning, a branch of AI.
Law schools that have started to adress the issue include Michigan State University College of Law, Cornell Law School, Georgetown Law and Harvard Law School.
According to Harvard Law professor David B Wilkins, lawyers may run a higher risk of being replaced than for example doctors. Law is a rule-based system, much like chess, he argues. Wilkins also points to the increase in outsourcing of legal work, digitization of legal information and the rise of online markets for legal services and DIY services for i e divorces and wills.
Wilkins doesn’t forsee the death of law firms or ”big law”, as there will always be a need for sophisticated legal services. He does, however, stress the need for change in the way lawyers are trained:
– We need to teach students how to unbundle legal problems and collaborate across organizational boundaries with other providers, which is the biggest challenge. We have to work across divides, including with the disruptors themselves, he says.
At Harvard’s Center on the Legal Profession, CLP, researchers work on implementing new methods for teaching law. The center have also initiated discussions with among others representatives of IBM Watson on how technological developments might disrupt the market for legal services.