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How Much of a Lawyer's Job Can (Will) Be Automated?

Tony Tramontana

Today’s legal professionals practice law similarly to the way they did 100 years ago. Of the many professional trades that rely on intelligent technologies, legal practice is one area that has been slow to adapt despite the obvious synergy between the two.

The legal profession is defined by rules and evidence, criteria that pair well with automation, machine learning, or, the more familiar term, artificial intelligence (AI).

Legal professionals have always relied on experience to assess information, make value judgments, and determine the relevant facts of a case; but many of these things can now be done through statistical analysis and algorithms. The result is less work for lawyers, paralegals, and document review lawyers, who are particularly fearful of what automation might do to their jobs. With the industry’s current excess in supply not waning, there is a question every legal professional should be asking: how much of a lawyer’s job can really be automated?

Case Studies on Automation

There are two recent studies that are trying to answer this question: the first by a team at McKinsey & Company (a management consulting company) and the other by Frank S. Levy (MIT) and Dana Remus from the University of North Carolina School of Law.

The former suggests that as much as 69% of a paralegals’ time could be automated, and 23% of a lawyers’ time. The same study has made similar estimates for other professionals, including surgeons.

The latter study suggests a much lower percentage: about 13% of a lawyer’s time could be automated using current and advanced intelligent technologies.

The MicKinsey study set definitions based on a U.S. Department of Labor project called O*Net, while the Levy and Remus study defined its tasks using the American Bar Association (ABA).

MicKinsey looks at what kinds of automation technology would be necessary to automate a range of tasks defined by O*Net, whereas Levy and Remus studied 13 core tasks extrapolated from the ABA and assigned a value to each task depending on how predictable and manageable it would be if it were automated.

While both studies believe that automation is wise, if not inevitable, they disagree to what extent automation will play a part in legal services today, and in the near future.

MicKinsey projects higher numbers because it has a more optimistic view of future technological advancements in the field of automation and machine learning capabilities.

Levy and Remus are more conservative but ardent believers that document review has the greatest potential for automation today. Following automated document review, the study sites case administration and management, document drafting, due diligence, research, and analysis.

Surviving the Adaptation of Automation

Legal professionals that learn to work with automation will come out on top. Early adopters are already carving new legal professions out of automation technologies.

For example, e-discovery is a relatively new term that refers to any process wherein electronic data is researched and retrieved with the intent of using it as evidence in a civil or criminal case. It’s a basic automated process that does much better when managed by a legal professional. New programs, books, and training courses are popping up at places like Georgetown University, where anxious document review lawyers can regain their footing alongside automation technologies.

While it’s unclear to what extent automation will be incorporated into our legal system, there are limits to what technology can provide in terms of social and emotional cognition, which can’t be ignored in criminal and civil cases. It’s the human experience that drives our greatest potential in the legal field, and for the time being it looks as though that won’t change.

Here in Louisiana, we’re excited to explore the potential that automation will bring to our state’s legal systems and our clients at the Monroe Law Office of J. Antonio Tramontana.

We specialize in a range of Louisiana personal injury claims, including medical malpractice and auto accident. If you have questions, we at the Monroe Law Office of J. Antonio Tramontana, want to hear from you.

For a free case review, please fill out the form to the right, or call me directly at (888) 982-1290.

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