AI will decimate the professions. That’s the big idea that’s
being debated by economists. In the same way that agricultural jobs were wiped
out by mechanisation, working-class manufacturing jobs by robots and typing
pools by word processors; so professions, such as managers, lawyers, doctors,
journalists, architects and accountants and so on, will be wiped out by smart
Let’s take one area of publishing as starter. Wikipedia came
from nowhere. It wiped out the paper encyclopedia industry with a model that
did four things:
Content was crowdsourced and is now being produced in many
languages by people in those linguistic cultures. This was the converse of the
‘paid expert’ publishing model.
The publishers with their paper print and expensive
distribution were simply cut out, as the content was available online with
almost no creation and distribution costs.
As well as democratising the creation and editing process,
access is free and democratic access to knowledge is available to anyone with
an internet connection, on any device.
Knowledge was seen as corrigible and open to dispute through
discussion, moderated creation and editing. Knowledge was no longer fixed and
in the domain of experts only. This is an important, and often overlooked
phenomenon and explains why educators and academics are often the most
vociferous opponents of Wikipedia.
So let’s apply these four rules to the law. How will the law,
and lawyers, be affected by AI and technology? Here are seven areas where the
legal profession is already under pressure.
1. Direct access to
Repositories of legal documents give direct access by
consumers, businesses and organisations to legal templates and documents. It
disintermediates and cuts out the need for warm bodied lawyers at this basic
For example, Docracy
provides free, open legal documents.
You can even customise and sign these documents with electronic signatures.
Their catchphrase is ‘legal for the people’ which says a lot about the process
of disintermediation, democratization and demystification.
2. Direct access to
A step up from repositories of documents, are fully
functional template services for shared access and the writing of legal
documents. The idea is that the various parties can build upon a contract until
complete, cutting down the need for expensive legal advice and/or lawyers.
provides a Microsoft Word interface to allow
specific client details to be added, amended, noted and deleted. This makes the
whole process of contract build that much more efficient. What is interesting
is the way that intelligence is creeping into this process, to help increase
speed, accuracy and lower costs.
The profession has been opened up to non-legal entities,
such as businesses, charities and other entities. This is where the legal
process is being decentralised across a much wider set of players. Businesses,
charities and non-qualified people are now, in many countries, allowed to play
in the legal domain. This has resulted in a huge range of alternative sources
for advice and help.
Rather than the hideous pro
system, which was largely a PR exercise, organisations such as
have long provided free legal advice and services for the
poor and this type pf service is growing. Even in the commercial sector, expert businesses, such as the AA, provide
services that used to be provided by law firms. This has been accelerated by
the use of online access to such services.
A legal process can be a long drawn out affair; of get the
facts, collect stuff from lots of different sources, then pay top dollar for
someone to collate and reason using these facts to reach a conclusion and
provide advice (often vaguer than you expected). You then have to execute that
advice. There are few processes in life more frustrating and often scrappy than
a legal process. It is ripe for automation.
provide a workflow platform that does all of this, automating as much as
possible. It asks specific questions, gets answers; collects from people,
databases and the web; and here’s the rub, using a reasoning engine it provides
advice, and can then execute the recommendation through screen, document or
Disputation (and its prevention) is the cardinal driver of
legal services and costs. Online services are now available that offer online
resolution in divorces and other types of claims. The idea is to keep disputes
out of the lengthy and costly system of lawyers and courts.
By avoiding lawyers and the courts, companies like Modria,
deal with dispute resolution through straight disintermediation. Modria
fairness engine that focuses on customer issues for commercial companies and
has resolved more than 400 million cases for companies like PayPal and eBay.
This lowers costs dramatically.
Lawyers are in the judgement business and like many other
professionals, are now subject to consumer judgement. Reputation systems such
as AVVO disintermediate and demystify the law, as well as act as a filter for
consumers looking for lawyers. AVVO
is an online service that uses an algorithm
to apply ratings. It has over 200,000 lawyers and a database of millions of
questions and has become the de facto standard for reputation judgements in the
legal profession. As a lead in, it offer free 15 minute sessions and free
answers to submitted questions.
Legal judgements by very expensive human lawyers are under
attack from software that uses smart algorithms, reasoning and probability
software to determine outcomes. The process of capturing these processes is
underway with the likes of LEX MACHINA, and will get better and better.
came out of a collaboration between the law and
computer science departments at Stanford and delivers free data and advice on
risk to academics, court and non-profits from its analytics engine. It collects
large amounts of data and makes it available and searchable. This means that
that for cases on patents, trademarks, antitrust and copyright, it can predict
In ‘due diligence’, machine intelligence systems, such as
, promise speed and accuracy beyond that of a human lawyer. This is of huge
benefit in M&A activity. eBrevia
is a similar system with a diligence
engine that completes as much as it can before the lawyers complete the rest of
This is the area that most threatens traditional legal
practice and jobs, as the human intelligence we used to pay for, is replaced by
machine intelligence (to a degree).
Let’s revisit our four main criteria for our hypothesis,
that the legal profession is under pressure in terms of employment, from
All four are already at work and have already led to an
overall loss of jobs. Note that the total number of jobs in the legal sphere is
certainly reduced with technology but this is a complex equation, as some jobs
are lost but new jobs created. However, it is not a zero-sum game. Fewer new
jobs are created, as they handle services on scale. The net results is a large
reduction in jobs.
Lest we think this is a bad thing, consider the
redistribution of wealth from the expensive class of lawyers back into the
pockets of the people who used to pay for these services. This particular
profession relied for too long on mystifying their domain through abstruse
language and ritual, charging for (often poor) document control and updates, keeping
centralised control through expensive accreditation and services, refusing to
lower costs through efficiencies of delivery and establishing a cartel that
charged by the hour, for often menial tasks. The process of decentralisation,
disintermediation, democratisation and, in my view the most important of all - demystification,
is now well underway.