Over the past few decades, the advent of automation has rapidly and drastically changed entire industries. Bank tellers have been replaced by ATMs, factory workers have been replaced by machines, and, in the near future, the automobile industry will be revolutionized by self-driving cars. Technology has proven to be such a dominant force, making every industry is susceptible to automation, including the legal industry.
In fact, automation has already infiltrated the legal industry through a fair amount of services. In a 2016 survey of lawyers and paralegals, it was estimated that 22 percent of a lawyer’s and 35 percent of a paralegal’s job can be automated. Such automation could eliminate the daily menial tasks that currently seem unavoidable.
For over a decade now, software has been available to assist law firms with e-discovery and document review. What once required a team of associates to spend hours sifting through thousands of pages of documents, can now largely be done with software that takes a fraction of the time and at a fraction of the cost.
There are also websites like LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, which assist in creating and preparing legal documents like wills, trusts, and certain foundational business documents. This technology is being used to create various “form” contracts as well.
Other technology companies are harnessing the power of artificial intelligence (“AI”). Products on the market that rely on AI are increasingly able to perform what many would consider true legal work. EVA, by Ross Intelligence, reviews and analyzes case briefs and instantly provides a comprehensive list of cases cited. From there, it performs a search on those cases to determine if they have received any negative treatment.
More recently, IMB released Project Debater. This is a technology aimed at developing a robot capable of debating with a human. This technology is able to take a topic, go through millions of documents on that topic, identify the relevant information, and then form an argument. While it is unlikely that a robot will start arguing in front of a court, this technology, if further developed, would have a significant impact on the legal industry.
Despite these innovative tools, the legal industry has been slow to adopt technological changes, and in many respects, the industry remains behind the times. Historically, law firms have not had a huge incentive to use automation. After all, it is more profitable to have associates bill countless hours to complete a project, rather than using a computer program that can do it almost instantaneously.
However, client’s expectations are changing that and are forcing law firms to use these technologies. Clients expect their work to be done faster and more cost effectively. This can only be accomplished by embracing automation and technology. Law firms should not view automation as a replacement of lawyers, but rather, it should be used as a tool to provide clients a better work-product at a faster pace. Law firms that fail to embrace these technologies, risk losing clients to savvier firms which recognize that automation can assist attorneys in providing exceptional client service.