Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Are Robots Stealing Attorneys' Jobs?

I just finished reading Robert Gordon's The Rise and Fall of American Growth: The U.S. Standard of Living Since the Civil War (as a reminder, you can always track what I'm reading through my Goodreads bookshelf). It's a remarkable book, detailing the period of meteoric, unprecedented (and, the author argues, one-time) growth in the United States from approximately 1870-1970. Think about it... cars replace horses, electric lights replace candles and lamps, running water replaces pitching pales from the well, and on and on.

NES R.O.B. by Evan-Amos
Unfortunately, the book also notes a general plateau-ing since 1970, with stagnant real wages and little hope for such revolutionary growth moving forward. Wah-waaahh. One particularly interesting passage addressed the legal profession:
Another use of artificial intelligence is now almost two decades old: the ability to use modern search tools to find with blinding speed valuable nuggets of existing information. The demand for legal associates has declined in part because of the ability of computerized search tools to carry out the process of discovery and search for precedents. "Computers are reading millions of documents and sorting them for relevance without getting tired or distracted.... As such analytical power expands in scope, computers will move nearer to the heart of what lawyers do by advising better than lawyers can on whether to sue or settle or go to trial."
At a high level, this is nothing new - technology makes us more efficient. It makes us better lawyers. I can more quickly identify precedent, and verify that it is still good precedent. I can find better cases that more precisely track the facts and procedural posture of my cases. This increased productivity is good for my practice, but also reduces the need for labor in the industry generally.

Presumably, enhanced data analysis will also enable us to better predict outcomes. That said, I have yet to see anything that really rivals a good attorney's best guess. For now, I'll just keep plugging away and doing my best to keep up with the technology while using it to my advantage. At least until Skynet.