Will computers replace lawyers?

27 Jan 2016

The short answer is “Yes and No”.

There is an argument that any professional who can be replaced by a robot should be replaced by a robot.

It is probably the case that the forces of competition and the desire to drive down costs mean that any professional who can be replaced by a robot should will replaced by a robot.

But what does that mean for lawyers as a profession and for the economy and whose jobs are about to disappear?

We are in the midst of the 5th economic revolution and the current revolution has been running since 1971. Broadly it could be called the ICT Revolution (Information and Communications Technology). Each of the previous 4 revolutions has been followed by a “golden age” which lasted 20 – 30 years and where the world had changed but employment overall was higher than before the revolution took place.

That suggests that it is likely that after the ICT revolution there will be more jobs not less, although the jobs will be different. 

“The history of technology can be characterised as the overestimation of what can be achieved immediately and the underestimation of the long-term consequences” 

Roy Amara (Former President of the Institute for the Future)

The forecasters are suggesting that overall the jobs at least risk of being replaced by computers are those that involve relationships, leadership and dealing with other people. Some lawyers are definitely safe.

Jobs which are lower value add and involve the application of a process or the analysis of a set of events are more at risk.

Simply put lawyers who do the job of a lawyer and work on cases are at risk. Already it is suggested that IBM Newton can provide a better and more accurate analysis of the outcome of a legal case at trial than a lawyer can.

Those who will survive will be the rainmakers, those who understand relationships and can develop them. Those who know how to add value to their business and its clients.

Another quote to think about is “the more things change the more they stay the same”.

The end result of the ICT revolution in the legal space could be that the individuals who are most highly valued by their firms now because they know how to win, kept and develop clients will still be the most highly valued but their firms. The difference is that a lot of their colleagues who add less value just won’t be there.

Which brings us back to “Any professional who can be replaced by a robot should be replaced by a robot.”