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The Future of the Legal Profession, AI and Legal Work

The legal profession faced down seemingly endless changes this past year, and many people are understandably wondering what’s in store for the future. In a recent webinar sponsored by Onit and titled The Future of the Legal Profession, leading economist Daniel Susskind tackled exactly that question, offering insights on what changes the industry should expect in the future, what role technology and AI will play and much more.

A Tale of Two Futures

Susskind envisions two possible futures for the legal profession, both rooted in technology: one that’s simply a more efficient version of the current profession, and another in which technology actively displaces professionals.

In the first, today’s professionals continue to incorporate more technology to streamline and optimize the traditional ways they’ve worked, changing practices that may have been in place for several decades. In the second, technology isn’t just streamlining and optimizing traditional work practices, but fully replacing professionals with increasingly capable systems and machines. In the short term, these two divergent futures will develop in parallel. However, in the long term, Susskind expects the second future to dominate due to its greater efficiency and more effective problem-solving abilities.

How Technology Affects Professions

Professions evolved in modern society because no one was capable of doing everything, and therefore specialists – lawyers, doctors, educators, etc. – were needed to solve common challenges that people couldn’t solve on their own. Each profession became a gatekeeper for a unique body of knowledge.

Technology has been changing all that in recent years. Today, institutions are using technology to solve problems that were traditionally only solved by specific professionals. For example, in the case of law, three times as many disputes are resolved each year on remediation platforms without traditional lawyers than are filed in the legal system. Other technologies are similarly replacing hundreds of thousands of hours of traditionally billable time by addressing discrete legal tasks.

How Technology and AI Are Changing

There’s no finish line when it comes to technology. Today, technology is seeing exponential growth in prevalence, power, and capability, performing tasks that were once the sole province of humans. More and more people own devices, and both those devices and their owners are becoming increasingly connected. Over time, technology will only continue to improve.

Artificial intelligence has seen some of the most significant evolution. While AI once focused on copying human thinking and reasoning, today’s AI tools perform judgments that humans once exclusively performed and do so based on much larger volumes of data than humans could ever tackle.  (To see an example of how AI can quickly review, redline and edit all types of contracts including NDAs, MSAs, SOWs, purchase agreements, lease agreements, employment agreements, construction and sub-contracting agreements, visit here. You can also schedule a demo of Onit’s Review AI by filling out this quick form.)

The Future of Legal Work

We won’t be seeing robot lawyers any time soon, but we will see changes. Rather than eliminating entire jobs, technology will likely displace humans from particular tasks and activities, while making others more valuable and more important for humans to perform. Technology is a story not of mass unemployment, but of mass redeployment, changing the tasks and activities lawyers will be expected to perform in carrying out their work.

The Pandemic Effect

While the pandemic may have spurred recessions in some areas, recessions often lead to an increase in automation. Automation, in turn, tends to replace the tasks of middling-skilled workers, rather than lower-skilled or higher-skilled workers.

The pandemic has also created a unique incentive to automate work, since machines don’t have to worry about challenges like contagion or isolation. Some automation experiments necessitated by the pandemic are likely to become permanent fixtures of the profession, as there’s been a significant shift in the belief that most work needs to be performed face-to-face.

How This All Impacts You

Susskind closed with three pieces of advice for lawyers going forward:

  1. Explore new roles, skills and capabilities that might not be traditional in the profession.
  2. Learn from the pandemic. Understand what’s worked well and what hasn’t and apply that going forward.
  3. Imagine the future of the profession like a clean slate, figuring out how to solve problems in new and fundamentally different ways.

To learn more about Daniel Susskind, visit here.

To see how Onit’s AI solutions – including Precedent, ReviewAI and ExtractAI – schedule a demonstration here.

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