The Impact of Technology on the Legal Profession

There has been a lot of buzz in the legal profession about the impact of technology, in particular machine learning and artificial intelligence on the future of legal. Especially what it might mean for jobs and functions in that profession going forward.

You may recall our Above the Law interview with Zach Abramowitz called “Do Robots Make Better Lawyers.” In this online conversation, Zach, with Laurie Brasner, our Sr Director of Legal Services, and Scott Trainor, DocuSign’s Deputy General Counsel explored this concept and provided some clarity on the types of Legal functions that can absolutely benefit from automation. That conversation is here, and according to Zach, it was one of the most viewed conversations for that publication.

Another interesting article has been recently published on the website Futurism, which is far more specific. It refers to a new analysis from Deloitte Insight that states within the next two decades, an estimated 114,000 jobs in the legal sector will have a high chance of having been replaced with automated machines and algorithms. According to the article, those 114,000 jobs represent 39% of all jobs in legal. Wow, what a statement!

The article is here, and in it, Peter Saunders, lead partner for professional practices at Deloitte states, “advances in technology mean that an ever greater number of traditional, routine tasks within the legal sector can be automated by smart and self-learning algorithms.” He continues, “explaining this disparity requires an examination of the changing nature of legal work. Firms have been using robotics and algorithms to automate routine processes, with some firms already using virtual assistants to assist clients and perform in-house functions. To handle large volumes of contract information and data, law firms have also turned to advanced analytics, an indication of the potential of outsourcing repetitive processes to algorithms.”

Of the 114,000 jobs lost in the legal profession, the article explains how there are new jobs being produced by the change, ones that design, implement, and manage and new disruptive technologies, and those are more highly skilled and better compensated than the ones being lost.

Seal’s partnership with Deloitte is a likely contributor to this assessment. Deloitte understands clearly the nature of Seal’s customer use cases and examples, and we are actively working together on supporting our Contract Discovery and Analytics technologies with Deloitte’s business services for large organizations in the UK. We announced this partnership in a press release in December.

These concepts bring to mind what is being called “New Law.” This term is in opposition to “Big Law,” which describes large staffs, highly paid lawyers or legal professionals, heavy expenses, and lots of billed hours. New Law challenges this with significant disruption, using technology such as contract discovery and analytics, virtual teams, contract resources, alternative fee arrangements, and other major changes to cut costs and provide higher levels of client satisfaction. An interesting read on the concepts of New Law is here.

What this all points to is a sea change in the legal profession, for both legal firms and legal ops teams.

We clearly see this at Seal. Our engagement with firms and in house legal ops teams supports the fact that the effort, time and cost of manually finding, extracting data, managing contract data on an ongoing basis, and reporting on that data is being recognized as unfeasible and impractical. It makes perfect sense to automate manual processes in these time consuming, costly and error-prone functions.  Besides the speed and efficiency of automation, there is a direct impact on customer satisfaction as well, whether that’s a client of a law firm or a line-of-business stakeholder inside an organization.

We do feel, and the article does imply there will always be a need for skilled lawyers, with the training skills and experience to provide high value legal guidance and advice for decision making. But for the lower value and more administrative processes within the legal profession, such as contract discovery and analysis, the robots are coming.

The sea change is happening now and will continue to build momentum. The “robots come in peace,” but for those legal professionals who understand the changes, prepare for them, and take a proactive approach to the disruption.