Anyone working in the legal industry will be familiar with the pervasive ubiquity of technology in almost all aspects of legal practice. Although physical files and documents are still relevant, there has been a strong progression from analogue into digital, which mirrors the broader trend in society.
Whilst the advantages (and disadvantages) of technology for individual employees/companies have been debated for years, interest has recently been focused upon the likelihood of AI "Robots" replacing the jobs previously undertaken by human employees.
Whilst the fear of technologically driven obsolescence is historically well rooted, knowledge based professions have generally been shielded in comparison to unskilled labour. The inability of robots to effectively learn and adapt to different circumstances has been a major stumbling block, requiring a programmer to actively code a set of instructions for each variable.
Do recent advances in technology now point to a future where these limitations are surpassed, resulting in lawyers becoming redundant? Despite hyped headlines indicating the possibility, much of the technological encroachment falls into areas many would consider as "grind". Aspects such as drafting and reviewing documents, currently carried out by lawyers and paralegals, is likely to have a strong automation element in the future. Programs are also likely to aid lawyers by providing probable outcomes in cases with a simple number of possibilities.
So should we being expecting legal savvy robots to be appearing before the High Court anytime soon? Very unlikely. Whilst a simple heuristic approach may be programmable; other human factors relevant to legal professionals (intuition, context, persuasion) remain outside the grasp of current anticipated AI breakthroughs. Ultimately, as of yet, there is no compensating for the human factor.
The forecasts estimate that the adoption of new technologies will double the growth of law firms' productivity (output per person employed) from the current 1.2% per year to 2.4% per year within a decade. This is the long-term rate previously seen in the rest of the economy. Such a growth rate would mean that, by 2038, total employment in the sector will be 20% less than it would have been if productivity growth continued at its current rate. This equates to 67,000 full-time equivalent jobs.