Tuesday, October 11, 2011
By understanding what legal tasks software can do better than humans, ceding that territory to the machines and then specializing in other skills like trial advocacy. (For more on the coming lawyer-bot invasion, read here and here).
What's interesting about this post from last March warning of the threat to lawyers by software in light of Watson's Jeopardy debut is that the author recommended family law as a speciality immune from the impending lawyer-bot take-over. But that was before the prospect of negotiation software was on the horizon which will help parties optimize the terms of their matrimonial settlement while avoiding the added transactional costs of lawyers. Sigh. . . looks like I picked the wrong week to become a divorce lawyer.
The new technologies are now better able to analyze documents for relevance than first year associates and TTT grads. They don’t just rely on simple search terms, but are now independently pulling in related terms, and analyzing documents in bulk to identify patterns, and deviations. Plus, they’re better looking than the other basement dwellers.
The above-ground lawyers also have cause for concern. There is nothing magical about the legal/non-legal distinction that will prevent a robot from taking your job. If you can go from a skull full of mush to thinking like a lawyer in a mere three years, surely computers will soon be able to perform the task as well.
Just consider the Jeopardy-conquering computer Watson. Jeopardy does not ask purely straight-forward questions. Often the questions (or “clues” to be precise) are written as riddles, or with puns and other hints that need to be deciphered to find the correct answer. Now, imagine a robot plugged into Westlaw, scanning through all of the headnotes to deduce the likely answer to a legal question. That would be some very powerful analysis.
But, it won’t just be on Westlaw. It will also be using Lexis, Bloomberg, Google, and every single news article, white paper and best practice memo ever published.
It will know about every resource available and utilize them all simultaneously. It will never forget to Shepardize. It will remember the answer to every question it has previously been asked. It will not get tired, it will never need a coffee break, and it will not bitch about the size of its bonus.
Technology is advancing so fast that the iPad is more powerful than the computers on the space station. And, the progress is only getting faster as computers take on a bigger role in their own innovation. On the other hand, you are still running the same software as your caveman ancestors. It will be hundreds of thousands of years before you get an upgrade, and since alcohol and social services have undermined natural selection, those upgrades will become fewer and further between.
Many people who hear about the impending legal robot revolution will try to argue that what they are doing is simply too intellectual a task for a robot. But, much as bumblebees aren’t dissuaded by evidence that they ought not be able to fly, the robots will cast aside your arguments as they cast aside your jobs. Arguing that the revolution is not coming will not stop it.
Instead, you must get ahead of it. Learn what area computers are conquering next, and abandon that territory. Do you handle incorporating business entities? Robots will soon be doing that.
Look for things that are much further out of reach. Trial advocacy is a good area, and I mean actual advocacy. Being in a court room, in front of a judge, not “litigation,” which is just being locked away in a library doing research. Get into family law. While corporate accountants will leap at the opportunity to have robots perform diligence on the cheap, few people will want a robot advising them on child custody or a living will.
But never forget, if a computer can answer Jeopardy’s questions, answering a judge won’t be too far behind. People will become more accepting of advice given by robots, just as they accept robots building their cars or filling their prescriptions.
You cannot fight the revolution, you cannot hide. Your only option is to run.