Tuesday, October 21, 2014

How Disruptive Technologies Will Transform the Role of Lawyers

I just finished reading an important new piece, The Great Disruption: How Machines Will Transform the Role of Lawyers in the Delivery of Legal Services, by Northwestern Law's John McGinnis and Fordham Law's Russell Pearce, that has implications for both lawyers and also for legal educators.  

Here is how the piece starts:

"Law is an information technology—a code that regulates social life. In our age, the machinery of information technology is growing exponentially in power, not only in hardware, but also in the software capacity of the programs that run on computers. As a result, the legal profession faces a great disruption. Information technology has already had a huge impact on traditional journalism, causing revenues to fall by about a third and employment to decrease by about 17,000 people in the last eight years1 and very substantially decreasing the market value of newspapers. Because law consists of more specialized and personalized information, the disruption is beginning in law after journalism. But, its effects will be as wide ranging. Indeed they may ultimately be greater, because legal information is generally of higher value, being central to the protection of individuals’ lives and property."

The piece goes on to explain how machine technologies will change the delivery of legal services in fundamental ways.  It sets out five areas in which we can expect change:  discovery; legal search; documents as forms; documents as briefs and memos; and legal analytics.  While Richard Susskind's End of Lawyers foreshadowed this evolution in the practice of law -- from bespoke one-to-one legal counseling to a more customized and even commoditized provision of legal services -- McGinnis and Pearce build on that work by providing real life examples of how the provision of legal services will evolve as machines take on a bigger role.

To be prepared for this new era, lawyers would be advised to rethink how they practice law, the parts of their practice that can be performed by technology and the parts that are more bespoke.

In my view, McGinnis and Pearce's piece also has implications for legal education reform.  The question that the article posed for me, as a law professor, is whether legal educators are preparing our students sufficiently for this future.  If, for example, as McGinnis and Pearce predict, "[p]artners may . . . be able to substitute machines for associates, thereby gaining more leverage at lower cost," then should law schools train students differently?  What jobs will recent graduates do as more and more of the work of associates/entry-level lawyers is done by machines?  How might we train our students differently in light of these inevitable changes in the delivery of legal services?  

In my view, these are questions that everyone in the legal academy should be thinking about -- as the practice of law changes, how might law schools change as well?

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below.




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