In 2016, a report released by Deloitte Insight struck fear in the hearts of many legal professionals when it predicted that nearly 40% of jobs in the legal sector could be automated (and therefore, eliminated) within the next decade. In raw numbers, Deloitte essentially put over 100,000 lawyers, paralegals, and legal assistants on the chopping block, citing the “profound reforms” within the profession over the next ten years.
The culprit behind all those pink slips? Automation.
Warning that “businesses must prepare effectively now so they are not left behind by the end of the decade,” the team at Deloitte pointed to shifts in workplace demographics, an increased focus on ROI for customers and clients, and “the quickening pace of technology” as the reasons behind this paradigm shift.
Thankfully, these dire predictions aren't as bad as they sound. In truth, automation and other document management technologies have the potential to elevate the job of the legal professional by taking over the drudgery of tedious, time-consuming tasks. The result? You and your team will be free to pursue more substantive, and fulfilling, work.
Shifting Skills, Evolving Strategies
So who will be most affected by the tide of automation and AI? McKinsey Global Institute estimates 22 percent of the work typically performed by lawyers could be automated fairly easily. For law clerks and their brethren, the number rises to 35 percent. Maybe even more significantly, according to CB Insights, over 280 legal technology startups – each focusing on a different area of law, including bankruptcy, patents, and contract management – have raised approximately $757 million in the last six years. As the big picture starts to take focus, it seems clear legal departments of the future will look much different than it does today.
This sea of change won't herald the end of the legal assistant or paralegal. Instead, as technology becomes more and more integrated into the day-to-day rhythm of the typical legal department, legal counsel, managers, and staff will need to adapt and adjust in order to survive. While lower-level employees are most susceptible to the effects of downsizing as a result of automation and AI, everyone from senior legal counsel to associates or even VPs of legal affairs should take note. As technology continues its not-so-slow-moving coup, responsibilities will shift, skill-sets will evolve, and organizations will need to adjust in order to deliver on their business strategies.
“Further technological advances over the next decade mean that future skill requirements across all roles will change,” states the Deloitte report. “Employers will need to look for lawyers who are not just technically competent, but who have a broader skill set.”
Why AI and Automation Can Revolutionize Contract Management
Contracts can be some of the most time-consuming documents to create, demanding lots of time, resources, and staff attention. Because so much energy goes into the creation and management of contracts, these documents represent the ideal low-hanging fruit when it comes to streamlining operations and reducing workforce demands. The average legal department can waste hours tracking down essential documents and finding critical paperwork. If an organization’s business model includes licensing, executable terms, or other time-sensitive contract elements, the percentage of time devoted to contract management can grow exponentially.
The sheer drudgery involved in created multiple contracts from scratch has plagued many a lawyer. While each client is different, when it comes to contracts, much of the language remains constant regardless of the agreement at hand. The repetitive nature of contract creation makes it a prime candidate for an AI invasion, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Advances in Artificial Intelligence in just the last few years has transformed a variety of industries. While legal departments and law firms may drag their feet when it comes to incorporating new technologies, the opportunities presented by AI and document management software solutions are increasingly difficult to ignore.
Today’s AI not only absorbs data and doles out analytics in dizzying fashion, but it can also learn and adapt. Moreover, with so much electronic data generated, AI allows organizations to wrangle information in ways that transform legal departments from stiff, slow and inefficient throwbacks to lean, agile, and responsive teams able to do more with less. The sheer amount of data that flows through an organization will overwhelm even the most dedicated human workforce, but AI can handle millions of inputs without breaking a sweat.
Trading Inefficiency for Opportunity
One of the most significant costs experienced by most legal departments involve humans - all those hours devoted to looking through documents, tracking down emails, making changes, even dotting those “i’s” and crossing those “t’s.” Saving all that time spent creating, researching, and managing contracts translate into dramatic cost savings. Automation and Ai can cut through those tasks like a knife, reducing the time spent on traditional tasks, like contract creation and management, from days to minutes.
So if the bell tolls for you, what can you do? Many experts believe the threat of AI and automation is overblown and misunderstood. While paralegals, legal assistants, and anyone who spend most of their time on repetitive tasks should take notice, attorneys, legal analysts, and consultants can rest easy - for now. In addition, new technologies also bring new opportunities. A reduction of time spent on paperwork and other repetitive tasks frees staff so that they can spend more time on client services and big picture projects. And while automation (and AI) has a certain “set it and forget it” quality, in truth all operations will still need to be monitored, managed and adjusted.
“Recent and future advances in artificial intelligence and robotics should shape our thinking about the likely trajectory of occupational change and employment growth,” writes David H. Autor in his paper, Why Are There Still So Many Jobs? The History and Future of Workplace Automation. “...the interplay between machine and human comparative advantage allows computers to substitute for workers in performing routine, codifiable tasks while amplifying the comparative advantage of workers in supplying problem-solving skills, adaptability, and creativity.”