artificial intelligence

Re-imagining a Lawyer’s Skillset in an AI World

As worldwide spending on cognitive and artificial intelligence systems is forecast to reach $12.5 billion this year, the size of cost savings in the legal sector make it an attractive target for entrepreneurs. Automation of routine tasks and intelligent automation by artificial intelligence (AI) is fuelled by the exponential data explosion. On one estimate 90% of all existing data was created in the last two years. This growing trend will create a lot of work and require heavier technology deployment in legal services. Law firms will have to adapt to survive. Workers and enterprises will learn to apply the new technologies in a process of “unlearning the old and learning the new”.

The AI challenge for lawyers

AI works to gather information, make sense of it and make decisions based on this understanding. Just some of the tasks we can expect AI to pick up in the legal sector include the ability to:

  • search for concepts (e.g. contract review and analysis for due diligence);
  • do fraud analysis and investigations – mining data and identifying insights like changes in tone of email communications including code words;
  • do contract management from start to signature to storage;
  • conduct litigation analysis – comparing the facts of your case to other cases to predict the chances of success;
  • optimise workflow and project management and even
  • draft and prepare the document based on it’s understanding.

In time, AI will create more and more complex contracts, using parameters set by the legal department or the client. AI will allow you to ask legal questions in plain language and get an answer back – an answer that includes researching regulations, case law, secondary sources and more.

That said, lawyering requires human-human communication & collaboration, creativity, complex language processing and a tacit knowledge of how society works that only humans have presently. The latter will prove to be most important – clients will continue to value lawyers’ rare combination of market knowledge, technical knowledge and information providing for decades to come. Given that only 13% to 23% of lawyer time is automatable with existing technologies, this means most lawyer jobs should be safe…… for now.

On a long enough time horizon as technology advances, machines have the potential to outperform humans at just about anything. Machines can already detect when a human is lying from their facial expressions more accurately than humans. In the future, chat bots will be able to empathise and personalise the delivery of a message better than any human. It remains to be seen the extent to which the ‘I just want to speak to a human’ preference slows the rate of adoption.

The evolution of legal service

Innovation and creativity are where humans will continue to outperform machines for the foreseeable future. This will be driven by a client-centric outlook flowing from the question “how can we improve client’s lives?” rather than “how can we sell our clearly defined service more profitably?”. Those that innovate most successfully will be motivated by the potential of technology to improve and augment performance in business, society and the environment, when used wisely.

These innovations will be most feasible with products and services that share similar sets of knowledge and competences that lawyers already possess. These sets can easily be re-combined for the development of other related products and services. Innovative lawyers will experiment in this context to identify uses for AI that make the most sense for their firms.

Opportunities for innovative lawyers

Luckily for lawyers, AI skills, knowledge and competences are similar to their own. After all, code is just another language. Kathryn Parsons, founder & Co-CEO of Decoded (a technology education company), rationalises the founding of Decoded as “I studied Latin and Ancient Greek at University until I discovered code, the language of technology, the language of billions”.

They are well suited to natural language processing, computational linguistics, neuroscience, psychology, and, of course, machine learning will be valuable. The more numerate will pick up aspects of data analysis, probabilistic/graphical modelling and, those with an eye for design, data visualisation.

Lawyers who retrain in technology skills will be at a distinct advantage in building processes and systems that operate optimally. It’s their tacit knowledge of the way lawyers craft context- specific solutions, combined with robust commercial insights, which will result in the development of more valuable technical solutions.

With the massive corporate skills gap in technology generally and the rarity of a combined skill set of technology and law, it will pay very well. Right now, it costs too much time and money to find and hire great developers, data scientists, designers, and digital marketers — and often companies don’t know what skill sets are even needed, let alone find people that also speak ‘lawyer’.

Start from where you are

In the short term, change management roles will be available for those lawyers prepared to innovate. Machines have no inherent ability to limit the answers or sense check them well enough, this falls to the human teacher. Further, augmenting data analysis with intuition and observation will require complex thinking, judgment and higher-order reasoning. Jobs such as process analyst and system engineer will help to codify areas for automation which can then be applied elsewhere where there is a need for supervision to monitor, license, and repaiAI systems in law.

With Brexit’s impact on the availability of talent, organisations will increasingly outsource their technical teams. Let’s take the fictional example of Tatyana, the Ukrainian-born lawyer who trained at a Magic Circle firm then retrained in coding. She will be uniquely placed for product development in many organisations, inside or outside of the legal sector, who outsource their development teams. It will be her ability to combine deep insights into the needs of customers, remain hands on as an engineer and lead a team in Ukraine, which will ensure the team are meeting key business deliverables.

Policy responses to paradigm shifts such as urban planning, AI-design, and cybersecurity

There will be a new and very important kind of expertise on which lawyers will take the lead. This is the ability to ensure that the design, development and deployment of AI is fair, accessible and does not compromise privacy or promulgate privileged information.
Alongside standard legal work, the growth of cyber security might well pave the way for future roles such as personal data guardians, white-hat hackers, privacy officers and other security workers – both inside and outside of organisations. This will include data mining and commercialisation, structural reform, new regulations, and the development and launch of new products and technologies, in each case whether internal or customer-facing.

There will be a proliferation of policy roles at regulators and organisations. On either side of the fence, legal will develop analyses and arguments- based on data, economics, and the law– to defend their policy position.

So why not combine these skills sets wherever possible? With a background in Maths, Economics, Statistics, Engineering, Computer Science, or other quantitative fields lawyers will be much better placed than others to do this effectively. They can develop a deep understanding of an organisation’s database, generate ideas for analyses to advance business goals and tell compelling stories with data to lawyers, regulators, and other key stakeholders.

Conclusion – The Future of Lawyers

More senior partners who have one eye on retirement may not entertain organisational change on the scale required by technological disruption. It is so counter-intuitive, not only for those partners longer in the tooth, but for anyone to embrace and institute technology which by its definition is to reduce the scope for your own billing hours, based on the present system of fee earning. No doubt there is much hysteria and scaremongering causing the perceived rate and scale of adoption to be exaggerated. That said, there is a real risk that most conservative firms won’t exist on a long enough time horizon. Lawyers earlier in their career should be mindful of the new technological leadership all organisations will need in order to adapt or die. Within this disruption, each individual will be responsible for taking control of their own career. Now is the right time to invest in the technological skills which will ensure that you are rare and valuable to employers in an uncertain future.

Further Advice on The Impact of Disruption on the Legal Sector

For further advice on how disruptive technologies are affecting the legal sector, and how to prepare for this future, PathFinder4 offer bespoke workshops for mid to senior level executives in the legal sector.  Workshop leaders include disruptive innovation expert, Marc Dowd and career strategist specialising in the legal sector, Martin Underwood.

Martin is a former barrister and founder of Life Productions which uses psychometrics, career design thinking, and practical advice to help professionals achieve fulfilling careers. Martin has consulted on careers and the future of work to many organisations including executives at Facebook, Freshfields and Amazon.  He is a member of CIPD and the British Psychological Society (BPS).


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