It's no secret that the legal field is a competitive environment. Young lawyers are not deterred by the breakneck nature of the business (and may even be attracted to it), and it is necessary to strengthen the competitor to get a legal job.
In fact, it's part of the job. Companies are turning to the latest and greatest in technology to compete and "keep up with the (legal) Joneses." In 2019 alone, investments in B2B legal technology rose to over $ 1 billion.
However, some lawyers fear that cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) will eliminate the role of junior lawyers in the future. However, many realize that law firms need to incorporate new developments in legal technology to attract top talent, remain a top competitor, and design their junior lawyers to be better than the next.
I would argue that adding AI to law firms of tomorrow will not mean fewer jobs, but actually more opportunities – for everyone.
Growth in the legal sector
The legal industry is not slowing down. Between 2010 and 2019, the American Bar Association saw a 12.4% increase in the number of practicing U.S. lawyers and a steady growth in law students in recent years. According to the United States Department of Labor Statistics, employment in the legal sector is expected to only increase. Between 2018 and 2028, employment growth for lawyers is forecast to be 6%.
With today's "new normal", driven by changing priorities in the Covid 19 era, lawyers are busier today than ever (only in different ways). The pandemic has an impact on the global economy, our health systems, insurance claims, employment, teleworking and much more – all areas that require solid legal advice.
Simply put, lawyers are hungry for opportunities, and law firms simply don't eliminate the role of junior associate. Instead, the addition of legal technology will help streamline lawyers' day-to-day work and responsibilities to make their professional advice more accessible.
The third competitor: AI
There is no doubt that AI is disrupting every industry – legal is no exception. McKinsey & Company estimates that 23% of a lawyer’s work can be done with automated technology. These technologies have proven to be capable of performing tedious and time-consuming tasks that were once reserved for paralegals and junior associates.
Tools such as automated contract review and legal document management software streamline the time-consuming "busy work" that senior lawyers traditionally ask junior lawyers to do first.
The 2020 legal market report published by Georgetown Law and the Thomson Reuters Legal Executive Institute examined what kind of legal technology firms they thought should be used. Over half of lawyers believe that their organization should adopt document automation solutions (52%), with document creation solutions (45%) and know-how and precedents (43%) the second and third most common solutions are.
AI cannot do every job, however. The human brain is designed to connect concepts and find solutions to complex problems that meet business goals and reduce risk. Even the most intelligent computer is not programmed to process and connect concepts itself. When reviewing contracts, AI can certainly pinpoint irregularities and provide feedback. However, it is not yet able to conceptually design a final solution to complex problems without human help.
Instead, the technology eliminates the tedious, time-consuming tasks of subordinate, administrative work, and enables junior lawyers to redistribute their time to focus on the results of the big picture and drive more critical thinking and analysis.
Increase productivity, reduce billable hours
For young lawyers, AI offers more opportunities than threats.
A recent study by McCarthyFinch that focused on the benefits of AI technology for lawyers found that new users were 51.5% more productive than with manual work; This productivity increased the more competent they became with the contract management tool.
The role of junior lawyers is going nowhere. Everyone has to start somewhere. Entry-level positions are crucial for professional growth and development. Instead of completely removing the role of a junior attorney through technology, the combination of the two enables employees to learn and develop their skills faster than their predecessors.
In return, companies can improve their skills across the board by accelerating customer work, reducing billable hours, and supporting employee retention better than ever.
It's only a matter of time before law firms look for graduates who can help them bring technology and law together. This will place the law faculties in charge of training their students in a wider range of skills, and reward entrepreneurial graduates who are tech-savvy and adaptable.
This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. or its owners.
Nick Whitehouse is the CEO and co-founder of McCarthyFinch, an AI contract management service. Prior to McCarthyFinch, he was Chief Digital Officer at MinterEllisonRuddWatts and led its digital strategy to gain recognition as the most innovative law firm in New Zealand. He is the winner of several digital leadership awards, including the Global & APAC Winner Most Disruptive Leader, the Winner Emerging ICT Leader NZ and the IDC Australasian DX Leader of the Year.