Artificial Intelligence: Is It Really A Threat To Us Lawyers?

We have all seen the movies where the really smart people build a robot that they expect to be friendly and then unsurprisingly it tries to take over the world.

In the legal world, there are all of these pundits — which is a fancy word for someone who has often self-promoted herself to be an “expert” — who keep telling me in article after article that any day this will happen to us lawyers.  We will be supplanted and irrelevant.  My favorite story is the one that says that 2000 hours of legal work can be done by a machine in 11 minutes, or something like that.

I am no longer the managing partner of my firm — just the chairman — however, I am still on the job thinking about things like this.  And I read EVERY SINGLE THING I hear about artificial intelligence and the law.  Even the books by the pundits.

And I keep thinking I will find something to worry about or care about — but to cut right to the chase, I simply haven’t seen the slightest threat to us lawyers from AI so far.

The only things I have seen are:

  • Machines that can search lots of documents for litigation. Yes, that eliminated the most horrible drudge work for young litigators; however, this is 10 (or more?) years old.
  • Email — oh yes — that eliminated the thrill that us old-timers can remember, when young lawyers stuffed envelopes to send out by Federal Express. This was a thrilling job; sometimes you would literally be running down the street carrying the packages and chasing down an overnight courier truck.  And how old now is email, about 20 years?
  • Merge programs where you kind of type the stuff into a spreadsheet and the merge program makes it — magically — appear in the documents. This too is about 20 years old.
  • Now recently there is AI that can read simple documents — like ten thousand contracts when you buy a company — and tell you certain things about them.

I know there are other things, but so far the only new things I have seen are simply improvements on the same AI that has been around for many years and has the effect of eliminating rote, drudge, miserable, depressing, and cruddy work from lawyers.

But helping someone put together a deal; negotiate an agreement; go to court; argue with anyone about anything; calm an upset client; think of a way to get a client out of trouble; help a client with business advice; become a trusted advisor; or do just about anything that matters – sorry, but I have seen just about none of AI moving the needle even a little bit.

However, the pundits keep on with their punditry (which apparently is a word according to Microsoft), and my sense — sorry to say — of this punditry is similar to the view that to a man with a hammer everything is a nail.

So yes, someday AI may have an impact on our profession that is more than automating drudge business, but in my view not yet, and not for a long while.

Okay, let me end with this.  I am dumb as a post when it comes to technology.  People make fun of me all the time.  Perhaps I am missing something.  If so, I beg you to let me know.  Just shoot me an email.  I will be eternally grateful.

Work Is Just Great!

So, I just turned 60 years old.  Yikes.  I am supposed to be doing golf, and that cross-country trip, or taking my wife around the world, thinking about health issues.

But — knock wood — I am so far in good health, so I can kind of do anything I want.  I have been perplexed for a few months, wondering what on Earth I should do.

I was thinking about learning the piano, writing fiction, buying into a sports team (truly), backing a sports team, writing poetry, meditation (but not yoga, which I hate) — and this is only a fraction of all the crazy ideas I came up with.

But I kept pacing around the house until my wife said, “Well, Bruce, what do you want to do?” (emphasis added).

I looked at her and said, as if describing a guilty pleasure, “Well, I really like what I do.  I like my job helping build my law firm’s culture and marketing and Power Niches and things like that a lot.  I really want to do more of that….”

She is a good wife and she said — looking at me like I was being silly — “Then why don’t you just do that?”

So that is what I am going to do.

Now why am I writing this article?

The reason is that I keep seeing more and more writings, and societal and even philosophical writings and beliefs, that work is “bad” and leisure is “good.”

This is becoming a societal imperative — that people who work “too much” in the judgment of others are “bad” and those who have a lot of leisure time are “good.”

My response to this is one word: fiddlesticks!

Work can be completely fulfilling and exciting and even thrilling — and building my law firm’s culture and marketing and related matters is a thrill ride for me.  I love what I do!

To those who frown, eye-roll, and give dirty looks to those of us who love what we do for our work, I say, “Who are you to judge?”

Are you really cooler and more wonderful than us work-lovers because you hang out and binge-watch a TV show or lie at the beach or go out to trendy bars where conversation is reduced to nods, grins, headshakes, and other body language (because it is too loud to hear)?

Give me a break.  This view is just self-aggrandizing poppycock.

Everyone has the right to decide what they want to do.

My theory is this:  Someone who feels “compelled” to work and hates it, that isn’t “good” in my judgment.  But someone — like me — who says that one of the reasons I was put on this Earth is to be a great lawyer; to build a wonderful law firm of excellent people; to be a great marketer; to teach lawyering and marketing to others; well, I get a lot of fulfillment from that — and if I want to work, say, 70 to 80 hours a week doing that — don’t tell me there is something “wrong” with that.  I am doing what I love.

And here is the clincher that I think makes my point poignantly.  Think about that coolest guy or gal you look up to as an historical hero.  Think what he/she accomplished in his/her lifetime?  I’ll bet that guy or gal worked like a beaver to do it.

This is, in the end, a bit of a philosophical rant.  I think it is just “wrong” to push everyone to the view that leisure time is “better” than work.  That is no doubt true for some, but not for all.  We all get to decide what we want to do on this Earth while we are here.  And there is nothing at all “wrong” with deciding it is just a lot of fun to work, to achieve, and to accomplish things.