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.

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