are lawyers dead meat?

A recent article at suggests that life may be grim for many lawyers:

Law firm Baker & Hostetler has announced that they are employing IBM’s AI Ross to handle their bankruptcy practice, which at the moment consists of nearly 50 lawyers. According to CEO and co-founder Andrew Arruda, other firms have also signed licenses with Ross, and they will also be making announcements shortly.

Ross, “the world’s first artificially intelligent attorney” built on IBM’s cognitive computer Watson, was designed to read and understand language, postulate hypotheses when asked questions, research, and then generate responses (along with references and citations) to back up its conclusions. Ross also learns from experience, gaining speed and knowledge the more you interact with it.

Ouch! Why is this a problem? Basically, many lawyers make their money either doing document review, case review, or routine law. Document review simply means taking a big batch of documents obtained through discovery and looking for key words. Case review simply means reading prior law and decisions to see what is relevant. Routine law is what it sounds like – writing documents or providing advice on simple legal matters, like parking tickets, wills for most people, and divorces for people with no children and few assets.

What these things have in common is that you don’t need a lot of judgment or skill to do them. In other words, a computer could easily handle a large proportion of routine law and basic legal work. That’s bad news for many lawyers, as a big part of the legal labor market is exactly this kind of work.

My conjecture is that in the future, working lawyers will be like surgeons,  a very high skill area. If you make a good living as a lawyer, you are probably in a very complicated area of the law, like corporate mergers, or you are in an area where people skills are crucial, like arbitration. You might also be serving high income people, who have very complex legal issues. But for the many attorney’s who do things like wills and DUIs for average people, your time may be limited.

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Written by fabiorojas

November 10, 2017 at 5:32 am

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  1. Could someone sue a law firm for collusion for using the same AI? If both firms use Ross for a case, this would effectively be the same as sharing counsel with your opponent. In the example above, if the debtor’s firm uses Ross and the creditor’s firm uses Ross, both they are basing their cases using the same “attorney”.



    November 17, 2017 at 4:22 pm

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