How will AI impact the legal sector?

Over the course of the last decade, impressive advances in artificial intelligence (AI) have ignited innovation within a multitude of industries, improving operational performance in small but significant ways. For the legal sector, the impact of automation in the coming decade is predicted to be transformational, but is generally met with fear by many within the profession.

It’s easy to see why.

According to recent figures published by The Law Society, automation is to replace 67,000 jobs in the legal sector by 2038. At a glance, this figure is startling for legal professionals and graduates alike. However, with all facts considered, it’s not a surprising one. Indeed, AI has evolved to become a tangible reality, offering the legal industry the opportunity to revolutionise a number of mundane legal processes previously assigned either to those in junior roles (paralegals, legal secretaries and assistants) or to the lawyer themselves. The outcome? A more efficient service that is more affordable for legal clients.

So, how can lawyers benefit from automation?

When interviewed by the Financial Times, Edward Chan, banking partner at Linklaters commented: “AI is an indispensable tool for coping with the ever-growing amounts of data which lawyers have to handle in running complex matters. Our lawyers are not engineers or data scientists. Good solid legal skills remain what we look for in our lawyers.”

The introduction of AI technology has already proved beneficial to early adopters in the legal sector, with leading firms demonstrating the value it can offer. Since it can be used to quickly analyse and interpret vast amounts of data, AI may soon assist lawyers in predicting case outcomes by consuming and assessing large chunks of information and identifying the most probable result. While this technology may still be in its infancy, AI software of this kind has already been used successfully by a London personal injury practice to predict the best time to settle a claim.

The future of legal services

Despite these advantages, the potential loss of jobs in the sector remains a concern. After all, technology has played a large part in legal practice for several years already, and while there may be some who fear its impact in the future may be a negative one, there are plenty of industry commentators who point to the opposite being the case.  Where there is threat, there is opportunity. In fact, the same report predicts an additional 80,000 new roles expected to be created within the next decade – 25,000 by 2025 alone. This affirms the need for high-skilled lawyers in the profession, regardless of new technology.

Rather than replacing roles, the integration of AI is predicted to transform the industry by encouraging legal professionals to develop irreplaceable skills. If the need for assistants to take on secretarial duties is replaced by AI, graduates and professionals starting their career in the sector are likely to gain a more valuable early experience.

As a result, the role of the junior lawyer will evolve into one that focuses on skills development rather than drudge work: a positive change that the legal sector should welcome rather than fear.

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