The radio. VHS tapes. Computers. When these technologies hit the scene, the public nearly lost its mind. Filmmakers fretted that VHS would put an end to the movie industry, the creator of the radio worried that invention would do more harm than good, and in the 90s, lots of people suddenly came down with bouts of “computerphobia.”
At every turn, significant tech developments are met with public fear and outcry. Whenever software or machines break the mold of what we thought was possible, many humans begin to worry that tech will erase some fundamental component of human interaction or, worse, replace humans completely.
The same thing is happening right now with AI. The rise of ChatGPT and the integration of AI into several central business functions (like contract management or sales outreach) has brought the topic of AI to the forefront of conversations about the future of business. And, like clockwork, some humans, many in the legal field, are afraid of what legal tech AI means for their careers.
Will AI Fundamentally Change Legal Work?
Earlier this year, Goldman Sachs published a study that affirms that generative AI is poised to take over 44% of jobs in legal. This statistic alone is causing lawyers to side-eye AI and prematurely fret over the demise of their entire industry.
This study implies — while other sources say outright — that AI will fundamentally change the way legal works. What this study doesn’t mention, however, is which legal jobs are at risk for AI takeover. With AI poised to take over 46% of administrative functions, according to the same study, one can guess that it’s the more admin-related legal tasks that are “at risk.”
It’s a well-known truth that much of a legal professional’s job is tedious. Many lawyers spend a lot of time hunched over their desks writing contracts, researching case law, reviewing regulations, and a host of several other time-consuming tasks. Tasks that AI can do in a fraction of the time while identifying trends that would be way harder for a human to catch. So, AI will fundamentally change legal work only if you consider tedious tasks “fundamental” to legal work.
Can Legal AI Replace Lawyers?
While AI ca automate some of the more step-and-repeat tasks, it is no match for human lawyers and their nuanced understanding and application of the law. AI cannot replace lawyers in the legal field, but when used well, it can help them be more efficient and strategic in their work.
Plus, artificial intelligence needs humans to train it and evaluate the output of the content. If left to its own devices, AI will produce nonsense. Garbage in, garbage out.
As sophisticated technology becomes more accessible to the public, some worry that people needing legal representation will turn to DIY lawyering instead of paying for a professional. The fear is not unfounded: More people in civil cases have opted to represent themselves with the help of tech, but they are often unsuccessful. There is no replacement for legal experience and technique, so those defendants got what they paid for.
While AI might not change the legal function at its core, it will change the landscape of the industry. Just as in-house lawyers also had to hone a business acumen to be strong candidates, so too will more lawyers need to add AI-related experience to their skill sets to remain competitive. AI will always need human-led training and evaluation of outputs. If left to its own devices, AI will produce nonsense.
AI won’t eradicate lawyers. At some point soon, AI will no longer be a considerable disruption but part of the legal landscape itself. Rather than fear the worst, leverage this technology to help drive your business forward.
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