In a lengthy profile, The Guardian explores the evolution of legal technology with respect to the law:
So where does that leave the professions, whose hard-won expertise is beginning to fall within the power of computers and artificial intelligence to emulate? The efficiency of computerisation seems likely to spell the end of the job security past generations sought in such careers. For many, what were once extraordinary skillsets will soon be rendered ordinary by the advance of the machines. What will it mean to be a professional then?
“We’ll see what I call decomposition, the breaking down of professional work into its component parts,” says leading legal futurist professor Richard Susskind. Susskind’s forthcoming book Beyond the Professions, co-authored with his son Daniel Susskind, examines the transformations already underway across the sectors that once offered jobs for life. He predicts a process not unlike the division of labour that wiped out skilled artisans and craftsmen in the past: the dissolution of expertise into a dozen or more streamlined processes.
“Some of these parts will still require expert trusted advisers acting in traditional ways,” he says. “But many other parts will be standardised or systematised or made available with online service.” In a previous bookTomorrow’s Lawyers, he predicts the creation of eight new legal roles at the intersection of software and law. Many of the job titles sound at home in IT companies: legal knowledge engineer, legal technologist, project manager, risk manager, process analyst.
“Many traditional lawyers will look at that and think: ‘Yes, they might be jobs, but that’s not what I went to law school for. And that’s not what my parents’ generation did as lawyers.'” That, says Susskind, is not his concern: whether we call these new positions lawyers or not, the legal sector will survive.
“What I often say is that the future of law is not Rumpole of the Bailey, and it’s not John Grisham,” explains Susskind. “It’s not a version of what we have today slightly tweaked. It will be people working in the legal sector but offering legal services and legal help in new ways.” It may be the end of the profession as immortalised in courtroom dramas, but as software eats the old jobs it will have to create new ones too.
“Those professions that do not change will render themselves obsolete,” says Dr Frank Shaw, foresight director at the Centre for Future Studies. “Those that are able to transform themselves – and I mean ‘transform’ – will thrive and prosper.”
No one knows for sure what the careers of the future will look like. But the people at the cutting edge are already watching old jobs disappear – and experimenting with the technology that has begun to create new ones. Here’s how three of the professions – medicine, architecture and the law – could be transformed, according to the people helping to reinvent them.
Five years ago, entrepreneur Charley Moore founded online legal services provider Rocket Lawyer. It now boasts 30 million users. Subscribers pay a monthly fee for instant access to pre‑prepared documents and tutorials, as well as online legal advice from experts at participating firms. The work lawyers on the network do has already begun to resemble the streamlined, one-to-many roles Susskind predicted.
Moore is optimistic about the revolution computerisation has unleashed in his sector. “I don’t think of [software] as consuming the industry, as much as I think of it as supporting the industry. So with software, certainly there are mundane, routine tasks that will become more efficient, but by making those tasks more efficient, lawyers will be able to move up in the food chain and serve millions more legal transactions than they currently can.”
Even judges, he says, will need to move online. “I think we have to have virtual courts. Australia has been experimenting with them. New York has been experimenting with online parking ticket adjudication. I mean, give me a break, who the heck thinks you should have to go to some government building when you get a traffic ticket? It’s incredibly inefficient.”
Such changes would mean fewer lawyers were needed to meet existing clients’ needs. But there is an upside: as costs fall and lawyers serve more clients, small businesses and private individuals will suddenly be able to afford legal advice. This is the “latent legal market”, a disenfranchised horde of potential customers estimated to be worth as much as £27bn. “There’s really an unmet demand for legal services,” says Moore. “We need more lawyers, not fewer.”