Will AI Replace Lawyers, Paralegals, or Legal Professionals?

AI won’t take your job, but it will change it, more significantly over time, as the technology gets better, and the legal field learns how to harness it more. What’s in store for us? 
Written by
Christian DeTrude
Published on
July 18, 2024
Will AI Replace Lawyers, Paralegals, or Legal Professionals?

No.

But AI will change your job. 

Legal Industry, disrupted 

When examining the impact any new technology may have on a given industry, profession, and job market one of the key indicators to consider is one that lawyers are intimately familiar with, precedent. Let’s take a trip down memory lane - all of the disruptors that hit the legal industry in the last 50 or so years. 

Computers were a paradigm shift

When computers entered the legal arena, they brought more than just processing power—they brought a paradigm shift. Word processors made typewriters obsolete, offering unprecedented ease in drafting and revising documents. Spreadsheets and databases didn't just organize information; they transformed it into a tool for strategic analysis and decision-making.

Legal analytics emerged, harnessing historical data to forecast legal outcomes and providing a strategic edge that was previously unattainable. Computers didn't replace lawyers; they equipped them with a new arsenal of tools, freeing them from the drudgery of routine tasks and empowering them to concentrate on the nuanced complexities of legal strategy.

The legal job market responded in kind, not contracting but expanding, as tech-savvy legal professionals became indispensable. The computer age didn't signal the end for legal jobs; it signified a new beginning.

The Internet created a new playing field

The internet's emergence was a watershed moment for legal practitioners. It didn't just change the game; it created an entirely new playing field. With the click of a button, vast legal databases became accessible, transforming the once time-consuming process of legal research into a swift and streamlined operation. This digital revolution didn't merely speed up existing tasks—it enhanced the caliber of legal work by ensuring lawyers had the most current information at their fingertips.

Moreover, the internet redefined communication within the legal sphere. Emails and digital documents flowed freely and quickly, slashing response times and enabling a more dynamic interaction with clients. The legal profession didn't just grow in numbers; it expanded in scope, with novel roles like cyber law specialists and privacy advisors emerging from the digital ether.

And before that… 

Of course computers and the internet have been the biggest changes of our days, but even before that, the way that legal teams operated wasn’t constant. Now the technology of an era passed, in its day, the printing press initiated a quiet revolution, one that echoed through the halls of justice for centuries. The typewriter, too, left an indelible mark, imposing uniformity and professionalism on legal documents that had previously borne the idiosyncrasies of individual handwriting.

Boilerplate documents, a byproduct of these innovations, became the bedrock of legal standardization. They enabled a scalability in legal services that was previously unthinkable, allowing lawyers to focus their intellectual energies on the unique aspects of each case rather than reinventing the contractual wheel. We still see the impact of boilerplates in legal practice today.

Each step forward

These technologies didn't just come and go; they fundamentally altered the legal landscape, paving the way for a profession that was more efficient, more accessible, and ultimately, more expansive.

Change, not replace 

AI won’t take your job, but it will change it, more significantly over time, as the technology gets better, and the legal field learns how to harness it more. What’s in store for us? 

We predict that AI is going to change the day-to-day of legal workers. To make it simple, we see two things happening: tasks that legal teams will spend less time on, and tasks that they’ll spend more time on. 

Less Time “Doing”:

Without AI, legal teams are spending a significant portion of their time doing the work for specific tasks. Writing legal letters, finding relevant cases, looking for a key date or fact across discovery responses. This is what AI is going to replace. The time-consuming, and labor-intensive work that isn’t highly strategic is going to be replaced by new technology. 

More Time Planning and Editing:

And on the flip side, all the time saved in the grunt-work, will be reallocated to higher-level thinking. There are two things that come with AI - planning on how to do the work, and reviewing it once the AI completes it. These aren’t net new tasks for legal teams, senior attorneys frequently have to explain what they want their junior staff to accomplish, and then spend time reviewing their work before sharing it with clients or opposing counsel. With AI, legal teams will have to learn to plan for the work - to ask the right questions, to iterate on work to get the best draft or output they can. And then, most importantly, the work of reviewing, re-drafting, cleaning up and finalizing will become more important. 

For now, and for the foreseeable future, AI is very good at things that take us humans a lot of time, but is very bad at things that only we can do. With AI in the mix, legal teams are going to spend more and more time thinking critically, being strategic, and shifting their focus to higher-level thinking, and less time on “manual” labor. 

The Future, AI, and You

So AI will never replace your job, precedent says so, and so does the simple fact that reasoning, arguing, and applying the law in practice requires practical and rational judgment that AI is thus far incapable of, and likely never will be to the nuanced level humans expect and demand from other human lawyers, judges, and legal professionals. 

But AI will undoubtedly change your job. At various points in the past when all of the above still held true about the practice and application of law, new technology still drastically changed the way legal professionals work. Not using the internet or computers were all the standard in the relatively not so distant past. Nowadays any law practice attempting to get by without not only adapting to, but mastering these new technologies would undoubtedly fail. 

All of this precedent demonstrates and proves to us that there is no need to worry that AI will take or replace legal professionals' jobs. In fact the most likely outcome is that existing jobs change, new jobs emerge, and those who learn to use and work with AI will be uniquely positioned to capitalize on this moment in time to accelerate their professional prospects. This presents an opportunity for legal professionals to be among the first to adapt to and master new and emerging technologies to improve their own productivity, professional capacity, and job prospects for the future.

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