Robots Replacing Attorneys?

Lately the blogosphere has been ablaze with articles discussing the potential demise of legal professionals due to advances in technology. Take for example this story about how a young man developed a robot that has appealed $3 million in parking tickets, and this ABA article plausibly suggesting “that over time—by which we mean decades rather than overnight—there will be technological unemployment in the professions”. In other words,  at minimum basic legal tasks accomplished with the use of technology will replace some tasks that lawyers do leading to the need for less of them.

A few law firms are offering unique and innovative ways of providing legal services such as CooleyGo which offers basic transactional document drafting for free, in the hopes that it will bring more complex paid legal work in the door. And likewise, Axiom Law with the tagline “forget everything you thought you knew about legal services” seems to be disrupting the way in which certain kinds of legal work is done by providing the assistance of non-law firm attorneys on a variety of legal tasks at presumably lower costs to the consumer. Finally, Beagle while not a law firm is an artificial intelligence service that offers automated contract analysis that traditionally has been accomplished by real live attorneys.

Will robots/technology replace real live human attorneys? If you consider that for years the onerous but important research task of consulting voluminous Shepard’s volumes to make certain the cases you were citing were still “good law” has been done by technology (i.e. Shepardizing, Keycite), it is easy to answer yes to that question. Clearly, technology will continue to change the practice of law and routine legal tasks such as cite-checking, document review, and basic contract drafting will be taken over by robots or  technology.

However, overall the outcome is more likely to be that posited in Maybe Lawyers Can’t Be Uber-ized. After all, law is a service industry and people like to be served. In fact they often don’t have the time nor desire to do it themselves. I’m not sure I’d want a robot giving me legal advice nor representing me in the courtroom. Would you?



About Cheryl Niemeier

Cheryl Niemeier is Director of Knowledge & Research Services at Bose McKinney & Evans LLP. Ms. Niemeier received her Master of Science in Library Science from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana in 1986 and her Bachelor of Science in Education from Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana in 1981. Ms. Niemeier has held multiple professional leadership positions in local, regional and national library associations. She frequently speaks at professional association conferences and continuing legal education seminars. Ms. Niemeier has authored multiple articles and seminar publications.
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