The Rise Of AI, Are There Consequences For Graduates?

08 September 2017 | Article by Tobias O'Hehir, Greenway Chambers


The Talks of AI and automation are reaching fever pitch, and frankly it is an exciting time to be in Legal services. We are in an age of automated cars, 3-D printers, self-moving lawn mowers (who will miss mowing the lawn?) and now AI negotiating contracts, researching and completing office based tasks, where discovery is being reduced from months to weeks and AI has been trialed determining historical judgements with a 96% success rate. While there are plenty of applications, AI and automation cannot replace the human factor in Legal Services, and they are often skills only taught in the workplace. The introduction of AI will mean a reduction in legal processing positions, and in turn may affect the training of Law Graduates.

Law graduates and paralegals make up the bulk of legal processing tasks, more importantly these roles give them valuable legal training and soft skills, however, these normal training grounds are disappearing. In 2015, 7583 law graduated in Australia and in 2016, there were 11688 applications to summer clerkship programs of which, only 3.2% were successful in gaining a spot. The statistics also show 50% of the positions offered were accepted, which indicates it is a small pool of the best talent who are interviewed and subsequently successful. The Law society will soon begin tracking graduate employment, but for the moment AI and automation will raise legitimate questions about where and what graduates will be doing. There is an obvious over supply of graduates, but could there be a future undersupply of trained candidates for law positions?

In a recent article on the ABA website, Mark A Cohen, a leading Legal technology authority, was quoted as saying "Robots are doing some of [those] repetitive, mundane tasks". He continues to say, "This does not mean that those lawyers who were doing those tasks are going to be out of a job, but they are going to be liberated to do other types of things". The key here is the 'other types of things'. Restructuring companies to adapt to the new schema of production, consumption and employment opportunities is not straightforward. This was contemplated way back in 2001 book by Pascal Petit and Luc Soete in "Technology and the future of European Employment", where they posit that there is an analytical bias toward employment displacement, that is, the assumption that the technology replacing something will extinguish the former, which should be of some comfort to grads. However, it is far harder to imagine and estimate the impact of new applications of tech which may bring on new growth, opportunities and demands. It just so happens that 2001 was also the year that graduate jobs peaked in Australia, and in 2016 there were 75% less positions for graduates than there were in 2001. There have been long held concerns about technological unemployment, but this is from, as Petit and Soete call, a 'technological mismatch', where the social and slow learning processes in consumption do not match the technological opportunities.

AI and Automation in the Legal sector is about process innovation, where the aim is to have higher productivity with less production costs – i.e labour. Cohen says that there will always be a need for custom lawyers, litigators and advisers and strategists, however, the need for contract e-discovery data reviewers, paralegals, and graduates will diminish. The reducing production costs will mean releasing labour from the workplace as automation takes hold, more importantly, the training roles for graduates will become scarce. As complex litigation and legal requirements can change quickly, the importance of flexible, temporary, and contract knowledge workers will rise. And as consumer demands change, the importance of business-minded legal professionals will also increase. But what structural change is being done to prepare the current law students and graduates?

If Law Grads are in training, they ought to be given skills that may be required in the near future. Clients are wanting more for less and technology and innovation is changing the way legal services are provided. In a recent article, it was suggested that law graduates need more strings in their bow – and it is easy to understand why. Corporate Counsel are one of the fastest growing areas of the legal profession, and business savvy lawyers - those with marketing, accounting or other business skills - will thrive in these roles. Better yet, there are firms starting every day that are adapting to the new legal market place with systems and structures in place to deal with the project based work that is litigation, to meet the rapidly changing legal needs for their clients, and more importantly it requires lawyers who can get up to speed and understand the clients' needs quickly. This means a new way of dealing with the thousands of qualified lawyers and those in training and in effect, it means the training of law graduates will be a business necessity rather than someone who will be a legal processor – it will be an investment in the future. Without this investment, there will be long-term effects, because the traditional supply of talented lawyers to complete the future custom work will cease.

The future of law graduates might be with the start-ups, who are harnessing the underused talent that is being produced from law schools, aka, Crowd & Co or Yegal. These firms are giving part-time opportunities to law students and graduates, who are learning to deal with deadline based work, in-depth analysis, research and glimpsing into the new legal landscape. This means that the investment cost is shared, and they may be equal benefit as the law graduates will learn to multi-task and quickly change speeds from task to task, and businesses will benefit from suitable candidates in the future.

There is a structural shift in the legal industry to match the technology, from the increased ability to work remotely, cloud based document platforms, productivity and project management tools, to innovative solutions such as digital workspaces, video conferencing and shared professional services. Where lawyers need to collaborate, and put their 'custom' skills to the test and where clients engage with legal services in a different way. The things that AI and automation can't replace are the soft skills, service skills, business skills and the ability to work well with the client. It is thinking about what the future needs might be, and (for the profession) adding these skills to the current law students and graduates. Therefore, part of the structural shift needs to consider the roles required for succession and the training grounds for the custom work, which means arming today's graduates with the required skills; the analytics, the strategy and the human touch.

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