There’s no use denying it any longer, yes, machines are taking over traditionally human held jobs across all sectors, including legal. However, this is not by any means news to the 21st century. Technological advancements have been replacing humans in the workforce since the dawn of civilization; starting with tools as rudimentary as stone grinders, pully’s, and the process and tools involved in starting a fire.
So, why does the evolution of technology feel so imminently threatening right now? Most would argue that it is due to the accelerated pace and the types of emerging technologies that we’re now developing in this century. Most predominantly the recent developments in AI and automation (which by the way isn’t new technology, it’s development and implications have simply rapidly accelerated), are creating seemingly categorical threats to the very relevance of human beings altogether.
As human beings we have become defined by our outputs, both as collective populations, and as individual labourers. We find purpose and fulfillment in these contributions, and we support ourselves and our families by getting paid for conceiving them. These outputs are at the very base of what drives our socio-economic systems minute by minute, and of how we define and identify ourselves in a social context.
Whereas previously technology has created and enabled outputs, we now live in a world where these outputs are going to be widely replaced by technology. With the generally accepted suggestion that by 2030 800 million jobs could be replaced by technology (specifically automation), it’s clear the ability to continue “outputting” (as we have been) is greatly at risk. Naturally, this then puts our very identity and definition at risk, while also threatening our perceived dependencies on these outputs for basic survival. Will we still be relevant?
The short answer is, “yes”, and in fact it seems we could be more relevant than we ever have been. I will now explore the areas where machines are best suited, as they should be, and how moving machines into these roles is opening up truly human opportunities like never before.
Let the Robots do us a Favor
What exactly are the hundreds of millions of jobs that “robots” are taking over? In the legal industry in particular we are seeing a handful of core areas where machines are particularly better than us: automation, data processing and analysis, and research.
It’s no secret any longer, everything that can be automated, will be. It is to the point where jurisdictions worldwide are working to define what a fully automated organization even looks like in a legal context. For example, the DAO (decentralized autonomous organization) is a blockchain enabled organization which has completely automated processes of operation. Everything from HR hiring processes, to the billing and finances of the organization, to the onboarding of new clients, is a complex system of algorithms weaved throughout the operations of the organization.
With cases like JP Morgan's software taking seconds to parse financial deals that used to take their legal and financial teams hundreds of thousands of hours, it’s not difficult to see how machines are far superior to humans at these tasks.
Data Processing and Analysis:
Again, not a surprise here, but data processing and analysis is what computers were meant to do, and the mechanisms for data management are only going to improve. In the legal industry in particular there’s been a mass increase in the ability to effectively use large amounts of data. This better data management allows firms to make clearer and more strategic decisions through improved business intelligence, while improving client relationships and knowledge management processes.
Similar to data processing and analysis, computers are evidently far superior than us at sifting through mass amounts of information; online search engines are regular proof of this. In the legal industry and well beyond there are hundreds of thousands of petabytes (1 petabyte = 1000 terabytes) of data (or information) available to us. This availability has completely transformed our abilities to conduct research effectively.
On the one hand this “age of Big Data” has created complexities above and beyond what our more traditional tools are equipped to handle. Though, on the other hand as our tools are further developed for better processing of this information, we can perform research related tasks in a far more efficient way, and with a far greater scope than ever before.
With the continued “Cambrian Explosion of Data” (see estimates below), we will need increasingly complex tools and computing capabilities to analyse it effectively, tools and capabilities that go far beyond what our current human brains are equipped to handle.
But, Wait … Humans have Unique Skills Too
We often dwell on the ways in which machines are taking over certain jobs, rather than focusing on how machines are actually creating an environment in which uniquely human skills will be in increasing demand. A great illustration of this is the 2019 “most in-demand skills” analysis that LinkedIn published. A quote from Paul Petrone, editor of LinkedIn Learning, stated the following:
“Interestingly, the newcomers to our list were uniquely human traits: among soft skills, creativity and adaptability joined the list for the first time, and among hard skills, people management was a new addition.”
Increasingly emotional intelligence is an in demand skill set, and certainly uniquely human. Our ability to understand social contexts, to have self awareness, and to manage relationships effectively are among a few of the core skills involved in our emotional intelligence capabilities. These are also abilities that machines are simply not well equipped to handle, and for which humans will be able to stand out against their robot counterparts. In a 2011 employer survey, for example, 71% of those surveyed indicated they hold emotional intelligence (EQ) above IQ, and 75% indicated they were more likely to promote employees with high EQ.
In the legal industry particularly these “human” skill sets are going to become imperative to maintaining a successful practice. We are already seeing the demand for a sophistication of legal practice that is more human, focusing on skills like better communication and customer service.
When discussing this with David Cowan, creator of The Dialogue Box (strategic methodology for communication in business), he summed it up quite nicely:
“Communication has to be a core competency for lawyers today, and there is a direct correlation with the advance of technology. Areas of legal practice are being commoditized, which means the premium on human skills is rising. Technology is good at handling rules and big data. Clients, however, are sentient beings, they have emotion, and predicting behaviour and choices in specific circumstances is not quite so easy...the difference between “relationship” and “transaction” is becoming starker by the day, and this is the lens through which we can perhaps best understand the human vs machine dynamic: It is about relationship versus transaction.”
Complimenting rather than Displacing Demand for Humans
“The biggest effect of intelligent technologies in the workplace isn’t automation of jobs; it’s the reconfiguration of all positions, as tasks evolve and worker capabilities are augmented by machines.” - Accenture
This particular quote is incredibly compelling, as it highlights the exact distinction that is so important here. It is not that technology is displacing the demand for human beings, rather technology is restructuring the workforce and creating new demand that is more uniquely human than ever before. Advancements in technology are pushing us toward acquiring new skills, and favoring those of us that already have them. Skills that previously were not sought after. Skills that define us as human beings rather than as labourers.
In this sense then technology is incredibly complimentary to our human capabilities. It is driving us toward a more human future, where we will increasingly find ourselves in roles that allow us to access and thrive off that which makes us uniquely, and happily, human.
About the Author
Aileen Schultz is Senior Manager, Labs Programs at Thomson Reuters; Founder & President, World Legal Summit.; Fmr. Co Founder & Global Organizer, Global Legal Hackathon.
Aileen is a Toronto based award winning growth and innovation strategist with a global footprint, and a passion for creating better exponential systems. She works with SME's across several sectors with a focus in legal and blockchain technology.