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Working in a SME firm? When will the robots come for your job?

Published on: 6 Jun 2017

It’s a commonly held idea that the introduction of artificial intelligence (‘AI’) within the legal sector may lead to job losses. But is this actually the case, and just how are firms using AI, if at all, in their day to day business?

It’s true that within the larger law firms the uptake of AI has been a recurrent theme that the media have focused upon. This may be due to the perception that the larger firms have access to the money to finance its development and use, their appetite to risk is greater and the infrastructure they already have in place allows them to develop their use of AI. As its increased use begins to take shape, so they enjoy being early adopters of new technologies. However, small and medium-sized firms are interested in AI too, as our recent survey has found.

The ability to merge together both the human and the AI interface is likely to improve efficiencies for legal businesses. While AI may be seen as another phase in the modern automation process, it is still very much at its formative stages. And while people have always raged against the machine that any change, be it technological, political or economic, has brought with it, there is evidence to show the legal world is busy adopting these new technologies, albeit predominantly at the larger firms at present.

While firms such as Linklaters and Clifford Chance have moved to use AI in several different areas, including document processing, this is about driving efficiencies, rather than eradicating jobs.  This shows that there are cost savings and processes that can be delivered that are perfectly suited to AI, aka the robots. One strong argument in AI’s favour that with the ‘boring’ processes outsourced to the machines, there is more time and energy that can be spent on work that will generate higher fees for law firms, and offer their people more interesting work at the same time, making the workplace a more satisfying place to be in.

However, qualitative research undertaken by Clayton Legal of small and medium sized legal firms has shown that many of them also understand the importance of the use of AI in their business model. It appears they are not worried by the impact that AI might have on their business models and see it as an opportunity. But what does this mean for you?

For legal professionals, the introduction of AI is not an invitation to panic. In fact, it’s quite the opposite – it opens up the possibility of developing a set of human skills that robots can’t touch. For those people who are open to change and upskilling, it’s likely to increase their value in the marketplace. The opportunity to develop interpersonal and technological skills to adapt to the new AI driven working environment, will also bring additional benefits to all that choose to engage. As one of the respondents to our survey, Andrew Kwan, Solicitor Advocate at Clear Law said: “I do not see AI removing the elements where you are a compassionate human. You can’t remove this from a process and expect a great result for your client.”

So while the use of AI continues to develop and grow its presence in the legal market, we’re not quite in Terminator territory just yet; there is still plenty of scope for legal professionals to prove their worth and upgrade their skillsets in this ever evolving market place.

Lynn Sedgwick, MD, Clayton Legal

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