The high-priced, hard-hitting attorney that everyone loves to hate may soon be replaced by an affectless screen. Information technology is poised to transfigure the legal profession and wipe out quite a few jobs in the process, writes John O. McGinnis in City Journal.Computers already perform keyword searches faster and more accurately than humans, which means law firms are less reliant on worker bees for document review. Soon, machine intelligence may advance to the point where computers can recognize and search for concepts, instead of only exact terms. And those piles and piles of legal forms could soon be computer-generated—at least as rough drafts, to be lightly customized later.Which lawyers will survive the trial by technology? McGinnis predicts:
A relatively small number of very talented lawyers will benefit from the coming changes. These superstars will prosper by using the new technology to extend their reach and influence. For instance, the best lawyers will need fewer associates; they can use computers to enhance the value that they offer their clients. […]The biggest winners may be lawyers who can use machine intelligence to create an automated large-scale practice. The Walton family, it’s worth recalling, got rich by effectively automating large-scale retail. More generally, there may be jobs for a new category of engineer-lawyers—those who can program machines to create legal value.But the large number of journeyman lawyers—such as those who do routine wills, vet house closings, write standard contracts, or review documents on a contractual basis—face a bleak future. They will have far less to contribute to legal analysis, and they will face relentless evaluation from clients using new data-driven metrics.
We suggest you read the whole thing, for a great preview of the disruptions coming to the legal ecosystem. Lawyers may fight dirty, but in a battle between the PC and the JD, which one would you bet on?