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creative destruction
The BigLaw Massacre Approaches

Bad news for the tens of thousands of newly minted lawyers who pass the bar every year and hope to get associate positions at big law firms sorting through documents for corporate clients: Robots are taking your jobs. Bloomberg reports:

At JPMorgan Chase & Co., a learning machine is parsing financial deals that once kept legal teams busy for thousands of hours.

The program, called COIN, for Contract Intelligence, does the mind-numbing job of interpreting commercial-loan agreements that, until the project went online in June, consumed 360,000 hours of work each year by lawyers and loan officers. The software reviews documents in seconds, is less error-prone and never asks for vacation.

For the past few years, most of the commentary about technological innovation has focused on the way it has eliminated working and middle-class jobs like manufacturing. But the next round of the information revolution may put pressure on “symbolic analyst” jobs that are mostly coded as upper-middle or professional class. Lawyers are one example, but new medical technologies could make some tasks that doctors do obsolete and trading algorithms could shake up the financial industry in unpredictable ways.

The new technologies aimed at automating the discovery process don’t mean that high-flying lawyers will be put out of business. In fact, it’s possible that the firms that own these technologies could get more wealthy than ever before. But they do probably mean that the huge flow of cash into the legal sector every year will be somewhat reduced, and middling firms and lawyers will be in trouble.

In the long run, however, this will be good for everyone. Firms can redirect funds that would otherwise be spent on legal fees into research and development, leading to better products. And a loosening of the legal labor market will mean lower rates, and more access to legal services for people who need them but haven’t been able to afford them in the past.

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  • lukelea

    Are you familiar with the concept of elite over-production? Combined with rising inequality presages revolutionary change.

    • Proverbs1618

      I actually read a few fascinating articles on the subject. I personally don’t see a way out of this other than universal basic income.

      • CaliforniaStark

        Reluctantly, have to agree. The choice may be a welfare state or revolutionary state. If the human birth rates continue to decline, and robots increase, maybe in the distant future we will inhabit our own biological preserves.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Not a Republican principle. Not in a Republican budget, now or ever. Did you fall off the commie statist truck, or what?

        • Proverbs1618

          This is a plan for AFTER the robots replaced most humans, not BEFORE. Since I believe that robots would eventually be able to do most of what humans do now, I believe that at some point universal basic income is inevitable. The timeline of this action is uncertain.
          See, unlike you I’m not trapped in a binary dichotomy where Democrats have halos and Republicans have horns.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The timeline is more certain when one supports the election of people who do not believe in the concept—–now or ever. Robots are going to replace some humans, but not most humans anyway. The biggest magnet for seekers of AI and robotics is not replacement of the fast food workers. It is the ownership of artificial intelligence which can consistently out-trade human players in financial markets. It is the number one use for AI that people should be concerned about and from what I read, it’s here or not far off.

          • Proverbs1618

            If the robots don’t replace humans, then we won’t need universal basic income. If they do, then we will.
            Try to break out of your binary thinking loop once in a while. It will do you good.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Who me? An oft-described (by you) commie statist who questions you for touting a commie statist idea you don’t support, wouldn’t elect and isn’t going to happen?

          • Proverbs1618

            I mistakenly assumed you have the intelligence to think beyond the binary Republican vs. Democrat choice. I also assumed (and I’ve re-learned a valuable lesson on what happens when you assume) you are able to think in terms beyond the next election and instead think of where the process of automation is taking us a species.
            Well, I learned my lesson that’s for sure. In my defense, other commenters on these boards got my point and we engaged in a wonderful discussion. I’d tell you to try to escape the binary thinking loop you are trapped in, but I think we both know that ain’t gonna happen.
            On the plus side, Trump bull market keeps on making me wealthier. Can’t wait for the tax cuts that I deserve.

          • FriendlyGoat

            UBI should be inevitable, but it most likely is not—–because there will always be people who oppose it. By everything you have ever written to me, you are one of them. So, there is irony worth noting and I did.

          • Jim__L

            Read Isaac Asimov’s “Caves of Steel” series.

            https://www.amazon.com/Caves-Steel-Daneel-Olivaw-Book/dp/0553293400

            There are alternatives to reducing humans to a state of infantilism.

          • FriendlyGoat

            “Were” is more apt than “are”.

          • Jim__L

            Despair is a sin, just as it always was, FG.

          • FriendlyGoat

            There are many people in difficult circumstances to whom you can speak that line. I’m not one of them.

          • Jim__L

            You despair of the idea that there are any alternatives to reducing humans to a state of infantilism. That’s not helpful to anyone.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The alternative is keeping people of all ability levels in jobs which support them and give them the proper sense of self worth—–with competitive productivity as a secondary consideration. It is a form of love which could improve families, lower crime, lower drug use and generally make society much happier.

            Unfortunately the high-end tax cuts of the past worked to the opposite effect and the now-coming bigger high-end tax cuts will make it worse. This is why you say “are” and I say “were”. We took a pass on doing the right thing during several recent decades and we are setting up to repeat the error “big league”.

        • QET

          Maybe not a GOP platform plank, but both Hayek and Friedman proposed just such a thing. Jus sayin.

          • FriendlyGoat

            The political wind direction as of now is to blame whoever is in difficult circumstances for being in difficult circumstances, whether by birth, location, nurture, or less-than-optimal choices. This is not going to change, even after those who have been promised a general rising end up receiving the opposite.

      • Jim__L

        Frontiers that allow people to take this productivity and make it work for them, rather than being crowded together in a place where machines are competition rather than our servants.

      • Rick Caird

        The Luddites felt the same way.

        • Proverbs1618

          Well, predicting the future is always a dicey business at best. Two facts remain. The history of human progress is that of automation. Automation has been an unquestionable boon for the species.

  • QET

    The plain fact is that it requires less and less human labor to produce the things consumed by people even at the consumption levels we’ve grown accustomed to. Including things we count as “luxuries.” The matter gets philosophical real quick. On what are people going to expend their labor, to what are they going to apply it? Simply imagining a world where 6 billion people sit around and ideate and then actualize their ideations through creative operations on raw matter–this is just what it sounds like: fantasy. Locke and others saw in human labor the source of all property and value; it is the fundamental human activity. It is necessary to the human psyche. What happens when there is really nothing for 6 billion people to labor on? People are bored and getting boreder. Drugs, alcohol, other traditional vices tend to fill up the time of most; increasingly strident and violent “activism” fills the time of others. TAI frequently assumes away the problem by saying that “well, technology put people out of work before, and they found new and better work, so the same thing will naturally happen again and again and again.” But this is now a numbers game. There will always be some people who do have ideas and who are able to live fulfilling lives pursuing their actualization. Whether you call them entrepreneurs, scientists or engineers makes no difference. And no doubt they will give us wonders and marvels. But what about the other 6 billion?

    • Jim__L

      We haven’t actually seen a collapse — over half the population is still employed.

      So, there is the 50’s solution, where women are encouraged to be mothers to get the number of people looking for jobs to match the number of jobs out there.

      It beats the heck out of the sort of dystopia that seems inevitable the way we’re going.

  • Jim__L

    So will a company be able to write a CYA document that is 10,000 pages long, with every angle covered, while any human being wanting to figure out what sort of shenanigans they’re up to will never actually be able to read it?

    This is progress?

  • Adam Bowers

    It was briefly touched upon at the end of the article, but we actually need more lawyers doing other lawyer work. Outcomes in our judicial system are highly dependent on the availability and affordability of an effective attorney. In other words, sometimes the best way to fight the government is through the skillful application of a lawyer.

  • Daniel Nylen

    So law will get more efficient much the same way that farming got more efficient with tractors, or retail got more efficient with computers (think Walmart). There will still need to be very smart lawyers , but the drudge work will be gone. How this affects the pyramid scheme of modern law partnerships and top partners making huge amounts of $ is where the real devastation will occur. Without lots of new lawyers earning form billing endless hours, 1/2 to 1/3 of which goes to the partners to split up, how will they make keep their 3rd vacation home?

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