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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