20 July 2021

Meet your new lawyer: a robot

By Miranda Marshall, Director, Hayes + Storr.

The French existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, ‘Hell is other people’. (“L’enfer, c’est les autres”). So, if you don’t much like your solicitor, help is on its way. Meet your new lawyer: Robert the Robot!

Clients still want a lawyer they can relate to. The days of clients being amazed that the young woman standing before them was a real solicitor have gone. The old guard are no longer perturbed by their solicitor being from a different culture and religion than them. But are clients yet ready for a robot?

Sure, we will all have an advanced version of Siri who can answer our questions, in much the same way as many of us now turn to google. Doctors are under the same threat, as technology can be better at medical diagnosis than a human.

This Brave New World, dystopian vision of the future was described in the leading article in today’s (online!) Law Society Gazette. Just as I was pondering the subject matter of this month’s article, this popped into my inbox.

This bleak vision of a legal profession largely replaced by artificial intelligence (A.I.) and self-service legal advice has been published by a Law Society-sponsored initiative. The report, based on projections by a ‘Delphi panel’ of experts, forecasts a ‘savage reduction’ in full-time jobs by 2050. That’s okay, I’ll be 86 by then.

Those human lawyers who remain, will work alongside technology, and be required to take ‘performance-enhancing medication in order to optimise their own productivity and effectiveness’. There have already been quips in the online responses about ‘litigator-strength coffee’. I hear that in high-octane spheres of the legal profession ‘performance-enhancing substances’ have long been as prevalent as in show-business.

The report, Images of the Future Worlds Facing the Legal Profession 2020-2030, is the first fruit of the Society’s Future Worlds 2050 project. The project aims to enable ‘raw, frank and honest discussions around what clients will need in the future and to think about the legal business models our members may adopt’, the Law Society said.

This ‘Delphi panel’ foresees surviving lawyers working alongside robots. Among the forecasts is a prediction that employment in the UK legal sector is already declining, following a peak in 2016. Not with private client work in north Norfolk, it ain’t.

The report also cites research suggesting that ‘85% of job concepts in 2030 do not yet exist, and half of people think that the roles and skills of the next two decades are impossible to predict within their industry’.

Apart from advances in technology, the panel considers predictions about the dominance of China in the world economy, climate change and ‘rising social movements and resurgence of the civil rights movement’. Law Society president has said: ‘The legal profession is at a pivotal moment, as is the world in which we live. There are a plethora of forces shifting our collective experience and the business environment. If we’ve learnt anything from 2020, it’s that the future can still catch you unawares.’ She reckons that there is likely to be a rise of climate litigation against corporations or governments.

There is something to be said for working in the more people-centred section of the legal world. It is comforting to know that my 6 years of training and thirty years of post-qualification experience in the world of private client work makes me less likely to be replaced by a robot.

This article is for general information only and does not constitute legal or professional advice. Please note that the law may have changed since this article was published.

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