Solicitors and barristers among professionals least likely to be replaced by robots, research reveals

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By Thomas Connelly on

Paralegals, on the other hand, are screwed


Research conducted by Oxford University academics has revealed that solicitors, barristers and judges have only a 3.5% chance of being replaced by robots — making the high end branch of the legal profession one of the groups most protected from the rise of the machines.

However, paralegals — who were dubbed “legal associate professionals” by the study — face a whopping 66% chance of mechanical replacement 20 years from now.

The data, which was compiled by Oxford Uni researchers’ Michael Osborne and Carl Frey, examined how susceptible to automation 366 different jobs were. It has since been turned into an online tool by the BBC website, which allows users to find out how at risk they are of being rendered obsolete.

Examining nine different key skill areas — including social perceptiveness, negotiation, persuasion, assisting and caring for others, originality, fine arts, finger dexterity, manual dexterity and the need to work in a cramped work space — the researchers were able to calculate how likely it is that a robot will replace you.

In what is no doubt bad news for cost-cutting Tory Lord Chancellors, solicitors, barristers and judges — who all received the same ranking — were determined to be the 320th least likely professionals (out of a list of over 350 jobs) to be replaced by metal and wires.

These odds compared highly favourably with the 66% chance of cyborg takeover which the researchers assigned to “legal associate professionals”. These paralegal-style support staff are apparently the 137th most likely to be replaced out of the 366 positions examined.

And there was even worse news for legal secretaries, whose probability of automation was calculated at 98%. This placed the role as the third most likely to be dominated by machines in the future.

Away from law, tele-sales roles topped the researchers’ list with a 99% chance of being replaced by robots; meanwhile publicans and managers of licensed premises were the least likely with only a 0.4% risk.

The research comes as the “northshoring” trend — which many see as a prelude to automation — sweeps the British legal profession. It sees City firms ship undesirable and less complex work to locations outside London in a way that is making the country resemble a Hunger Games-style dystopia, where paralegal factories up north serve the prosperous capital.

Earlier this year — in a cost-cutting move — magic circle player Freshfields relocated its “repetitive legal work” from its flash Fleet Street headquarters in central London to a slightly less glamorous office situated inside a Manchester shopping centre. Meanwhile, back in 2011 fellow elite firm Allen & Overy opened a “Legal Service Centre” in Belfast.

These moves could just be the beginning. In January Liverpool University’s computer science department took the commoditisation of legal services a step further by teaming up with low-cost law firm Riverview in a bid to ascertain whether artificial intelligence could be applied to legal tasks. The joint venture reinforces the possibility that one day basic legal work will indeed be carried out by robots.