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Why junior lawyers shouldn’t be afraid of AI, by a law student

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We shouldn’t waste the abundance of opportunities out there

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With tech becoming more and more advanced by the day, there’s a fear among law students that training contracts will be cut and law firm staff numbers will shrink. But penultimate London School of Economics law student Danial Alam is excited by new technologies and how they are changing the legal profession. Here’s why he thinks lawyers should be more optimistic about Artificial Intelligence (AI).

There’s a lot of buzz around AI at the moment and it is well placed.

In our homes, Amazon Alexa has become our virtual assistant. IBM Watson and Google Deepmind are pushing the boundaries on what computers can do and countless start-ups are finding exciting applications for AI that can be used today.

But with AI comes the question of automation. Companies like RAVN systems, Luminance and IBM Watson’s ROSS claim to offer document automation, smart contracting and more. A number of law firms — like Slaughter and May and Clifford Chance — have adopted these systems.

The fear is that if these technologies are going to cut time needed for due diligence then there will be a reduction in training contract numbers. So should aspiring lawyers be afraid?

In my opinion, no. Here is why I think that for at least the next ten years trainee solicitors are safe:

Change takes time

As with any technological shift, the introduction of AI into law firms will take time.

Take the development of the internet: what started out as connections between universities for very small amounts of data became the global network that we are so dependent on today. But, remember, that change took 30 years.

While the amount of investment and research in AI today is unprecedented, the society that we see in films like I, Robot and 2001: A Space Odyssey are still very distant futures. Our world is changing because of AI but such change in the legal industry is dependent on firms trusting the technology they are using, and that will only happen over time.

Work will become smarter

When we are at a stage where firms are willing to place their trust in AI systems to accurately perform actions previously done by some trainees, there will still be work for junior lawyers to do. But perhaps this is different work to what is currently being done.

Trainees will have more time to work on the complex challenges that firms face and will be able to develop skills in areas of work that AI will not be able to do, at least for the medium term. Strong written communication skills and the flexibility to adapt to new scenarios are examples.

More clients, and more work from existing ones

AI offers the opportunity for law firms to lower their cost for clients, as work will be able to be completed faster. But if this is true, then doesn’t it make sense for law firms to start lowering their intakes? Not exactly.

Firstly, as emerging markets become even more sophisticated, businesses will grow and those businesses will need lawyers. AI will allow firms to continue to service their existing clients while retaining the ability to take on new clients, as lawyers will be free to take on more work as processes become automated.

Also, if work can be done faster, law firms will be able to charge lower rates to their customers and this may not be a bad thing for firms. With lower rates more companies will be able to afford to pay for legal services and existing clients will be able to seek legal advice more readily. The revenue received from new work will counterbalance the reduction in price and will allow law firms to grow even more.

In ten years time, the legal industry will not be the same as we know it now, but that does not necessarily mean there will be less of a need for lawyers. In fact lawyers are needed now more than ever: experts will be called upon to navigate areas like self-driving cars, data protection in the Internet of Things and even AI itself. Aspiring lawyers should relish in the opportunities, rather than cower in fear.

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