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Future of Law: Do not go gentle into that good night…

Legal futurologist Dr Richard Susskind gave a talk at the Law Society’s law management conference recently. He told the audience they had ‘five years to reinvent the legal profession’ before the advent of general purpose artificial intelligence systems brought massive disruption. It was up to them to do the disrupting, or be disrupted, seemed to be the message.

The talk was covered by the Law Society Gazette. The comments below the article are enlightening. Suffice to say, they are not positive.

Rage, rage, against the dying of the light…

Respondents variously insult the speaker, dismiss the power of technology to handle complex cases, and highlight the current growth rather than decline of the legal market.

None of this does much to counter Susskind’s original arguments. And I would agree with much of what he and his son suggest in their writing.

From my perspective, the first transformation that the legal industry will see — like every other professional industry facing automation — is not the removal of people. It’s their augmentation.

Artificial intelligence won’t replace people altogether. But it will allow fewer people to serve more customers, more efficiently, and more effectively. Augmented firms can undercut rivals while maintaining quality of service and margins, or chase higher margins.

Either way this means consolidation. Those spending their time raging at reality are unlikely to be on the acquiring side.

The second transformation is more fundamental though. Because much of the business of law is a business of artificial friction. All of the human factors wielded as evidence by the naysayers, should be much less of a factor than they are in many scenarios. It’s just the nature of our system that we have continued to operate the law in a very manual fashion.

Once we start to introduce alternatives, like blockchain-based ‘smart’ contracts for many of our more mundane legal interactions, the human workload falls again.

You can choose to fight these things. To dismiss futurism/futurology as a made-up non-job, as many of the respondents to this article do.

Or you can choose to grasp the advantage that comes from embracing them. To open your eyes. To look, in a formal fashion, at what’s coming and prepare your response.

It’s a straight choice.

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Tom Cheesewright