No, Lawyers, Robots Won’t Take Your Job

Time for common sense with a side of sanity

Ken Grady
Ken Grady
Jun 4, 2017 · 2 min read
Screenshot from Design by @dreamture. Development by @mubashariqbal.

Assuming you live somewhere other than deep in a bear cave or high up in a tree, you have seen the hourly stories screaming “robots will take your job, lawyers.” Even the most skeptical lawyer is bound to start wavering given the endless barrage. Could there be something to the stories?

So far, we have had stories and one major datapoint. McKinsey & Company, looking at many job types, suggested that 24% of the tasks done by lawyers could be replaced by existing technology. Those tasks include preparing legal documents, arbitrating disputes, interviewing claimants, research, and evaluating information related to legal matters. Other stories I have seen point to the same or similar tasks, but don’t provide support for the screaming headlines beyond the author’s speculation.

A study from the University of Oxford indicates US lawyers have less to fear than what the headlines suggest. The authors, Carl Benedikt Frey and Michael A. Osborne, conducted a study with grants from the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology and the Oxford Martin Programme on Technology and Employment. Their report, entitled ‘The Future of Employment: how susceptible are jobs to computerisation?’ Mubashar Iqbar and Dimitar Raykov, both designers, turned the study into an interactive graphic. You can see the results for the term “lawyer” at the top of this article.

You should not fixate on the “Totally Safe” categorization. Nor should you obsess over the 3.5% probability of automation. You should take some comfort: converting a lawyer’s job into a robot’s job is not as easy as saying the words. But, to paraphrase the song, many tasks lawyers can do robots can do better. The McKinsey study does not go away. As those tasks move to automation, lawyers get to spend more time on what really matters to clients (getting the right documents matters, getting strategic advice matters more).

Take a sip of your preferred beverage, buckle in, and get ready for some hard work. Avoiding irrelevance and obsolescence won’t come easy. But, you won’t have to worry about the robo-lawyer in the office next door crushing you in the office March Madness basketball pool for many years.

About: Ken is an Adjunct Professor at Michigan State University’s College of Law and a Member of its LegalRnD Faculty. You can follow him on Twitter @LeanLawStrategy, connect with him on LinkedIn, and follow him on Facebook.

The Algorithmic Society

Bridging digital, human, operational realms

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store