No, Lawyers, Robots Won’t Take Your Job

Time for common sense with a side of sanity

Screenshot from willrobotstakemyjob.com. 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.