“Soon, innovative legal services which mass produce legal solutions may not only be cheaper alternatives to lawyers, but may also become better alternatives as they gain economies of scale.”
But why should the line be drawn between ‘junior’ lawyers and their seniors? In fact, Mr Thio, in his article, explicitly mentioned that “senior lawyers will not be spared either: the development of predictive analysis software has meant that the experience and intuition that we value can now be replaced with a computer’s predictions as to the outcome of a case or its likely settlement value”. (Doesn’t quite sound like the newspaper article? Yup. Read the original article here – it’s much better!)
We agree. (And we are not alone in this.)
So instead of panicking over the rise of legal tech, or the “glut”, let’s dig deep into how to future-proof our careers – starting by identifying the kind of lawyers that we do not want to be:
Reviewing the never-ending list of documents, re-generating a luggage of contracts because of one minor typo, researching about the same issue every few weeks — you get the point. Much of what lawyers do is repetitive, especially for inexperienced young lawyers.
Who do you think will perform these tasks better and cheaper – a machine that works consistently without sleep, or a bored human being that struggles to stay awake with caffeine at 2 am?
Unsurprisingly, legal tech startups are already tackling these areas of legal work.
Will these technologies eliminate the need for lawyers? Probably not – even ROSS’ founder doesn’t think it’ll happen. These technologies are meant to empower lawyers by reducing the need to do repetitive work. AI might be able to trawl through all the case law in common law history to give you a comprehensive answer to a legal issue, but it is unlikely to learn the art of original legal thinking. (In LAWR/LARC terms, AI might be able to do well in rule & rule proof, but not so much in application of the rules.)
So if you want to stay relevant, learn to be creative and street-smart about how you apply the law. Venture into areas of law that have more uncertainties, or focus on the human aspect of the law – where machines cannot compete yet.
No laptops, no team collaboration apps, and even no WiFi at the office. The norms in some law firms are just baffling. Yes, the “old school” ways may be tried and tested. But they are certainly not perfect. In this respect, we agree with Thio SC’s suggestion: we should “find, embrace, engage and use machine intelligence to our advantage, and migrate our services up the value chain”.
Keep challenging the norms – from the workflow in your team to the business model of the firm. If your clients oppose the hourly billing system, ditch it. If new technologies can speed up the discovery or due diligence processes, use it.
Ultimately, while there is some value in learning about the old ways, we must not let them stop us from our relentless pursuit to add value for our clients.
Unlike the other endangered species in nature, the aforementioned types of lawyers will not be conserved. As the Ministry of Law and the Supreme Court have both started to look into legal innovation, we must accept that the legal industry will no longer be insulated from disruptive technologies.
Hence, to paraphrase Theodore Levitt’s famous quote, “to survive”, we “will have to plot the obsolescence of what now produces [our] livelihood”.
This article is co-written by Lynn, David Ho and Ji En. We are part of alt+law, a student community focused on legal innovation. Talk to us at [email protected].