Robot threat premature, academics find

by Samantha Woodhill11 Jan 2016
Lawyer replacement by robots may not be as imminent as previously thought, following a paper released by two leading academics.

University of North Carolina School of Law’s Dana Remus and MIT economist Frank Levy analysed lawyer’s jobs to determine how many could be automated, coming to the conclusion that it isn’t many.

Their paper, ‘Can Robots Be Lawyers?’, found that typical lawyer activities fall within a branch of human behaviour that is difficult to codify, even with current e-discovery software reliant on major input from human members of the legal profession, Legal Cheek reported.

“We estimate that automation has an impact on the demand for lawyers’ time that while measureable, is far less significant than popular accounts suggest,” the report said.

“The existing literature’s narrow focus on employment effects should be broadened to include the many ways in which computers are changing (as opposed to replacing) the work of lawyers. 

“We show that the relevant evaluative and normative inquiries must begin with the ways in which computers perform various lawyering tasks differently than humans.  These differences inform the desirability of automating various aspects of legal practice, while also shedding light on the core values of legal professionalism.”

The report estimates that only 13 per cent of all legal work is the type of grunt work that could be automated.  On top of this, Remus and Levy argue that the pace of automation is very slow and that the small fraction of tasks will take a number of years to automate.