Machines should do the work that machines can do

robot-tease-4x3.grid-4x2We are in a time when the software programmers are rushing to hack off great chunks of what used to be law practice and computerize them. Programmers see the promise of innovation – as is happening in the medical world and other domains without end. Outside the United States, acccounting firms are acquiring law firms at a steady pace. They see similar opportunities.

This is a great thing. Machines should do work that machines can do.

Law practice (the work that only lawyers can do) is getting pushed onto narrower and narrower turf.

This is good, too.

Those who have law licenses will not be confined to the narrow turf of law practice. They can manage the machines or join the accountants. There are many opportunities in that.

Still, there will be work that only lawyers can do. Partly, it entails making use of what the machines do. Partly, it is the core work of lawyers: handling law-related matters whose outcomes are hard to predict. This can be advising or advocacy. It centers on charting workable courses and making practical connections in the face of hard problems. In the face of uncertainty, ambiguity, complications, and new kinds of problems.

Maybe this work does not require as many lawyers as were graduating a few years ago. Maybe lawyers need to be schooled in ways that do not necessarily leave them “practice ready.” Maybe the work does not require so many large law firms.

Lawyers and law firms must pick their way through these changes. There are implications here for the personal attributes lawyers must bring to the practice and for how lawyers are trained. And, there are implications for what resources firms should bring, for how large a law firm should be, for how it should develop its business and how it should grow.

What’s at risk here are not so much law jobs as how we organize to deliver legal services. (OK, the computers will take some work, but they are welcome to it.) There are fresh opportunities in this for the nimble.

Machines should do the work that machines can do.

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