Transforming Legal Practice: The Impact of AI Technology on the Legal Field

ai attorney law lawyer legal professions May 02, 2024

By Ari Parungao - LinkedIn

It is evident that lawyers and legal professionals play an indispensable role in our modern day society. Without them, the concepts of rule of law and justice would lack meaning. Their role in upholding justice and safeguarding individual rights in an ever-changing society is crucial. As our society evolves, technological advancements inevitably follow suit. With the emergence of new technologies, professions within the field of law are adapting to incorporate modern technology into their practices. This article aims to explore the future of careers in law and the propitious applications of technological advancements in the legal sector. 

The legal profession is projected to experience mild growth in the coming decade, offering promising opportunities for individuals interested in pursuing careers in this field. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there is a projected 6% increase in legal occupations from 2022 to 2032, with a particularly robust 8% growth anticipated for careers as lawyers. However, this growth is expected to bring increased competition, especially in certain specialized areas of law. A study conducted by Western State College of Law examined the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on careers in the legal field. During the pandemic, there was a surge in demand for lawyers specializing in family law, housing, and employment law. However, with the pandemic receding, there is anticipation that the demand for careers in cybersecurity law will rise, reflecting the need for new legal frameworks in response to the ongoing technological revolution. 

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggest a growth in legal professions within the next decade, a study by Harvard Law graduate Lauri Donahue suggests that the rise of AI will limit job opportunities in the legal profession. Due to the abilities of AI technology, a large portion of tasks required by legal jobs have the potential to be automated. Donahue found that 39% of legal jobs can be automated and 23% of lawyer’s jobs can be automated. If all current technologies were adopted, lawyers’ work hours would decrease by 13%. However, despite these statistics, Donahue notes that law firms are slow to embrace new technologies. With AI technology enhancing efficiency, the economic objective of maximizing billable hours becomes less significant. As AI technology continues to evolve, the ultimate impact on legal careers remains uncertain. 

Human error is conspicuous within legal practices, and one of the most efficacious approaches to integrating new technology into legal careers is leveraging AI-powered tools to augment efficiency and precision, thereby mitigating the susceptibility to human error. The American Bar Association examined the current methods used that apply AI to legal practices. Technology-Assisted Review (TAR) is when one uses AI to review documents. TAR tools assist in providing faster and more accurate risk assessment. This technology is beneficial to lawyers because it allows them to advise their clients wisely with the intent of eliminating legal roadblocks before they happen. At the beginning stage of a lawsuit, TAR tools assist in identifying relevant information and the rights that must be protected. In addition to risk assessment, AI generates higher-quality work than humans. Software, such as contract comparison tools, are used by lawyers to enhance the organization of documents. Contract comparison tools easily identify missing information or inconsistencies in terminologies. With this tool, lawyers are able to strengthen their weak points. Lawyers are able to create more accurate outcomes and limit their risks when aiding their clients.

While the potential benefits of AI in the legal field are vast, there are also contentious debates surrounding its permissible scope. Steve Lohr from the New York Times dives into this discourse, emphasizing tasks that many argue should prevail firmly within the purview of human professionals. These tasks include advising clients, negotiating intricate deals, writing persuasive briefs, and presenting arguments in court. The remaining sentiment in the legal community suggests that specific responsibilities essential to the practice of law should not be delegated to AI systems. This stems from both technological limitations and ethical considerations. Lohr contends that AI should not be entrusted with the replication of human advocacy, the nuances of negotiation, or the intricate structuring of complex legal details, emphasizing these significant barriers and ethical quandaries. In regards to the digital transformation, the legal profession is often stigmatized to be one of the slowest careers to revolutionize. Lawyers are known to have a shockingly large amount of billable hours, and that may remain constant because of their lack of acceptance of AI technology. AI technology is proven to shrink the number of working hours, however, the legal field stands unyielding at times. Although dependent on specific practices, many firms are reluctant to change their business model. Due to their hesitation to conform to the changes in society, the risk of AI overtaking the legal profession is highly unlikely. 

As the emergence of AI permeates our society, profound philosophical questions arise in the legal field, particularly concerning criminal activity. AI technology, once hailed for its potential to revolutionize the world, is now being weaponized for criminal purposes and scams. Deepfakes, which are AI-generated images, videos, or audio recordings of individuals, have become a preferred strategy for criminals. A popular technique has emerged where perpetrators employ sophisticated techniques to replicate the voice of a loved one, which fabricates AI-generated kidnapping threats over the phone. The weight of this phenomenon has prompted the Department of Justice, as revealed at the 2024 National Institute for White Collar Crime, to equate the criminal use of AI with the severity typically associated with firearms. The consequences of the deliberate criminal use of AI technology are implied to be harsher than those of crimes from a firearm. Highlighting the escalating threat of AI-enabled crimes, the Department of Justice advocates for harsh measures to combat these offenses, especially aggravated identity theft and sophisticated means and use of a special skill. Notably, they propose mandatory two-year consecutive imprisonment terms for each count of criminal activity involving AI a defendant is found guilty for. However, despite these efforts, there remains a pressing need for further legal developments to effectively progress, address, and deter crimes perpetrated through AI technologies. 

Aspiring students exploring the legal profession must navigate an evolving landscape shaped by technological advancements. Despite these changes, the commitment to justice in our society remains steadfast. Legal professionals can anticipate a fulfilling career that allows them to impact their clients' lives and contribute to societal justice.

What to do if you are interested in pursuing a career in the legal field:

Action Steps:

  • Stay Informed: Follow the latest developments in AI technology and its uses in the legal field. You can do this by following industry publications, attending relevant seminars or courses, and engaging with professionals in the field.
  • Develop Core Skills: Grow your understanding of AI technologies and how they intersect with legal practice. Enhance your critical thinking skills because that is something AI cannot completely replicate in the legal field. Cultivate these skills through academic study, practical experience, and studies on complex legal issues.
  • Adaptability & Flexibility: Become adaptable and flexible in your goals and desires for your career in legal practice. Recognize that technological advancements and our ever-changing society may necessitate shifts in traditional methods of working or needs in specific fields of law. Embrace innovation and be open to exploring methods of legal services.
  • Ethical Considerations: Build your knowledge on the ethical implications of AI in the legal profession, including issues related to data privacy and professional responsibility. Understand the ethical considerations of pursuing a career in the legal field. Determine the ethical standards in your practice and advocate for the responsible use of AI technologies. 
  • Network & Collaborate: The best way to determine your interest in a field is by learning from those you look up to. Build connections within the legal and technology communities to grasp an understanding of what your future could look like. Engage with peers and industry experts to obtain insight on emerging trends and opportunities in the legal profession.
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