The New York Times recently reported that “Armies of Expensive Lawyers, Replaced by Cheaper Software.” In fact, the computer software the Times reported about is not only dramatically cheaper -- the software is actually 5% of the cost of lawyers performing the same task – the software does an incredibly more thorough and, yes, more thoughtful and insightful job. This breathtaking and indeed chilling innovation comes on the heels of IBM’s Watson’ stunning performance on Jeopardy. In describing the era that Watson will bring, IBM’s general counsel predicted that the technology that created Watson will be deployed to replace armies of young associates, again performing lawyers’ duties at substantially lower costs and with dramatically better results. And, of course, Watson and his progeny won’t get tired, headaches, bored, distracted, demand bonuses, engage in gossip or demand to be promoted to a firm’s partnership. The technology train rushing down the track will create ever-escalating changes in how law is practiced and how associates are deployed. The huge bullpens of staff and temp lawyers performing document review may soon be empty cavernous halls. The number of “partner track associates” which law firms will hire, will slow to a trickle.
The nation’s law schools, still reeling from The Great Recession, will feel an even more profound impact. Already spewing out far more law school graduates than the system can absorb in an era of vast legal unemployment and underemployment, new technologies will dramatically further reduce the demand for law school graduates. Clients’ demands are compelling law firms to embrace these and other emerging technologies. For law schools to survive, they will need to produce a new product. A scholar learned in the law and proficient in computer programming and analytic skills. If law schools fail to meet this challenge, law firms will be doing the bulk of their recruiting at computer science graduate programs.
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