Next time you visit a lawyer’s office you may find fewer staff and more computers in various forms doing research in preparing clients’ legal documents or gathering materials for attorneys’ future courtroom appearances. One thing you can still be sure of, is that you will still be getting billed by the hour whether it is a machine or a real live paralegal or attorney doing this work. Recent research also suggests that basic document review has already been outsourced or automated by large law firms, with only 4 percent of lawyers’ time now spent on this task.
“Technology will unbundle aspects of legal work over the next decade or two rather than the next year or two, legal experts say. Highly paid lawyers will spend their time on work on the upper rungs of the legal task ladder. Other legal services will be performed by nonlawyers – the legal equivalent of nurse practitioners – or by technology.” So the law firm partner of the future will be the leader of a team, “and more than one of the players will be a machine.” Technology has unlocked the routine task of sifting through documents, looking for relevant passages. So major law firms are undertaking initiatives to understand the emerging technology and adapt and exploit it.
So what would Perry Mason do if he were around today? Would he keep Della Street as his legal secretary (maybe more important than a paralegal?), or trade her in for a shiny new robot? You decide?