From the Chair

The Board of Editors of Law Practice Today selected technology as the theme for this issue.  In anticipation of next month’s celebration of the 30th anniversary of ABA TECHSHOW and in view of the ongoing transformation of the practice of law through technology, I can think of no more appropriate subject this month for the division to focus on.  Over the last three decades, attorneys have witnessed a revolution in the practice of law through technology.  The pace of this conversion has accelerated exponentially, helping practitioners meet the concerns and expectations of clients.  But with this transformation comes much uncertainty. Where will this technology lead?  What will the practice of law will look like in the near future?

Immediate past president of the American Bar Association William Hubbard, in appointing the ABA Commission on the Future of Legal Services, noted that “the ground upon which the practice of law has been built is shifting beneath our very feet.”  A 2016 Client Advisory from Citi Private Bank and Hildebrandt Consulting LLC noted that “while the demand for traditional law firm services has remained relatively soft, the supply of legal service providers has increased, creating a hyper-competitive market, and forcing law firms to rethink how they deliver services.”  Technology is one of the leading solutions providing many attorneys the edge needed in this new and challenging market to help deliver legal services more efficiently and effectively for the benefit of the legal consumer.  But at the same time, some view elements of the new technology as threatening to the fundamentals of practicing  law as we know it.

One aspect of technology that is increasingly being discussed is the rising use of artificial intelligence or “AI” in law firms.  It is anticipated that various artificial intelligence systems will increasingly assume the role currently provided by many paralegals and junior associates, such as document review.  To personalize this new technological threat, some pundits have begun to identify  these various artificial intelligence systems as “robot lawyers.”

This past month, Martha Minow, dean of Harvard Law School, in a presentation on “Challenges Facing the Legal Profession and Strategies to Address Them,” noted that these new robot lawyers may potentially facilitate closing the justice gap in the delivery of legal services, but that it is not anticipated that they would have a role in matters that require subjective legal judgment.

“Assessment and critique of justice and justice mechanisms, I don’t see AI taking that on.  Nor do I see AI taking on ethics”, Dean Minow stated.  “I don’t mean to suggest there is no relation between AI and ethical suggestions, but I don’t think you’ll ever get rid of the human being.  There will always be a need for human beings.”

Professors John McGinnis of Northwestern University School of Law, and Russell Pearce of Fordham University School of Law. in a 2014 Fordham Law Review article, “The Great Disruption:  How Machine Intelligence Will Transform the Role of Lawyers in the Delivery of Legal Services” differ with Dean Minow, citing  five distinct areas of legal practice where it is anticipated that AI will take a larger role:  discovery, legal search, generation of documents, creation of briefs and memoranda, and predictive analytics.  The professors opined that AI will “trigger the end of lawyer’s monopoly and provide a benefit to society and clients as legal services become more transparent and affordable” to consumers, and accordingly enhancing the access to legal services.

LP actives Sharon Nelson and John Simek with Sensei Enterprises also note the threat of AI to lawyers in their blog article, “How will Watson’s Children Impact the Future of Law.”  Nelson and Simek introduce us to Ross, the son of IBM’s Watson.  Ross, the latest iteration of a robot lawyer, can predict the outcome of litigation with a confidence rating, assess legal precedents, and suggest various readings to prepare cases.  Ross is being funded by Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, which anticipates that he “will become a senior partner in every single practice area.” Nelson views Ross and AI as a potential substitute for lawyers, replacing paralegals and junior associates over time.


Professor Ben Barton of the University of Tennessee School of Law, in his Fordham Law Review article, “The Lawyer’s Monopoly – What Goes and What Stays,” argues that the market for legal services is changing radically and that the portion reserved for lawyers in shrinking, but that this new paradigm in legal services will inure to benefit of consumers.

Barton cites McGinnis and Pearce’s scholarship stating that we are in the very early stages of AI, the computerization of legal services.  What is considered state of the art will be deemed “crude and rudimentary in the near future.”

Indeed, technology is changing the legal practice landscape through artificial intelligence and yes, robot lawyers.  This shift is just beginning, but is anticipated to grow substantially in the near future.  Lawyers who do not want to be sidelined will embrace artificial intelligence and how to integrate it into their practice.  As chair of the ABA Law Practice Division, I believe that a first step to seizing technology to the benefit of your practice is to utilize the many benefits of the ABA Law Practice Division through the ABA Legal Technology Resource Center, its blog – Legal Technology Today, LP’s wonderful publications and CLEs, this webzine, Law Practice Today, Law Practice magazine, and yes, attending the 30th Anniversary ABA TECHSHOW, March 16-19th in Chicago.  Come join us and be a part of this adventure in uncovering your future.  We look forward to seeing you there.

About the Author

Tom Bolt is the chair of the ABA Law Practice Division and the founder and managing attorney of BoltNagi PC in St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands where he concentrates his practice in banking, real estate development, estate planning and government relations.

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