Posted September 28, 2018 08:40:19
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Concerns are being raised about the effect of digital disruption on the legal profession and its practitioners, graduates and the general public.
A director of the Law Council of Australia said artificial intelligence and the internet are causing a seismic shift in the way law is practised.
And like many other industries, the disruptions it faces can be likened to an uberisation — or tele-networking — of the profession.
Bill Potts, also deputy president of the Queensland Law Society, said big international firms considering whether to litigate, or how to litigate a case, were turning to a research tool powered by artificial intelligence (AI).
The system, known as Ross, analyses previous similar cases and predicts the likely outcome of potential litigation with a high degree of accuracy.
The company's website describes their product as "an advanced legal research tool that harnesses the power of artificial intelligence to make the research process more efficient".
Traditionally, the mundane research work of going through documents and finding patterns and principles for use in legal cases has been performed by law graduates.
Mr Potts said the proportion of graduates practising law had fallen from about 50 per cent to 20 per cent as firms embraced computerisation and pruned staff numbers [abc.net.au].
He said medium to large firms were employing fewer people as they turned to technology like blockchain — a continuously growing list of digital records in packages linked and secured using cryptography.
"Graduates traditionally have worked in firms where they were tasked with trawling through thousands of documents, looking for patterns or precedents," Mr Potts said.
"But blockchain can do that job in a matter of seconds and with a high degree of accuracy."
Mr Potts said graduates who could not get jobs, together with an increasing number of experienced lawyers, were operating independently, offering their services online.
He explained that people not wishing to engage the full services of a lawyer were turning to the internet, potentially opening the door to charlatans and shonks.
Could a robot do your job? [abc.net.au] [abc.net.au]
Search our database of every Australian occupation to find out how difficult it will be for artificial intelligence to do your job. [abc.net.au]
"People are downloading standard documents and contracts from the internet and seeking out professionals to work on a single clause or part of their paperwork," Mr Potts said.
"A person can run a practice out of a bedroom or the boot of a car or indeed, I have seen people who effectively run their practices from coffee shops.
"It can be difficult for a client to be certain of the qualifications and experience of some individuals."
'Opportunities declining' says professor
Professor Margaret Thornton from the Australian National University (ANU) describes the growing practice of lawyers doing piece work for firms or individual clients as the "uberisation" of law.
She believes the march of technology is making it more difficult for graduates to embark on a legal profession.
"There are 42 law schools in Australia producing around 7,000 graduates a year [and] they need oversight and training," she said.
"Traditionally they worked under supervision in established law firms but those opportunities are declining, with fewer jobs on offer and fewer experienced lawyers available to supervise newcomers."
Professor Thornton said the new developments brought about by technology could result in benefits, particularly to women, who account for about 65 per cent of Australia's law students.
"With more varied models of legal practice, there's the promise of more flexible hours and that's something working parents, particularly women, need," she said.
What a lawyer should be
Recent law graduate Lachlan Robb works as a paralegal with a Brisbane law firm but wants to undertake a PhD focussing on the impact of technology on legal practice.
Mr Robb said while there may be fewer jobs available in some practices, the roles that are available are becoming more meaningful.
"I have noticed uncertainty in students as firms embrace technology [who are asking] 'will I still get a job?' but there are positives'," he said.
"There may be fewer jobs in some practices but the roles that are offered are becoming more meaningful.
"There's an argument that firms will need graduates to be employed on more skilled-based activities which will actually use their minds instead of using pattern recognition which a machine can do."
He thinks the role and impact of lawyers will evolve and change as more technology is utilised.
"It is going to revert to more of a baseline notion of what a lawyer should be," he said.
"Not a person who does all the paperwork but an advisor, where the human element becomes more and more important."
Topics: ethics [abc.net.au], business-economics-and-finance [abc.net.au], judges-and-legal-profession [abc.net.au], law-crime-and-justice [abc.net.au], community-and-society [abc.net.au], work [abc.net.au], science-and-technology [abc.net.au], computers-and-technology [abc.net.au], information-technology [abc.net.au], internet-technology [abc.net.au], mermaid-beach-4218 [abc.net.au], qld [abc.net.au], australian-national-university-0200 [abc.net.au]
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