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Anything we can do, they can do better?

While pondering a good topic for this post, I came across an interesting article featuring a Silicon Valley start-up with a unique goal. Founded by Twitch builder and entrepreneur Justin Kan, Atrium may be the only start-up in Silicon Valley incorporated as a law firm. Its goal is to build technology that will automate some aspects of legal work and make legal services more transparent in terms of billing. Atrium currently employs several lawyers to work with start-up clients in the area, as well as several engineers to listen to the lawyer/client conversations and figure out the typical processes in order to understand the requirements of any automated technology. Kan was inspired to found Atrium after dealing with the legal system many times in his capacity as an entrepreneur and ultimately feeling like he had no idea what he was paying for or like he was able to evaluate the services he received. A couple of Atrium’s co-founders are also lawyers themselves who want to stay on top of technological innovations in their field.
While the concept of Atrium seems radical in a field that is still fairly low-tech, the automation of knowledge-based jobs is not entirely unheard of in the last couple of years. According to a McKinsey estimate, 35% of all professional tasks can be audited at this point in time. Moreover, JP Morgan has hired a group of developers to build software that will reduce hundreds of thousands of hours of legal work to seconds. There is a pervasive sense of fear amongst white-collar professionals who fear their eventual obsolescence – a fear that is only becoming more realistic. At this point, Kan and his colleagues are hiring lawyers to give them the tools to build their software, which could very well create less demand for most of those lawyers once it is up and running.
Of course, not everybody is jumping on the automation bandwagon, particularly with regard to the legal field. The article references a forthcoming paper authored by a former MIT professor, who maintains that even if corporate law firms utilized any and all artificial intelligence, only ten percent of legal work could be outsourced to automation. The other 90% must be completed by humans because it requires capabilities that exceed those of AI technology.
Still, Kan and his associates are starting out fairly basic. If they were to expand the capabilities of any future software, it would need to be customized, which would make costs skyrocket.
Even in the legal field, which is slow on the uptake as far as efficient technology goes, it seems like artificial intelligence could automate at least some of the work. This could decrease costs for law firms and clients alike, since lawyers bill by the hour. AT this point, it is difficult to tell how much automation will be able to do in terms of legal work compared to other fields, and I keep wondering what it will take for lawyers to stay ahead of the curve instead of falling behind as many will probably do when AI becomes more prevalent in law. How can they use these technological innovations to their advantage and prosper? Perhaps the key is simply to be more tech-savvy and work cohesively with the technology rather than against it. I’m not sure, but I am not as worried about these prospects. If anything, increased automation of legal work could save time and make lawyers’ workloads much less overwhelming so they can focus on what only they as humans can deliver. I don’t know, but I suppose I and everybody else in the legal field will find out soon enough.

-Emily Pennington
Source: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/innovations/wp/2017/09/14/this-silicon-valley-startup-wants-to-replace-lawyers-with-robots/?utm_term=.a5b42413a37c