The End of Jobs: Lawyer Edition

Some people still seem to hold the mistaken impression that only unskilled laborers and drivers will lose their jobs to automation. But as we’ve pointed out previously, even the most elite of educated professionals, like anesthesiologists, are vulnerable to automation. Now comes news that automation is targeting lawyers.

Could the armies of lawyers needed to close billion-dollar deals soon be a thing of the past?

That’s what Invoke Capital, the London-based venture firm run by former Autonomy Plc Chief Executive Officer Mike Lynch, is betting with its latest project financing. Invoke said Wednesday that it’s making an investment in Luminance, a U.K. startup using artificial intelligence to process legal documents and automate due diligence in mergers and acquisitions.

Luminance says its software can read and understand hundreds of pages of legal documents a minute, enabling lawyers to carry out due diligence far faster than previously. Sally Wokes, a partner at Slaughter and May who works on large company mergers and who helped trial Luminance, said the firm found that completing due diligence while using the system was as much as 50 percent faster than doing the same document reviews using only humans.
“Luminance has been trained to think like a lawyer,” the company’s Chief Executive Officer Emily Foges, a veteran of senior executive roles at Betfair, BT and Equifax, said in a statement. The software can highlight important information without needing to be told what specifically to look for, according to Foges. Rather than employing attorneys to scan through thousands of documents to identify possible issues, these lawyers can now devote their time to analyzing the software’s findings and negotiating deal terms, Foges said.

Luminance is hardly the only company to be developing AI for reading and analyzing complex legal documents. RAVN Systems, another U.K. based technology company, has developed a competing system. IBM’s Watson cognitive computing platform has also been piloting software to analyze legal documents in bankruptcy cases. U.K. law firm Riverview Law has developed its own digital legal assistant, called KIM, that it’s now selling to others, and Pinsent Masons has developed a program to read and analyze clauses in loan agreements.

Both Foges and Wokes said that they did not envision the system replacing lawyers. Instead, Wokes said, the system enabled lawyers to work faster. It also meant, she said, that lawyers could spend time on tasks that are both more intellectually-demanding and more intellectually-rewarding, rather than simply reading and categorizing reams of documents. “This enables lawyers to manage the process much more efficiently and that they enjoy the process of diligence in a way that they didn’t necessarily previously,” Wokes said.

LOLZ. This is what employers always say when they eliminate jobs through automation–it will help the workers with their tasks, eliminate drudgery, make jobs more intellectually challenging, yadda yadda. That’s roughly true for the jobs that remain following the automation, but that doesn’t change the fact that jobs will be lost because fewer workers are needed.

In any event, it’s true that this technology by itself won’t eliminate all jobs for lawyers. Somebody will still need to apply the software and interpret the results.

We’re still a long way from fulfilling the ancient dream, going back at least to Shakespeare, of a world without lawyers. But technology is all the time bringing us a little closer to that promised land.

Insert lawyer joke here:

Q: What do you call 3,000 lawyers at the bottom of the sea?


A: A good start.

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