By Phoebe Churches
In the final post in this series on lawyers and tech disruption, we look at the way forward. If you missed the previous three posts, you can catch up on the first one here, part 2 here and part 3 here. This post looks at
The New Frontier
The Last Law of Robotics: The only real errors are human errors.
The traditional role of lawyers will continue to contract due to the interplay between the power of network technology and AI; the highly competitive legal market; and the innovative unbundling of legal services. The rise of the informed consumer, the development of the sharing economy, and the demand for cheaper and more efficient legal services has created a huge opportunity for tech savvy innovators. Overall there will be far fewer employed in the traditional legal profession, and those who remain will do so in much more specialised areas concentrated in sophisticated litigation and prosecutorial work. In fact, there will be far fewer people employed generally, with the link between labour and wages weakening as machines do more and more of our work.  This means that now is the time to review legal education and the likely prospects for law graduates.
Issues for Legal Education and New Graduates
The role and utility of lawyers is shrinking. The attenuation of traditional legal work is reflected in data on graduate employment.  Recent surveys indicate more than 10% of private firms did not recruit any new graduates in the preceding year, and generally rates of employment for new law graduates has declined from 92.9% in 1999 to 75.3% in 2014. While fears of a graduate oversupply ‘crisis’ are cyclical and tend to go lockstep with economic downturns, in the past increasing demand has eventually taken up the slack. Currently however, the profession is facing unprecedented disruption and competition, and there is no doubt that opportunities for graduates in the profession as we knew it have diminished. Moreover, for those already in the profession as newly minted lawyers, the opportunity to learn on the job has declined steeply, displaced by legal process outsourcing and in-house automation of routine tasks.
Additionally, there have been various responses in the sector to the requirement to become more tech savvy and digitally fluent. Universities are offering subjects in App development and other applied technologies. The Australian College of Law has just launched an innovation hub creating ‘new short courses and programs aimed at equipping lawyers to capitalise on opportunities created by industry flux’. Some firms are trying to get ahead of the changing skillsets needed by providing in-house crash courses on coding. However, perhaps most critically, current law students need to be taught about the future of legal practice so they can plan accordingly.
There is no evidence that law graduates will soon be unemployed or unemployable. For many years law has been a generalist degree allowing graduates to find employment in diverse roles beyond the legal sector. There are also many areas in the community legal sector which struggle to find new recruits. However, given both the increasing specialisation of legal roles, and the likely utility of a law degree which is more generalist in nature, a requirement to learn more than 11 areas of law seems unnecessary. Permitting more specialisation at law school in conjunction with a solid grounding in general legal principles, will better equip law graduates for the changing legal landscape.
Lawyers have enjoyed a role which they have largely constructed for themselves. This traditional role has been further buttressed by excessive and disproportionate regulatory barriers. Traditional legal roles must necessarily give way as many tasks can be performed competently, more cheaply, and effectively by professionals without a legal qualification. Technology, which can already outperform humans in many areas of legal work, will carve out its own role, and lawyers will need to concentrate on dealing with the arcane ways of court appearance work in this new world.
Change, especially rapid and dramatic transformation, brings fear and resistance. However, radical change to the traditional role of lawyers has the potential to bring many improvements. Technology-wrought automation will change the link between wages and labour, with paid employment generally decreasing over time. Tech innovation will bring greater access to the justice system by a wider range of people, and automation of many areas of life will bring the extension of leisure time and more meaningful pursuits. In the context of real potential for positive change, I for one, welcome our new robotic overlords.
Previously: SkyNet, Tech Singularity and the End of Lawyers
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 The concept of a universal basic income has garnered increasing currency with both ends of the ideological spectrum; see e.g. Mark Liddiard, ‘Could the idea of a universal basic income work in Australia?’ (2 June 2016) The Conversation.
 Paul Young, ‘Are Law Schools Producing Too Many Lawyers?’(2014) 88 Australian Law Journal 367.
 Angela Melville, ‘It is the worst time in living history to be a lawgraduate: or is it? Does Australia have too many law graduates?’, (2016) 50 The Law Teacher 1.
 Richard Susskind, ‘Provocations and Perspectives’ A working paper submitted to the UK CLE Research Consortium
(Legal Education and Training Review) (October 2012).
 Samantha Woodhill, ‘College of Law launches innovation hub’ (6 June 2016) Australasian Lawyer.
 Samantha Woodhill, ‘Why this firm is teaching lawyers how to code’, Australasian Lawyer (27 May 2016).
 Melville, above n 54.
 Miller, Katie, ‘Disruption, Innovation and Change: The Future of the Legal Profession’ (December 2015) Law Institute of Victoria Report.