24 April, 2017
As machines, software and robots become more sophisticated, some fear that we stand to lose millions of jobs. According to one unpublished study, the coming wave of technological breakthroughs endangers up to 47% of total employment in the US.
But is there any truth to such projections, and if so, how concerned should we be? Will the robots take over, rendering us all professional couch potatoes, as imagined in the film Wall-E, or will technological innovation give us the freedom to pursue more creative, rewarding endeavours?
The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) has highlighted the fundamental strategic challenge facing businesses in every sector as AI’s transformational potential becomes increasingly apparent – particularly when coupled with a range of other emerging technologies such as cloud computing, big data, and the Internet of Things (IoT).
We now work in a business environment that sees seemingly unlimited possibilities in the use of technology, so much so that will the fundamental role of humans in business be limited? Are business professionals facing the same threats of extinction? Sounds far-fetched? But is it really?
Take the legal profession for example. Its traditional aversion to risk has meant the legal profession has admittedly not been in the vanguard of new technology. Firms are recognising that failure to invest in technology will hinder ability to compete in today’s legal market.
Rohit Talwar, Futurist Speaker and CEO of Fast Future imagines a situation where a law firm that has eliminated entry-level job roles, instead replaces the roles with AI so that highly-experienced human lawyers focus their efforts on the more skilled tasks that require their experience, expertise and intuition.
AI-based legal support systems learn, adapt and evolve with the needs of the professionals they support and even conduct a significant amount of client interaction – often with an AI-based intelligent assistant at the other end. This combination of smart market-focused lawyers – underpinned by wide-ranging AI – has enabled industry leading exponential improvement in both operational performance and profit growth.
Could we face a situation where all the research and legal assistants will be outsourced or automated through AI?
As more law firms become familiar with terms such as machine learning and data mining, they are creating tech-focused jobs like “head of research and development” or hiring coders or AI experts.
Big law firms are pouring money into AI as a way of automating tasks traditionally undertaken by junior lawyers. But does this mean that the future of the traditional business adviser is dead? Will lawyers be extinct, replaced by AI within the next 20 years?
It is clearly in clients’ interests to increase efficiency, drive down costs and speed up the legal process.
It is thought that AI can help in a number of scenarios – in some cases reducing the time to draft a document could fall from three hours by a lawyer to three minutes; it will enable lawyers to have virtual assistants that are designed to help legal teams make quicker and better decisions; being able to suggest the best order in which to renegotiate a series of corporate contracts.
Are we seeing the start of an era of professional automation beyond our wildest dreams?
In short. No.
The above alone will not bring about the end of the lawyer (sorry folks!).
Why is that? Well we are all human and demand human interaction.
Many believe that instead of AI making lawyers extinct it will in fact add value to the legal process. AI is just another category of technology which will help to solve the problem for the client and allow lawyers to focus on complex, higher-value advice. This is where the human lawyer comes in to its own.
Experience counts, the unique advantage of the human over AI will lie in … being human and wise. The human touch, the intricacies of a business relationship built up over years and the wisdom of a seasoned adviser is a key driver as to why clients prefer to see lawyers face-to-face.
Clients are making huge, in some cases life changing decisions born out of years of blood, sweat and tears. The support network provided by the best law firms is embedded within a firms DNA, those intangibles that just make those business relationships work.
How many times have we heard the phrase “if I could bottle it I would be a millionaire” – This rings true. Sometimes you can’t bottle (or code) what it is that makes something unique, and whilst humans remain humans, they remain unique.
As a client – going through a legal process can be very emotional. It is inevitable, whether you are a start-up with a dream, or simply moving house – the emotions attached to the situation can be complex and challenging. People need that human emotional support and objectivity. This process cannot be automated.
The role of a good adviser is similar to that of a Sherpa helping climbers scale Everest.
Sherpas are local people who are highly skilled and experienced climbers.
Without Sherpas most climbers would not be able to get up the mountain. They have climbed the mountain many times, they know the route, they know the pitfalls, and they know when climbers need extra support and when to help them with the ‘heavy lifting’. They really are the backbone of any expedition. They also have a wisdom that surpasses any mountain climbing guides.
This is so similar to the role of a good adviser – they have dealt with the same challenges many times, they have seen what has and has not worked in business, they can spot opportunities, they can spot or sense danger and they will guide their clients and protect them through the process.
Can you automate that process? No. Well, not yet. If advancements over the next 20 years progress at anything like the rate we have seen over the past 20 years – never say never I guess. For now, most clients will choose the Sherpa over the robot to get them to the top.
This article first appeared in the Open Sauce magazine. Open Sauce is an event whose aim is to bring together and engage an audience of ambitious, bold and curious individuals, keen to learn, connect and share. Steele Raymond are delighted to be one of the saucy sponsors for the quarterly event.