By Chere B. Estrin
This is the first of a two-part series.
Next, we chat with Tara Eberhart, Paralegal Manager of an AmLaw firm who can straighten us out as to whether the paralegal position is about to be wiped out.
I sat down with Dr. Don Billings, a long-time colleague, who knows just about anything one needs to know about legal technology and beyond. I figured he was one of the best to help me discern whether I was going to have a flood of candidates running from AI or begging me to get them jobs that involved it. As those of you who have been in the field for awhile know first-hand, lawyers are always the last to get on the bandwagon with changes, let alone technology changes. I often feel that it’s like pulling a stubborn mule to get him to move. Not going to happen. He really gave me an eye-opener.
1. Give us the 411 on Dr. Donald Billings.
I am an academic and experienced professional with an extensive twenty-year background in leading business, process automation, and technological innovations within global law firms, non-profit organizations, and Fortune 100 corporations. My comprehensive expertise spans various managerial, legal, and computer science-related disciplines.
2. Where are working nowadays? Somewhere prestigious, I’m sure.
Currently, I am lending my proficiency as a Legal Technology Consulting team member at Sidley Austin, LLP. In this role, I provide both internal and client-focused technical consultations in eDiscovery, digital forensics, and broader legal technology topics. My expertise has allowed me to serve as a subject matter expert, furnishing technical analyses and written testimonies for diverse practice areas, such as intellectual property litigation, internal investigations, white-collar criminal cases, and employment disputes. I am also an active member of the department’s AI task force.
In addition to my work at Sidley Austin, I serve on the board of Cal State East Bay’s executive Big Data Program, where I contribute my knowledge and experience to help shape the future of data science education. Furthermore, I am proud to serve on the boards of several non-profit organizations, using my expertise to impact our communities positively.
3. OK. Enough chit-chat. Let’ get to the meat of this. Goldman Sachs published a white paper claiming that 44% of all legal jobs are going away and roles such as paralegals may be wiped out. What’s your take on this?
While the Goldman Sachs report raises valid concerns about the potential impact of AI on the job market, it may be important to consider a more nuanced perspective on AI’s influence on the economy. According to a recent article by Slate (2023), AI’s effects on the job market may not be as detrimental as the report suggests, particularly in the upper levels of the market. The article highlights how AI can enhance human skills rather than replace them entirely. For instance, AI can be utilized in legal services to streamline research and document analysis, allowing lawyers to focus on more strategic and creative aspects of their work (Slate, 2023).
Moreover, the Slate article emphasizes that AI will likely create new job opportunities and enhance existing ones by increasing productivity and efficiency. For example, AI can facilitate more accurate diagnoses in the healthcare sector and allow doctors to focus on providing better patient care rather than being bogged down by administrative tasks. Furthermore, AI-driven solutions have the potential to create entirely new industries and markets, spurring economic growth and the creation of new jobs. Therefore, while AI may pose risks to certain job sectors, its overall impact on the economy and job market is likely to be more complex than a simple displacement narrative suggests.
4. Who do you think will be hurt by AI?
While AI holds the potential to improve efficiency and productivity in the legal industry, it is important to recognize that certain roles may be more vulnerable to displacement, particularly those involving more routine work. Junior employees, such as junior paralegals, may find themselves at a higher risk of job loss due to AI-driven automation. These employees often handle tasks that can be streamlined through advanced AI applications, such as document review, legal research, and data entry, which can be efficiently performed by AI algorithms.
One such AI-driven solution is BriefPoint.ai, a platform that automates the creation of legal documents, including drafting briefs, discovery responses, and judicial forms. By leveraging AI technology, tools such as BriefPoint.ai can potentially redesign workflows for these common tasks into commoditized services, reducing the need for junior legal professionals in these areas. The same can be said for AI-enhanced digital contracting tools such as Ironclad. This commoditization may result in reevaluating the traditional career path for junior legal employees, necessitating the development of new skill sets and expertise to remain competitive in an increasingly AI-driven legal landscape. While this transition can be challenging, it is crucial to embrace the opportunities provided by AI and focus on the higher-level, strategic aspects of the legal profession that are less susceptible to automation.
5. Who do you think will benefit?
Integrating AI in the legal industry is not without its benefits, and certain legal professionals stand to gain significantly from adopting AI-driven solutions. Smaller firms and solo practitioners, in particular, are poised to benefit from AI’s capacity to streamline tasks and increase efficiency. Implementing AI technologies can help level the playing field for these organizations by providing them with access to advanced tools and resources that may have previously been exclusive to larger firms with greater financial resources.
With the aid of AI-driven solutions, smaller firms and solo practitioners can more effectively manage their workload and offer their clients high-quality legal services at a competitive price. By automating tasks such as document review, legal research, and drafting judicial forms, these legal professionals can focus on their practice’s more strategic and creative aspects. This enhances their ability to provide personalized attention to their clients and allows them to compete with larger firms regarding service quality and efficiency. In this way, AI is a powerful equalizer within the legal industry, enabling smaller firms and solo practitioners to leverage advanced technologies to serve their clients better and thrive in an increasingly competitive market.
6. Years ago, lawyers were the last to get on the bandwagon to utilize computers. True story: They thought it would eat into their billable time. Do you think we have the same situation going with AI?
It is understandable that some parallels can be drawn between the hesitance of lawyers to adopt computers years ago and the current apprehension regarding AI integration. Similar to the earlier concerns about computers eating into billable time, there may be a lingering perception that AI will negatively impact the legal profession. However, as we have seen with the integration of computers, technology has ultimately improved efficiency and productivity in the legal industry.
That being said, concerns about AI adoption are not entirely unfounded. Firms today may hesitate to implement certain generative AI tools due to privacy and regulatory concerns. The legal industry handles sensitive client information, and ensuring the security and confidentiality of this data is paramount. As AI technologies continue to advance, it is important for both the legal profession and regulatory bodies to work collaboratively to address these concerns and develop appropriate guidelines to ensure ethical and responsible use of AI. In the long run, embracing AI and adapting to its integration, much like the shift to using computers, will likely yield significant benefits for legal professionals and their clients, despite initial apprehensions.
7. Do you think AI can raise salaries? If so, for whom?
AI has the potential to raise salaries for certain professionals, particularly those who can leverage AI technologies to enhance their productivity and value proposition. By automating routine and repetitive tasks, AI allows these professionals to focus on higher-value, more strategic aspects of their work, which can ultimately lead to increased revenue and higher salaries.
For example, in the legal industry, AI can help lawyers streamline research, document review, and drafting processes, enabling them to manage a higher volume of cases or devote more time to complex, high-stakes matters. This increased efficiency can translate into higher earnings for these professionals (Slate, 2023). Additionally, experts in AI and related technologies are also likely to experience higher salaries due to the growing demand for their skills and expertise in an increasingly AI-driven job market.
However, it is important to consider that the impact of AI on salaries will likely vary across different industries and job roles. While AI may lead to salary increases for certain professionals, it could also contribute to wage stagnation or job displacement for others, particularly those in roles that are more susceptible to automation (Acemoglu & Restrepo, 2019). As the integration of AI continues to reshape the job market, it will be crucial for individuals and organizations to adapt and develop new skills to remain competitive and capitalize on the opportunities presented by AI-driven technologies.
8. What should legal professionals do to either embrace AI or convince their firms this is the direction to go?
Legal professionals can take several steps to embrace AI and encourage their firms to adopt AI-driven solutions, which can ultimately lead to increased efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness:
- Education and awareness: It is crucial for legal professionals to educate themselves about AI and its potential applications in the legal industry. By understanding the benefits and limitations of AI, they can make informed decisions about the most suitable AI tools for their practice and address any misconceptions or concerns within their firms.
- Identify specific use cases: Legal professionals should identify areas in their practice where AI could have the most significant impact. By pinpointing specific use cases, such as document review, legal research, contract analysis, or eDiscovery, they can demonstrate to their firms the potential value of AI adoption.
- Pilot projects and case studies: Implementing pilot projects or analyzing successful case studies from other firms can help legal professionals showcase the tangible benefits of AI integration. By demonstrating how AI tools have improved efficiency and outcomes in similar legal practices, they can build a stronger case for adoption within their own firms.
- Collaboration with AI experts: Legal professionals should consider collaborating with AI experts and technology providers to understand the best practices for implementing AI tools in their practice. Such partnerships can ensure a smooth transition and help address any technical or ethical concerns that may arise during the AI adoption process.
- Addressing concerns about data privacy and security: Legal professionals must proactively address any data privacy and security concerns that may arise when using AI tools. By working with technology providers to implement robust security measures and adhering to relevant data protection regulations, they can assure their firms and clients that sensitive information will remain secure.
- Upskilling and training: Legal professionals should invest in upskilling and training themselves and their teams to work effectively alongside AI tools. By developing new skills and expertise in AI-related areas, they can ensure their practice remains competitive in an increasingly AI-driven legal landscape.
- Emphasize AI’s role in enhancing human capabilities: Legal professionals should emphasize that AI is not intended to replace them but to augment their capabilities. By showcasing how AI can complement human skills and enable lawyers to focus on more strategic and creative aspects of their work, they can alleviate concerns about job displacement and encourage a more positive perception of AI adoption.
9. Let’s address the disrupters here: Why should legal professionals dissuade firms from using AI?
While AI has the potential to bring significant benefits to the legal industry, there are valid reasons why legal professionals might dissuade firms from using AI, at least until certain concerns are addressed:
- Data privacy and security: Legal firms handle sensitive and confidential client information, and ensuring the security of this data is crucial. AI technologies may raise concerns about data privacy and security, especially when dealing with third-party providers or cloud-based systems. Legal professionals need to ensure that AI tools used by their firms comply with relevant data protection regulations and maintain high-security standards.
- Ethical and regulatory considerations: Using AI in legal decision-making can raise ethical and regulatory concerns, particularly regarding transparency, fairness, and accountability. Legal professionals need to be cautious about relying too heavily on AI-driven recommendations without understanding the underlying algorithms and potential biases. Furthermore, the legal industry should collaborate with regulatory bodies to establish guidelines and standards for the ethical use of AI in legal practice.
- Quality control and accuracy: AI tools can streamline tasks such as document review and contract analysis, but they may not always be as accurate as human review. Legal professionals should consider the potential risks of relying on AI-generated outputs without proper human oversight, as this may lead to errors or misinterpretations with serious consequences for clients and cases.
- Job displacement and skills gap: The adoption of AI may lead to job displacement or wage stagnation, particularly for junior legal professionals and support staff. Legal professionals should consider the impact of AI on their workforce and ensure that employees are provided with opportunities to upskill and transition into new roles that complement AI technologies.
- Cost and return on investment: Implementing AI tools can be expensive, and the return on investment may not be immediately apparent. Legal professionals should carefully evaluate the costs associated with AI adoption, including software licensing, infrastructure, and training, against the potential benefits and efficiencies gained.
- Resistance to change and firm culture: Legal professionals should be mindful of the potential resistance to change within their firms, especially in more traditional or conservative environments. Adopting AI may require a significant cultural shift, and legal professionals should consider whether their firm is prepared to embrace this change and adapt to new ways of working.
While AI offers considerable potential benefits to the legal industry, legal professionals should carefully weigh the potential risks and challenges associated with AI adoption. By addressing these concerns and ensuring a responsible and thoughtful approach to AI implementation, legal firms can maximize the benefits of AI while minimizing potential pitfalls.
10. Help! Help! What can legal professionals do to protect themselves?
To protect themselves in an evolving legal landscape that incorporates AI and related technologies, legal professionals can take several steps to ensure their long-term success and relevance in the industry:
- Develop new skills and expertise: Legal professionals should invest in continuous learning and professional development to stay ahead of industry trends and developments. This may include acquiring expertise in AI, data analysis, cybersecurity, and other relevant fields to complement their legal knowledge.
- Emphasize human skills: Legal professionals should focus on enhancing their human skills, such as critical thinking, emotional intelligence, creativity, and effective communication, which are less likely to be automated. These skills will continue to be in demand and can help differentiate them from AI tools.
- Adapt to new roles: As AI tools handle more routine tasks, legal professionals should be prepared to adapt to new roles that focus on higher-value, strategic aspects of their work. This may involve taking on responsibilities that require a deeper understanding of clients’ needs, regulatory frameworks, and industry-specific knowledge.
- Stay informed about AI developments: Legal professionals should stay informed about the latest AI advancements and how they might impact the legal industry. This can help them anticipate and proactively address any challenges or opportunities that may arise from AI adoption.
- Collaborate with technology experts: Building relationships with technology experts and AI providers can help legal professionals better understand AI applications and potential risks. This collaboration can lead to more informed decision-making and responsible AI integration.
- Advocate for ethical AI use: Legal professionals should actively participate in discussions about the ethical use of AI in the legal industry and advocate for transparency, fairness, and accountability in AI-driven decision-making processes.
- Network and engage with the legal community: Legal professionals should actively engage with their peers, industry organizations, and regulatory bodies to exchange ideas, share experiences, and stay updated on best practices related to AI adoption in the legal field.
By taking these steps, legal professionals can better protect themselves in an AI-driven legal landscape and ensure their long-term success and relevance in the industry.
11. While you look at your tarot cards, what else do you see?
Technology, including AI, often does not result in a one-to-one replacement of roles in industries such as the legal profession. Instead, it acts more like a game of Jenga, where individual tasks or components of a role are replaced or augmented one block at a time. As these pieces are removed or shifted, the role may collapse if most components become automated or obsolete. Still, more often than not, it evolves to incorporate new tasks and skills that complement the technology being introduced.
As technology streamlines and automates specific tasks within a role, the remaining responsibilities often shift to focus on more complex, strategic, or creative aspects of the job. This may mean that as AI takes over routine tasks like document review or legal research, legal professionals can concentrate on higher-value activities such as advising clients, crafting legal strategies, and developing innovative solutions for complex legal problems.
This process of gradual transformation encourages professionals to adapt their skill sets and embrace new responsibilities, enabling them to remain relevant and valuable in an evolving job market. In this way, technology and AI can serve as catalysts for change and innovation in the legal industry, pushing professionals to develop new expertise and adapt to the shifting demands of their roles. This gradual transformation emphasizes the importance of continuous learning and adaptability as key skills for legal professionals in an increasingly technology-driven landscape.
Thanks, Don. That’s a tremendous boatload of valuable information I’ll be right back. I think I need an Excedrin.
Chere Estrin is the CEO of Estrin Legal Staffing, a top nationwide staffing organization with a five-star Google Business Review rating. She has been a well-known name in the field for over 20 years. She was recently interviewed by The Wall Street Journal and Fortune Magazine (www.estrinreport.com) and was named “One of the Top Women Leaders in Los Angeles” She has written 10 books on legal careers, hundreds of articles and has been written up in publications such as the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Trib, Newsweek, Entrepreneur and others. She received the prestigious Los Angeles/Century City Women of Achievement Award and was a finalist for the Inc. Magazine Entrepreneur of the Year award. Chere is a founder of the well-known nationwide Paralegal SuperConferences and a co-founding member of IPMA (International Practice Management Association).. She gives numerous webinars including those for Lawline and LawPractice. She is a former administrator at an AmLaw 200 firm and Sr. Vice President in a $5 billion company. Reach out at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit her website at www.EstrinLegalStaffing.com.