The Right Coast

Editor: Thomas A. Smith
University of San Diego
School of Law

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Automating the Professions: Utopian Pipe Dream or Dystopian Nightmare? - Los Angeles Review of Books

Experts differ on the real likelihood of pervasive legal automation, and its effects. Frey and Osborne put the risk to lawyers at under four percent, and project that paralegals are in much more danger. But empirical research by economist James Bessen has complicated even that assumption: “Since the late 1990s, electronic document discovery software for legal proceedings has grown into a billion dollar business doing work done by paralegals, but the number of paralegals has grown robustly.” Like MIT’s David Autor, he observes that automation can create more jobs than it eliminates. Considering the role of text-mining software in law firms, the management consulting firm McKinsey says automation amplifies “the value of expertise by increasing an individual’s work capacity and freeing the employee to focus on work of higher value.” Researchers Michael Simkovic and Frank McIntyre reach a similar conclusion. All of this research taken together suggests that the Susskinds commit the classic “lump of labor” fallacy, assuming that there is some fixed amount of legal work to be done, and thus any cession of that lump to machines results in less work for extant professionals.


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