Replacing the Lawyer with the Machine: The Commoditization of Legal Services

A piece ran in the Law Times last month on the topic of retail legal services.

The article highlighted a firm, Axess Law, who moved from their cushy downtown office into a simple Walmart kiosk to provide low cost legal services to the masses. By leveraging automation technology, Axess is able to generate standard documents such as wills for as low as $99.99 (and they are drawing crowds).

The kiosk attracts clientele that need simple, hassle free legal services, and they are just as happy getting it at Walmart as they are at a professional firm. This shift marks the arrival of a new era; the commoditization of legal services has begun, and there is no telling how far it will go. Since computational power is presumed to be exponential, (see Moores Law) it is easy to let your mind run rampant with what the next twenty years might look like. Technology today has already started to replace core legal services – from document generation to legal analysis. While the commoditization of legal services is generally a good thing for consumers, the picture is much more mixed for lawyers.

According to Fordham Law Review, in the next ten to fifteen years, machine intelligence has the potential to overtake lawyers’ market share in the following areas:

Document and brief generation: Standard templates have been around for, what seems like forever, but machines are now capable of tailoring legal forms for unique individual needs. Though first drafts still require significant markup, companies like Kiiac and LegalZoom will soon produce solutions that will all but eliminate the need for human document generation. The same goes for low importance briefs and memos. Walmart kiosks can provide this service at low cost, taking away business from those that do it all by hand.

Legal Analytics: Big data analysis has been making waves in the corporate world for the last decade and it has just now begun leaking into the legal sphere. Considering the scope of computational power available, data collection and organization can now happen instantaneously. Machines will soon be able to offer predictive analysis by using previous fact patterns, case precedents, and case outcomes says Fordham Law Review. Rather than relying on a litigator’s limited experience and intuition, consumers will be able to turn to a computer program to assess the likely outcome of their case. (Perhaps this would be a good addition to Axess Law’s services?)

Discovery: the concept of eDiscovery is a buzzword in the legal sphere today; the vendor industry is saturated with companies offering their version. The technology still has many imperfections, though with improvements in accuracy it will become a regular instrument of the workforce.

Legal search: Lexis did an amazing thing in the 1970’s. Its case law search engine rocked the world then and has been evolving continuously since. With the semantic search replacing simple search – it will become even easier to find directly relevant information. Analysts suggest that in the next ten to fifteen years, machines will not only be completely semantically sensitive, but will even be able to help you gauge the strength of precedent.

In replacing human labour with these technologies, the firm becomes more efficient. It might sound ominous, but it’s not all doom and gloom. There will always be a place for humans in this industry simply because, it’s a people business. “We are not machine men with machine minds and machine hearts” as Charlie Chaplin once aptly said. Customer service will become even more of a differentiating factor between law firms than it is now. Lawyers can make a difference by being responsive to their clients; frequent correspondence is absolutely key. How well you are able to communicate and build relationships will dictate your place in the industry. Show your clients you care. If you’re interested in improving customer relationships check out the next blog post!

See the next blog: cultivating effective client communication.

Add Comment