In Summary

  • Legal professionals will need to adapt to emerging technologies and AI
  • Venture capitalists and automation will continue to disrupt the legal industry 

The legal industry and professionals need to adapt to artificial Intelligence (AI) and emerging technologies said Professor Dan Hunter in an industry event held this week.

Speaking to an audience at the RACV Club in Melbourne, the Foundation Dean of Swinburne Law School said that having lived through the last twenty years of working in the “salt mines of AI” where there was little interest in the technology, he is now often asked about the impact of AI on legal education and practice.

“The recent advances in neural technology have made good on the promise that one day machines could actually learn,” said Professor Hunter.

While AI is often referred to as a key element of self-driving cars, voice recognition systems, speech production, and game playing, he says it will also disrupt the legal profession.

“Law is also a profession that is going to be profoundly affected by AI,” said Professor Hunter.

“We’re already seeing this in litigation and large-scale mergers-and-acquisition work. Machine learning systems are already dramatically better than humans at these tasks, and we can expect many other parts of commercial legal practice to be similarly affected soon.”

An automated future

Professor Hunter notes that anything that is simple to codify, and has a consumer focus, is not a good area of practice to be betting on in the next ten years due to automation and venture capitalists.

“Things like property transactions, probate, family law, and lots of criminal law, are going to be automated. This isn’t because of new machine learning algorithms, but because of the twin effects of venture capital and rule-based computer systems,” he says.

“Where the law is simple, and where there are lots of potential consumers, we will see well-funded entrepreneurs swoop in with automation solutions that will supplant lawyers. This will involve a lot of basic document automation, chatbots and mobile apps.”

Professor Hunter said this development would be a particular problem for law schools where graduates expect to be ‘high street lawyers’, because they are a group of practitioners who are particularly at risk. 

“There are going to be good bets and bad bets emerging as a result of the new technology and innovation processes of the next few years. You want to know which side to be on.”

Death of the law firm

At the event, Professor Hunter also addressed how platform technologies will change the nature of the law firm, potentially ending firms as we know them

“Adam Smith showed how the organisational structure of the firm emerged to solve the coordination problem between the various specialist activities that the Industrial Revolution made possible,” he said. 

“As we’ve seen with Uber and Airtasker, digital platforms can effectively coordinate the efforts of large numbers of independent contractors without the need for a firm.

“This means that the law firm doesn’t need to exist anymore.

“We can expect to see a massive change in the economics of law firms. And the first-movers into platform technology will take the lion’s share of the profits.”

In conclusion, Professor Hunter spoke about the importance of legal professionals tackling this future together.

“There is an opportunity to work together on the future of law,” Professor Hunter said. 

“This future is coming whether we like it all not.”

Professor Hunter was speaking as part of the ‘Future of Law Breakfast’, an industry event hosted by the Swinburne Law School.