Will a robot take your job? // Cross Examination

If you’re a legal assistant, it probably will

By Daniel Fish

On Tuesday September 6th, 2016


As the tech revolution marches on, it will leave a spate of workers in its wake. Not lawyers, though. The chance of computers replacing lawyers in the next decade sits at 3.5 percent, according to a recent study published by Ryerson University’s Brookfield Institute. But legal assistants may not be so lucky: there is a 94-percent chance that technology will render them obsolete. Those are bold predictions. So we spoke with Sean Mullin, who runs the Brookfield Institute, to make sense of them.

Why isn’t technology much of a threat to lawyers?

The job takes complex cognitive skills, which computers have yet to fully replicate. New software might help a lawyer research a case or spit out a draft of a brief. But a lawyer will still have to review it and write the argument — and, for that matter, go to court.

So why are legal assistants on the verge of extinction?

We’re only an incremental change away from lawyers being able to dictate complex briefs into their phones and have it pop up on their screens. Both Apple and Google are pouring money into this sort of technology. Siri might seem rough around the edges, but it’s close to being game-changing.

What about handling email?

Companies are pioneering software that can reply to emails and book appointments. So future technology could perform the bulk of a legal assistant’s work. That means your firm might only need two assistants, instead of 10.

Cover of the Fall Issue of Precedent Magazine

This story is from our Fall 2016 issue.




Illustration by Alina Skyson