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AI Won’t Replace Lawyers – But It Will Change How They Work – Above the Law

artificial-intelligence-4111582_1920Ever since humans invented the wheel, innovation has rolled on.

Innovation is about finding a new way to solve a problem — but one of the biggest obstacles to the adoption of innovation is the fear of obsolescence. And how many times have we heard the concern that the next innovation is going to eliminate jobs? That has certainly been the case with GenAI. In March 2023, Goldman Sachs published a report that stated that 44% of legal tasks could be automated by AI. The headlines covering the report tended to focus on the implied disruption and loss of jobs. But a closer look at the study points out that historically, worker displacement from innovation is typically offset by new job creation.

Since 1970, there have been six brief periods when the growth rate of the U.S. job market was negative. All were related to recessions, not innovation. The most pronounced dips related to the financial crisis of 2008 and the COVID-19 pandemic. In each case, there was a quick bounce back and recovery. And even when jobs in sectors were lost (e.g., manufacturing moving overseas), they were lost due to competitive factors such as cost rather than innovation.

Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) tell a great story. ATMs began to gain traction in the United States around 1980. There were stories flying around about how bank tellers would all be put out on the street. The reality was far different, as the adoption of ATMs was gradual. ATMs added to efficiency and branch profitability, which created more branch bank locations. The number of bank tellers actually went up between 1980 and the year 2000.

Some functions that a lawyer performs will be automated by AI. The work of a lawyer evolves and changes, but AI will not replace the need for lawyers.

As lawyers navigate these changes and work to adapt, here are a few points to consider as AI increasingly affects their work.

AI Is All Around Us

You may not have noticed it yet, but AI is truly pervasive in our everyday life. AI powers natural language searches in Google. It drives facial recognition when you are prompted to tag a friend in a picture on social media like Meta’s Facebook. AI suggests additional products that you may want to consider purchasing online on Amazon. Apple’s Siri answers questions for you on your smartphone using voice recognition. Self-driving car features from Tesla leverage neural networks to assist with navigation. In the work environment, Microsoft’s Office 365 makes suggestions of documents that may be relevant to meetings, and Microsoft Teams can automatically transcribe a meeting that was recorded.

The point is that we may not really notice the changes that AI is gradually making in our lives, providing productivity, convenience, or enjoyment.

Lawyers Should View AI Applications As Productivity Tools

Technology has been creating more efficiency in legal work for decades. The pace may not seem as dramatic as in other fields, but let me date myself by providing an analogy. Does anyone remember partners writing documents by hand? What about typing pools? How about taking bankers boxes full of paper discovery documents home to read and review? What about doing research in the physical library because there were no computer-assisted legal research services available?

Lawyers have become more efficient as legal workflow is automated. The truly cerebral work and know-how is what is really valued. More automation through GenAI — and freeing up more resources for cerebral work — may be critical to overcoming some of the most significant challenge facing legal professionals today. There is still a talent shortage and a very real concern about future recruitment. In the 2023 Future Ready Lawyer Survey Report, the overwhelming majority of respondents (81%) said that the ability to recruit and retain talent will have a significant impact on their operations. Bandwidth is also a challenge as volume and complexity of information continue to increase — who has ever heard that a lack of work is a problem in law departments or firms?

Embracing technology is actually essential. Mastering new technology should be more of the focus. With GenAI at center stage, lawyers need to understand how to use the technology and what errors might surface (e.g., hallucinations) from the use of GenAI. How many times has a judge reprimanded a lawyer now for submitting a legal argument with a case that they didn’t read because the case was hallucinated by GenAI?

Human thought and legal critique become even more important in review processes. If anything, lawyer mistakes around GenAI are likely to highlight shortcuts in review processes that need to be addressed anyway.

If you think about it, “spell check” in word processing software made draft versions of a document better by fixing the easy mistakes — typographical errors. But spell check also introduced errors by autocorrecting to the wrong word. And it didn’t fix problems with an underlying fact pattern or legal argument.

Lawyers will need to continue to leverage tools and adapt processes to ensure quality work product. This will include greater focus on the legal aspect and also adapting methods to address the possible errors the next “tool” may introduce.

The Demand For Legal Services Will Increase

Just as employment has steadily risen with innovation, so will the need for legal advice and legal services. The world gets more complex every day. More than ever, general counsel need to stay abreast of geopolitical considerations and help advise their business. Regulations get more expansive and new issues surface. Earlier this month, the European Union passed the world’s first regulations on AI.

Growing businesses expand operations into new jurisdictions and take on new functions that create new compliance requirements. There are new business transactions to be negotiated and more contractual obligations created every day. This is another area where GenAI could be applied to mitigate repetitive tasks and speed up certain processes. And while it’s difficult to say what the future holds for how the practice of law will evolve, what we can be confident about is that GenAI presents advantages for practitioners who understand how to use it well.

In closing, lawyers shouldn’t be as concerned about AI or GenAI for that matter. Productivity and automation should be embraced. AI is all around us. Change isn’t always comfortable, but it is inevitable. Change is also more likely to be gradual and evolutionary, even if it feels otherwise at times. And if we can learn from history, there will be innovation. If history informs the future, the long-term economic impact of innovation will be growth. The world will be more complex — and the world will need more lawyers.

Ken Crutchfield HeadshotKen Crutchfield is Vice President and General Manager of Legal Markets at Wolters Kluwer Legal & Regulatory U.S., a leading provider of information, business intelligence, regulatory and legal workflow solutions. Ken has more than three decades of experience as a leader in information and software solutions across industries. He can be reached at

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Amit Ghosh
Amit Ghosh


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