The consensus is in:

Yes, it will. And Watson’s progeny, Ross the Robolawyer will push them out the door.

                                   No, it will not. And business will be better than ever.

What is Artificial Intelligence?

A pretty good definition of artificial intelligence (AI) is provided by Wikipedia, as “intelligence exhibited by machines.”

Its impact so far on the delivery of legal services has been in research, passive time management/recording, data analytics, document searching and routine document preparation.

But other applications are on the near horizon, including those of Ross the Robolawyer (IBM Watson’s progeny). In fact, Ross has been hired by some big name law firms, to do legal research using natural language to answer legal research questions, expanding its knowledge as it works.

AI will never have EQ

 Still, something is missing in Ross and the faster/deeper/broader technology analysis in the application of tech to legal practice, and Mark Cohen does a good job of identifying it in his March 20, 2017, article in Forbes.

He argues that good lawyers have a mix of IQ, which, at some point, a machine could probably match, and EQ (Emotional Intelligence), which a machine will never have. EQ is a lawyer’s personality, “the ability to read people, to establish credibility, and to connect with them” skills, which he says, is “grossly undervalued in the legal industry.”

These collaborative skills are “…important as the boundaries between law and other professional services become blurred. Lawyers must be able not only to collaborate with other lawyers-inside and outside their organization-but also staff, paraprofessionals, other disciplines, and even machines…”


Ross the Liberator

Humans are funny. We love new technology when it helps us, but any suggestion we might also lose something (like a job) triggers our limbic system, and we feel threatened.

But what if AI made our lives better?

                                       “By taking the robot out of the human, RPA (Robotic Process Automation) creates value.”


Of course! We’ve done x, y, and z for so long it has become second nature. And simple. And it crowds out the creative, problem-solving work we trained for- and love- to do.

Robots won’t replace lawyers. They will become super-assistants, able to take the routine, mundane tasks and do them efficiently, delivering a product to the lawyer who can then put it into the mix with her own, unique IQ/ EQ

This is what small town lawyers once did, except the assistant was the lawyer himself, or maybe a partner, or a secretary. He’d have reached the result, but the journey would have been much slower.

The lawyer would have taken it all in. All the data. All the facts. All the opinions. And let it marinate in his IQ/EQ. Maybe do a little trout fishing. Or have a cigar. Or a scotch. Or all three. And then he’d arrive at a solution for that unique client with those unique facts that no robot could ever achieve.

The Middle of Everywhere

 And he’d have done it right in his little office on Main Street.

That was a long time ago, but maybe, rather than looking at AI as threatening, we should look at it as liberating.

With the routine and mundane removed, with the robot out of us, we get to focus on what we do best.

And with AI and other cloud based technology advances, we might just be able to return to Main Street, (if we want to) this time as lawyer/quarterback, assigning tasks to machines or collaborating lawyers around the block (or around the world), then applying our unique IQ/ EQ skills to reach the result.

And while the physical address might still be on Main Street, in Podunk, USA, her reach today will surely extend further:

                  “If the railroad didn’t make it to your town, or if the highway didn’t have an exit, or if you were somehow off the beaten path, we wrote you off.                 Your town was in the middle of nowhere.

                   Now, of course, if a wireless signal can reach you, you’re now in the middle of everywhere,  aren’t you?”

~Seth Godin, The Middle of Everywhere.

And so we are.

Best wishes for a better future for yourself and your clients.


Dave has been a practicing lawyer for 30+ years, from inside and general counsel, to private practice.
He maintains a private practice as well as a consulting and copywriting business focused on professional services firms.
You can also find him on LinkedIn