You’ve probably noticed that over the last two years there’s been a surge in the number of articles and concerned citizens warning that lawyers will soon be replaced by intelligent robots.
With the weight of major law firms opening venture capital funds and bold new legal tech startups, it’s easy to feel nervous and vulnerable about the threat of artificial intelligence (AI) as a solo or small firm lawyer.
If we believe these articles, we should all drop our pens and wait for chatbots and AI with tech 3.0 names like Lisa and Ankit to replace us.
But the truth is that most of the headlines are just hype.
The Reality of AI
It’s not just me saying this. Big players, like Google’s head of AI, John Giannandrea, are warning of the dangers of unwarranted hype around AI.
The biggest misconception with AI and software, particularly in the legal space, is that we have developed what is called general or super intelligence. Meaning that a computer system can recognize and resolve new problems that its designers had not originally built it for.
We have not—this dynamic problem-solving ability remains the exclusive ability of humans, for now.
Many experts say we have not even really created artificial intelligence at all, but rather “advanced automation” or “cognitive computing.” Today, AI systems can operate one specific task and improve their ability by identifying and learning from patterns it observes.
This is significant, it means that software can improve over time without programmers having to write more code. It’s powerful, but it’s not autonomous intelligence. Because of these limitations, we only see AI applied to very specific tasks that are repeatable, predictable, and scalable.
That’s why AI has been deployed to tasks like sorting documents for discovery and OCR scanned PDFs, but not to draft a shareholder's agreements or a brief. The latter is too unpredictable for engineers to design a repeatable system.
The Bionic Principle and Automation
I’m not going to argue that robots can never replace lawyers. I think they will, at specific tasks. But they’ve already been doing that for decades.
Talk to a grey-haired partner and you’ll hear stories of redlining documents manually at 3 in the morning. With a ruler, a red pen and lots of coffee. Can you imagine? That is now done automatically by computers, thankfully.
Most lawyers don’t do tasks, we do projects. We settle disputes, organize investments, and transfer property—these are complex projects with hundreds, maybe even thousands, of “tasks.
So rather than waiting for the robots to take over, I propose a different future for lawyers.
Over the next decade, smart lawyers will tool-up with a variety of smart technologies that automate specific tasks. These systems will integrate to deliver exceptional productivity and user experiences. And yes, most of these tools will have some form of AI integrated into them.
One of the core beliefs in the startup/tech world is that if we can liberate ourselves from mundane tasks, we can be more creative, user-oriented, empathetic and productive.
We can identify problems and craft solutions before others. That’s why Netflix beat Blockbuster. It’s also why Amazon will beat Walmart.
Liberation is achieved by what’s called the Bionic Principle: if a task can be automated by a machine, automate it. Even the smallest tasks. Unless the cost is egregious, buy the tool. The compounding benefits of automation and integration are exponential, just ask Google.
Smart tools to help you build your Bionic practice
To help you build up your bionic practice, here are a few tools that almost any practising or in-house lawyer can implement immediately to get started:
Scheduling and calendar automation: Amy
How much time do you or your assistant spend every month emailing back-and-forth with people to schedule meetings? Probably a lot. There’s a bot for that.
Amy is an AI-powered scheduling assistant that will automate those email exchanges with people to figure out a time that works for everyone. Once one is agreed upon, she will send out a calendar invite and set reminders.
Note and task-listing for meetings: Clarke
It’s proven. Multi-tasking is hard. Have you ever felt rushed when trying to listen to someone talk, take notes and record your tasks during a meeting?
Meet Clarke, a smartphone app that listens to your meetings, automatically takes notes and lists tasks that you’ve been charged with during the meeting. This liberates you to listen more closely, ask more meaningful questions and build stronger relationships
Integrate your apps to make them smarter: Zapier
Zapier is a staple at startups and tech companies. It allows you to integrate almost any app you’re currently using. For example, if you create a form using Typeform or Formstack, Zapier can enter the user input into a Google Doc or your CRM (ex., Clio), even if those two apps don’t connect natively.
Affordable document automation: Webmerge
Low-hanging fruit to power-up your templates with document automation through Webmerge.
Combine with Zapier to create powerful automated workflows. Here’s an example, if a client completes an intake web form, values from that form are merged into a template, and the completed document is emailed to you and/or your client. If the email template copies Amy, she’ll even automatically schedule a meeting!
Manage entities, automate documents, and go virtual with your minute books: Athennian
Tracking entity information like director names, share class terms and certificates in spreadsheets and doc. Creating simple documents like resolutions and consents manually every time.
Athennian automates all of that via a database that tracks entity information and automatically assembles any kind of corporate documents. Athenniann also includes eSign and virtual minute books.
Ready to get started building your bionic practice with Athennian?
The Latest in Legal Technology
It’s really easy to stay on top of the latest technology to build your bionic practice. Schedule a monthly visit to Product Hunt to discover new software and hardware as soon as they’re released. Follow the Law Hackersnewsletter to receive a monthly newsletter of new legal tech startups.
If you’re in the GTA, join the Toronto chapter of LegalHackers to expose yourself to early ideas and technologies.
A version of this article was first published in the Ontario Bar Association’s magazine Just.