These are already strange times, and still, it seems they're about to get a lot stranger.
Robots have been slowly replacing human workers over several decades, flushing people out and filling one previously paid position after the next. Increasingly, America’s workforce is becoming automated with each passing day.
And it’s easy to see why: robotic arms can assemble factory pieces far faster and more efficiently than people can; driverless cars are offering a safer, cheaper solution for the shipping and transportation industries; and robot baristas don’t waste your time talking about Alt-J vinyls and cryptocurrency.
Yet the most recent human skill to be put on that technological chopping block is a strange one: lawyers.
A Silicon Valley tech company known as Atrium LLP is working to establish a futuristic technologically driven law firm. It’s building a platform that can automate legal services, like fundraising or working through transactional law cases. Services that have, up until now, been offered only by human beings.
Bebe Chueh, the co-founder of Atrium LLP, tells Rooster Magazine the system can automate about 80 percent of venture financing and transactional law cases. As she explains, most of the work for those comes down to sifting through documents. Lot and lots of documents.
“Instead of transmitting PDF’s back and forth we want to liberate the content there and build a legal platform where legal transactions can be done,” Chueh says. “Our vision is to democratize corporate legal access.”
While Atrium may be the first law firm to go the way of the robot, it certainly won’t be the last. According to a Deloitte Insight report from 2016, around 40 percent of jobs in the legal industry stand to be automated in the long run. Which could mean tens of thousands of jobs lost.
Ridding the world of litigious power-hungry lawyers? It might sound like a great idea, but several prominent problems arise with that line of thinking.
To start: up until now, the jobs that robots have been able to replace humans in have been generally low-skill positions that require little training — factory assembly line jobs, freight truck driving, fruit picking and certain quality control positions.
But now, as technology advances and becomes more capable, jobs that require degrees, extensive training and experience to get hired for are no longer safe from automation.
The next problem is perhaps even more troubling: because, lawyers, as much as people want to dislike them, realistically serve a very important role within society. Social change often happens in courtrooms because of lawyers. Literally, the moral compass of America is a team of superstar lawyers known as the Supreme Court. It would seem, that by handing the reins of our legal system over to automated technology — essentially draining what little humanity the legal process had to begin with — people may find themselves putting too much power into the hands of software.
Of course, right now, Atrium’s automated legal platform is only being charged with extensively mundane legal jobs, where it offers a faster, cheaper, more efficient way of slugging through the tedium. They haven’t given this system any real legal power (yet) and the humans it works for still closely monitor the technology.
And, in fact, Atrium is still creating jobs in the legal industry right now, not replacing them. The Silicon Valley company is currently hiring new lawyers to add to their A-team tech firm — and looking for new clients in the startup world to serve.
So, it may yet be a long time before we have to worry about Terminator attorneys warping the moral values of our nation and enslaving the human race. But at the rate technology seems to be penetrating the workforce, it might not be as insane a prospect as it sounds.