By Aebra Coe, Law360
A new breed of associate may inhabit the law firm of the future, according to legal technology experts who predict BigLaw will hire fewer young attorneys and give them more sophisticated work as artificial intelligence and automation technology are increasingly used for more mundane legal work.
When posed with the question of what a law firm will look like in 20 years with the increased automation of legal work, industry analysts differ on how the details will sort out, but all agree on one thing: There are changes coming.
New technologies are numerous. There’s Ross Intelligence from IBM, billed as an “artificial attorney” because it uses artificial intelligence to answer legal problems, as well as similar AI tools; there are multiple providers like Luminance and kReveal that offer legal document review to reduce the traditionally heavy time burden involved in tasks like legal due diligence and contract review; and there are a number of increasingly sophisticated e-discovery and project management tools on the market.
The influx of such technological aids is likely to create the need for fewer associates, staff attorneys and paralegals to perform basic research and due diligence work, according to Mark Yacano, global leader of Major Lindsey & Africa LLC’s managed legal services practice.
As law firms shift away from hiring large numbers of associates, they will begin to become more selective in their hiring, creating a slimmer, more elite fleet of associates, Yacano said.
“Associate hiring is going to, over time, continue to be more selective and more surgical because there will be increasing tranches of routine work that firms or clients will be able to do using technology,” he said.
The typical law firm staffing model right now is a pyramid: A large number of associates come in, while only a few make partner, Yacano said. The staffing model of the future may look like a much skinnier pyramid as a select few attorneys are chosen as associates to perform the socially and creatively complex tasks that technological tools cannot accomplish, he said.
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