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Robot law: Deloitte estimates automation to cut legal sector jobs by 39% over the next two decades

A new report released by Deloitte is warning law firms to prepare for changes as the rise of automation is likely to cut legal sector jobs by 39% over the next two decades.

The report titled ‘Developing legal talent: Stepping into the future law firm’, predicts that more than 100,000 roles in the legal sector will be at risk over the next 20 years as advancements in technology and machines will transform the profession.

According to the report ‘firms must have a clear strategy for dealing with these changes now if they want to remain competitive and ensure they attract the best talent to support their business.’

The report also said the legal profession will be radically different in the next decade, and have ‘fewer traditional lawyers’ and ‘a new mix of skills among the elite lawyers’. In addition, there will be greater flexibility and mobility within the industry, a reformed workforce structure and alternative progression routes, and a greater willingness to source people from other industries with non-traditional skills and training.

Many firms are already amending their models in preparation for the changes to come. In August last year, Dentons’ NextLaw Labs – which was launched to develop new technologies for the legal profession – invested in an IBM Watson app that has the ability to process natural language, so can answer questions, sift through legal documents, research and return an evidence-based answer.

Other firms are streamlining their IT functions; at the end of 2015, Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer closed its global IT and helpdesk function in Germany in favour of its new Manchester back-office centre.

RPC director of knowledge management and capability Andrew Woolfson said firms should embrace the advancements. He said: ‘It’s about augmenting lawyerly skills. Software providers and AI gives firms the opportunity to use legal tools that do things and run processes in a much simpler way.’

Woolfson added: ‘The title of legal secretary might change, it may be more of a metric or data analytic role, but it will just be a continuation of where we are today.’

Slaughter and May senior partner Chris Saul commented: ‘Technology is of course playing an increasing role in the provision of legal services. However, clients will surely continue to look for human intermediation of the technology and for bespoke advice from talented lawyers on more complicated matters – making use of evolving technology where appropriate.’

Subscribers can read more in: ‘Deep Blue sky thinking: The cutting edge of legal AI’