I recently started a new job in a different building in downtown Toronto. I left law firms after working in firms for almost 15 years. Afraid I would miss law firm life, I thought binge watching Suits, would help remind me of my previous life. As it turns out, the show is also filmed in my new office tower, so there was too much coincidence in it all to ignore the serendipity. I am embraced Suits, and now Mike Ross (photo courtesy of usanetwork.com) and Harvey Spector occupy time in my brain alongside my daily work conversations about legal applications for artificial intelligence, how machine learning and natural language processing can be applied to legal due diligence, competitive intelligence, deal structure precedents and contract automation. I also spend time looking at research tools and platforms, those produced by Thomson Reuters for whom I work and others in the industry. I try to define use cases, articulate what I think to be the value in the market and understand how all of these products are shaping the future of both the practice and business of law. And more often than I should, wonder if Mike Ross and/or Pearson Hardman use Practical Law checklists, Neota Logic solutions or Handshake software for example. It would make sense to me that a non-lawyer pretending to be a lawyer would use these or similar tools and we never actually see Mike doing anything other than research in very traditional ways. More to the point it occurs to me very often, that regardless of where you sit on the “robots are coming for the legal profession” continuum whether you think it is happening tomorrow or never – you can’t ignore that in the face of wanting (or being forced) to increase practice efficiency, the industry has created tools that are so sophisticated that someone without a law degree might be able to practice law. Would not having a law degree count as a form of “artificial intelligence” in the practice of law? Assuming you were able to actually get away with it in real life for as long a period as it seems Mike Ross can.
We know that in most jurisdictions, there is still a ban on non-lawyer ownership of firms and we know that para-professionals are doing more and more for clients who require legal services. Alternative providers are disrupting the industry and incremental change is happening everyday. I firmly believe there won’t be a big bang but a slow and steady change to the way law is practiced and how the services are bought and sold. If I have learned anything reading this blog, it is that the legal industry is experiencing its industrial revolution moment in every possible way.
I haven’t watched all six or seven seasons of Suits yet, so please don’t spoil it for me, but the question of who could practice and provide legal advice always seemed sacred to me, a (qualified) lawyer had to over-see the robots, go to court, and be sworn in as a judge, but maybe that too will change? Could fiction become reality?