Lawyers Won’t Be Replaced by Robots, but Everyone Else Will


Many professions, including those in the legal field, are at risk of being replaced by robots. A recent article in the Washington Post shows the probability of different jobs getting computerized using a series of metrics that includes things like finger dexterity, social perceptiveness, and “fine arts.” The article is based on this 2013 research paper from the University of Oxford which details how researchers created an algorithm to predict the likelihood of a profession being replaced by robots.

If you work in the legal field, for example, you have the following likelihood of being replaced by robots:

  • Lawyers: 3.46%
  • Judges: 40.12%
  • Judicial Law Clerks: 40.88%
  • Court Reporters: 50.17%
  • Paralegals and Legal Assistants: 94.46%

So good news, lawyers: you have a very low likelihood of one day being replaced by a Terminator-litigator. Bad news for paralegals and legal assistants, however, since it seems almost certain that robots will stop at nothing to infiltrate every law office and replace them.

It’s surprising how (relatively) high the likelihood is for judges and judicial law clerks. Diving into the actual paper reveals that the authors believe many decision-making roles that require impartiality could benefit from “impartial algorithmic solutions.” In other words, even though judges are supposed to be impartial they all carry underlying biases, such as a tendency to give a lighter sentence after a long lunch break. Robo-judges would not carry those same biases since they eat no food, require no lunch break, and would consistently sentence the guilty with the cold, emotionless efficiency about which futurists can only dream.

The likelihood for court reporters of 50.17% seems drastically low. Voice-recognition software gets better and better by the day. Soon the only impediments to fully automated court reporting will be the requirements that a deponent be sworn by an impartial human and that the transcript be verified. But paralegals should not hang it up just yet. Considering that many clients let law firms bill them for paralegal time, law firms are not going to replace them with robots voluntarily, unless their clients start paying them for robot-time.

Do you worry about being replaced by a robot, or secretly wish that you could be replaced by a robot? Tell us in the comments.

Featured image: “Businessman robot portrait automation concept” from Shutterstock.


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  • Mario

    I can’t decide whether you (Sam Harden) wrote this in jest, half seriously and half tongue in cheek.

    There is a sensationalistic and pseudoapocalyptic undercurrent in your writing, though. Yawn.

    How paradoxical that the research paper used an algorithm to make its point. Perhaps the researchers are robots?

    I wish I could thank you for adding to an intelligent conversation on the subject of robotization of diverse professions. Alas, I can’t.

    • Bruce

      Take your meds. Now.

  • joemarkowitz

    3.46 percent seems low. I think automation has already put that many lawyers out of work.

    • Sam Harden

      Also the paper that this is based off of doesn’t seem to take trade protectionism and guilds into effect. Honestly I think that’s the biggest hurdle.