How will artificial intelligence (“AI”) and associated digital technologies reshape the work of lawyers and structure of law firms? Legal services are traditionally provided by highly-skilled humans—that is, lawyers. Dramatic recent progress in AI has triggered speculation about the extent to which automated systems may come to replace humans in legal services. A related debate is whether the legal profession’s adherence to the partnership form inhibits capital-raising necessary to invest in new technology. This Article presents what is to our knowledge the most comprehensive empirical study yet conducted into the implementation of AI in legal services, encompassing interview-based case studies and survey data. We focus on two inter-related issues: how the nature of legal services work will change, and how the firms that co-ordinate this work will be organized. A central theme is that prior debate focusing on the “human vs technology” aspect of change overlooks the way in which technology is transforming the human dimensions of legal services.
Our analysis of the impact of AI on legal services work suggests that while it will replace humans in some tasks, it will also change the work of those who are not replaced. It will augment the capabilities of human lawyers who use AI-enabled services as inputs to their work and generate new roles for legal experts in producing these AI-enabled services. We document these new roles being clustered in multidisciplinary teams (“MDTs”) that mix legal with a range of other disciplinary inputs to augment the operation of technical systems. We identify challenges for traditional law firm partnerships in implementing AI. Contrary to prior debate, these do not flow from constraints on finance to invest in technical assets. Rather, the central problems have to do with human capital: making necessary strategic decisions; recruiting, coordination and motivation the necessary MDTs; and adjusting professional boundaries. These findings have important implications for lawyers, law firms and the legal profession.
a. Professor of Law and Finance, Faculty of Law, University of Oxford. Fellow of the British Academy and the European Corporate Governance Institute.
b. Research Fellow, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.
c. Professor of Management Studies, Saïd Business School, University of Oxford.
This research is funded by UKRI pursuant to the Next Generation Services Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund. It forms part of the program Unlocking the Potential of AI in English Law: https://www.law.ox.ac.uk/unlocking-potential-artificial-intelligence-english-law. We are grateful for comments on earlier drafts from David Brock, Edward Greene, James Faulconbridge, Jens Frankenreiter, Talia Gillis, Simon Gleeson, Victor Goldberg, Jeff Gordon, Bruce Kogut, Martin Korman, Matthew Jennejohn, Frank Levy, Amir Licht, Josh Mitts, John Morley, Alex Raskolnikov, Richard Susskind, and Eric Talley. This paper has also benefited from feedback received at a Columbia Law School Blue Sky Workshop, a Business Law Workshop at Oxford University, Linklaters LLP, Northwestern University Kellogg Business School, the Oxford Saïd Business School Annual Conference on Professional Services Firms 2020, the Annual Conference of the Society for the Advancement of Socio-Economics (SASE) 2020, Slaughter and May, an ECGI Spotlight Seminar and a Yale Law School Center for the Study of Corporate Law Roundtable.
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