The number of junior lawyers, and the kinds of tasks they perform, will look vastly different as artifical intelligence makes its away into the data-rich legal industry.

That’s a key finding a report released last week from international law firm Herbert Smith Freehills which argues AI is set to shake up the profession.

It follows a 2016 prediction from The Boston Consulting Group that half of the work performed today by junior lawyers could soon be carried out by machines.

The report, Artificial Intelligence: The client perspective, compiles the views of senior clients – including general counsels, chief operating officers and strategy directors – from 22 leading international companies from a wide range of industries, including the financial, insurance, real estate and consumer goods sectors.

It highlights that machine learning and natural language processing are already impacting the legal sector. Looking to the future, the report argues AI — when implemented properly — can improve client relationships by reducing the total cost of the legal function through increased efficiencies, better risk management and better legal team performance.

“Artificial intelligence is advancing rapidly and is changing the way law firms do business, the way we interact with clients and ultimately, the way we think,” said Mark Rigotti, CEO, HSF.

“The traditional model for delivering legal services is being redefined and clients expect their law firms to deliver more value. At Herbert Smith Freehills providing legal services aligned with legal technology solutions, remains at the heart of our innovation agenda.”

As with most AI applications in professional services, the technology is being pitched as a way to augment human intelligence, freeing lawyers up to spend more time on higher value problems.

“Rather than technology replacing lawyers, it can make them more productive,” the report states.

“Clients’ demand for reassurance that an experienced senior lawyer is ultimately behind every major project is still strong. But at the same time, they are pushing back on the idea of continuing to pay for less sophisticated, manual tasks when technological solutions are available,” the report states.

The report argues there will be fewer trainees, but those in the job will spend more time with senior lawyers.

“Expectations are that going forward junior lawyers will have more time with senior lawyers to enhance their development and do more of the intellectual brain-work on a matter,” the report states.

This is likely to change the organisational structure of firms.

“AI-equipped legal providers will look differently to traditional firms, with their pyramid-shaped hierarchies. With fewer trainees performing the repetitive work now done by machine, firms may take on more of a diamond shape, with specialist employees – legal and non-legal – bulking up the middle.

“This talent pool will contribute enormously to a firm’s ability to develop alternative service offerings: legal project management, secondments and consultancy-style support to clients. Law firms might also be structured as intersecting circles, with lawyers collaborating internally within sector-specific groups that can offer a wide range of services.”

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