It seems as though the legal industry is on the cusp of a new era. Firms everywhere are discovering that computer software like robotic process automation can dramatically change their day-to-day work. It’s not exactly recent (there are a slew of articles online from as far back as 2011), but what has changed is the technology – especially RPA.
The cultural idea of a lawyer, shaped by crime drama television as much as anything, is a passionate orator who explains to a jury why their client has been wronged. In reality, lawyers spend much of their time with paperwork and research. The amount of information a firm has to go through for a case has only gotten worse in recent years – this is the Information Age, after all, where we can’t even hope to keep up with our own content creation. In order to sift through all of this information (both born-digital and scanned from paper), lawyers have been using e-discovery tools. A computer program scans thousands of documents for evidence and possible points of interest.
Think of RPA as a more flexible e-discovery tool. Software robots can certainly be trained to follow the clear rules of “flag any mention of X”, but that’s just the beginning. Any process with well-defined rules can be automated with RPA. If a firm has been building an in-house database of cases or has access to a similar database, RPA can act as a super-smart consultant by finding past cases similar to a present one. It’s conceivable that one day, legal robots will be able to scan every legal suit ever tried and advise clients on the likely outcome of their own case.
Alas, RPA is not that magical software. It can perform any action that a human can do at their computer, but it’s best to leave the critical thinking tasks to the humans. Some law firms are also using software to draw up contracts or take people through the steps of incorporating their start-up. If those processes are rule-based and create few exceptions, let RPA handle them as well. Or perhaps you’re looking for software that can organize a huge chunk of unstructured data on its own. All of these different processes could be handled through RPA and rolled into one service.
In whatever form it takes, automation is coming for the legal field. Just like in the corporate world, this may mean fewer jobs available for the lawyers of tomorrow. It will be a time of tough transition, but in the process, automation could make legal counsel more affordable to everybody. Time will tell.
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