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The Great Disruption: How Machine Intelligence Will Transform the Role of Lawyers in the Delivery of Legal Services

26 Pages Posted: 15 May 2014 Last revised: 21 Nov 2014

Date Written: May 13, 2014

Abstract

This Article argues that machines are coming to disrupt the legal profession and that bar regulation cannot stop them. Part I describes the relentless growth of computer power in hardware, software, and data collection capacity. This Part emphasizes that machine intelligence is not a one-time event that lawyers will have to accommodate. Instead, it is an accelerating force that will invade an ever-larger territory and exercise a more firm dominion over this larger area. We then describe five areas in which machine intelligence will provide services or factors of production currently provided by lawyers: discovery, legal search, document generation, brief generation, and prediction of case outcomes. Superstars and specialists in fast changing areas of the law will prosper — and litigators and counselors will continue to profit — but the future of the journeyman lawyer is insecure. Part II discusses how these developments may create unprecedented competitive pressures in many areas of lawyering. This Part further shows that bar regulation will be unable to stop such competition. The legal ethics rules permit, and indeed where necessary for lawyers to provide competent representation, require lawyers to employ machine intelligence. Even though unauthorized practice of law statutes on their face prohibit nonlawyers’ use of machine intelligence to provide legal services to consumers, these laws have failed, and are likely to continue to fail, to limit the delivery of legal services through machine intelligence. As a result, we expect an age of unparalleled innovation in legal services and reject the view of commentators who worry that bar regulations are a significant stumbling block to technological innovation in legal practice. Indeed, in the long run, the role of machine intelligence in providing legal services will speed the erosion of lawyers’ monopoly on delivering legal services and will advantage consumers and society by making legal services more transparent and affordable.

Keywords: regulation, technology, machine intelligence, technological innovation, legal profession, lawyers, professionalism, legal ethics, professional responsibility

JEL Classification: K10, K30

Suggested Citation

McGinnis, John O. and Pearce, Russell G., The Great Disruption: How Machine Intelligence Will Transform the Role of Lawyers in the Delivery of Legal Services (May 13, 2014). 82 Fordham Law Review 3041 (2014); Northwestern Public Law Research Paper No. 14-17; Fordham Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 339387. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2436937

John McGinnis (Contact Author)

Northwestern University - Pritzker School of Law ( email )

375 E. Chicago Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-503-3235 (Phone)

Russell G. Pearce

Fordham University School of Law ( email )

140 West 62nd Street
New York, NY 10023
United States
212-636-6834 (Phone)
212-636-6899 (Fax)

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