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Artificial Intelligence

Why AI isn’t the zombie apocalypse ​for legal professionals

Chris O’Leary  

· 6 minute read

Chris O’Leary  

· 6 minute read

Discover the latest insights around AI for legal professionals in new, "Future of Professionals Report"

The rapid rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is something legal professionals are keenly aware of. Will AI take my job? Will it slash my earnings potential? Will AI affect my future career prospects as a lawyer? Will it reduce advancement opportunities for junior lawyers? What will my industry even look like a decade from now? 

The latter question was posed in a survey to participants in a new Thomson Reuters report, Future of Professionals Report: How AI is the Catalyst for Transforming Every Aspect of Work. Respondents were asked how they would feel if a time traveler from 2033 appeared to tell them that AI had become ubiquitous within their profession. 

Naturally, there was concern: one in ten compared the scenario to a “zombie apocalypse.” But interestingly, more respondents said that the scenario was akin to winning the lottery. The most common position was “cautiously positive.” 

Being cautiously positive is a good attitude for lawyers to take when assessing AI’s future impact. More than two-thirds of professionals surveyed (67%) by Thomson Reuters predicted that the emergence of generative AI will either be a transformational or a high-impact change to their industries over the next five years. 

With such transformation comes opportunity—potentially great opportunity. Consider AI as a means to better employ your skills and talents as a lawyer, and to improve your prospects at your law firm. If AI eliminates much time-consuming work that’s been an inescapable part of the legal industry, lawyers can shine brighter than ever before. 


Future of Professionals Report: How AI is the catalyst for transforming every aspect of work Future of Professionals Report

1,200 professionals were surveyed across North America, South America and the UK. Read what they predict will be the biggest impacts on their businesses in the next five years.

Read report


What does the growth or job outlook for lawyers look like?

There are many positive scenarios following the mass adoption of AI in the legal industry, including: 

Honing your skills 

Instead of regarding AI as a threat, lawyers should consider its potential as a liberator. With AI able to quickly conduct large-scale data analysis, perform legal administrative duties, and analyze and summarize documents used in due diligence, a lawyer is freed from time-consuming and nonremunerative (indeed, often non-billable) work. Lawyers instead can turn their focus to expanding their billable workload. 

Many law firms lose revenue in write-offs due to inefficiencies within their practice. A savvy lawyer could use AI to recapture revenue for their firm, helping to reduce a firm’s cost centers, and finding ways to add value to existing client relationships. 

The latter could be as simple as upgrading client/lawyer communications, for example. After all, many lawyers find it much easier to revise a document than to write one from scratch. Now they don’t have to. Using AI to generate a host of templates and standardized documents, a lawyer quickly chooses one (selecting a level of readability, whether layman or professional), then revises and personalizes it. This eliminates the “first draft” phase and quickly gets the document into a client’s hands.  


New paths for legal careers 

AI will open up new career horizons in the legal industry and alter current career trajectories. 

The implications for junior lawyers are immense. Mass AI usage may shift the bulk of more remedial tasks from professionals who have education/professional credentials (JDs, CPAs, etc.) to employees who don’t have professional licensure.  

As the Thomson Reuters report notes, “As automation and AI solutions make completing traditional legal tasks easier, it could become more appropriate for such tasks to be completed by a paralegal or more junior professional. Using this tactic at scale could potentially increase the profit margin, enabling alternative and cheaper ways of becoming a fee-generator in the firm.” 

This opens opportunities for entry-level legal professionals to find niches within their law firm, whether as a legal tech consultant or a junior lawyer charged with supervising AI systems conducting billing, for example. It also means that advancing within a law firm may be less of a step-by-step trudge upward, with many repetitive workloads. Instead, advancement may become a flexible, client-centered process, one that better rewards initiative by junior lawyers. 


The birth of new jobs 

AI is likely to create a host of new legal jobs, as firms will need lawyers to specialize in AI in numerous ways. These include training, consultation, and keeping AI in compliance with state, federal, and global regulations, all of which may be in flux for years to come. 

  • AI intermediaries: One area with growth potential is a freelance model in which professionals with specialized expertise (such as in fintech) advise both in-house and private practice clients on AI issues. 
  • Cross-border regulatory advisors: Many new roles will be needed at the multinational or international organizational level. Firms will need lawyers responsible for harmonizing the AI regulatory landscape across various jurisdictions.
  • Next-generation staff managers: As AI evolves within law firms, the nature of management will change. There could be even more remote employees and the growth of subgroups within a law firm (the “firm within a firm” model) that specialize in particular client types. Having skilled, flexible supervisors who are able to keep track of all these moving parts will be essential. 
  • Training and development advisory: A large area of consensus in the Thomson Reuters report is the importance of AI training. Almost 90% of professionals surveyed said they expected to see mandatory AI training for all employees over the next five years. And over two-thirds surveyed said they expect changes in how junior professionals are trained to incorporate AI, starting at the university level. Such transformation will require a large pool of advisors and instructors.


AI: Changing the outlook 

So, how will AI affect your prospects as a lawyer? You will need to come up with your own action plans for the next few years. Look to capitalize on growth opportunities and try to minimize any professional limitations. 

Let’s safely predict that the 2030s won’t be a zombie apocalypse. But the world will be different. If you believe that legal work won’t be greatly transformed, your prospects in the industry will dim. 

As the report notes, “generative AI will not replace highly trained lawyers and accountants, but a lawyer or accountant using generative AI will certainly replace one who isn’t using the technology.” It’s simple enough advice: don’t be among the latter. 

Read the full report, “Future of Professionals: How AI is the catalyst for transforming every aspect of work.”



Chris O’Leary is a freelance writer and editor based in western Massachusetts. He is the managing editor of Thomson Reuters “The M&A Lawyer” and “Wall Street Lawyer,” and
is also the author of two books on popular music.

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