We assess frequently-advanced arguments that automation will soon replace much of the work currently performed by lawyers. Our assessment addresses three core weaknesses in the existing literature: (i) a failure to engage with technical details to appreciate the capacities and limits of existing and emerging software; (ii) an absence of data on how lawyers divide their time among various tasks, only some of which can be automated; and (iii) inadequate consideration of whether algorithmic performance of a task conforms to the values, ideals and challenges of the legal profession.
Combining a detailed technical analysis with a unique data set on time allocation in large law firms, we estimate that automation has an impact on the demand for lawyers’ time that while measureable, is far less significant than popular accounts suggest. We then argue that the existing literature’s narrow focus on employment effects should be broadened to include the many ways in which computers are changing (as opposed to replacing) the work of lawyers. We show that the relevant evaluative and normative inquiries must begin with the ways in which computers perform various lawyering tasks differently than humans. These differences inform the desirability of automating various aspects of legal practice, while also shedding light on the core values of legal professionalism.