The law's fierce resistance to change and technological advances are soon going to collide. Over the past two years, there have been advances made in natural language processing and machine learning that could take drudge work like doc review out of the purview of human workers. Companies that normally subsidized the training of BigLaw associates and the doc review industry are turning to other avenues. This is not good news for the thousands of law graduates kicked out into the real world every year.
As we've seen, law schools are willing to use any of the tools at their disposal to lure students through the doors. They tout income based repayment (IBR) as a "back door scholarship". IBR is seen as a panacea by schools, albeit one with a ticking time bomb attached. A new graduate trying to go solo won’t even begin to make a dent in the loans. Look closer at IBR. You are eligible only if you make below a certain amount of money. The fact that so many students are eligible speaks to how much of a mismatch there is between the cost of a legal education and the earning potential offered to law graduates. Schools don’t want people to know that law grads’ income are a bifurcated curve. You’re either a solo or at a midsize firm making barely enough to pay your debt or you’re earning $180k at a Biglaw firm. There's not a lot of middle ground.
Fortune 500 corporations have no interest in subsidizing inefficiency. Law schools famously don't teach students how to actually be lawyers. Firms are expected to teach new associates these skills. The practice ready curriculums some lower ranked schools are trumpeting is too little too late. This training by BogLaw is done on the client’s dime. With the advances in automation, the days of junior associates reviewing documents is close to done. Clients have no interest in bankrolling the creation of new lawyers. It was simply a cost of doing business in the past. The legal profession, filled with people who are allegedly experts in assessing risk, remained blind to the threat posed by automation. As corporations cut and contain costs, there will be less money for the Biglaw firms. What this means is that it makes sense for Biglaw firms to hire only the best. Automate the rest.
There are then two ways the industry can go. Firms have to rethink their value propositions. This likely won’t happen because the legal industry isn’t known for encouraging innovation. The other solution is to do more with fewer people, which is the general trend in the American workforce. Law schools have no interest in reducing student populations. The schools outside of the HYS holy trinity will continue reducing standards to keep the money flowing in. This intrasigence means the market will make the decision for the legal industry and law firms. We’ll get tons of thinkpieces and articles from the legal academic complex. And then change will occur because the current model is unsustainable. We just have to have to pop some popcorn, wait and watch the show.