The father-and-son authors of The Future of the Professions predicted radical change in the sector.
But the tense skepticism in the room dissipated as each
senior partner or director quietly acknowledged he or she would be a
survivor, even if algorithms and artificial intelligence swept away
the consultant or solicitor in the next seat.
This cohort may well reach retirement unscathed — and without
much incentive to alter how they work.
As Richard Susskind said
afterwards, “it’s hard to convince a room full of millionaires
that they have got their model wrong”.
But change is coming. The
main difference of opinion is over its pace and extent.
You can already ask Kim, a legal “virtual assistant” launched
by Riverview Law, for help managing your caseload, or get Ross, IBM
Watson’s “super intelligent attorney”, to research the entire
body of law in seconds.
A report by The Law
Society, the trade body for solicitors in England and Wales, expects
the impact of this type of automation to level off by 2020.
Take financial journalism. Three years is typically spent as a trainee
building confidence and skill by churning out news about corporate
This is precisely the type of report that, quite rightly,
Associated Press now produces automatically, in partnership with a
company called — ominously for all columnists — Automated
Another parallel is aviation, where crashes often trigger fears
that autopilots are undermining human skills.
Interviewed last year
about the 2009 Air France crash, Delmar Fadden, Boeing’s former
chief of cockpit technology, told Vanity Fair that, having automated
98 per cent of pilots’ routine work, “we really worry about the
tasks we ask them to do just occasionally”.
The answer is not to halt the march of the robots. Indeed,
technology is part of the solution.
Novice astronauts are not trained
by sending them on repeated costly moonshots.
They practice the tasks
and challenges they will face in carefully designed simulations,
until they are finally ready for the launch pad.
As Prof Susskind points out, law students at the University of
Strathclyde play out real-world legal problems in a fictional virtual
community called “Ardcalloch”.
Knowledge can be imparted in other ways, including simply by
working closely, apprentice-style, with senior colleagues.
Most will value the guidance received as a beginner from experienced editors
and writers but no longer are they needed to write five similar
corporate earnings stories a day to achieve mastery.
acquire specific skills through working, under close supervision, on
a sample of the basic tasks they once spent years slogging through.
We are living in a different age and sooner or later this age will cause serious and unanticipated implications for everyone.