Will artificial intelligence put legal graduates out of work?

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The experts at The University of Law explain how law students could use AI tools to their advantage

The rise of artificial intelligence (AI) is a huge topic at the moment, with many raising concerns about its impact on future employment across multiple industries – including the legal sector. As AI grows more advanced, some have even questioned whether it could eventually replace human workers altogether.

Paul Sant, head of computer science at The University of Law, explains why law graduates don’t need to worry about AI taking over their jobs, and shares how they can leverage AI tools to enhance their employability.

AI is already being used

To understand how AI could affect legal graduates in the future, it’s helpful to start with its current uses.

“Many law firms are already using AI to help automate e-Discovery, which is the process of searching/scanning to obtain non-privileged information relevant to a case. They are also using it for AI-informed legal research, allowing quick scanning of legal databases and statutes to find relevant supporting information,” Paul says.

Additionally, Paul continues, it can help with “automation to allow tagging of documents for quicker searches or identifying a document as part of a particular category, for example. More recently, it’s also been used in the area of smart contracts where contracts can be generated by software.”

Even in these areas, though, AI can’t be left completely to its own devices. Paul explains: “it’s worth remembering that a key aspect here is making sure the correct legal knowledge is available, requiring expert legal input!”

How could AI affect legal graduates?

If you’re worried that AI is going to reduce the demand for legal graduates, Paul has some words of reassurance. 

“Like every new development, it is natural to be concerned. However, what legal graduates need to grasp is how to drive tools and add these to their skillset,” Paul says. 

“Rather than AI replacing everything in the legal profession, it is a supportive tool. Knowing how to use it and receiving training about it is going to become an important aspect introduced in their studies,” Paul continues. 

This doesn’t mean you’ll need to be building your own AI models, Paul clarifies, but it will be useful to know how to use the existing tools. 

“There is no expectation that a trainee lawyer or law graduate is going to have to build these systems, but knowing how the tools work, and providing input to them (they are the legal experts after all) is what really matters and there will be plenty of help and support for them along the way,” comments Paul. 

All this means that legal graduates could actually turn AI to their advantage, and stand out in the job market by developing an understanding of how to use the tools. 

“There will be increasing demand for graduates who are aware of, and can make use of, artificial intelligence to help support activities and to gain insights or perform analysis,” Paul explains

“There will therefore be an increase in demand for experts with technical and legal skills (indeed, legal engineers are currently in demand), so there will be jobs growth, requiring both traditional skills expected of lawyers, as well as an ability to use or learn AI-literacy as part of their role,” says Paul. 

Developing AI skills

For anyone interested in enhancing their proficiency in AI tools, Paul runs through a few of the skills that could be most in demand. 

“AI-literacy will be a key development. This expands upon general digital literacy – the ability to use standard tools such as word processing, spreadsheets, databases and email – into the area of being able to develop effective ‘prompts’, which AI systems use to refine the information you have asked for,” Paul comments. 

This means that it’s worth developing “an understanding of ‘prompt engineering’ and an understanding that prompts may need to be refined and adapted to ensure the most accurate and relevant information can be retrieved,” says Paul. 

It’s also expected to become more common for AI to play a role in certain cases – so knowledge of the topic in general could be a useful legal specialism. 

“There is likely to be an increase in the number of cases (especially, for example, in relation to intellectual property) where a lawyer may need to provide a case where AI is involved. Having a high-level understanding of how these systems work will help a technology lawyer build their case in the best way possible,” explains Paul.

The future of AI

While AI will play a role in the legal industry’s future, it’s important to remember that its purpose is to act as a tool for lawyers to use – not to replace them entirely. It’s not capable of original thought, after all, which will always form a key part of legal practice.

“AI offers many opportunities, but it is important to know when and how to use it, or even when to be able to say that AI is not appropriate,” says Paul.

“The future is bright, and the main changes will be around the tools used to find information. The key aspects of the law have existed for centuries, and will remain important in future roles. AI is here to support, not replace, human lawyers,” Paul finishes. 

Interested in learning more about AI in the legal sector? The University of Law offers a range of courses for both law and non-law graduates, including an MSc in Computer Science and MSc in Legal Technology.

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