Legal Tech and the Luddite Fallacy

An examination of the fallacy behind the application of AI in the legal profession

Ed Note: Ajayi is one of the new writers at the Last Futurist acutely interested in the area of Artificial Intelligence and Law. We asked him if he wanted to write about that intersection. This is his article.

The application of Artificial Intelligence in the legal profession is inescapable, with the way the world is living. Artificial intelligence is the engine of the fourth industrial revolution and is set to shake up society as we know it, from economics and the law, and invariably no sector is immune.

Despite this contention, the legal profession faces some vital challenges. One of those challenges is technological unemployment which is largely attributed to the Luddite legacy. Surprisingly, the problem of technological unemployment has been a constant concern in the history of tech-law. The English craftsmen introduced the Luddite movement during the industrial revolution.

This legacy of the Luddite continues to persist, and it is used to describe those that appear to resist or are ambivalent to technological change. The Luddites’ great culminating fear throughout history has been centered in the notion that technologically advanced machines, left unchecked, will come to dominate production and replace workers, that eventually and inevitably no human being (or an extreme few of us) will be employed doing work, and that this lack of employment will result in economic decline and dystopia.

This legacy has also been lent credibility by some groups of economists. Lawrence Summers voiced concerns that, in a wave of recent technological advancements and software-driven automation, more sectors are destroying jobs than gaining them, and so the general-purpose nature of software technology means that even the industries and jobs it produces aren’t permanent…if current trends continue, it could mean that a generation from now a quarter of middle-aged men will be out of work at any given moment”


The legal profession has occasionally been depicted with this Luddite label. Its reticence to dust off the web of resistance and adopt the new change has been largely attributed to the Luddite fallacy. However all these opinions and assertions are predicated on fallacies.

Technology is playing a central role in the transformation of the legal profession. Aside from heavily used back-office systems (especially e-mail, accounting, and word processing), and well-established legal research tools (such as Westlaw and LexisNexis), a variety of emerging systems are systematizing and sometimes changing the way lawyers work. One key category of this system computerizes the production of legal documents.

These “documents assembly systems”-built using tools like ContractExpress and Exari can generate high-quality documents after consultations with users. Other documents services which hold an open collection of legal agreements like Docracy are also available.

Legal help is also available online. Legislation and case law can be accessed at no cost in many jurisdictions. Commercially available online services, such as LegalZoom and Rocket Lawyer, are also taking hold, while there are a few more sophisticated diagnostic expert systems which tackle highly complex, multi-jurisdictional questions and can outperform the best specialists–for instance, the international law firm of Allen & Ovary had a suite of these services, while much newer legal businesses such as Neota Logic are delivering systems that model complex rules and reasoning processes.

In preparation for litigation, intelligent search systems can now outperform junior lawyers and paralegals in reviewing large sets of documents and selecting the most relevant, while Big Data techniques are underpinning systems that are better than expert litigators in predicting the results of court decisions.

Fundamental challenges in light of this present pandemic are being addressed by legal technologists through virtual courts, alternatives such as ODR, where the process of resolving the dispute is conducted across the internet.

We also have the development of online legal communities like Legal OnRamp, which provide an avenue for lawyers to contribute and share their practical experience of resolving legal problems. In the long run, increasing the use of technology will present new opportunities for professionals and give rise to new ways of sharing practical expertise rather than exposing the legal profession to threats.

The threat will majorly be focusing on dismantling the traditional profession, leaving most (but not all) professionals to be replaced by less expert people and high-performing systems. So what should lawyers be doing to mitigate these risks? In short, adapting and taking advantage of new opportunities. Here are the things lawyers could be doing to add value and stay relevant.

Firstly, lawyers need to work with new technologies. Existing and new clients have to prepare for a new digital and innovation-driven economy. They want to get a better idea of how their businesses can benefit from Blockchain, Smart Contracts, and algorithms.

To improve the lawyer to client relationship would involve being tech-savvy. Secondly, lawyers need to come up with “smart” solutions. As technologies present some advantages, there are challenges that we should not ignore.

We need to be smart about digital technologies. To come up with the best possible solutions, lawyers and other consultants need to have a detailed and accurate understanding of the new technologies to play a role in identifying such solutions. Lastly, lawyers must learn to work together with designers and technologies.

We strongly believe that proactive and tech-savvy lawyers can play a crucial role in the further development of the digital economy.

The fear revolving around the Luddite fallacy is what the economists call the “lump of labour” fallacy, that there is a finite amount of work to go around, that the more work is accomplished by machines, the less work is to be done by humans, and that this process will eventually culminate in a massive wave of unemployment and poverty.

Conversely, we should be concerned about social or political restrictions on technological advancements imposed by egalitarians who argue that the economic standard of living of the great majority should be subjugated to the egalitarian’s own particular philosophy of a more equitable system.

When lawyers take the risk factors seriously and acknowledge that AI is a present-day issue rather than a future one, the choice of whether to be the kind of lawyer that competes with machines or the type of lawyer who benefits from them is evident.

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