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How A.I. and outsourcing affect the legal profession

Nancy Napier
Nancy Napier Provided by Boise State University

Years ago, when I was looking for a good research topic, I investigated outsourcing and in-sourcing. I was astounded to learn hospitals in the U.S. sent X-rays to radiologists in India overnight and received results the next day; tax returns could be completed by accountants in India as well.

What would that mean for future jobs?

Now lawyers may be asking that question. In the last decade, technology and legal process outsourcing has transformed parts of the profession.

By sending some of the in-house work done by attorneys and paralegals to domestic and international law firms, a company can save money, increase flexibility, and gain access to specific talent. India is currently the largest LPO destination.

For example, the cost of outsourcing some practices to India could save a firm 30-to 70-percent on its legal fees. Also, like those radiologists, by sending documents to India, which has a 12 hours time differential, a U.S. firm gains work time while its employees are sleeping.

In addition, especially smaller law firms can scale up or down when they use contracted services, avoiding costly staff additions that they may not continue to need. Finally, given cases may demand specific knowledge or talent that a smaller firm may not have on hand. Outsourcing allows for filling those gaps.

Now, along comes the notion of algorithms.

Beware if you’re in a profession that is high on data processing or coming up with “yes-no” decisions. A 2013 study on the future of employment suggests that paralegals (and many other types of positions) are in jeopardy but lawyers who have to assess multiple perspectives on complex cases will be safe(r).

What does this mean? If you want security, find jobs and careers that demand emotional intelligence, communication skills, or making ethical decisions.

Perhaps all of us should consider how artificial intelligence and technology might make us irrelevant. Who knows, maybe someday, pre-recorded holograms of professors could mean we eliminate classrooms and never need to see students face to face.

Nancy Napier is distinguished professor in the College of Business and Economics at Boise State University.