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Nancy Napier: Will we have humans or robots in law firms?

The Dallas Morning News

Two recent books, “The Rise of the Robots” by Martin Ford and “Humans Need Not Apply” by Jerry Kaplan, argue that technology and robots will eliminate much of the work we do, including work by highly educated people. We’ve heard this before. But they say it will only get worse, especially in professional fields, including the law.

As James Walton wrote in his Oct. 1 review of the two books in The Guardian, “What legal firm will pay its juniors to sift through hundreds of documents when a computer can absorb millions in a few seconds?”

So who are law firms going to look for in a new hire, especially if robots can do more of the routine work?

Dean Phil Weiser, head of the University of Colorado Law School, writes that most law firms look for candidates with the top grades and prestigious schools and consider how a person performs “over lunch.” Old school indeed. As Weiser says, most industries have moved far beyond such practices. And the good news, he says, is that some law firms are too.

Weiser cites one firm that evaluates candidates based on activities a lawyer will be doing in a job [!] rather than on just grades and schools.

In addition, some firms, like many businesses, want people who possess “the soft skills.” [My colleague Linda Clark-Santos and I call those “the hard skills” because they are so hard to build.] Skills such as empathy, working in teams and leadership are not easy to learn, especially in a university setting, but increasingly, they will distinguish the people from the robots.

Go, humans, go.

Nancy Napier is executive director of Boise State’s Centre for Creativity and Innovation. nnapier@boisestate.edu. This column appears in the Nov.18-Dec. 15, 2015, edition of the Statesman’s Business Insider magazine.

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