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Can robots be lawyers? Computers, lawyers, and the practice of law

We assess frequently advanced arguments that automation will soon replace much of the work currently performed by lawyers. In doing so, we address three weaknesses in the existing literature: (i) an insufficient understanding of current and emerging legal technologies; (ii) an absence of data on how lawyers divide their time among tasks; and (iii) inadequate attention to whether computerized approaches to a task conform to the values, ideals and challenges of the legal profession. Combining a detailed technical analysis with a unique data set on time allocation in large law firms, we estimate that automation has a measurable impact on the demand for lawyers’ time, but one that is less significant than popular accounts suggest. We then look ahead to future developments through a series of three questions. First, what is the likely path of technical innovation and diffusion in an unregulated market? Second, what are the benefits and adverse consequences of such a path? Third, to what extent can regulation reduce the adverse consequences of new technologies without reducing their benefits? Throughout the discussion, we ask how computers are changing – not simply replacing – the work of lawyers.