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Why AI Can’t Replace Lawyers

The Irreplaceable Human Touch Dire forecasts that AI will put lawyers out of a job are not hard to find. Contests pitting human attorneys against AI are all over the internet. The ones that AI wins tend to go viral. But will AI replace lawyers? I don’t understand how that’s possible. I don’t see AI […]

June 5, 2024
Why AI Can’t Replace Lawyers

The Irreplaceable Human Touch

Dire forecasts that AI will put lawyers out of a job are not hard to find. Contests pitting human attorneys against AI are all over the internet. The ones that AI wins tend to go viral.

But will AI replace lawyers? I don’t understand how that’s possible. I don’t see AI ever replacing higher-function legal work. There is a human and emotional interface between the law and people’s lives that is not necessarily apparent to a computer.

AI certainly has potential to make some basic services, such as wills, trusts, and uncomplicated divorces, more accessible to people who can’t afford them, and I hope that happens. AI also will help answer technical questions about the law, such as listing employment laws and rules that apply in a particular zip code. I wouldn’t place 100% trust in that list yet, but eventually the makers of AI are going to nail it.

However, what most people want from an attorney is a viewpoint. What do you think? What would you do? There’s a human twist involved that can’t be achieved by AI. Bots trained on the internet are certain to get some of the nuances wrong in advising and protecting the legal rights of clients.

As John Nay, a Stanford Law School expert on AI, recently explained in a white paper on the topic, training AI to make judgments that sync with our goals and values is a major hurdle. When asked to choose actions, AI inevitably fails to capture the breadth and depth of the human judgment lawyers use to navigate complicated situations. Even after training, AI has only “a coarse map of human preferred territory” that leads them to act in ways that don’t align with our values, Nay says.

When you’re facing a problem that affects your life in a major way, you need someone who can understand the law and your life and connect the facts, the emotions, and the feelings involved in that problem. In the past, I’ve done some bankruptcy work. In these cases, there is a clear legal path people or small businesses follow when they are struggling with debt. When I am walking clients down that path, I am also helping them manage what I know is going to be their reaction.

I will sit down with them and say, “OK, here’s what we’re going to do, and let’s talk in advance about how this is going to feel. I’d like to get you through this emotional arc as quickly as possible, because I know you’re going to be fine on the other side of the arc. If I let you know in advance what to expect, maybe you can get through this process more quickly.” Then I explain how the client is likely to feel, at first and at the end. My clients often tell me later, “Wow, that’s exactly how I felt when we started. And at the end, I was wondering, ‘Why did I care so much?’” When you’re sitting with a client, you pick up on nuances that are important to them in a way that they may not even understand themselves.

In other cases, the path to a resolution is clear, but when you lay it out, the client will balk and say, “I can’t do that.” And when you ask why, the client will say, “Well, that guy you’re talking about, that’s my wife’s cousin. We’ve got a Thanksgiving dinner table issue here. I just can’t do it the way you are recommending. We have to come up with something else.”

AI is not going to take the place of lawyers in situations like that. It may replace sub-par lawyers. If you’re not working hard, and if you’re not good at what you do, then you might be out of a job. But I don’t think AI is going to move fast enough to replace me. Famous last words? We’ll see.

West Coast Franchise Law

If you have any questions about franchising, please contact the experienced franchise and business law attorneys at West Coast Franchise Law today at (206) 903-0401 to discuss your situation. Nate Riordan is a 2023 Franchise and Bankruptcy Super Lawyer with over 20 years expertise helping clients achieve their business goals.