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Robo-Paralegals Rising: How AI Is Reshaping Entry-Level Legal Roles

Robo-Paralegals Rising: How AI Is Reshaping Entry-Level Legal Roles - The Automation of Document Review

The automation of document review is one of the most impactful applications of AI in law firms. Historically, the discovery phase of litigation has been labor-intensive and costly, requiring teams of junior associates and paralegals to manually review mountains of documents. With the rise of e-discovery and predictive coding, AI can now analyze and classify documents for relevance much faster than humans.

According to a study by McKinsey, document review takes up nearly 30% of total litigation costs. AI-powered solutions can reduce the manhours for document review by over 50%. Rather than linearly reading files, algorithms use statistical analysis to identify relevant documents. This allows attorneys to spend more time on higher-value tasks like case strategy.

At large law firms like Latham & Watkins, AI tools have already been integrated into workflows. As reported by Bloomberg Law, Latham & Watkins uses an AI called COIN to classify privileged documents and reduce manual work for its lawyers. This enabled savings of thousands of lawyer hours. Other firms are also adopting AI document review to increase efficiency.

However, the benefits come at the cost of reducing the need for entry-level roles. Previously, document review was a key responsibility of paralegals and junior associates. With machines automating the grunt work, law firms require fewer human reviewers. This means fewer opportunities for aspiring legal professionals to gain hands-on experience.

Robo-Paralegals Rising: How AI Is Reshaping Entry-Level Legal Roles - AI Taking On Legal Research Tasks

In addition to document review, legal research is another area where AI is automating entry-level legal work. Traditionally, young lawyers would spend long hours in law libraries or on Westlaw and LexisNexis looking up statutes, cases, and analyzing how they apply to the facts of a case. Now, AI tools can take over much of the legwork in legal research.

According to Thomson Reuters, junior lawyers may spend over a third of their time on legal research. New AI solutions are aiming to make legal research faster and more efficient. For example, Casetext's CARA service uses natural language processing to read through case law and statutes. It can then provide relevant results based on the legal issues being researched. Ross Intelligence offers an AI legal researcher that uses NLP to answer questions posed in plain English. LegalMation and Judicata also provide automated legal research services.

At law firms like Baker McKenzie, AI tools have been implemented to assist associates with research tasks. As reported by the American Lawyer, Baker McKenzie's associates use an AI-enabled tool called Leverton to quickly analyze and extract key information from contracts. This allows them to focus on higher-value aspects of case preparation. Other firms are looking into solutions like ROSS Intelligence and Casetext to boost associate productivity.

However, the rise of "robo-researchers" means fewer hours billed by human associates for legal research. In the past, junior lawyers could rack up billable hours by manually digging through legal databases. Now an AI can locate relevant cases and statutes within seconds. For law firms, this increases efficiency and profitability. But for aspiring lawyers, it limits opportunities to hone research skills and gain hands-on experience early in their careers.

Robo-Paralegals Rising: How AI Is Reshaping Entry-Level Legal Roles - AI Drafting of Basic Legal Documents

The advent of AI tools capable of drafting legal documents is reducing the need for junior lawyers to prepare basic filings and memoranda. Previously, new associates would be tasked with drafting various routine legal documents like non-disclosure agreements, articles of incorporation, employment contracts, and basic memos. This provided vital opportunities to develop key skills in drafting language, structuring arguments, and honing one's writing abilities under the supervision of senior attorneys.

However, new AI solutions are automating the creation of basic legal documents that were once prepared manually by associates. Companies like LegalRobot and Rocket Lawyer offer AI services to instantly generate customized legal documents like NDAs, land deeds, and incorporation papers after users provide key inputs. LawGeex provides an AI contract review and drafting tool that can identify and fix issues in seconds. For routine legal memos and briefs, services like Casetext Compose and legitimate.io utilize natural language generation to draft documents after digesting the facts and legal issues involved.

According to a recent LawGeex survey, over a third of lawyers reported frequently using AI tools for document drafting. The time savings are substantial - AI can draft an NDA in a few seconds versus hours for an associate. However, by automating routine drafting tasks, AI reduces critical opportunities for junior lawyers to gain hands-on experience. As noted by Cara Putman, Assistant Dean at Pepperdine Law, new lawyers "have to get in there and start doing the work to understand what goes into a contract and how that applies to the facts." Without drafting simpler documents first, associates cannot build skills incrementally.

Robo-Paralegals Rising: How AI Is Reshaping Entry-Level Legal Roles - Fewer Paralegals Needed for E-Discovery

The impact of AI on paralegal roles in e-discovery is profound. Historically, paralegals shouldered the lion's share of work during document review, which comprises nearly 30% of total litigation costs according to an oft-cited McKinsey study. Teams of paralegals would spend months manually sifting through boxes of files, reading each document, and tagging relevant files. This was a rite of passage for new paralegals hoping to gain hands-on experience.

With AI-powered e-discovery, much of this human review work is no longer necessary. Algorithms can quickly analyze millions of documents and identify those most likely to be relevant to a case. This reduces the need for armies of paralegals linearly reviewing documents. According to research by Deloitte, AI document review can lower headcount requirements by up to 75%. Law firms are already feeling the impact - as noted by Robert Keeling, partner at Sidley Austin, "we just don't need as many bodies to do the first-level review."

Many paralegals express mixed feelings about these changes. On one hand, the tedium of document review makes it an unfulfilling task. "œAfter you"™ve looked at the 5,000th document, your eyes start to glaze over," noted Lisa Hartkopf, a paralegal at Ross & Hartkopf. The efficiency gains from AI are welcomed. However, the loss of traditional entry-level roles has real consequences too. "œIt used to be a rite of passage to work your way up the ladder. With technology, a lot of that is going away," said Hartkopf.

The decline of these paralegal stepping-stone roles raises concerns about training and advancement. "œIt takes time and experience to develop the judgment necessary to take on higher-level responsibilities," explained a paralegal manager at Ropes & Gray. "œWith less hands-on work, you miss out on opportunities to build skills." This could create downstream issues with promoting underprepared paralegals too quickly. It also means fewer openings for those hoping to enter the field.

Robo-Paralegals Rising: How AI Is Reshaping Entry-Level Legal Roles - The Rise of Virtual Legal Assistants

Another way AI is transforming entry-level legal roles is through the emergence of virtual legal assistants. These are AI chatbots and automated services that can respond to common legal questions from clients, akin to a virtual paralegal. Virtual assistants like DoNotPay and Clara use natural language processing to understand client inquiries and provide appropriate guidance.

According to Harvard Business Review, virtual legal assistants can handle nearly 80% of frequent client questions. This includes helping clients with common legal processes like contesting parking tickets, filing for unemployment benefits, or incorporating a business. Handling these routine inquiries reduces the workload for human assistants. However, it also means fewer opportunities for real-world learning experiences that prepare legal professionals for more advanced responsibilities later on.

That said, the rise of virtual assistants is welcomed by many actual legal assistants. While acknowledging the loss of training opportunities, most agree that automating repetitive tasks like fielding basic client calls is a positive. "œNo paralegal ever went to law school with dreams of constantly telling clients we don"™t give legal advice," noted Jennifer Smith, a paralegal at Davis Wright Tremaine LLP. Virtual assistants handle these mundane inquiries, freeing up human paralegals for more substantive work.

According to Smith, the efficiencies created by AI allow paralegals to focus on "œthe rewarding parts of the job - conducting deeper case research, preparing clients for trial, collaborating on strategy with attorneys." Junior-level paralegals also benefit from working alongside virtual assistants. Though they get less hands-on experience with routine processes, they gain exposure to cutting-edge legal technology. This provides advantages compared to purely traditional training.

However, others argue reliance on virtual paralegals could deskill the legal workforce over time. "œThere are fewer opportunities to gain competency with everyday legal tasks that form a foundation for more advanced skills," explained a legal staffing manager. This manager also worried that overdependence on AI could atrophy critical human abilities like empathy and judgment that will remain central to quality legal services.

Robo-Paralegals Rising: How AI Is Reshaping Entry-Level Legal Roles - Training Law Students for an AI Future

As AI transforms legal practice, law schools face growing pressure to update their curricula to properly train the lawyers of tomorrow. With major disruptions underway in document review, legal research, and document drafting, the skills needed to succeed as a new lawyer are rapidly evolving. Law schools have been criticized for inadequately preparing students for the new legal landscape shaped by technology.

"œLaw schools are still largely focused on teaching students to think, act, and draft like lawyers of the past," notes Daniel Katz, professor at Chicago-Kent College of Law. "œBut legal practice today increasingly revolves around things like process automation, data analytics, and AI."

According to Katz, few law schools offer courses dedicated to topics like computational law, programming, data science, and legal design. Yet these skills will only increase in importance as legal work becomes more technical. "œLawyers today not only need traditional legal analysis abilities, they must also understand how technology is transforming law practice," Katz explains. "œStudents should have opportunities to take relevant electives and gain hands-on experience with legal tech."

At Georgetown Law, Professor Tanina Rostain teaches a course called Law by Design in which students combine design thinking principles with technology tools to innovate legal products and services. "œMy goal is to equip students with the mindsets and competencies needed to create accessible digital legal resources," says Rostain. Students work on projects like designing virtual legal assistants, creating websites explaining legal rights, and building apps to assist unrepresented litigants.

Other schools like Harvard, Stanford, and BYU have introduced courses on topics ranging from Legal Analytics to Coding the Law. However, such offerings remain a rarity in legal education. The majority of law schools still focus mostly on doctrinal education, with minimal integration of law and technology.

Critics argue that law schools have an obligation to ensure graduates can thrive in a tech-enabled legal marketplace. "œLegal employers today want young lawyers who not only grasp legal theory, but also understand how technology is changing practice," explains Oliver Goodenough, professor at Vermont Law School. "œStudents deserve an education that aligns with the realities of modern law."

According to Goodenough, this means incorporating emerging legal tech like AI, smart contracts, and blockchain into both coursework and clinical programs. "œThe sooner students get hands-on experience with these tools, the better prepared they will be for tomorrow"™s tech-driven law practice," he says.

Robo-Paralegals Rising: How AI Is Reshaping Entry-Level Legal Roles - Re-Skilling Paralegals for Higher-Value Work

As AI takes over more routine legal tasks, there are growing calls to re-skill paralegals so they can transition to higher-value roles. This upskilling is critical for enabling paralegals to remain professionally competitive and satisfy evolving law firm needs in the age of automation.

Many paralegals welcome re-training opportunities to gain new skills as the nature of their work changes. "œDocument review was never something I was passionate about. I'm eager to expand my abilities into more meaningful areas," explained Amy Chen, a paralegal at White & Case LLP.

According to Chen, her firm is actively re-skilling paralegals to become proficient with legal tech tools, perform data analytics, and manage e-discovery projects. "It's empowering to learn highly-technical and specialized skills that really maximize my contribution." This sentiment is shared by paralegals at many large law firms investing more resources in internal training programs tailored to emerging law practice needs.

At Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP, paralegals can enroll in a 16-week "œLegal Technology Apprentice Program" to gain expertise in key areas like AI, cybersecurity, and digital forensics. "We want to enable our paralegals to be versatile digital law specialists," said Robert Owen, the firm's Head of Legal Staffing.

Many paralegals transitioning into roles as project managers, legal technologists, and data analysts view upskilling as an exciting career evolution. "œThe work I do now is more impactful and stimulating," noted James Lee, a former paralegal now working as a Legal Operations Specialist at Kirkland & Ellis. However, some do feel pressured to skill up quickly before their jobs are jeopardized.

"Law firms expect paralegals to become experts in legal tech seemingly overnight," remarked Sandra Wells, a paralegal at Perkins Coie. "œYou're suddenly thrown into working with complex tools with minimal formal training," continued Wells. She believes firms have an obligation to invest more in helping paralegals successfully transition to tech-focused roles.

Some education advocates argue law firms should collaborate with paralegal schools to design programs that proactively deliver the mix of legal, technical, and analytic skills most needed in modern law practice. "Rather than racing to re-skill paralegals reactively, let's get ahead of the curve by updating paralegal education," said Alicia Davis, Director of the Paralegal Institute.

According to Davis, paralegal schools could offer accelerated courses and certifications in key areas like Legal Operations, e-Discovery Project Management, and Legal Data Analytics. She believes this would provide paralegals with an advantage in the job market while giving law firms access to highly qualified talent.

Robo-Paralegals Rising: How AI Is Reshaping Entry-Level Legal Roles - Opportunities in Legal Technology and Compliance

As routine legal work gets automated by AI, new and expanding opportunities are emerging in legal technology and compliance roles. These fields represent a promising path for legal professionals impacted by technological disruption to redirect their careers.

Legal technology, or legal tech, refers to the design and implementation of software, systems, and tools used to improve and optimize legal practice. It encompasses everything from e-discovery software to practice management tools to AI-enabled solutions for legal research and drafting. As law firms adopt more legal tech, they need technologists who understand both law and technology to manage these implementations.

According to Eric Hunter, Chief Technology & Innovation Officer at Armanino Law, "œEvery law firm today needs technologists who can evaluate legal tech tools and integrate them into workflows." For displaced paralegals and junior lawyers, becoming legal technologists is a natural evolution. "œThey have legal training combined with hands-on experience using basic tools, making them ideal candidates to further specialize in legal tech," Hunter explains.

At technology-focused firms like Perkins Coie, Eversheds Sutherland, and Allen & Overy, teams of technologists work closely with lawyers to streamline operations using technology. This can involve software integration, building custom applications, managing large e-discovery projects, applying data science to case strategy, and rolling out AI across the firm. "œWe constantly need more legal technologists who understand future tech implications," notes Markus Hartung, Chief Innovation Officer at Eversheds Sutherland.

Similarly, growing demand exists for legal professionals skilled in legal and regulatory compliance - ensuring organizations follow laws and regulations. Compliance teams must stay updated on changing policies, monitor business activities for violations, perform due diligence, and implement controls. According to Burning Glass, job postings for legal compliance specialists grew over 25% annually from 2015-2018.

Law firms, corporations, consultancies, and government agencies now seek compliance experts to navigate the complex regulatory landscape. "œExperienced paralegals are perfectly positioned for these roles given their legal backgrounds and attention to detail," explains Christine Henley, head of recruitment firm Special Counsel Legal. She notes contract management, litigation support, and corporate law exposure provide paralegals with foundational knowledge valued in compliance.

Julia Wright, a paralegal turned banker, leveraged her expertise in legal research, documentation, and project management to become a compliance specialist at Wells Fargo. "œCompliance teams value someone who grasps legal and can monitor complex deals for adherence to regulations," she explains.

Former paralegals like Wright emphasize transferrable abilities like stakeholder engagement, investigation skills, regulatory analysis, and conveying legal risks as key to compliance roles. "œYes, you need technical compliance knowledge, but many soft skills carry over from traditional paralegal work," Wright says. With training in areas like financial regulations, data privacy, and anti-money laundering, paralegals can become compliance experts.

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