Apr 13, 2017 - Economy

Forget coal mining—the bigger worry is legal services jobs

Lawyers may be the next victims of automation, and the impact on the macroeconomy could be serious. Until now, paralegals and beginning associate lawyers have seemed to be primarily vulnerable to algorithmic advances. But labor lawyer Miriam Nemeth argues that the trouble will go deeper. "Lawyers in particular may increasingly suffer from job loss as a result of automation," she said. "Everything from contract drafting to legal research appears prone to automation."

Data: Bureau of Labor Statistics; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon / Axios

Why it matters: There are roughly 1 million lawyers, paralegals and legal assistants in the US, more than 20 times the number of people in coal mining. It's not clear how many could lose their jobs, but a recent study said that currently available technology could reduce lawyers' billed hours by 13%.

Glass half-full: A recent McKinsey study said that 23% of a lawyer's job can be automated. But Chris Stock, CEO at LEAP Legal Software, said earlier this week that lawyers and paralegals have time to learn new skills, and thus not become flotsam of robots, by learning how to apply automation software to improve their own productivity and remain attractive to employers.

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