The recent news that the IBM computer, Watson, defeated the Jeopardy champion has captured the legal industry's imagination and probably struck fear into many of its members. Legal commentators are already talking about the technology used in Watson doing legal research faster and more accurately than junior lawyers typically tasked with that sort of work.
What fascinates me is what Watson's future generations will be capable of. It doesn't take a huge imaginative leap to see a possible future where artificial intelligence doesn't just conduct legal research more accurately and quicker than human lawyers but also starts preparing better quality agreements and legal documents than their human counterparts. Should that occur (and I don't see why it wouldn't to some degree), lawyers will find themselves on the verge of being made irrelevant if they can't distinguish their skillsets from the machine's.
This brings me back to my post the other day about the legal services business we see today and where lawyers add value. If an artificial intelligence performs many of the tasks lawyers rely on as an integral part of their businesses, a great many lawyers will go out of business when we reach that critical point. Lawyers who hope to survive that event will likely survive through their ability to take the law and apply it to novel situations in innovative ways. Well, at least until artificial intelligence advances to a point where it does that better too.
For now, lawyers can safely rely on their time or documents as a means to earn an income, at least until their clients realise that their stated value in both their time and their documents is misplaced and that the value lies elsewhere.