Paul L. Caron

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Will Technology Create More Legal Jobs Than It Destroys?

Chart 11James E. Bessen (Boston University), How Computer Automation Affects Occupations: Technology, Jobs, and Skills:

This paper investigates basic relationships between technology and occupations. Building a general occupational model, I look at detailed occupations since 1980 to explore whether computers are related to job losses or other sources of wage inequality. Occupations that use computers grow faster, not slower. This is true even for highly routine and mid-wage occupations. Estimates reject computers as a source of significant net technological unemployment or job polarization. But computerized occupations substitute for other occupations, shifting employment and requiring new skills. Because new skills are costly to learn, computer use is associated with substantially greater within-occupation wage inequality.

11BNew York Times:  Automation Is a Job Engine, New Research Says, by Steve Lohr:

The fear that technology is poised to kill jobs in unprecedented numbers is widely prevelent these days. Nothing is likely to ease that anxiety much, but a new research paper might prompt some second thoughts.

Using government data, James Bessen, a researcher and lecturer at the Boston University School of Law, examined the impact of computer automation on 317 occupations from 1980 through 2013. His conclusion, in a sentence, was: “Employment grows significantly faster in occupations that use computers more.” ... “The idea that automation kills jobs isn’t true historically, and if you look at the last 30 years, it’s not true then either,” he said in an interview. “Right now, the best thing that can happen to you is to get some automation to do your job better.” ...

His comment echoes the main finding of a recent report from the McKinsey Global Institute, which concluded that many work tasks within jobs can be automated in the next three to five years. But the impact, according to the McKinsey report, will be to alter jobs rather than eliminate them.

Frank Pasquale (Maryland), Complicating the Narrative of Legal Automation:

Experts with a bit more historical perspective differ on the real likelihood of pervasive legal automation. Some put the risk to lawyers at under 4%. Even the highly cited study by Carl Frey and Michael Osborne (The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Automation) placed attorneys in the “low risk” category when it comes to replacement by software and robots. They suggest paralegals are in much more danger.

But empirical research by economist James Bessen has complicated even that assumption:“Since the late 1990s, electronic document discovery software for legal proceedings has grown into a billion dollar business doing work done by paralegals, but the number of paralegals has grown robustly.” Like MIT’s David Autor, Bessen calls automation a job creator, not a job destroyer. “The idea that automation kills jobs isn’t true historically,” Steve Lohr reports, and is still dubious. The real question is whether we reinforce policies designed to promote software and robotization that complements current workers’ skills, or slip into a regime of deskilling and substitution.

Jobs & Hire, Man Vs. Machines: New Studies Show That Technology & Robots Will Not Take Away Jobs From Humans But Will Generate More Work:

[T]hough it may appear that human jobs are becoming vulnerable to technology, one researcher discovered that rather than causing people to go jobless, the rise of the machines is actually generating more jobs that can never be imagined. ...

For people who still think that robots and automated machines will make them jobless, think about this, the machines work effectively and they do a good job in particular tasks they were programmed to do. However, there are occupations that they can't replace no matter what. Independent listed few jobs that humans can do better than even the most sophisticated robots, and here are three examples: ...

This job needs a lot of thinking. Finding faults and coming up with arguments to defend a client is simply impossible for any machines or human-like robots to do.

Legal Education, Scholarship | Permalink


Planet Money did a series of podcasts on this topic recently, starting with this one:

Posted by: Matthew Bruckner | Dec 10, 2015 8:16:20 AM

Yeah! It's not as if law librarians have dwindled as Wexis and other services let lawyers do research more efficiently and without their assistance. Uh, erm...

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 10, 2015 10:34:11 AM

" It's not as if law librarians have dwindled as Wexis and other services let lawyers do research more efficiently and without their assistance. Uh, erm..."

One almost needs a calculator to calculate the inaccuracies compressed into this one sentence.

1. Law librarians have not "dwindled". Both firms and law school law libraries continue to hire law librarians. Of course, academic law librarians have been subject to layoffs as part of the law school crisis, but not disproportionately to other law school staff.

2. Many, perhaps most, law students and attorneys do not know how to do research, at all, let alone "efficiently".

3. Law librarians remain in demand to manage electronic subscription databases and to teach law students and attorneys how to use the databases, as well as to update them on the numerous changes and upgrades to the databases--or simply to help students and attorneys to navigate the databases and to find the materials they seek.

4. And yes, print materials are not entirely dead, either, and require law librarians to manage that aspect of their collections.

Posted by: Rob T. | Dec 11, 2015 6:27:05 AM

Rob, is this like how the Xerox machine didn't kill off scriveners? Let's go through the facts: law schools are cutting staff, including librarians, as you said. Check. Their average pay is about $58k according to Payscale, which is pretty abysmal for folk who generally need to spend five years of their lives obtaining two graduate degrees. Per BLS, there are only 11,000 job openings for ALL librarians between 2010 and 2020. Per the AALS, there are almost 120,000 libraries in the United States. So fewer than 1 in 10 libraries will have hired a new librarian over a ten-year span. Sure sounds like a growth profession to me! As for librarians in law firms, the AALL found that 30% of private law firm cut their librarian staff in 2008 alone, but whatever.

Posted by: Unemployed Northeastern | Dec 11, 2015 10:35:32 AM


Yes, let’s look at the facts. Let’s also compare apples to apples, and (to mix the metaphor) try keeping our eye on the ball.

1. Law schools *have* cut librarians, along with staff and even faculty. The corrections have been made, librarian layoffs have for the most part ceased, and hiring is resuming. See the AALS Web page for additional details.

2. The rate of pay is irrelevant to the point at issue, unless you can show that it is somehow related to to decreasing numbers of law librarians entering the profession. Many law librarians enter the profession after practicing law, and are both willing and able to take a pay cut in exchange for a better work-life balance.

3. The BLS statistics, the 2008 law firm layoffs, etc:

First, let’s confine our discussion to law librarians (the old “apples and apples” thing). Much of the pressure on librarian employment as a whole comes not from technology, but from shrinking tax bases (and consequently, financial support) for public libraries. But to repeat: We are not talking about public libraries here, nor are we talking about librarians being downsized because of financial pressures. We are talking about, to use the example you yourself introduced, librarians being rendered obsolete BY TECHNOLOGY. You have not introduced an iota of evidence in support of that specific point—and for good reason, as there isn’t any. So, by all means continue to use hand-waving, equivocation, and sleight-of-hand as a substitute for argument.

Also, is the same BLS you and other law school scam types complained about vociferously when their projections supported growth in the market for lawyers? I suppose the BLS statistics are to be quoted only when they (ostensibly) support your point.

But whatever.

Posted by: Rob T. | Dec 12, 2015 10:14:14 AM

Erratum: I meant the AALL Web page, not AALS.

Posted by: Rob T. | Dec 12, 2015 10:14:58 AM

Let's assume that a trend across 317 occupations from 1980 to 2013 will necessarily hold true for the legal profession specifically from 2015 on. Even so, that does not necessarily mean that the jobs in the legal profession will be attorney jobs, as opposed to software developers, data analysts,etc., or that the same salaries will apply. I agree that technology is unlikely to eliminate the need for attorneys, but it certainly could trim the number of attorneys needed, particularly for more rote tasks such as document review, and reduce the amount of time attorneys can legitimately bill for tasks such as research, decreasing the amount of available work by reducing its average length.

Posted by: Chuck | Dec 13, 2015 6:20:35 PM