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Will 2016 Be the Year of Automation for the Legal Industry?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on December 07, 2015 2:58 PM

We just surveyed the most disruptive legal technologies of 2015 and automation didn't make the list. It didn't even get close. But the idea of automating practices routinely performed by lawyers has been floating around for awhile now. Depending on your perspective, automation is a tantalizing or terrifying prospect.

And it's starting to creep into law firms and legal practice. Will the new year see even more automation take hold in the legal industry?

2016: Putting the Robots in Charge

Could a computer do your job? Well, probably parts of it. New technology is increasingly being used to do repetitive legal-ish tasks, from putting together simple documents like standard leases and wills, to reviewing discovery, or helping you find the perfect legal citation. According to legal scholars John McGinniss and Russell Pearce, machine intelligence could soon take over tasks like brief and memo writing.

Attorneys, meet your new robot overlords. Just kidding, technology is nowhere near replacing attorneys altogether -- and when it is, you'll be fired too quickly to actually meet your machine replacement. But many large firms are already starting to invest heavily in automation.

Add Akerman to the List of Automatons

Just last month, Akerman become the newest large firm to turn to automation. The firm announced that it was starting up the Akerman Data Law Center, which will allow "corporate clients to quickly look up data privacy and security regulations without having to consult a human lawyer," according to Bloomberg.

The project, done in collaboration with Thomson Reuters' Legal Managed Services, seeks to offer "tailored research, multi-jurisdictional surveys and regulatory gap analysis" in data and privacy compliance. (Disclosure: Thomson Reuters is FindLaw's parent company.)

It's not just basic questions that are being automated, either. Akerman's automated legal advice will be able to tell clients when a data breach must be reported, for example. Other firms are using technology to advise clients on campus security reporting and work visa requirements, Bloomberg reports.

We're imaging Krang-style super computers dolling out legal advice, but Turbo Tax might be a better comparison. Along with Thomson Reuters' Legal Managed Services, Akerman is using Neota Logic, an automation software program. That technology guides clients through decision trees to find out which laws and regulations apply to their issues. It's like the flowcharts you made for law school finals, but the computers can issue spot and solve in milliseconds.

Computers, after all, are good with rules -- and they're much faster and cheaper than lawyers. But, there will always be gray areas, which is where you'll be needed. Jeffrey Sharer, a partner at Akerman, says that the program won't keep clients from their lawyers. "Where we want them calling us is where the answer isn't clear, where there are gray areas," he said. "This is a way of helping them identify those."

Our bet is that you'll something similar in your firm in the near future.

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