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Little or nothing to fear even in the face of AI

Many years ago, I read the book The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era by Jeremy Rifkin and first published in 1995. In this book, Rifkin sought to convince the reader that developments in technology and increased automation would result in the mass elimination of work and greater worker alienation for those that were able to save their jobs.

Fast forward 20 years and, while there have been job losses relating to automation, it is trite to say that, while it has changed how we do our work, machines have not taken over all work.

Last December, Law Times published an article titled “Associates threatened by artificial intelligence.” It refers to a report authored by Jomati Consultants LLP that warns law firm associates of the future and paralegals that workplace robots and artificial intelligence systems could put many of them out of work by 2030.

I will not get into the merits of the report or its general proposition, but I will say even if we accept this premise, the adverse effect will be much less pronounced for in-house counsel. The reason for this is that our work is much broader than the general practice of law for the following reasons:

•    In-house lawyers must have a greater understanding of their business and think strategically and with a business mindset, always. While a computer might be able to spit out documents and contracts that are legally compliant, the computer will not be able to provide the business and strategic insight needed to close a deal, ensure legislative and internal policy compliance, make tough decisions to avoid litigation, or meet the day-to-day needs of the business. In-house counsel is an intermediary or facilitator in marrying legal practice with business needs to reach a solution to a problem.

•    As in-house counsel, even though our overall client may be singular, there are multiple interests and players with different objectives making one-size-fits-all solutions impossible. Understanding the players, their personalities, risk tolerances, and their own business objectives is critical to perform the role effectively.

•    Issues are rarely “one offs,” instead, in making a decision with regard to one matter, there are often many other related or future business considerations that must be weighed. Depending on the matter or long-term strategy, the approach and solution offered will change substantially.

That being said, there are steps that in-house counsel can take today to make sure we remain relevant in a more automated and technologically advanced practice of law. Some of these steps include:

•    Become intimately familiar with your industry, your products, the players within your company, the long-term objectives of your company, and your competitors. For example, as noted by my colleague Andrew Tavi in an article relating to electric vehicles:

“So what we do is first study the electric vehicle. My lawyers have to know how it works; what the components are, what are the capabilities and limitations. Then we need to think ahead and anticipate what legal issues may arise and how to deal with them . . . so every member of the legal department has touched electric vehicles because they need to build that concept into their own practice area.”

•    Expand your business knowledge and training. It is increasingly important that lawyers have a good grasp of HR, finance, accounting, and strategic management. It is the marriage of these business practices, with your legal knowledge and training that will make you increasingly valuable and irreplaceable. Not everyone can dedicate the necessary time and financial resources required, but, if possible, enroll in a part-time certificate or graduate business program. Many employers have programs in place to assist you financially in undertaking this training.

•    As you become increasingly involved in developing business solutions and making business decisions, you need to practise identifying and separating legal from business advice, as privilege will not attach to the latter.

•    Network. Network. Network. Sharing of best practices and experiences is critical to staying on top of emerging issues and for adding value to your client. Also, if a change in employment becomes necessary, there is no greater asset to have than a strong network to advise and assist you in making this transition.

•    Finally, law firms, law societies, and legal associations like the CCCA, the CBA/OBA, and the ACC provide many valuable programs with regard to emerging issues in the law, in business, and also programs focused on improving your skills as an in-house counsel. Take advantage of as many of these as time and resources permit.

The Jomati report makes a very important point, “. . . because the weakness of the bots . . . [in] ‘making decisions that are based on human factors,’ strategic and creative thinking will become increasingly valuable assets.” These factors are at the heart of the role of the in-house counsel, so we have little or nothing to fear even in the face of AI!


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