A.I. a threat to lawyers? We've heard this before. Clever software cuts toil but also could create new roles for the profession.

Lawyers are only one occupation in the path of A.I. progress. A study by researchers at OpenAI, the creator ChatGPT, and the University of Pennsylvania found that at least 10 percent of the tasks of about 80 percent of American workers would be affected by the latest A.I. software.

The legal profession has been identified as a ripe target for A.I. automation in the past.

MORE than a decade ago, lawyers were singled out as an endangered occupational species, their livelihoods at risk from advances in artificial intelligence.

But the doomsayers got ahead of themselves. While clever software has taken over some of the toil of legal work - searching, reviewing and mining mountains of legal documents for nuggets of useful information - employment in the legal profession has grown faster than the American work force as a whole.

Today, a new A.I. threat looms, and lawyers may feel a bit of deja vu. There are warnings that ChatGPT style software, with its humanlike language fluency, could take over much of legal work.

The new A.I. has its flaws, notably the proclivity to make things up, including fake legal citations. But proponents insist that these are teething defects in a nascent technology - and fixable.

Will the pessimists finally be right? 

Law is seen as the lucrative profession perhaps most at risk from the recent advances in A.I. because lawyers are essentially word merchants.

And the new technology can recognize and analyze words and generate text in an instant. It seems ready and able to perform tasks that are the bread and butter of lawyers.

'' That is really, really powerful,'' said Robert Plotkin, an intellectual property lawyer at Cambridge, Mass. '' My work and my career has been mostly writing text.''

But unless the past isn't a guide, the impact of the new technology is more likely to be a steadily rising tide than a sudden tidal wave. New A.I. technology will change the practice of law, and some jobs will be eliminated, but it also promises to make lawyers and paralegals more productive and to create new roles.

That is what happened after the introduction of other work altering technologies like the personal computer and the Internet.

One new study, by researchers at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and the New York University, concluded that the industry most exposed to the new A.I. was ''legal services.''

Another research report, by economists at Goldman Sachs, estimated that 44 percent of legal work could be automated. Only the work of office and administrative support jobs, at 46 percent, was higher.

'' There is a huge opportunity for A.I. in legal services, but the professional culture is very conservative,'' said Raj Goyle, an adviser to legal tech companies and Harvard Law School graduate.

'' The future is coming, but it will not be as fast as some predict.''

The Essay continues into the future. The World Students Society thanks author Steve Lohr.


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