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Technology Eats Lawyers

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03/05/2011

Back in 1900 over 40 percent of the America’s workforce was employed in agriculture. One hundred years later the percentage had fallen to less than two percent. What happened was technology. Tractors, balers and fertilizer meant that yours truly despite growing up in farm country didn’t get stuck down on the farm.

It’s happened to industry after industry and progress marches on. Any job that is mindless and repetitive, over time it’s likely going away. Some machine or technology will do it better and faster. And this is a great thing. Imagine what America would be like if almost half of us had to work on the farm producing food. Most of what we take for granted each day wouldn’t have even been thought of if half of us were slopping hogs and mending fences.

In 1900 America only had 100,000 lawyers, now there are somewhere around 1.2 million. However, lawyers are now the ones in the cross-hairs of technology’s death ray. Artificial intelligence has advanced to the point where “e-discovery” software can analyze documents faster and cheaper than humans.

“From a legal staffing viewpoint, it means that a lot of people who used to be allocated to conduct document review are no longer able to be billed out,” said Bill Herr, who as a lawyer at a major chemical company used to muster auditoriums of lawyers to read documents for weeks on end. “People get bored, people get headaches. Computers don’t.”

This new legal software is clever, allowing lawyers to determine the internal goings on within companies upon analyzing emails and other internal documents. Neil Fraser told the New York Times Cataphora software “allows him to find the ex-Pfc. Wintergreens in an organization — a reference to a lowly character in the novel ‘Catch-22′ who wielded great power because he distributed mail to generals and was able to withhold it or dispatch it as he saw fit.”

Mike Lynch, the founder of e-discovery company Autonomy, says “legal is a sector that will likely employ fewer, not more, people in the U.S. in the future.” One lawyer will be able to do the work of 500 in the area of document discovery and beyond that technology will cut the rest of the legal workforce in half.

In his new book Eat People, Andy Kessler, says “the best way to leverage Abundance and Scale and to create Productivity is to get rid of people.” Oh course Kessler is talking about getting rid of worthless jobs. Those who don’t like change don’t want to hear it, but “really, truly, the road to wealth passes through the graveyard of today’s jobs.”

Douglas French is former president of the Mises Institute, author of Early Speculative Bubbles & Increases in the Money Supply , and author of Walk Away: The Rise and Fall of the Home-Ownership Myth. He received his master's degree in economics from UNLV, studying under both Professor Murray Rothbard and Professor Hans-Hermann Hoppe.

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