May 20th 2024

Talent and artificial intelligence: does the playing field level between lawyers?

By Jordi Estalella
TWITTER @jordiestalella

In a recent meeting with a company developing artificial intelligence (AI) for the legal sector, one of its managers stated that in the law firms that are adopting AI, the least productive professionals (“lazier” was the expression he used) ) are the most intensive users of this technology. This fact, which may seem paradoxical at first glance, made me reflect on the relationship between technology and productivity.

Various studies maintain that AI is especially useful for less competent or experienced employees, and that its impact on the performance of highly qualified workers is very low. This phenomenon raises a number of questions and challenges about the future of work in law firms and the true ability of AI to level the playing field among professionals.

TechnologyAI, with its ability to process large volumes of information and perform complex analyses, becomes an indispensable ally for those who cannot keep up with their brighter colleagues. This doesn't necessarily mean that AI encourages mediocrity; rather, it provides these professionals a second opportunity to improve their performance and contribute more effectively to the team.

The substantial question is whether AI can truly equate mediocre lawyers with the brightest. In terms of productivity on specific tasks, the answer is yes. AI can automate document review, legal research, and contract management, traditionally time-consuming tasks. This time savings allows all attorneys, regardless of their initial skill, to focus on more strategic, higher-value activities.

Still, AI has its limitations. Although it can improve operational efficiency, it cannot make up for the lack of learning and work capacity. These qualities are intrinsically human and essential for professional development in any field. AI can level the playing field in terms of task execution, but it cannot instill intellectual curiosity or a genuine desire for continuous improvement.

AI's ability to improve productivity should not overshadow the importance of human qualities. The willingness to learn, the intention to improve, the ability to adapt and the correct interpretation of non-obvious contextual factors (for example, the impact of the culture of the parties in an international negotiation) are attributes that no machine can fully replicate. These factors are what distinguish exceptional lawyers from ordinary ones.

The brightest lawyers not only master the technological tools available, but also possess the ability to apply knowledge creatively and strategically. AI can assist in the analysis and management of information, but interpreting data and making sound decisions requires human judgment that goes beyond algorithms.

Ultimately, AI should be seen as a tool that complements and amplifies human abilities (“augmented lawyers,” some say), and not as a substitute for them. The key to success in the digital age lies in finding a balance between technology and human talent, ensuring that both work in harmony to achieve the best possible results.

Note. Parts of this article were written or revised with the help of ChatGPT.