Technological innovation has accelerated at an exponential pace in the last few decades, ushering in an era of unprecedented advancements in algorithms and artificial intelligence technologies. Traditionally, the legal field has protected itself from technological disruptions by maintaining a professional monopoly over legal work and limiting the “practice of law” to only those who are licensed.
This article analyzes the long-term impact of the Second Circuit’s opinion in Lola v. Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, 620 F. App’x 37 (2d Cir. 2015), on the legal field’s existing monopoly over the “practice of law.” In Lola, the Second Circuit underscored that “tasks that could otherwise be performed entirely by a machine” could not be said to fall under the “practice of law.” By distinguishing between mechanistic tasks and legal tasks, the Second Circuit repudiated the legal field’s oft-cited appeals to tradition insisting that tasks fall under the “practice of law” because they have always fallen under the practice of law.
The broader implications of this decision are threefold: (1) as machines evolve, they will encroach on and limit the tasks considered to be the “practice of law”; (2) mechanistic tasks removed from the “practice of law” may no longer be regulated by professional rules governing the legal field; and (3) to survive the rise of technology in the legal field, lawyers will need to adapt to a new “practice of law” in which they will act as innovators, purveyors of judgment and wisdom, and guardians of fairness, impartiality, and accountability within the law.
The article proceeds by first discussing the procedural history and decision in Lola v. Skadden. It then explains the technological advances that will impact the legal field and the tools used by the legal field to perpetuate its self-regulating monopoly. The article then turns to the socioeconomic implications of technological disruption within the legal field and concludes with a discussion on how lawyers may prepare themselves for, and thrive within, an inevitably automated future.