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Rise Of The Lawyer Machines? New Technology Could Further Squeeze Attorney Job Market

LOS ANGELES ( — If you ever need legal help in the future, a new survey says you may end up hiring a robot.

More attorneys could be replaced by technology that can rapidly sort through and analyze lawsuits, investigations, evidence and other documents, reducing the need for human lawyers in the process, according to industry magazine Corporate Counsel.

The survey published Jan. 23 found 40 percent of over 100 in-house attorneys working for major U.S. corporations rely on what's known as technology assisted review (TAR).

Utilizing predictive coding, analytics and other aspects of machine reading, TAR essentially helps train machines to "read" documents and determine whether those documents are relevant to a particular lawsuit or other legal matter - a functionality traditionally held by attorneys.

While law firms and corporate attorneys have used companies to manage the "electronic discovery" - or e-discovery - process of computerized review since the mid-2000s, TAR has since become dominant in the industry for its viability in containing litigation costs that have soared along with the volume of litigation data.

That reality was bolstered by a series of studies that found TAR was just as accurate in its findings at a fraction of the cost - in one case, as much as fifty times cheaper.

So how will this technology affect the ambitions of millions of law students across the U.S.?

Although the outlook for law graduates has never been as gloomy - with the number of law school graduates and new bar admits outpacing the projected lawyer job growth rate - a rise in TAR usage could actually hold the most hope for lawyers looking for work in coming years.

E-discovery - which is expected to balloon to a $9.9 billion industry in 2017 - will still require humans to manage document reviews as well as offer more nuanced analyses that machines have so far been unable to duplicate.

Law schools, meanwhile, are increasingly focused on preparing their students for careers in e-discovery, with over a dozen schools including UC Riverside now offering stand-alone courses on the practice.

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