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Advice to the Legal Class of 2018 in the Age of Automation

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NYU Law Graduaton
NYU Law Graduaton

Graduation from NYU Law School on Thursday, May 17, 2018 at the Hulu Theater Madison Square Garden. (Photo by David Handschuh/NYLJ)[/caption] It used to be that new grads land entry-level jobs at large organizations or law firms and spend their first few years doing the grunt-work required of their profession. For young lawyers, this often meant years of manual document review and endless research. After learning the ropes (and paying their dues), hires climbed the ladder and started to do the work law school had prepared them to do. Now, thanks to technological advancements including artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, grads can often bypass lower value roles and move straight into the more interesting work they’ve been freed to do—practice law. Here are six tips for the legal class of 2018 as they embark on careers in the age of automation: 1. Realize that this is not your parents’ job market. Hard-earned J.D. in hand, you are qualified for work but up against a two-fold challenge: Slower growth among law firms and the rise of automation mean fewer entry-level opportunities. While it’s a more competitive job market, it’s one that offers opportunities to define your path—allowing you to choose. It allows you to explore less traditional legal roles opened by AI and to leverage skills beyond your degree to land a position that may not be the first-year job earlier generations secured. It’s likely that you’ll land a far more interesting position. 2. Accept that everything you need to know you did not learn in law school. While employers don’t expect hires to come in knowing how to do the role they are hired to fill—many roles are, in fact, newly created—they expect that hires come willing to learn, to embrace and master new technologies, and to work as a team rather than in a silo. Particularly if you are interested in working with alternative legal service providers or with legal technology, workplace communication today may cross multiple disciplines, including engineering and product development. Work is no longer lawyer-to-lawyer talk, but interaction that requires at least a basic understanding of engineering and a willingness to interact with algorithms. 3. Leverage your tech savvy to differentiate and add value. Raised with the Internet and digital technologies, Millennials are often quick to adapt and embrace new technologies. This makes them ideal users and drivers of innovation. The legal field, under pressure from clients to improve the way they deliver legal services, needs your tech savvy and expertise to aid in the adoption of new AI and other machine learning solutions to stay current and competitive. Use it to your advantage. 4. Explore new opportunities that AI has unearthed. Automation has the potential to free you for more creative, value-added work. By taking over mundane tasks and making research nearly instantaneous, AI redefines legal needs and creates new job descriptions and roles. For instance, within law firms new hires are needed to translate data into advice, master project management, and provide better client service. There’s also opportunity to fill roles within new practice areas, including cybersecurity and AI, and within businesses outside of the traditional legal environment, such as legal and financial tech startups that place high value on legal expertise and know-how. 5. Leverage people skills to “robot-proof” your future job. A study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates that between 400 million and 800 million of today’s jobs will be automated by 2030. This has grads—and seasoned professionals—concerned about protecting their jobs and their career paths. While you can’t stop the evolution of technology, you can leverage your uniquely human attributes to protect your value-add. This means honing skills that cannot be automated, such as client interaction, project management, negotiation, and the ability to turn data into smart advice for clients. For lawyers, another job protection is specialization. This isn’t the age to be a generalist. Instead, choose a specialty, for example litigation, family law or securities, and commit to it. 6. Keep learning. Law school is over, but commitment to education should never end. As technology continues to evolve, so will expectations on lawyers and their deliverables. Seize the opportunity to evolve your knowledge and skill set—whether it be through continuing legal education courses, online classes or podcasts about science, technology or any other subject you find inspiring and eye opening. Not only will continued education make you a more interesting person, it will help you better perform in your job and more easily adapt to change. Recent advancements in technology, most notably AI, have certainly changed the legal landscape in ways you may not have foreseen when choosing to pursue a legal career. While it will likely shift the kinds of work you do, it is not likely to outbid you for the job. Instead, it offers exciting opportunities ready for the taking. Konrad Pola, Co-Founder and CEO of Diligen, is an experienced corporate lawyer with a focus on securities, corporate finance and mergers and acquisitions. After years of working with leading legal firms, including Baker & McKenzie, Konrad saw firsthand the uphill, time-consuming battle of the legal contract analysis and review process. With a passion for both law and technology, he co-founded Diligen to help other corporations and legal firms streamline their contract review.