Artificial Intelligence, Automation, and Proletarianization of the Legal Profession

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Kunkel, Rebecca J.
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INTRODUCTION|Recent advances in computer programming, broadly categorized as “artificial intelligence,” (“AI”) have renewed debates over machines as viable replacements for human lawyers. Some prominent lawyers and legal scholars now adhere to a vision of the future heavily seasoned with Silicon Valley-style techno-utopianism: the legal profession may endure but only in a form in which it would be almost unrecognizable today, while legal innovators will need to immerse themselves in the possibilities opened up by artificial intelligence in order to survive. For others, the view of artificial intelligence and its potential application to law is more limited, as they argue for the impossibility of automating many essential aspects of legal service.
Although it is tempting to view these visions as polar opposites, to do so would ignore key assumptions about the nature of AI technology in which the two visions seem to share: that technological development follows its own course and that the widespread adoption of technologies is primarily determined by objective measures of efficacy. This essay offers an alternate Marxian account of legal AI which places it in the larger history of automation and proletarianization. In Part I, I introduce the topic of AI and how AI has been put to use in the market for legal services. In this section, I argue that AI is a malleable and ideologically loaded concept that shapes perceptions about the socially acceptable uses of automation. Because so much of the legal AI debate is based upon assumptions about the nature of professional service, Part II introduces a materialist view of professionalism and its functional role within capitalist society. This lays the groundwork for a materialist perspective on the debates over AI discussed in Part III. In Part IV, I take up the implicit challenge of AI proponents that replacing lawyers with AI would improve society because the legal profession as it exists actually performs a disservice to society. While I remain agnostic on this question, I argue that society and young lawyers alike are even less well served by a reactionary ideology that encourages lawyers to ignore the real class realignment that is already taking place within the profession.
Creighton University School of Law
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