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Forum to contemplate AI and future of BigLaw

Forum to contemplate AI and future of BigLaw

Alain Musikanth

Legal stakeholders plan to gather at a special forum in Perth this week to discuss the implications of artificial intelligence for tomorrow’s lawyers.

Initiated by the Law Society of Western Australia, the event will focus specifically on big firms and what automation means for junior lawyers in these workforces.

Speaking to Lawyers Weekly about the necessity of the forum, the president of the Western Australia Law Society Alain Musikanth said that with rapid uptake of AI technologies by BigLaw, graduates and young lawyers are increasingly being edged out of critical learning opportunities.

“Universities have already started thinking about how courses need to be tailored and modified in light of technological advances, but the focus of the forum is really going to be how the firms are going to deal with the challenge of AI, when they are the ones using the technology,” Mr Musikanth said.

“What is taught in the universities is vitally important, but of course, you can’t learn everything from uni,” he said.

As law firms use AI for labour-intensive tasks such as discovery, traditionally the domain of junior practitioners, Mr Musikanth suggested that the result may be a generation of up-and-comers who miss out on properly developing core professional skills. The barrister identified legal judgement and analytical skills as those most at risk. 

“I don’t quite know what the younger lawyers are going to end up doing,” Mr Musikanth said.

“With AI effectively replacing much of the grunt work and the grind work that [were] previously done, there is a real concern as to how the junior lawyers and the graduates are going to learn the basic skills that they otherwise would have learnt by doing those boring, repetitive tasks,” he said.

Friday’s forum will bring together some of the leading managing law firm partners in WA, as well as representatives from the bar, Legal Practice Board, Legal Profession Complaints Committee and the Law Council of Australia.

Mr Musikanth added that while the discussion is for lawyers of all kinds, he anticipates that those graduates working for big firms face the greatest challenge. For BigLaw, factors such as the volume of work, sophistication of clients and size of the firm create extra pressure, he said.

“This is something that’s going to affect pretty much every one of the big firms and some of the small ones too,” Mr Musikanth said.

“Given that the machines will be doing the [grunt] work, and the product of the machine’s work will be analysed by the senior lawyers and senior partners, we want to be able to ensure that those entering the profession are able to refine those key skills of analysis and judgement.

“These are the sort of practical skills which can really only be learnt by through on the job experience,” he said.

Initially, the WA Law Society hopes this forum will assist local practitioners come to terms with the new terrain that new and future lawyers will be grappling with.

The session follows the lead of measures taken by other law societies in Queensland, Victoria and NSW, Mr Musikanth said, but with a focus that looks more closely at legal practice.

“We are intending to have a bit more of a targeted focus about the future of the profession so far as it relates to future practice on a day-to-day basis because that’s really what our members are interested in,” Mr Musikanth said.

The forum, to be held on Friday, 19 May, is part of a wider program of events hosted by the WA Law Society during Law Week (15 to 21 May). 

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