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Law students today are graduating into one of the most difficult economies in recent history. Since the recession began in 2008, the number of available junior associate positions at law firms has shriveled up, resulting in cutthroat competition for those remaining jobs. Each year, there are simply more law graduates than there are available positions. Consequently, when reports suggesting an uptick in legal industry hiring are released, there is cause to rejoice.
However, the advent of technology that performs “doc review”–the review of documents during discovery and/or stock offerings, among others, for which junior associates have traditionally been invaluable–is rendering the existence of these coveted jobs to some degree obsolete. Indeed, e-discovery software like Blackstone Discovery are now able to analyze documents in a fraction of the time and cost. Not only are many of these programs capable of identifying all documents containing specific language, but they are also able to engage in human-like reasoning. For example, the programs can provide lawyers seeking to identify all documents pertaining to dogs with those that mention “man’s best friend,” “walks,” and “playing catch.” Similarly, in white collar crime cases, the programs can identify “call me” moments in which alleged criminals switch to an alternate media form to communicate, thereby hiding their activities. Because the programs–which unlike humans, do not call in sick or get bored–are more efficient and increasingly more accurate, the likelihood that firms will employ them as part of their new austerity measures in this economy is great. Consequently, law students must consider the impact these programs will potentially have on the number of available jobs.
Prospective students are already trending away from attending law school because of the shrinking number of jobs and the insurmountable levels of debt often involved. Indeed, the Law School Admission Council has for the second straight year reported a sharp drop in the number of LSAT examinations administered. Law school is no longer a “safe” way to ride out a subpar economic climate. Should these computer programs increase in popularity, they will help to confirm this sentiment, as the number of available junior associate positions in firms will likely shrink further.
Therefore, law students hoping to break into the private legal sector must begin to invent new ways to become invaluable to firm partnerships. Otherwise, firms will no longer have need for the hundreds of junior associates they once did.
- Swathi Padmanabhan
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