This is no longer a question limited to science fiction novels or Hollywood films. Instead, real-life economists and statisticians are debating a larger-than-life issue: are machines replacing man in the labor market?
Stenographers in court cases have already butted head-to-head, so to speak, with their digital technology counterparts. New Jersey recently transitioned to high-tech digital recordings to track legal proceedings, replacing salaried stenographers.
Man vs. machine, is one becoming obsolete in law?
Apparently, according to a Bloomberg BusinessWeek article (online, of course), robots are getting all the good jobs.
“’What’s different now is the speed and scale of what’s happening,’ says Erik Brynjolfsson, director of the MIT Center for Digital Business. Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee, co-authors of the recently published book Race Against the Machine, argue that the economy is in the early stages of a ‘Great Restructuring’ that is hollowing out the labor market and exacerbating inequality,” reports David Lynch from his computer.
Instead of a human resources department, your law firm uses Google Analytics and LinkedIn.
Instead of a public relations department, you have first-year associate updating Twitter feeds and posting to the firm blog.
Instead of masses of associates filtering through discovery, you’ve outsourced doc review to India.
Instead of rooms full of documents and binders, lawyers talk about accessing servers and storing to the cloud.
Who or what really make up your law firm staff?
On the other hand, some aren’t buying into the debate.
James D. Hamilton of the University of California at San Diego reminds us that technology constantly ruffles—not replaces—the labor force.
For example, today, only 2 percent of Americans work on farms. However, in 1900, 41 percent of Americans toiled the Terre. This doesn’t mean 39 percent of ex-farms were forced into unemployment. Nope, they found new jobs.
“In 2005 the average U.S. worker could produce what would have required two people to do in 1970, what would have required four people in 1940, and would have required six people in 1910,” Hamilton writes in an e-mail correspondence with Lunch for BusinessWeek.
“The result of this technological progress was not higher unemployment but instead rising real wages. The evidence from the last two centuries is unambiguous—productivity gains lead to more wealth, not poverty.”
Nevertheless, this month’s issue of The Atlantic and Forbes magazine unearths this question once more. Should you use Big Data to hire, fire, or promote employees?
Grant Gordon for Forbes advises companies to take advantage of both works. Target undervalued or unemployed workers via technology, but the rely on human instinct and in-person interviews to finish the job.
Who or what most efficiently gets the job done? Unfortunately, there’s no easy answer. Only your managers can evaluate that. So, get together with your IT department and weigh the pros and cons of man vs. machine.
Certainly there will be advantages to both. But, the real value add is when man understands machine, and in tandem, these productivity gins lead to more wealth for your firm.
In the end, don’t blame technology for the recession. Embrace digital systems within the walls of your office, and you may soon find the ensuing growth of your firm leads to a need for more professionals—the ebb and flow of an industry lies in our continuing to advance with it, not against it.
Take, for example, these C4CM analytics of alternative billing trends. According to the 2010 Alternative Billing Benchmarking Study, more than 87 percent of practitioners have some sort of alternative billing arrangement available to clients. Find out what billing arrangements you can offer clients in this training resource here.