How Will Attorneys (or any of us) Adapt?

I wrote last year about the effects of automation on attorneys. Attorneys Obsolete? described a trend towards automation in the legal practice and what that could portend for attorneys. This is an example of how automation may attack the legal profession from within, an internal effect. 

Later, in Three-D Employment, I outlined some amazing things that are being done with digital printers. That post questioned how these technological miracles will change employment. The effects are likely to be significant in manufacturing. The future is changing, and it is interesting to consider what may be coming to our economy.

It is of concern, because the future and change in general are issues of concern for people. Rightly so. We spend a great deal of our lives learning and gathering skills that we hope will be of value. We expect to use those skills to convey value in the marketplace and to be compensated for those efforts. Becoming skilled at making buggy whips may have once been a great career foundation. 
Early this year, Bob Wilson published What is Scarier Workplace Automation or Annihilation? He noted that "experts are predicting that by the year 2025, fully one half of all jobs that exist today will be automated out of existence." I remember when 2000 seemed a long way off, when I read 2001, A Space Odyssey as a child. I remember at the turn of the century when I thought 2025 was a long way off. But that is just ten years from now. It no longer seems a long way off; it seems like tomorrow.
More recently, Mr. Wilson has continued writing about factors that could motivate employers to further automate. In March, he wrote McDonalds Employees Make Further Push to Automate Their Jobs. He contends that the push for a higher minimum wage will change the economic dynamics in the service industry. He says that as the cost of labor increases, the business is encouraged to automate. He cites a machine under development that can produce 400 hamburgers in an hour. I used to work as a fry cook and producing 400 sandwiches an hour was simply not within my capacity. 
These are interesting points. But the one that struck me was a recent article I ran across regarding "self driving cars." George Jetson got to fly to work, I am still waiting for my flying car. But, he still had to fly it. But a car that drives itself, now that is interesting. Back in 1990, in the Schwarzenegger version of Total Recall, we met "Johnny Cab," an animatronic cabbie. That may foreshadow what the pundits tell us is coming for us all. We will supposedly get into our car and tell it where to go. 
They claim that such cars already exist and they have been tested. The Delcine of Scarcityblog describes how this will have a direct impact on people's lives. On the plus side, it predicts that commuters will have hours re-inserted in their lives. They will be able to read, write, talk, or crochet while the car does the driving. It predicts that fuel efficiency will increase, and "most importantly, tons of lives will be saved." Human benefits from technology.
Scarcity goes on to address the effects on people's ability to make money. It predicts a short term flurry of car sales as consumers scramble for the new technology. But, these vehicles could be the end of "truck drivers, cab drivers, delivery drivers, bus drivers, and limo drivers." The author concludes that it "seems like all of those people will soon have to look for new jobs." In the meantime, the news is full of questions about "ride sharing" software and how to classify those drivers and whether and how to license them or require them to have insurance coverage. By the time we get Uber and Lyft all figured out, they may be operated with no drivers at all. 
How we feel about that is interesting. The BodyShopBusiness Blog reports on a Harris Poll regarding driver-less cars. The results indicate that 35% of us accept that this is the future, and twenty-four percent "believe they're the designated drivers of the future." Nineteen percent "think they are insanely cool." But, "34% say the cars are an unnecessary luxury and 32% feel they're only for the wealthy."  I was struck by the fact that "12 percent say they're confusing." That one might go without saying?
This is a similar internal effect of technology on a particular profession, driving, to the internal effect on attorneys described regarding attorneys in Attorneys Obsolete? and on fast food workers in McDonalds Employees make Further Push to Automate their Jobs. One critical point here is that technology will bring INTERNAL effects to a profession, drivers. These changes are becoming increasingly obvious and the news is becoming focused on these internal changes. 
But, it may be that the internal effects, while significant and worthy of analysis, may be secondary to the greater external effects. That is, the effects that go beyond the profession of driving, or fast food, or law. If software decreases the need for attorneys, is there a marked effect on non-lawyers? If a hamburger churning machine replaces three employees at the local fast food joint, is there a significance to the consumer? In these industries, there will be some external effect, discussed more below. 
It may be that the external effects of the driver-less car could be more widespread. Investopedia has brought some focus to these external effects. It predicts otherwise unforeseen external effects on vehicle manufacturers, "governments via licensing fees, taxes and tolls and by personal injury lawyers and health insurers." Those may not be immediately apparent. One of the less thought about impacts of the driver-less car will be less "distracted driving" and ultimately less accidents. Some estimate distraction is a factorin up to 58% of car crashes.
Investopedia questions "who needs a car made with heavier gauge steel and eight airbags . . . if accidents are so rare?" And "who needs a parking space close to work if your car can drive you there, park itself miles away, only to pick you up later? Who needs to buy a flight from Boston to Cleveland when you can leave in the evening (by self-driving car), sleep much of the way and arrive in the morning?" 
So, perhaps less jobs in the steel industry, car part manufacturing industry, and less revenue for owners of parking facilities? All external effects of the internal changes in personal transportation. Investopedia  predicts that car sharing will increase, reducing the volume of cars required from producers. Imagine your Uber app, but it just controls the routing of many driver-less "Johnny Cabs."
What about safety? One driver-less car has travelled over 300,000 miles without an accident according to Politifact. The predictions are that the automated car of the future will be involved in less, perhaps no, accidents. 
Imagine yourself in the auto bodyshop business. You would not be alone. In 2000, "there were an estimated 35,220 paint and body shops employing 220,393 people" in the United States. That is almost the same number of people as live in Tallahassee, Florida, according to Wikipedia (Remember the First District Court has told us Wikipedia is reliable as a source). 

No accidents means no need for body shops. And that effects employment of just those directly involved in repairing the cars. It does not consider the people who are out there making the replacement parts like new fenders, hoods, airbags, and windshields, driving the trucks to deliver materials to the people making the replacement parts, keeping and tracking the inventory of those parts, or driving the trucks full of replacement parts out to those 35,320 body shops. 
How about the people that work for insurance companies providing repair estimates? How about the people who adjust the insurance claims regarding those automobile accidents? If there are no accidents, will there be as much need for insurance products and service? Will there be any need when it comes to autos?
How about the attorneys. Anyone with a Yellow Pages or who had driven past a billboard lately might suspect that there are a few attorneys who specialize in personal injury claims. Answers claims that there are about 76,000 attorneys in the United States who specialize in personal injury. That is about how many people live in St. Augustine, Florida. 
The Boston Globe recently ran an opinion piece proclaiming that the U.S. Legal Bubble Can;t Pop Soon Enough. The author claims law school admissions are decreasing. He contends that this is because it is increasingly difficult to find work, claiming that "fewer than half of lawyers graduating in 2011 eventually landed jobs in a law firm," and that only "65 percent found positions requiring passage of the bar exam." So there is already an arguable oversupply of attorneys. Fewer accidents, fewer injuries, does that mean there will be a decreased need for personal injury attorneys? If there are less personal injury lawyers, less injured people, is the converse obvious, less demand for injury defense attorneys. 
This ignores the criminal defense bar. With self-driving cars, would there be any "driving under the influence," that is DUI or DWI in other states? In January, we heard of the inebriated Ole Miss fan who hailed an Uber following the Peach Bowl. Sensationalists initially reported that his/her almost $1,000 tab resulted from a drunken ride-share ride home to Mississippi.

Auto Blog later reported that it was more related to providing a faulty address and not understanding Uber's "surge pricing," but nonetheless that tab resulted in part from drinking. In the driver-less world, might such a "price tag" detriment be the worst scenario? Would it be a crime to drunkenly tell the automated car the wrong destination? Would DUI defense work become a thing of the past?
The implications are broader. The Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Institute reports that in 2013 the "average auto liability claim for bodily injury was $15,443." They claim that the volume of crashes was about 5.5 million in 2012. That is a great many crashes, and a great volume of dollars required to provide the medical testing and treatment for the results. Contemplate the economic impact of eliminating the need for all of that care and treatment. 

Certainly. the injured are better off not being in the accident and not being hurt. No one would argue to the contrary. But the absence of those injuries may potentially cause a shift in the labor market. Perhaps the medical expertise currently invested in that care could be invested in treatment and care for other medical challenges. That investment might lead to even longer life expectancy for us all?
The economic impacts are potentially intense, internal and external, direct and indirect. Less drivers, less trucks, less replacement parts, less cars, less parking facilities, less advertising by attorneys and physicians, less claims, less claims adjusters, investigators, estimators, etc. It is a truly staggering potentiality. 

On the human side, this is all positive. There is no human detriment to fewer people being hurt, and no one would suggest that there is. The point is that we will see internal changes to the practice of law, production of hamburgers, and truck driving resulting from automation. We have begun to comprehend what these internal changes will mean to various professions; I hope they do not replace me with the "robotic hamburger maker."
But the real point is that we may see far broader external impacts of automation on the highways. As they benefit us as human beings with less injuries, these technologies are likely to cause shifts in the American economy. Resources directed at dealing with the results of auto accidents today will likely be redirected otherwise as the external effects of driver-less cars change our environment, Will we be prepared for the changes that will come as we experience the changes that will come with the great benefits in safety and health?

What does this all mean for workers' compensation? From "falling asleep behind the wheel," to "distracted driving," Business Insurance concludes that "traffic accidents are one of the leading causes of high severity workers' comp injuries."  The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) echoes that conclusion. An info-graphic on represents that the top occupation for injuries is "Driver/Sales Workers."

If auto accidents become a thing of the past, will the "going and coming rule" become obsolete? Here is a recent post from Bob Wilson on when the risk begins for travelling employees. With little or no responsibility for operating the vehicle on our commute, will we sit in front of a display and actually work during that time?

I recently read about a new program offered by Wal Mart in limited areas. You go online and order your groceries and schedule a pick-up time to drive through the pick-up window at the store. With a driver-less car, there may be no need for you to go along for the ride. While your car is out shopping, it could perhaps pick up your dry cleaning and the kids from soccer practice as well? Such changes may alter the kinds of jobs in the marketplace as we consume more convenience (pre-selected groceries loaded into our car) and spend less time with tasks such as shopping. 

We likely have little choice in whether we can remain buggy whip producers. Hopefully, this will be the limit of the change; though there are some who wonder if instead of being the whip makers we may be the horses in this revolution. If these folks are right, the impact might be more profound than we think. But, as I have said before we do have the chance to both anticipate that change is coming and to prepare ourselves for it. What skills can we obtain today, and perfect in coming days and months that will allow us to continue to bring value to the marketplace through such change?

About the Author

 Judge David Langham
David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims and Division of Administrative Hearings. Contact him at

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    About The Author

    • Judge David Langham

      David Langham is the Deputy Chief Judge of Compensation Claims for the Florida Office of Judges of Compensation Claims at the Division of Administrative Hearings. He has been involved in workers’ compensation for over 25 years as an attorney, an adjudicator, and administrator. He has delivered hundreds of professional lectures, published numerous articles on workers’ compensation in a variety of publications, and is a frequent blogger on Florida Workers’ Compensation Adjudication. David is a founding director of the National Association of Workers’ Compensation Judiciary and the Professional Mediation Institute, and is involved in the Southern Association of Workers’ Compensation Administrators (SAWCA) and the International Association of Industrial Accident Boards and Commissions (IAIABC). He is a vocal advocate of leveraging technology and modernizing the dispute resolution processes of workers’ compensation.

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