Relax, lawyers and accountants. AI isn’t going to take your jobs

Will AI take most professional service jobs? (Alamy/PA)
Will AI take most professional service jobs? (Alamy/PA)

A nice respectable career as a lawyer or an accountant has been the ambition of generations of young people.

But with professional services firms investing billions in AI technology will the jobs still be there for them in years to come?

“Big four” accountancy firm PwC has revealed that it spent £100 million on “emerging technologies” last year including on AI and “digital collaborations with Harvey, Microsoft and Icertis, and ContractPodAI”.

But did that result in swathes of eager young auditors and consultants being laid off and replaced by robots and algorithms? Apparently not.

PwC’s headcount rose from 24,500 to 26,000 last year, though this included 4850 people in IT.

A survey from the Thomson Reuters Institute on the “Future of Professionals” also reveals relatively upbeat sentiment towards the impact of AI. It found that 58% of lawyers felt positive about the prospect of the technology being more widely used in the workplace.

Almost half said they hoped it would boost productivity while 42% said it will “free up time for them to focus on higher-value tasks”.

Indeed some 47% of UK lawyers anticipate their professional skills will become more prized as AI adoption grows. The results — and the figures from PwC — suggest that AI is perhaps not the category killer for professional services that some of the more gloomy forecasters have suggested.

Like all new technologies, it will end the usefulness of some roles, particularly the more tedious and unproductive ones, while allowing new forms of employment to emerge. It is easy to see how much of the low-grade grunt work in legal and accounting offices will very quickly be handed over to AI. No more burning of midnight oil over tedious paperwork.

But the human contact and trust at the heart of the client relationship in professional services is surely still far from being replaced by a glorified chatbot.