Legal education needs to prepare tomorrow’s lawyers for the automated world in which they will be operating.

I have just attended a meeting with regulators of the US legal profession. The major challenges facing American lawyers were discussed. There are lessons in the conclusions for us, too, despite differences in our structures and numbers.

Three trends were identified, all of them linked: the consequences of new disruptive technology; current legal education and its fitness for purpose; and the matching of unemployed lawyers with unmet legal need.

Various scary statistics were raised: law office jobs have dropped by 54,000 over the last 10 years; law school applications have dropped by 50% over the same period, and are now at 1975 levels despite there being nearly 40 more law schools; over one million lawyers in India are willing to work for between $25.00-$50.00 per hour; in the last 40 years, the number of law schools and law school enrolment has well outpaced the proportionate growth in US population; in Massachusetts, over 75% of parties in the Housing and Family & Probate Courts are unrepresented by lawyers; of the 2012 law graduates in the US, at a point nine months after graduation, only 65.7% were in full-time jobs expected to last more than one year for which a law degree was required or clearly advantageous.

As I hope to show by the end, these statistics, and the three trends that generate them, fall into place into a single storyline.

The problems of new technology are well known. There are various online providers of legal services that supply interactive advice and documentation. Who regulates them? Are they providing legal services as now regulated? There are numerous software programs which have replaced traditional legal jobs: the writing of some contracts, the provision of automated document assembly, and e-discovery. So will all the work around traditional legal services continue to be provided by lawyers in the future?

The answer is already no, although it is not yet clear what lawyer’s work will escape from IT programs’ growing reach. Clever academics are currently trying to guess what exactly will remain for lawyers to do. It will be those law firms which make accurate predictions that will survive.

Legal education – as is clear from some of the statistics – is going through critical challenges. Experts are thinking hard how to improve it. The American Bar Association’s Task Force on the Future of Legal Education, about which I have written before, has just submitted its final report. Some think that legal education is doing a fine job on black-letter law, but not enough on the disruptive technology which is causing havoc with jobs. They think students need to be taught about legal IT. Today’s students will still be in practice in 40 years’ time, and so should be trained in future methods of delivery.

We are not still in the middle of the 20th century, and yet we train students to be lawyers as if they are. They should be taught instead about the smart devices and IT programs that they will use in everyday legal practice. Processes and project management, as opposed just to black-letter law, play a larger part in legal services – teach them that, too.

The third strand of challenges for regulators is how to rebalance the legal system. There is an ocean of unmet need through people who cannot afford legal advice and representation, but at the same time there are growing numbers of young law graduates unable to find a job as a lawyer. There must be something wrong. The president of the American Bar Association is putting resources into a solution. He has established the Legal Access Job Corps to explore programmes that will bring together unemployed and underemployed young lawyers with those Americans with unmet legal needs. I know that in this country the topic is entangled with complicated legal aid politics.

Out of these three strands, a single story emerges. Lawyers’ work is shrinking in the face of the might of the computer, and will continue to shrink. There are, therefore, fewer purely legal jobs available for a stream of law graduates. That human stream is thinning and will continue to thin as young people see there is no guaranteed future in the law. Legal education needs to prepare the rest - those whom we hope will be the survivors - for the automated world in which they will be operating. For the others, those who are still coming through the system because of previous over-provision, and who cannot find a job in existing law firms, there should be efforts made to join them up with those in our society who have no legal representation because of inadequate resources.

This is a time of revolutionary change brought on principally by the sudden introduction of new technology, in a field which has relied for a long time on chiefly human effort. Regulators and legal educators need to respond rapidly to the developments. With some adaptation to our different structures, the same lessons apply here.