Is Technology Taking Your Job?

When you stop to think of all the jobs that have been reduced or eliminated by technology, it’s overwhelming.  The pace at which apps and programs are developing far exceeds most humans’ ability to adapt.  We are living longer, healthier lives – thanks to technological advances in medicine – which means we must work longer to support ourselves later in life. Before we invest our time and money in education and training for jobs, let’s first consider how long they’re likely to last.

Consider where we were just 10-15 years ago.  When you needed to deposit a check, you interacted with a bank teller, either in person or through the drive-thru.  Your bills were printed on paper and delivered to you through the mail.  Now, we receive and pay bills online and make deposits by taking photos of checks with our phone.  In the past, if we needed to fly somewhere, get a hotel room and rent a car, we called a travel agent. Now, we book our own flights online and stay at strangers’ homes, rather than pay the high costs of staying, eating, and parking at expensive hotels. 

The medical field is also changing rapidly because of technology.  Have you ever met your radiologist?  She may be in India reading your imaging studies while you sleep. Need a hysterectomy?  Your surgeon may be using a robot which can reduce the amount of time in the hospital and the amount of after-care you need, thereby reducing the need for people in those jobs.  Remember receptionists?  Most businesses have automated phone systems where reaching a human is almost impossible.

One area where people have been slow to embrace technology is the legal field.  So slowly, in fact, the Florida Bar has mandated that lawyers must now obtain continuing education credits in technology.  Some of us remember learning to do legal research using all those handsome legal books.  For years legal research has been all online and the only time you see law books is when a lawyer is posing in front of them saying “He’ll fight for YOU!” (Insert eyeroll emoji here.)

Remember legal secretaries?  For years, that was a steady, well-paying job for many women who started right out of high school and retired with the same firm.  They took dictation, answered phone calls, paid bills, made copies, and filed papers.  Today, lawyers type their own documents, take their own calls, handle their own texts and emails on their handheld devices, they pay their own bills online, and most firms are paperless, meaning very few copies and almost no physical filing. 

Many believe there are some professions which can’t be replaced by technology.  We’ve all seen that meme. “Please do not confuse your Google search with my law degree, medical degree, accounting degree, real estate license.”  And it’s not just healthcare; other professions are vulnerable.  Back in the day, if you wanted to see available real estate, you had to drive by it, read the newspaper, or consult a realtor who had exclusive access to the listings.  Today, anyone can access listed property through Zillow, Trulia, and other online sites.  TurboTax has radically changed tax preparation and now that we submit taxes online, lots of support staff positions in accounting firms have been eliminated. 

As a lawyer, I’m concerned about how technology is going to change my practice.  Everyone has heard of companies like Legal Zoom offering to help you form a contact, prepare a will, create powers of attorney, etc.  I always felt safe as a trial lawyer because I figure if people are going to fight over something, they’re going to need a human mouthpiece who knows evidence and procedure and has a little bit of personality.  Interestingly, a friend who designs software told me that in his view, the most logical person to be replaced by technology in the legal field is the trial judge.  That’s because her job is to consider the facts, apply the law, assign the admissibility and weight given to the evidence, and basically call balls and strikes.  They are human algorithms and that is precisely what computers are designed to replace. 

So, what is the take away?  Be smart. Think.  Be prepared.  Because of technology, our firm no longer employs legal secretaries or file clerks.  However, we now pay much more for software, hardware, and IT support than ever before.  Technology will eliminate many jobs, but it will also create new opportunities.  We tend to look to people we respect for guidance on our future.  Just make sure they and you fully consider the influence technology will have on your livelihood.