I’ve heard that my career as an estate planning attorney will end at some point as artificial intelligence (“AI”) improves, much the same as the web did away with travel agents. Proponents of AI feel that consumers flock to anything that’s faster, easier, and cheaper.
I respectfully disagree. At least not for those who don’t prioritize the commodity of our practices. Those practitioners are not going away like travel agents largely did but will be respected for our knowledge and wisdom like CPAs continue to be even though online tax preparation has consumed a majority of the easiest of tax returns.
Knowledge is vastly different post-Internet. What I mean by that is that professionals were, prior to Google and similar search engines, the gatekeepers of knowledge. Today, one can look up nearly anything without having to attend medical, law school or trade school of any kind.
In my experience, however, the explosion of available information hasn’t led to the extinction of the best professionals. When my mother developed acute myeloid leukemia, I immediately went to WebMD and other sites to learn about the disease and available treatments.
After several hours of searching and reading – I felt more alone and confused than ever about what we should do. It was only after visiting the wise and extremely knowledgeable physicians at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston that we felt clear about what treatments, chemotherapies, and bone marrow transplant options my mother would consider and ultimately follow.
As good as the Internet may be in breaking through knowledge gatekeepers, it also causes information overload, mind-clutter, confusion, and decision fatigue. Patients, clients, and customers will always value the counsel of a wise professional over that of mechanical, artificial “intelligence.” Wisdom is more valuable than knowledge.
With that said, wisdom is hard to come by. In my mother’s case, we traveled to a renowned Houston cancer center to get the most up-to-date knowledge related to the aggressive killer disease she suffered from. Thank God for those wise professionals, as they served to extend my mother’s life a total of twelve years (she had a second stem cell transplant nearly seven years after her bone marrow transplant when she fell out of remission) that she would not have otherwise had.
What I’ve found in my career is that clients somehow discount valuable advice with regard to estate planning as opposed to medical advice. Clearly, one needs a specialist to receive oncological treatments. On the other hand, everyone knows the English language, why can’t you research the web and write your own estate planning documents? There are forms available, after all.
Thankfully, many understand that our estate, trust, and tax laws impose numerous traps for the unwary. I’ll give you just one example. Someone (not a client of mine) put this phrase in her will: “I hereby forgive any debt that my son John owes me.”
Seems simple enough, doesn’t it? Except that this client didn’t apparently understand that the forgiveness of debt triggers taxable income to the debtor under federal tax law. A wise professional, conversant in the law would have instead told her to bequeath the notes back to John. While bequeathing the notes themselves and forgiving the debt would appear synonymous to a layman, the difference is significant, as it wouldn’t trigger recognition of income. In the law, simple phrases that one believes are innocuous and clear could result in unintended, adverse consequence.
Further, AI can’t distinguish, and probably never will, the complex human emotions that go into estate planning. Here you’re mixing family relationships, death of loved ones, money, and taxes among other things into one big pot. It takes earned wisdom to successfully navigate those waters.
The more difficult choice for consumers is to know who to trust. That’s why the Florida Bar created a Board Certification program, so that Florida legal consumers know who the experts are in any given field. To become board certified, an attorney must have at least five years of significant experience in the specialized field, in my case, wills, trusts and estates. The attorney must pass a rigorous examination, have an exemplary ethical record, be recommended to become board certified by local attorneys and judges, and complete a very significant number of high-level continuing education hours within each reporting period. To remain board certified one must get recertified every five years. For more on this visit floridabar.org/about/cert/
Both my law partner Michael Hill and I are board certified in wills, trusts, and estates joining only 290 other such attorneys within the entire State of Florida.
Will AI displace many professionals? I don’t believe it will displace true specialists. There will always be a need for exceptional knowledge and keen wisdom to bestow the same comfort that MD Anderson provided my mother several years ago.