Subpoenas! Objections! Habeas corpus! It’s Automation and Affadavits: Rise of the Robolawyers ... and it’s coming to a theatre near you!
OK, so it’s not a future John Grisham - Ridley Scott collaboration. But in recent years, much has been made of the potential impact of Artificial Intelligence (AI) on the legal industry. And in some cases, potential has become reality.
Think of ROSS, the spinoff of IBM’s Watson - a robotic attorney that performs legal research. Or Lex Machina, whose software assesses court decisions by the millions, identifies trends, and offers savvy strategies. Or iJuror, the app that assists in jury selection. Or LawBot, a chatbot developed by Cambridge University students that helps victims in England report crimes.
A brave new legal world is already upon us, powered by Big Data and machine learning. But what does it really mean for the legal industry of the future? Should we get ready for a case law-cultivated C3PO, or a Robocop in robes?
AI is the hot topic that everyone in the legal vertical is talking about these days. The benefits of AI in legal industry performance are well understood - incredible efficiency and accuracy, for starters. All that’s left is further development and increased adoption, making AI an extremely important technology to watch.
Augmentation, not automation
AI is expected to replace much of the document-search and due-diligence work currently being done by paralegals, articling students or junior lawyers.
Software programs and algorithms are already being used to perform tedious tasks like data collection, record searches and fact verification. And with corporate clients often unwilling to continue to pay premium rates to firms for routine work by junior staff, “yeah, that work is going to go away,” Queen’s University alumnus Jordan Furlong tells Queen’s Law Reports.
“I’m not sure that is a tragedy, if what we are going to lose is the drudge work,” he says. “I’m not sure that the jobs that are going to be replaced are the ones that we should necessarily mourn.”
It’s more a case of augmentation than automation, say AI proponents.
- According to IBM, about 2.5 quintillion bytes - as in, a number with 17 zeroes - of data are generated every day, a number that is increasingly rendering human document review a fool’s errand; and
- According to a paper by the University of North Carolina School of Law’s Dana Remus and MIT’s Frank Levy, immediately putting in place all legal technology would reasonably result in about a 2.5% decline in lawyers’ hours.
“There is this popular view that if you can automate one piece of work, the rest of the job is toast,” Levy tells the New York Times. “That’s just not true, or only rarely the case.”
In other words, there’s a significant opportunity to work with technology, not against it, and carve out a valuable industry niche. Potential job creation may extend to legal engineering (managing and developing AI), algorithm writing and reviewing AI-assisted work.
Leveraging the ‘human touch’
While legal precedent, due diligence and precision are staples of the legal industry, there will always be a need for the human touch.
Proponents of AI believe that bot-based research will in fact free up lawyers from the day-to-day banalities of the profession and focus on what makes them great - critical analysis, creative thinking and offering their clients thoughtful advice.
“There are roles that junior or new lawyers can play inside and outside the current structure - roles that have more emotional content,” lawyer and online entrepreneur Jeff Fung tells Queen’s Law Reports.
Adds Furlong: “I’m inclined to think that a lousy lawyer with instantaneous access to all the legal information in the world is still a lousy lawyer. You still need to have the qualities we consider to be outstanding features of good lawyers - which include analysis, empathy, good judgement and all sorts of different things that Watson doesn’t pretend to have.”
More access to justice, more opportunity
And then there’s the access-to-justice issue. AI is already addressing the legal needs of those who, because of cost and circumstance, have been unable to receive adequate legal advice.
DoNotPay is an online application, created by an English teen, that helps people fight parking tickets and fines. By asking a series of questions, and generating a letter for the appropriate authority, DoNotPay has helped well over 200,000 people in London, New York and Seattle beat parking and traffic tickets.
It’s a model that Ronald Vogl, executive director of the Stanford Program in Law, Science and Technology, believes will be replicated elsewhere over time - with chatbots becoming the first point of legal contact for the poor.
“Every legal-aid group has to turn people away because there isn’t time to process all of the cases,” Vogl tells The Atlantic.
And that, some believe, presents an opportunity - not a hindrance - for law firms.
“I think we will see ... more jobs in the legal market,” Andrew Arruda, CEO and co-founder of ROSS Intelligence, tells CNBC. “At the firms where ROSS is at, we see more work being done, more clients being able to be served, and therefore not a decrease in staff - but an increase in productivity and output.”
‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em’
Most of us are resistant to change, and the legal profession is no different.
But change isn’t just coming. It’s already here. As of mid-2017, there were at least 50 companies focused on developing legal AI software.
So should the legal industry fear or embrace AI?
“Both,” says Sofia Lingos of the American Bar Association’s Legal Technology Resource Center. “It’s wise to embrace it now, so that it can be a tool, as opposed to an impediment.
“No one wants to be competing against Watson ... if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”