AI is an ambiguous and often-confused term, but it’s one that’s bandied around frequently in the legal sector - to describe anything from robot lawyers to machine learning. Yet, despite the ambiguity surrounding the language, the vast majority of the conversation is focused on AI’s potential impact on the delivery of legal services.
Most of this conjecture is negative. In fact, some legal commentators have predicted that “AI will eliminate most paralegal and legal research positions within the next decade.”
With others, namely, Deloitte, estimating more than 100,000 legal jobs are likely to become automated by 2036.
And whilst it’s true that some laborious and repetitive tasks currently carried out by humans can be done by machines, the conversation should be centred on how AI can support lawyers and the legal profession.
Freeing humans up to do what they do best - rather than process-driven tasks and paperwork - the focus shifts to improving productivity and efficiency in the process.
AI might conjure up a fear of the unknown, and certainly raises interesting ethical questions, but it’s firms that recognise the opportunity, rather than seeing AI as a threat that are set to benefit.
AI in the Legal Profession
A recent CBRE study of London law firms showed that 48% are already using artificial intelligence, and 41% have plans to do so imminently - showing that AI is now very much in the present.
But what is the reality of AI’s use in today’s law firm? Is it really something to fear? Here are a few examples of how AI is being used today:
Automation of billing & practice management
Calculating billable hours can be a time-sapping endeavour at the end of each month. These admin tasks can be automated by AI tools built into the software. The result – more time for client matters.
In the legal sector, there’s no shortage of data from previous cases. But tapping into this vast amount of information is often beyond the capabilities of a human being.
With AI though, data can be analysed considerably faster. Law firms can use the insights gained to inform their approach - with one piece of legal software, Lex Machina, already able to assess the likelihood of winning a case as soon as the initial documentation is received.
Another time-consuming and tedious task, often undertaken by legal support workers. AI can not only ensure due diligence is carried out quicker but potentially eliminate human error from the process.
AI can be used to review contracts in bulk - highlighting anything that looks unusual from the standard clauses. This means legal professionals only have to focus on the bits that matter, rather than sifting through reams and reams of documentation. Not only is this more efficient, but it also reduces the likelihood of human error.
Although this one isn’t quite in the present, the direction of travel is very much in the way of a “Virtual court”. In fact, in his recently released book, legal commentator Richard Susskind calls for a “global online court revolution”. And whilst in this case, human lawyers will be facilitated by technology, how long will it be before AI lawyers take their place?
Current use of AI is likely to focus on improving the efficiency of mundane and repetitive tasks, allowing lawyers to dedicate more time to their clients.
Even so, the inevitable leaps in technology will raise important questions for the legal sector.
The Ethics of AI
One of the most important questions is of ethics. And this debate isn’t limited to the use of AI in the legal profession but at a societal level too.
As law firms adopt the use of artificial intelligence internally, they’re just as likely to be dealing with legislation to regulate usage in other areas. And these discussions are already well underway, with both the EU and the OECD looking to establish guidelines, alongside tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Microsoft.
But what are some of the most pressing issues?
For those of you that aren’t sci-fi nerds, “technological singularity” refers to the point at which artificial intelligence surpasses human beings.
Do we become obsolete? Is it possible for AI to take over? It might seem far-fetched to some, but it’s a very real concern and one that will need to be addressed in the near future.
Economy & society
The loss of jobs to AI-driven bots is to some extent, inevitable. Will this lead to the creation of new and better roles for humans?
Will a rise in the use of AI require a shift in training and skills? Or even create millions of jobs in a new industry – designing, building, training and managing the robots?
As robots don’t get paid, or pay taxes, how will this affect wealth inequality? Will companies and their bosses pocket the extra profits this might bring?
AI still requires human input and data for creation and training. Studies of real-life examples have already shown that an AI-driven system can inherit biases from human creators.
This poses obvious issues when it comes to equality and, of course, the legal profession.
Another inevitable question as robots become more advanced is – at what point do they have “feelings”, and should, therefore, be granted rights? How would their rights compare to animals or even humans?
Perhaps the most famous (and controversial) example of a humanoid robot in recent memory, is Sophia.
Activated in 2016, Sophia’s creators certainly brought this issue into the spotlight, even if some critics deemed it more of a PR stunt than anything else.
The Opportunity in AI
For the legal profession then, the key thing to note is where there’s regulation, there’s work.
As national and international regulatory bodies focus their attention on AI, the more businesses – from budding tech startups to multinational conglomerates – will need specialist legal advice on the matter.
At the same time, AI could play a huge part in legal innovation – using technology to improve processes and free up lawyers’ time – so they can concentrate on providing valuable services to clients.
So, as well as embracing AI to help them do their job better, lawyers ought to embrace the law of AI too.
And if they don’t, well there might just be a RoboLawyer that will!
Our upcoming webinar explores this impact in greater depth. Join as we look at the place of artificial intelligence & machine learning in law firms.