What does AI mean for lawyers?

26 Nov 2019

DRD Research Intern, Antonia Kendrick, explores the legal sector’s technological revolution, and asks what the rise of artificial intelligence means for lawyers.

The rise and impact of artificial intelligence technology (‘AI’)

The legal sector is undergoing a technological revolution. This is evident from the growth of legal process outsourcing to the push for court digitisation, and now the rise and impact of artificial intelligence technology (‘AI’).

Lord Sales of the UK Supreme Court addressed this paradigm shift last week in a lecture titled Algorithms, Artificial Intelligence and the Law. In his speech, Lord Sales raised the topical question of how ‘legal doctrine [should] adapt to accommodate the new world’.

The background to this question is the fact that AI allows computers to perform actions which would require intelligence (i.e. logic, reasoning and creativity) if carried out by humans. This is usually achieved via machine learning, whereby an AI undergoes training on a huge data-set.

How can AI help?

AI has deep implications for highly skilled professions such as the law. Time-consuming, mundane tasks traditionally undertaken by junior lawyers are being automated, with top law firms and companies investing in AI platforms which will increase efficiency. For example, Coca-Cola’s legal department has used AI tools to reduce the amount of time lawyers spend on document review from up to 10 hours to roughly 15 minutes. As well as speeding up tasks, there is even talk of AI outperforming human lawyers: earlier this year, iCan Systems became the first company to resolve a dispute before a public court in England and Wales using a robot mediator.

What does this mean for lawyers? The profession will evolve rather than disappear. As AI automates routine legal tasks, lawyers will be free to spend more time on complex, high value client work. Traditional law firms will also have the opportunity to collaborate with the fast-growing LegalTech world. Investment into UK LegalTech start-ups has already reached £61m in 2018.

Tay’s story

However, AI is a tool that requires human intervention and direction. AI is only as ‘clever’ as the data-set supporting its training. This is evident from Microsoft’s 2016 chatbot ‘Tay’.

Microsoft designed Tay to get ‘smarter’ as more Twitter users were interacting with it. Within 16 hours, Microsoft had shut down Tay because it was spouting racist and sexist tweets that other Twitter users were feeding it. Given the constraints of an AI’s data-set, we should be wary of over-relying on the technology.

Another concern, (highlighted by Lord Sales last week), is that legal algorithms cannot accommodate changing moral perspectives. These, otherwise, would allow the law to develop naturally in line with society’s changing attitudes. Nor can they identify values which are not explicitly included in the algorithm. Put bluntly, human lawyers can think open-endedly, whereas algorithms cannot.

To be successful, legal professionals will harness the tools enabled by AI whilst recognising that this technology has its limits and emphasising the importance of the nuanced advice which human experts can offer.

PHOTO: Courtesy of Oxford University