If you’re in trouble, would you rather call your lawyer or his AI sidekick? The right answer is not as obvious as one might think. Law is all-encompassing, especially in the business world. Whether we realize it or not, business takes place in the shadow of the law. Law is still, however, one of those fields primarily conducted by humans. But why? After all, legal work is largely standardized. A machine can surely sift through a trove of documents better than a paralegal. Armed with technology, lawyers are already more efficient than before. The trend toward digitizing law is poised to continue as robot lawyers become smarter and more capable.
For many years, various computer software types have supported lawyers and law firms in their daily operations, mostly with document archiving, text editing, communication, and similar processes. This software improves the work of lawyers — around half of all law firms report they are already using technology to replace human resources. However, it is still human knowledge, experience, and set of various competencies that determine the “final product” of their activities. Soon enough, computer systems will be able to replace human lawyers in more qualitative tasks. And an intelligent AI-powered legal service will suddenly mean any business can have their own in-house lawyer, or better yet, a lawyer in their pocket. The pressing issue in the coming years will not be the efficiency, but how human lawyers will adapt to the new reality. Their competition does not rest and has virtually unlimited computing power.
Currently, the legal system relies on armies of paralegals and interns to discover, index, and process information. Just think of how popular culture portrays law firms. If the firm is private, the offices are gigantic, fancy, and filled with graduates grinding away until the wee hours of the night. At present, this reliance can be expensive, driving up the rates they charge. These types of tasks are also the lowest hanging fruits for the AI systems to tackle. They are repetitive and require much sifting and pattern recognition, skills that suit AI particularly well.
The prospect that the world’s top lawyers will lower their rates after AI streamlines their processes seems unlikely. This is true at least for the high-end services. It is possible, though, that the high-end firms will lower their rates significantly for the tasks better suited for automation, such as drafting contracts, for example. These lawyers can now dedicate more time to the more advanced tasks and value-generating legal work.
The benefit also comes on the other end of the spectrum. Consider, for example, public defenders and investigators, currently, they are up to their necks in the caseload. They can only afford to spend a short amount of time on each of their clients, greatly diminishing their service. Arming these lawyers with AI will give them time and computing power of which they previously could only dream.
There are also benefits to the whole judicial process. AI could be used to conduct time-consuming research, reduce the burdens on courts and legal services, and accelerate processes. This benefit will have tremendous ripple effects. There are many situations in which using AI might be preferable to interacting with a human, such as for client interviews. One advantage is AI can devote as much time to the client as needed, which will create greater access to high-quality legal services by people who previously didn’t have it. The expression “I need to consult my lawyer” might be followed not by a billed phone call, but instead, a visit to an app on your phone can provide top-of-the-line legal advice.
In many ways, the legal sector is undergoing a slower digitization process than other industries. In 2021, the global legal services market is projected to exceed a trillion U.S. dollars, and technological advancements are impacting jobs in the legal services industry.
The numbers on the digitization of the legal field are pointing in different but interesting and sometimes contradicting directions. While half of U.S. law firms reported using technology to replace human resources, this number hasn’t grown for the last three years. A similar story applies to in-house legal teams, with just over half of U.S. companies reporting in a 2018 survey that they use technology-assisted document reviews, and around 30 percent are automating legal processes.
It is only the lowest hanging fruits that have been taken over by technology, like e-signatures and document management. Technology is used to assist in analytics or discovery, such as data collection, processing, and review, in less than 15 percent of legal departments worldwide. Still, industry responses to technology seem to be positive. In a 2018 survey of senior lawyers in Singapore, an overwhelming majority agreed that legal technology improves service delivery, reduces costs, and is crucial to the industry’s future.
While most of the technological advancements implemented in legal departments aren’t game-changing process-support systems, the change will surely come. The benefits are enormous. AI is still in its infancy. So far, we are actually mostly talking about digitizing and automating processes, but soon enough, the AI will be so accessible and well developed that even the late adopters will take advantage of it. The most likely scenario is that adopting AI will probably be like an arms race in most industries, including the legal profession.
But, to the original question. Will robot lawyers lie like humans? This is well illustrated in the 2015 movie Interstellar, where in one of the scenes the main character (Cooper) has a conversation with the AI robot TARS:
Cooper: Hey TARS, what’s your honesty parameter?
TARS: 90 percent.
Cooper: 90 percent?
TARS: Absolute honesty isn’t always the most diplomatic nor the safest form of communication with emotional beings.
Cooper: Okay, 90 percent it is.
About the Author
Pawel Stopczynski, Researcher and R&D Director at VAIOT. Development projects coordinator with a cybersecurity background. At VAIOT he is leading and executing research and development activity as well as acting as a Product Owner. Previously he was an R&D Director and Co-Founder at Veriori, a next-generation product authentication company utilizing Blockchain and Artificial