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AI and the law. What does the future hold?

Posted by Melanie Davidson on 14 December 2015

It was recently reported by the BBC that in the future jobs will increasingly be at risk of automation from artificial intelligence (AI).

Boston Consulting Group predicts that by 2025 up to one quarter of jobs in the United Kingdom will be replaced by AI of some type. In the longer term, it is predicted that 35% of existing jobs will be at risk of automation, according to a study from Oxford University and professional services firm Deloitte.

In certain sectors we have already seen the effectiveness of AI. Automobile companies frequently using robots for assembly, while companies such as Associated Press and Forbes increasingly use robots to write factual reports and stories for the news environment. In the legal sector progresss has been slower, owing in part to the necessity of being risk averse. 

The potential for using AI to assist legal practice is nevertheless in existence. It can be grouped into two categories: the technology providing legal services (that which promotes 'lawyering') and technology responsible for running a law business (including legal research platforms). 

Technology providing legal services

The value placed on a skilled lawyer providing legal services is a consideration that for any company looking to engineer AI with the purpose of carrying out a lawyer's role. The analytical and negotiation skills needed for successful 'lawyering', particularly litigation, cannot, at least for now, cannot be replicated by a machine. These innately human traits may therefore account for the estimation that barristers and solicitors face a mere 3% risk of automation.

In stark contrast the study suggests that legal secretaries are particularly at risk of automation. Figures estimate that there is a 98% chance of their work becoming automated. Librarians (although not specifically those practising in law) are just slightly less at risk however, with a 52% chance of automation. 

Ross Intelligence is just one company that is aiming to turn the way law offices work on its head, by engineering machines that are capable of administration and research activities. 'Ross' as he is called, is being trained by various US-based law firms in a bid to carry out legal research, scan documents and case law. He uses predictive coding to learn human behaviour, then applies this to what he learns and assimilates feedback to learn from what he does. In the future the Global Legal Post has reported that Ross is expected to be introduced into various areas of legal practice in those law firms currently trialing the product. If this proves to be successful, it could be a move that is both time- and cost-saving for law firms in the long run.

Technology for running a law business

The technologies that contribute to the successful running of a legal business, such as legal research platforms and case management systems, are more advanced in their development. In recent years we have noticed a shift from physical books as a research resource toward ‘eBooks’ and online legal research platforms.

This change has been made possible by companies harnessing new technology and embracing it in the development of new legal resources. Legal research platforms such as JustisOne make use of technology that can index documents and create links between them, saving legal professionals the time they would otherwise spend in establishing whether a case has been positively treated by another case, for example. Making use of clever algorithms and programmes in this way, the technology used can document and categorise information much more quickly than could be done manually by a human. 

What about the future?

Workplace automation, as it can be termed, is not without its critics. One of these being Martin Ford, author of Rise of the Robots. He voices the fear that the development of AI will put enormous stress on the economy and society. There is a risk of mass unemployment and economic collapse unless we make some 'radical changes’ to employment practices such as the minimum wage. Robots have the benefit of being able to continuously, without need for holidays, pay or any other benefits. Moreover they can, in many circumstances, do jobs quicker than a human in the same role. 

Over the years we are seeing, and are likely to continue to see for some time, the viablity of AI across a range of industries and sectors. Robots are able to take data and turn it into something understandable to the end reader, i.e. information. It is likely to carry on advancing in this way as technology gets more intelligent.

In the future the key is to establish which areas of legal practice can be replaced by AI and those which cannot, such as legal representation.

Do you think the specialist work of law librarians/information professionals and other members of the legal profession can be replicated by machines? Let us know your thoughts via Twitter (@JustisPub) using the hashtag #legalautomation.

Melanie Davidson

Written by Melanie Davidson

Mel works as the Marketing Executive for Justis, writing legal content for our blog as well as organising our advertising and other marketing activities. She completed her Masters degree in Public International Law, writing her dissertation on the persecution of minorities. Her predominant legal interest lies in the areas of state crime and international human rights.

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