Developments in science and technology have transformed virtually every industry and although it has been slow to adapt, the legal sector is no different. Clients are increasingly turning to the internet for legal information, and why shouldn’t they? The internet has made accessing legal information quick, easy and most importantly- free. Law firms are under increasing pressure from better informed and more demanding clients who are more scrutinous of bills than those of the past. Whilst many lawyers see this as a significant business challenge, the legal industry has been notoriously slow to adopt new technology and processes that would not only make their jobs easier but also offer their clients better value for money. This could be due to the fact that until now, they have not had the incentive to do so. This has exposed gaps in the market that new legal technology start-ups are seeking to fill with an arsenal of products and services powered by machine learning, natural language processing and data visualization.
People have been discussing the idea of machines and computers replacing humans for years, and while the idea may seem far-fetched at the moment, we are starting to see the first steps of a potential AI revolution.
Ebay’s dispute resolution center is perhaps one of the earliest examples of an online dispute resolution system that does not require any legal assistance from a human 3rd party. The system resolves around 60 million disputes by traders each year- far more than any small claims court. Donotpay.co.uk is another example of online dispute resolution that dramatically reduces the time and effort required to draft appeals for parking ticket fines. More than 120,000 people have used the site to pick one of 12 reasons of defence, enter relevant details and send custom appeals generated by an algorithm to the council.
A report published by the Civil Justice Council last year recommended an internet-based online dispute resolution system that would settle non-criminal cases of less than £25,000 in virtual courtrooms without lawyers, much like like Ebay and donotpay.co.uk. Lord Dyson, chairman of the Civil Justice Council backed the recommendations;
‘Online dispute resolution is an area with enormous potential for meeting the needs of the system and its users in the 21st Century. Its aim is to broaden access to justice and resolve disputes more easily, quickly and cheaply. The challenge lies in delivering a system that fulfils that objective.’ Lord Dyson
Both systems are examples of what is happening in the legal sector on a larger scale- there is a growing demand for smarter technology and products that can perform the labour intensive tasks that traditionally take up a lot of a legal professional’s time.
Learning from Financial Technology
The financial technology sector is one where huge advances have been made in the science of prediction. Software and tools that help finance professionals predict outcomes and analyse risk have been around for decades, as there is so much opportunity in the finance sector to convert an AI innovation that increases speed, connectivity and reach, into money. A large proportion of these innovations have replaced humans in many functions in the financial industry which Daniel Martin Katz, Associate Professor at Illinois Institute of Technology, describes as being "25-50 years" ahead of the legal sector.
The fact that relatively simple legal products and services such as tools focused on billing, practice management and cloud storage are viewed as 'game changing' is an excellent way to illustrate this point. Predictive analytics tools that have been around for years in the financial technology sector are only just being employed by the emerging legal technology sector, which is in its infancy in the UK and Europe.
LexPredict is a US based legal research, analytics and Big Data company that undertakes various projects such as FantasyScotus, a fantasy league that predicts the outcome of SCOTUS decisions using human experts and algorithms that forecast cases using data. Why would you be interested in predicting the behaviour of the Supreme Court of the United States? If you know the outcome of an important case in advance, you can buy securities that will be affected by the decisons and trade them in the financial markets. A more general application of this principle would allow you to predict the outcome of a case and decide if it is worth litigating in the first place; clients don't mind risk as long as it is appropriately and accurately assessed.
Game-changing Legal Research
There has been no real incentive for innovation in the legal research market and for years it has stagnated, much like the legal sector as a whole. The abundance of free legal information on the internet is forcing legal information providers to go beyond mere document delivery and develop tools on top of traditional legal content that enhance and innovate.
Ravel Law is one such innovative provider that has harnessed the power of machine learning and analytics tools to provide lawyers with a data-driven platform that helps them contextualise and analyse the relationships between cases and legislation. Ravel’s judge and case analytics are one example of legal tech using tools that have traditionally been seen as products of the financial sector. Analytics tools such as those used by Ravel and other start-ups including Casetext, Judicata, JustisOne and Lex Machina greatly reduce the amount of time and money that lawyers need to spend on legal research- an area that has not traditionally been seen as an area where savings can be made. As law firms generally pass these costs directly on to clients, this can only increase value and customer satisfaction.