Legal Artificial Intelligence – has The Terminator arrived already?

legal artificial intelligenceThe phrase “legal artificial intelligence” puts the fear of God into many in the profession. For others, it is simply unrealistic science fiction of the Arnold Schwarzenegger variety. Few are ready to embrace it. Where do you stand?

There’s no doubt that technology is responsible for terminating many traditional jobs. Manufacturing and retail have undergone astounding changes in the last twenty years. But it’s not just blue-collar roles that are in the firing line.

The traditionally labour-intensive legal profession is next in line for a radical overhaul of working practices. Artificial intelligence systems are likely to lead the way in this.

What is AI likely to achieve?

Legal artificial intelligence will probably first make its mark in the following areas:

  • Mining of documents for evidence in litigation cases.
  • Reviewing and creating contracts.
  • Identifying and flagging up fraud or misconduct in company matters.
  • Performing due diligence and other legal research in acquisitions and mergers cases.

At present, these jobs are all the domain of real people. However, the rise of automation in the legal industry will lead to increased efficiency and lower costs. If these lower costs can be passed on to clients to gain competitive advantage, the legal sector will suffer job losses just like any other.

There are many supporters of legal artificial intelligence who believe jobs in the industry could actually increase in number. This would be dependent upon technology driving efficiency and making services more affordable. Consequently, they would be accessible to more people. Whatever the case, the legal profession is now at the point its counterparts were at 15 years ago.

Terminating the drudgery.

Many of you will be all too well aware of the repetitious nature of some aspects of legal work. Contract work, in particular, can often follow an almost mechanical route. Reviewing a contract or creating one from scratch are tasks that lend themselves easily to automation.

AI will be able to take a new contract, compare it to a databank of similar contracts and deliver the finished article in a fraction of the time it would take a human to do it.

Are machines better than people?

legal artificial intelligenceI guess that all depends upon the job they are programmed to do. Think back to the advent of the electronic calculator and then the spreadsheet. Both transformed the accountancy and finance industries.

They did so by eliminating calculation errors and dramatically speeding up the process. However, neither has yet to eliminate human input errors.

So, are machines really better? If you view modern technology from the calculator or spreadsheet starting point, the answer is no. A machine may well miss things that a good, experienced lawyer will not. But this is not just technology, as the name suggests, it is intelligence.

The latest AI incarnations will learn from their mistakes. This, combined with the explosion of data generated today, means that humans can be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of that data available to them. Computers don’t get tired or side-tracked by other priorities.

The rise of the machines…

So where are all these legal artificial intelligence products? At the moment, they are few and far between. One recent example of a system being tested is RAVN Systems ACE (Applied Cognitive Engine). Major international law firm, Reed Smith put it through its paces.

The test performed a review of hundreds of pages of documents which formed part of a completed legal transaction. According to Reed Smith’s chief knowledge officer, Lucy Dillon:

“We took a deal that we’d already done, which we’d done manually, and we put it through the RAVN system to see how it compared. And it compared very favourably.

The platform didn’t always get it right when asked to pull out certain contract items but we found that lawyers were able to modify their queries and improve results. The platform also picked up some things that we had missed.”

As for its speed, the system was significantly faster than its human counterparts:

“We’re talking minutes versus days,” added Dillon.

When will AI be here?

In essence, it already is. Reed Smith is a huge corporate firm with extensive resources at its disposal. However, in the same way that the technology you see today in the S class Mercedes will be in all cheap compact cars in 5 years time, the same will be true of AI in law firms. As economies of scale kick in, AI will become affordable for all.

It is difficult to second guess when AI technology will be in place in small and medium-sized firms. If the pace of past technologies is anything to go by, we are probably looking at somewhere between 2020 and 2025.

Is the science fiction of the cinema just around the corner? Well, I guess we are a long way away from self-aware machines. Anyway, who would want that? Humans are self-aware and still make lots of mistakes.

For a more broad-brush look at new legal technologies, read the article below.

Mike O’Donnell, July 2017.


Legal technology: a chilling view of the future?

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