I’ve already written two articles about Crypto-currencies so I’ll spare my audience from indulging me a third time. (By the way, Bitcoin took a hit recently as news broke that South Korea, China and Japan are contemplating legislation to regulate cryptocurrencies). I do however, want to continue writing about the emerging technology space. More specifically, how emerging technology is likely to impact the legal industry. Fire up your Hal 9000, because today we’re talking about Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the Legal Profession.
I think I realized that AI was here to stay when I realized I could name more distinct AI platforms than people from my weekly dodgeball league. Whether you’re talking about basic platforms like Amazon’s Alexa, the Google Assistant or IBM’s Jeopardy! Champion Watson, it’s no secret that the companies marketing AI feel as though it will become an integral part of our day to day lives. But what application do digital assistants have beyond selecting a playlist or checking the weather? How can AI platforms be leveraged in the workplace, and should certain industries be wary?
Right off the bat, I think it should be acknowledged that the Legal Profession, and most Lawyers in general are painfully slow at adopting new technologies. As such, the likelihood of AI becoming a vital part of the day-to-day operations in a law firm is likely many years away. That doesn’t mean however, that the benefits of AI in a firm do not already exist.
Consider this: A client comes to your firm with a complex legal problem, yet all of the Senior practitioners have a full case load and would be unable to give the client their full attention. They have two options: advise the client that they would be unable to assist them to their fullest capacity or assign a junior lawyer to the file. With the assistance of a sophisticated AI-powered research tool, the Junior lawyer, despite lacking in experience, would have access to the most up-to-date case law and potentially some limited (or advanced) degree of outcome analysis. A Globe And Mail article from October 2017 highlighted the fact that some law firms are already employing this strategy for certain Tax Law issues.
What is notably lacking from the majority of AI models that I’ve seen, and it applies equally to the basic personal assistants like Alexa or Google Home and the more sophisticated platforms like IBM’s Watson, is the empathy, tact and strategy that a lawyer’s personal (and human) experience brings to a matter. The soft skills that allow a person to read a room, judge the likely success of settlement discussions or to deploy certain litigation tactics, will be very difficult to replace with an AI platform. Yes, in an instance of what many will consider irony, it will be the humanity of lawyers which keeps them from being replaced wholesale when the full capabilities of AI infiltrate our industry. What lawyers, and their clients, should be looking forward to is employing AI to reduce costs on research in order to better serve the client’s real problems and to resolve their matter more quickly and efficiently.
With the number of concurrent AI platforms currently in development there will likely be fierce competition in this burgeoning space. This bodes well for both the personal consumers and professionals. Regardless, I think I’ll err on the side of caution and avoid any platforms called Skynet.