iLawyers and artificial intelligence – the end of legal services as we know it?

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The benefits

AI is often seen as a scary and futuristic concept for many traditionalists, but it’s been around us for some time – think the likes of Siri’s voice-activated dialogue, and Netflix’s customer prediction functions for related films and TV shows.

And its use doesn’t stop at consumer level – the perks can be astounding for law firms too. AI can be harnessed to:

  • assist with large-scale contract reviews
  • accurately predict the likelihood of success of a dispute, based on a database of precedents
  • undertake due diligence in corporate deals, and
  • give quick answers on legal research queries.

Delegating these often menial and time-consuming tasks to engines can reduce onward cost to clients, and free up a lawyer’s time to focus on more important tasks, such as dealing with clients and negotiating with their counterparts.

What about regulation?

As with any new development – such as cryptocurrency – there’s a well-founded call for regulation.

A few months ago, the House of Lords published a report on AI and its future in the UK. It suggested that there’s currently no legal consensus on the adequacy of existing legislation to deal with scenarios where AI systems fail, malfunction or underperform.

AI regulation could take many forms. It could include a cocktail of:

  • limiting what can and cannot be developed
  • pre-determining the jobs which are for humans only
  • creating new regulatory bodies, such as an AI Council
  • prohibiting the use of AI in sensitive or significant industry areas
  • encouraging training in AI development and management.

Questions also arise in terms of the legal liability and status of a machine – should we, for example, follow the lead of Estonia, and award legal personality to AI?

As yet, though, we’re not close to any regulatory certainty.

The future of the legal sector?

The Government has recently announced that it will fund three-year research projects, through Oxford University, into various aspects of AI – one of which is titled “Unlocking the potential of AI for law”, where £1 million will be set aside to identify and remove barriers to AI in legal services.

Advances in legal technology naturally excite many modernists. The future role and training of junior lawyers, for example, is called into question – should trainee solicitors be “automated” and taught the skills of coding and complex software use?

Yet, the intricacies and importance of the human touch cannot be overlooked. Although we now have these judge, jury and executioner machines, can we really make do without the involvement of a living individual, who is far better placed to assess human concepts like justice, equity and fairness?

Equally, the legal sector is notorious for its reluctance to get with the times – the Jomati report itself concluded that there’s no real compelling business case, at least not yet, for many law firms to invest their time and resources into developing LegalTech.

So the chances of an insurgence of robo-lawyers threatening the very existence of real-life solicitors any time soon? Hardly likely.

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