Are robot lawyers the future?

How long has the legal profession existed? The first people known to practice law were the orators in Ancient Greece in 4th century BC. Leading Roman families sent their sons to be pupils of Greek philosophers, such as Socrates and Aristotle, who would teach their sons about law.

And what about artificial intelligence (AI)? Research into AI started at Dartmouth College in 1956. The attendees at a workshop produced programs where the computer could create logical theories and strategies to solve work problems in algebra.


John McCarthy, one of the founders of the discipline of artificial intelligence.
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But it wasn’t until 2015 that applied AI became a force to be reckoned with, when the number of software projects that use AI within Google increased from “sporadic usage” in 2012 to more than 2,700 projects. Now AI is everywhere, from Siri and Alexa to self-driving cars and automated Facebook chatbots.

While the legal profession precedes AI by just a few centuries, their convergence is seen by many as a monumental occasion—followed by numerous questions from legal professionals. What will AI and automation mean to the legal sector? Will there be a decrease in legal roles? Will I lose my role? How can a robot treat a client like I do? And is AI here to stay?

New uses for AI emerge daily, and the legal industry is no exception. So it’s understandable that people might be somewhat wary about the implementation of legal technology and AI solutions. The sector also has been notoriously change-averse and even paperless offices are a step too far for some. With the ability to automate workflow processes, thus increasing efficiency, what’s next for the legal industry, and will robot lawyers take jobs away from current legal professionals?

Will robots replace me?

A worry for many in the legal sector is that AI will mean job losses for lawyers. However, research from the McKinsey Global Institute found that with all available AI considered, only 23 percent of a lawyer’s job can currently be automated. This backs up the idea that the human factor could be seen as the most important consideration when asking the question, “Will AI replace me?”

A  LexisNexis study showed that many clients believe that the most important characteristics of a successful lawyer are both the care they show to clients and the understanding of specific personal situations. Both attributes are not only priceless when working with a legal team or a specific lawyer, but also traits that are impossible to find in an AI program.

But it’s not only studies that show the need for the human touch. Legal consultant Paul Gilbert was asked by Lawyer Magazine about the key skills a lawyer needs. His answer? The ability to listen and empathise. He states that the ability to listen to a client’s ambitions and blind spots, as well as understand their vulnerability, is almost on a par with the legal expertise itself. Of course, empathy isn’t something synonymous with AI… at least, for now.

Experienced partner and global practice head Jennifer Overhaus believes that the ability to understand clients and build relationships offers the tools to take your legal standing to the next level. As legal AI becomes more common, the lawyer’s role sees a slight shift to being the interpreter between the client and the raw, technical information provided by AI. No matter what advances technology makes, without the lawyer, there is no legal firm.

So we see a common theme emerging that the practice of law is about far more than just the actual law itself. Granted, a good lawyer will also be a master of the facts, figures, analytics and understanding of the law in its entirety—all things that AI can do. But a great lawyer has the advantage of having the interpersonal skill set that a computer is unable to obtain.

Let legal bots take on the monotonous tasks

This might ease the fear of job losses throughout the industry, but it’s still unclear to many how AI can have an impact on the legal world without some roles being made redundant. AI is often specifically used to tackle monotonous and time-consuming tasks, such as automatic document assembly, giving lawyers more time to focus on law.

Using artificial intelligence to increase efficiency and productivity resonates with industry experts. Lawyers need to know how many documents they have, what’s in the documents, and how the documents are of use to them. Once an AI tool has read these documents—in a fraction of the time it would take a human—those questions can be answered.

Thanks to the introduction of AI, we’re seeing a rise in highly skilled roles to monitor and improve the artificial intelligence programs that are in use. It expands the scope for whole new teams of innovative lawyers who want to keep up with the ever-evolving advancements in technology. Global law firm Dentons recently established an innovation and venture arm, which has also invested in numerous legal technology start-ups.

“Our industry is being disrupted, and we should do some of that ourselves, not just be a victim of it,” believes John Fernandez, Dentons chief innovation officer.

Companies including Pinsent Masons and KPMG have also set up knowledge management teams, showing how huge corporations can move with the times, without suffering many job losses.

So is AI here to stay? Undoubtedly, the answer is yes. But does that mean job losses? On a grand scale—no. Artificial intelligence will take the monotony out of what you already do, giving you ample time to focus on what you really want to be doing, meeting clients and practicing law. It might well change the world, but it won’t be as radical as some are predicting. It might alter how lawyers work in the future, but it’s certainly not the end of the legal profession.

Andy Neill

Senior Product Manager at HighQ
Andy has over twelve years of experience working at a range of global law firms, including Norton Rose Fulbright, Herbert Smith Freehills and Allen & Overy, and six years as a business consultant at Deloitte & Touche and Arthur Andersen. Andy leads the design of the search, legal AI, data analytics and visualisation features of the HighQ platform, to ensure HighQ’s clients have access to the latest business intelligence. He holds two Masters degrees, in Engineering and Computing, and is also a certified MSP programme manager.
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