Everyone knows that technology has transformed every industry, market sector and profession, but few really understand how Artificial Intelligence (sometimes referred to as AI) is about to change everything again. Unfortunately, as history has demonstrated time and time again, lawyers will be among the last to adapt to the changes.
The rise of online legal services has been foreseeable for some time, and the fact that they are already taking a bite out of traditional practices should not be a surprise. Today, now, as we speak, technology in the practice of law is optimizing work flow, document production, information visualization in the practice of law. Sites like LegalZoom are offering packaged legal services. The fact is that these services are servicing a segment of our society that has been underserved because of the high cost of legal services. Lawyers argue that these online services are inadequate and don’t cover all of the issues that consumes face. But that rationale is lost on a public that sees these low cost, online services as being good enough for their purposes.
And That’s Just the Beginning
A bigger scary surprise is the thing called quantitative legal analytics. This term means that computers are increasingly able to predict the outcome of cases. They are intelligent.
Commercial organizations such as Lex Machina now offer Legal Analytics to legal clients, lawyers and even judges based on the ability to derive meaningful patterns from massive legal data banks. Among other functions, the software behind Lex Machina has been taught to digest data from other cases and documents and provide an assessment of facts and risks. When deployed in the marketplace, these “law machines” forecast the probability of success for any given lawsuit, and may well be involved in arriving at a settlement based on that knowledge. And the company has just launched Trademark and Copyright Litigation Analytics Modules.
At this point, Lex Machina is said to be predicting the results of Supreme Court cases with 70% accuracy. As computers get faster and more data is processed, we can expect that percentage to rise.
From a personal point of view, I have already encountered one legal consulting firm which has created their own proprietary algorithm to help its business clients assess litigation challenges and outline a plan to defend a lawsuit. In other words, some lawyers have seen the writing on the wall and leveraged it to their advantage.
Saying Goodbye to the Hourly Fee
Lex Machina is not the only artificial intelligence product out there. Consider Kent Law School’s A2J Author software, which allows students to create guided interviews that help clients obtain standard legal documents (such as wills) without paying fees.
And that leads us to the bottom line: cost vs performance. The public doesn’t care whether they are using a real live lawyer or not. All the public knows is that that legal services of all kinds are being offered at a low and fixed price – something they may be able to afford for the first time.
Lawyers need to face the reality that the hourly fee is an early casualty of smart machines because market forces are making it obsolete. Like anyone else, we need to sell to our clients what they want. Maybe we should even start thinking of them as customers.
Nevertheless, I believe we will continue to selling our knowledge of the substantive law, procedural law and our judgment of what should be done in specific cases. The practical problem we face is how to price this knowledge to our clients (customers). This is not an easy task for lawyers who have been raised with and have lived with the hourly rate. It doesn’t help that the courts employ an hourly model when awarding fees in fee-shifting cases. Nevertheless, for those looking to change with the times, the ABA has been offering publications on Alternative Fee Arrangements that offer guidance to lawyers on alternatives to the billable hour.
For predicting some aspects of the future, we don’t need algorithms. Here’s my personal prediction based on decades of experience and human analysis: In the future of law, there will be Lex Machina but there will be noDeus Ex Machina.
It will be the lawyers of the coming decades who learn how to harness smart machine technology as a tool to help assess a situation and provide a solution that survive and thrive.