Will Robots take over the Practice of Law?

Robots in the Practice of Law?

Nearly half of all jobs in the United States could be performed by robot employees within the next two decades, according to report by PwC, with the effects varying by industry and job category.  Artificial intelligence provides a rapid way to analyze data and identify trends, but AI currently offers little of the creative thinking or originality required in most areas of the law.

The use of AI in the law dates to 1999, when Jay Leib and Dan Roth created “Discovery Cracker,” a tool that helped lawyers manage electronic documents for litigation in an age when they increasingly were sifting through terabytes of data instead of mountains of paper. The pair later in 2013 created NexLP, which uses predictive coding—in which a computer searches documents for conceptual information (not just keyboards) to determine which ones are and are not useful to a case—to substantially reduce the time necessary for e-discovery.

Today, computers are processing information at about 10 times faster than the human brain and it is only a matter of time before computers are programmed to assess all of the other factors that go into a legal analysis.

Artificial intelligence in the legal realm has taken another step forward with the advent of IBM’s “ROSS,” touted as “the world’s first artificially intelligent attorney,” blending the voice technology of Apple’s Siri with the cognitive computer of its IBM sibling, Watson. ROSS can perform the preliminary document research needed for some cases in as little as 30 seconds.

“You ask your questions in plain English, as you would a colleague, and ROSS then reads through the entire body of law and returns a cited answer and topical readings for legislation, case law and secondary sources to get you up-to-speed quickly,” according to the website of Baker and Hostetler, which recently announced that ROSS has been “hired” to work alongside its 50 bankruptcy attorneys.

This has a number of both promising and cautionary implications for law firms and their small business clients:

  • Nearly 80 percent of Americans who currently need a lawyer cannot afford one, despite the massive number of attorneys in the U.S., but using ROSS should be able to lower costs since there will not be humans who bill hourly handling some preliminary research for cases and matters.
  • Attorneys who are currently out of work or under-employed could use AI to create a lower barrier of entry into the market by being able to offer more affordable options to their clients.
  • For now, ROSS is available only for bankruptcy and intellectual property law, and the price may be prohibitive for smaller to midsized firms.
  • The volume of work performed by AI could lead to job loss for some attorneys.
  • ROSS could level the playing field between firms of different sizes because it won’t matter as much whether a firm has one or 30 associates available to research a case.
  • Instead of leafing through dusty textbooks or clicking on hundreds of links looking for precedent or an obscure court ruling, human attorneys will be freed to focus specifically on a client’s needs and creative solutions to them as AI handles the grunt work.
  • ROSS keeps updating court rulings so that as a case is being worked on, attorneys will know about up-to-the-minute developments in the relevant area of law.
  • The technology not only narrows down results to the most relevant answers, but it translates those answers from legalese into something closer to plain English, making them more understandable for clients.

Given that artificial intelligence cannot at the present moment compete with humans in terms of creative thinking or originality, the effectiveness of a technology like ROSS in simply taking over an entire section of a law firm remains doubtful for now.

“We believe that emerging technologies like cognitive computing and other forms of machine learning can help enhance the services we deliver to our clients,” says the Chief Information Officer of the firm employing ROSS in its bankruptcy practice. “We have been using ROSS since the first days of its deployment, and we are proud to partner with a true leader in the industry as we continue to develop additional AI legal assistants.”

Artificial intelligence will continue to move forward in the legal world, although further implications going into the future remain unclear—including the impacts of robots on revelry and merriment at office holiday parties.

How should we plan to network or go to a Cubs game with ROSS?  Will ROSS ask to attend our office parties?

Artificial Intelligence: The Law Machine In Your Future

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.