By: 9 January 2017
AI and the rise of the robot lawyer

Artificial intelligence (AI) is slowly changing how law firms work. Should lawyers be worried about their futures?

Technology has been forcing subtle changes to the practice of law for decades now. Whether lawyers have welcomed all of the alterations to the way in which they work has almost been immaterial. They have had to adapt to the digital age and the very different app and device-led client expectations that have come with it.

With the growth in artificial intelligence (AI) however, we could be on the cusp of a new jump in technological development. A leap so profound that it could eliminate the need for a living breathing person to deal with some aspects of legal work.

Sounds too sci-fi ? Well, earlier this year, the chief executive of the Law Society, Catherine Dixon, gave a talk on the very subject, proving that those in the mainstream now take AI seriously. Delivering a keynote address at the International Bar Association conference in Washington
DC, Dixon talked about how lawyers needed to prepare for the increasing presence of AI. She told delegates that, on a worldwide scale, at least 22 fi rms were now making use of AI in their day-to-day operations, nine of which are based in the UK.

That number however, could be higher. As Dixon pointed out in her talk, there may be firms that use this type of technology who have not made it public. Others may still be in the testing and pilot phase. What was clear, she said, was that the legal market had now moved beyond the early adopter phase and was seeing a broader use of AI.

She chose to highlight four areas where AI was helping firms to improve their client services. The
first is a software tool called KIRA which identifies relevant information from contracts. It is used for tasks such as due diligence and general commercial compliance.

The second was a system that uses natural language processing and machine learning to gain insights from large amounts of unstructured data. It provides citationsand suggests topical reading from a variety of sources more quickly and comprehensively than ever before, leading to better advice and faster problem solving. IBM has one popular tool, called Watson.

The third was Luminance, a piece of software that automatically reads and understands hundreds of pages of detailed and complex legal documents every minute. And the fourth was a tool developed by companies such as ThoughtRiver, called Technology-assisted review (TAR). This is used by
firms in litigation for electronic disclosure in many jurisdictions – including the US, Ireland and England and Wales.

In use

One of the areas of legal work which could see an acceleration in the use of AI is personal injury claims, according to Mark Hewitt, managing director at software provider Rebmark. He says that pressures on fees could well drive its adoption faster than in other areas of legal work.

“AI can speed up the more laborious aspects of handling an injury case – like telling a lawyer which pages of medical records contain references to pain, spine, or similar groups of words so as not to miss anything,” says Hewitt.

“AI could also be used to evaluate medical outcomes on a scale that ensures expert opinions are so statistically accurate that challenges to their conclusions become futile. AI could then read the pleadings from each side and predict the outcome based on results of other cases while accounting for litigation risk.”

“In the future, could agreed compensation be based on data from other cases evaluated by AI in a fraction of a second? Once investigations and evidence gathering are complete, could the outcome be predicted by a machine?”

Before AI is put to such use however, a number of perimeters need to be agreed and established, says Roy Russell, CEO of Ascertus, a company that provides information and software solutions to law firms.

“Undoubtedly, AI offers tremendous potential and some large law firms have launched initiatives to leverage the technology,” he says.

“However, there’s a significant amount of work to be done in defining the ethical and legal boundaries for AI, before the technology can truly be utilised for delivering legal services to clients with minimal human involvement. Until then, in 2017 and perhaps for a few more years yet, we will continue to see incremental innovative efforts to leverage the technology, but in the vein of
commoditisation – similar to what we have seen in the last 12 months.”

Say hello to LISA

But the dawn of fully automated legal services may be closer than Russell imagines, according to one former lawyer and legal futurist, Chrissie Lightfoot.

The Yorkshire-based Lightfoot, who has written and spoken extensively about technology and its impact on the role of tomorrow’s lawyer, has co-developed a lawyer robot with Adam Duthie, the managing partner at Duthie & Co, a niche corporate firm in London.

Lightfoot calls the robot LISA, short for legal intelligence support assistant and, to start with, is
offering it for free to small businesses in the UK.

The robot, operating as an app, will at first help entrepreneurs to draw up non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) and is designed to eliminate lawyers from tasks where both sides can work together. Lightfoot explains that LISA is initially being used as a tool to encourage entrepreneurs and business owners to take legal advice when they might otherwise be deterred by a perception of prohibitive law fees. It will draft basic NDAs for both sides in a deal, which, according to Lightfoot,
would normally cost each party up to £500 if left in the hands of a traditional lawyer.

“LISA is going where no human lawyer has gone before in the hope of activating a dormant area for the benefit of the legal profession and the legal buyer,” she says.

“According to the LSB, there is a £5 billion latent legal services market which is untapped due to consumers and businesses resisting using a lawyer when they need one. Collectively we can unlock this market. Lawyers [can] let the technology deal with the basic legal needs for this
unmet need and use it as a marketing tool and new lead generator. [Then they can] focus on achieving the higher value cerebral work they actually enjoy and can charge a premium for.”

Lightfoot calls LISA an “AI lawyer martini”. Available anywhere, at any time, and on any day, she says it is accurate and intuitive, incredibly fast, impartial and above all, inclusive.

“It’s the world’s first truly AI Lawyer that helps both sides of a legal matter, at the same time,” she explains.

“No longer will many citizens around the world be excluded from basic legal help that will help them move on to greater things in business and life.

“I always get asked, ‘What do you think is the next big thing in the legal world? The answer is this. Robot lawyers like LISA.”

Losing human jobs?

Lightfoot is adamant, however, that LISA is not going to consign human practitioners to the dustbin of history. Complicated legal problems and agreements will still need the human touch, she says.

In her talk in Washington DC, Dixon addressed the same fear, saying that concerns have been raised about job automation in the legal services sector. She juxtaposed research by Deloitte with that carried out by the Warwick Institute for Employment Research. The former said that about 114,000 jobs were likely to become automated in the next 20 years due to AI in England and Wales.
Warwick countered this by estimating that 25,000 extra workers would be needed in the legal activities sector between 2015 and 2020.

The evidence, therefore was inconclusive, said Dixon who also stressed that the picture was much more complex than the media headlines suggested.

“AI will never replace the need for lawyers in PI and clinical negligence law, something we’re keen to stress,” says Hewitt.

“We’re not replacing lawyers, but developing software to make your job easier and more profitable. The human side of a lawyer’s role in a serious injury claim is what most do the job for. For claimant lawyers, making a difference isn’t all about the level of damages secured, but about helping an
individual through a traumatic time in their life.

“This requires empathy. And trust.”