What is AI?
Artificial Intelligence (‘AI’) is often defined as the simulation of human intelligence by machines. It is more accurate to say that AI is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines which may, or may not, result from simulating human intelligence. The ability of a machine to gain knowledge (‘Knowledge Engineering’) and learn without supervision (‘Machine Learning’) are both key parts of AI and AI research.
AI & the Legal Profession
Over twenty-two law firms have publicly acknowledged making use of AI-driven systems in recent years, at least nine of which are based in the UK. This includes large commercial law firms such as Clifford Chance, Addleshaw Goddard and Linklaters and medium-size City firms such as Macfarlanes. These firms have been making use of information processing (‘Cognitive’) AI, research-focused AI and intelligent expert systems, often as a way of automating tasks completed by lawyers. Allen & Overy, alongside accountancy firm Deloitte, have launched MarginMatrix, an AI service that codifies the law in various jurisdictions and automates the drafting of certain documents, reducing the average production time from three hours by a junior lawyer to just three minutes. Reed Smith has piloted AI technology RAVN ACE with the aim of “improving efficiencies and consistency of review for due diligence matters within their Retail Estate Group”.
RAVN ACE automatically summarises, analyses and extracts key pieces of information from documents.
MarginMatrix and RAVN ACE are just two examples of how law firms are adopting AI in order to “evolve their offering of legal services in the face of changing client needs”. AI is also being used by other firms within the area of litigation for discovery exercises, to reduce the number of hours used for document word searches. AI services have also been employed by Pinsent Masons and Dentons to tackle problems that have arisen as a result of Brexit, and see AI in this area as “a modern solution to an unprecedented challenge”.
Changing the way legal services are provided
In addition to the use of AI by law firms, legal technology “LawTech” start-ups have flourished. These companies are starting to provide services using virtual ‘robot’ lawyers, such as drafting Non-Disclosure Agreement’s (NDA’s) or reviewing contractual agreements faster than if the work were completed by a ‘human’ lawyer. Often founded by an ex-lawyer, these companies use the knowledge and expertise of subject matter experts to create a legal AI service which can then be used anywhere, at any time.
Another way in which AI is changing the provision of legal services is via their ability to reduce the barriers associated with access to justice. Undergraduate students have been some of the pioneers of creating AI services that assist people who may not have the financial resources or knowledge to gain access to legal services. These include Do Not Pay, a service which allows users to dispute parking tickets, and LawBot, a chatbot that provides advice regarding criminal offences in England and Wales. These services both demonstrate the potential for AI in improving access to justice on a global scale, with Do Not Pay successfully disputing over 160,000 parking tickets last year alone.
AI is seen by many writers and legal professionals as the future of the legal profession. Its adoption by law firms is moving beyond what is known as the ‘early adopter’ phase, with law firms embracing AI technologies on a broader scale. As the offering of legal services develops, so too will the role of lawyers.
Will a robot replace me?
Lawyers are, first and foremost, advocates, mediators, and aids. The role of a lawyer is to earn the trust of clients, negotiate deals and assess multiple aspects of business that are more than simply data: even the most sophisticated system cannot replicate these skills. There will therefore “always be work for people who can synthesize information, think critically, and be flexible in how they act in different situations”.
So, robots are not going to replace lawyers. But what about junior lawyers? The role of the junior lawyer is already changing. The routes to qualification as a lawyer now include training through the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives (CILEx), periods of recognised training outside of a designated training contract and even legal apprenticeships. The next generation of lawyers may not have a degree at all.
The implementation of AI is going to further shape the developments to the role of a junior lawyer, but it will by no means be used to replace junior lawyers entirely. Flexibility and adaptability are cited as important skills for aspiring lawyers and it is these skills that will allow junior lawyers to be flexible in their expectations of training as a lawyer and adaptable to utilising and working alongside AI to provide legal services that are more efficient, precise and consistent.