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Legal robots

/ 05:47 AM May 19, 2018

In the past, it was thought that only simple jobs could be replaced by technology. However, with the onset of artificial intelligence (AI), even work which requires legal analysis is about to face stiff competition.

This is  true for the legal profession whose customer base has attracted tech giants to invest in the field. And with tech companies specializing in information storage and retrieval and the growing reluctance of clients to pay for expensive legal work, it is no wonder why the legal profession’s routine work (e.g., legal research) is a target.

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In fact, information-based systems  (e.g., LexisNexis, Westlaw, Lex Libris) have long reached the shores of the legal profession. These tools reduce the amount of time spent on legal research—a boon to lawyers?  The cost of access to these tools is not inexpensive but it is offset by the many benefits provided to the profession (e.g., less physical space needed for law libraries, greater number of clients that an attorney can handle, less drudge work). After all, lawyers are still at the forefront of the legal world with these innovations. These new tools are just here to help them. Right? But what about the next generation of tech?

Meet ROSS, an artificial lawyer, who combines knowledge of data with the comprehension of a human lawyer. It has the ability to sift through millions of cases in a few seconds. It can even answer complex legal queries.  You can ask it a question in a way a client normally does or ask it in a way you normally address a colleague at work, and it will give you an answer within a few seconds, backed up with the most relevant law and cases available. And it isn’t like a regular search engine where you fill in various fields with technical keywords to obtain the information you want. It uses natural language. It reads and understands like humans do.

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More impressive is ROSS’ ability to draft a legal memorandum. The memo is reportedly almost indistinguishable from that drawn up by a human lawyer. It usually takes ROSS much shorter time than an associate to turn in a complex legal memo.

Whether this is good for lawyers who hate the drudge work of going through countless number of cases, the legal profession should not be quick to celebrate. Because it is not only in the field of legal research that AI is taking over. There are other AIs like  KIRA, EVA, Lex Machina, DoNotPay Bot. They perform contract document review, due diligence and even predict case outcomes based on the facts and previous actions of judges.   They can even tell you in few minutes whether a particular court decision had  been modified or overturned.

AI’s functions have become so robust that people now make use of it to get out of parking tickets, obtain refund for airline tickets and to file documents in court. AI even assists in contract negotiations by reviewing past contracts to identify what was not previously considered and incorporate them in the contract under negotiation. It even suggests language that is most likely to help secure an agreement. Evidence of AI’s effectiveness is that it has been deployed by law firms in the United States  (Baker Hostetler, Jackson Lewis, Carlton Fields, and Latham Watkins) and the United Kingdom (e.g., Linklaters, Berwin Leighton Paisner, and Slaughter and May).

While the technology is far from perfect, there can be no doubt that we are already in an age where AI and robotics can do legal work.  In the process, the need for human lawyers will dwindle.  Technology has already done it to factory workers, toll collectors, cashiers, bank tellers, call center agents and telemarketers.  It already started doing it to professionals like accountants, engineers, stockbrokers and doctors. So why should we think that the legal profession is any different?

Indeed, a study by Deloitte has suggested that technology is already leading to job losses in the UK legal sector, and some 114,000 jobs could be automated within 20 years.

With this new threat looming over the horizon, one begs to ask the question why would lawyers sign their own death warrants by adopting AI? The answer is simple. If they don’t, their competitors (e.g., accounting firms and consultancy firms) and clients will.

The challenge for lawyers, law firms and law schools is how to respond to this inevitable development. Should we in the Philippines continue to be in denial as we appear to be doing so or proactively respond to it and if so, how? That, indeed, is a gargantuan task for all of us in the legal profession. But we better do it, lest we find ourselves obsolete a lot earlier than later.

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