Your Court-Appointed Chatbot – Is Artificial Intelligence Threatening the Legal Profession?
In December Last year, a study by McKinsey Global Institute found that around half of all work activities conducted today have the potential to be automated. McKinsey concluded that automation technologies – including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics – could displace up to one third of all work activities by 2030. 60% of occupations have at least 30% of constituent work activities that could be automated, the report says. This includes the legal profession, in which, McKinsey estimates, 22% of a lawyer’s job and 35% of a law clerk’s job could be replaced by automation.
What, then, might the impacts of artificial intelligence be on legal practitioners working today, and – perhaps more pressingly – on students and recent law school graduates at the very beginning of their careers? As Todd Solomon, a partner at the Chicago-based law firm McDermott Will & Emery puts it: “If I was the parent of a law student, I would be concerned a bit. There are fewer opportunities for young lawyers to get trained, and that’s the case outside of AI already. But if you add AI onto that, there are ways that is advancement, and there are ways it is hurting us as well.”
Artificial Intelligence in Legal research
Once upon a time in the not too distant past, books (remember those things?) were the primary resource for conducting legal research – a task usually assigned to junior lawyers. It was a tedious process for sure, and required substantial shelf space in law office libraries for rows upon rows of heavy tomes of Shepard’s Citations and related reference books, which had to be trawled through to see if a case had been overturned, reaffirmed, questioned, or cited by later cases.
Eventually, the process was computerized, meaning that research and case checking assignments that once took hours could now be done in a matter of minutes. But the demand for junior lawyers didn’t plummet – rather, technology simply made associates more efficient, and so they were expected to produce more in the same amount of time.
But today, advances in automation and artificial intelligence pose entirely new threats to the legal profession, potentially diminishing the human lawyer’s role in the legal system, or, in some cases, replacing them altogether.
Truth be told, artificial intelligence technology has in fact been automating tasks such as combing through mountains of legal documents and highlighting keywords – once rites of passage for junior attorneys – for some years already. What many in the legal profession are concerned about today, however, is the rise of these bots functioning as quasi-employees – and thereby replacing the need for real ones.
For example, over the past couple of years, a number of major law firms have “hired” ROSS – a robotic attorney powered in part by IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence – to perform legal research. Using cutting-edge natural language processing (NLP) technology, ROSS is designed to approximate the experience of working with a real human lawyer to not only find applicable cases, but to also quality check case citations and history. Questions can be posed to ROSS in normal English, and the bot will provide specific, analytical answers in an instant – much like a real human assistant (or junior lawyer), only much, much quicker, and potentially more accurate. In its latest iteration, the ROSS legal research platform can now be used by researchers in every area of American law.
(Image source: rossintelligence.com)
Artificial intelligence is also having an impact on document discovery. Machine learning algorithms can be trained on millions of existing case files, legal briefs and other documents and learn to flag the appropriate resources a lawyer needs to craft a successful case – usually much better and certainly quicker than humans are able to. JPMorgan, for example, announced last year that it was using an artificial intelligence program named COIN, which was able to perform an estimated 360,000-hours’ worth of document review tasks in mere seconds.
Programs like these (and there are countless other examples emerging all over the world) are not only changing the way legal research is carried out, but potentially threatening the very future of the many workers at law firms traditionally employed to complete it – particularly paralegals, who have historically been vital members of any legal practice. As their standard responsibilities of poring through law books and case files to find relevant information are increasingly being taken over by machines, these workers will either have to find a way to work alongside the technology, or else face the fact that their services may simply be no longer required.
While technologies like ROSS and COIN are designed to assist lawyers, there are cases where artificial intelligence is beginning to replace them.
DoNotPay began life as a free parking-ticket-fighting chatbot, initially created in 2015 by a British teenager to dispute the parking tickets he was racking up. When released to the public, the chatbot successfully overturned $3 million in parking fines in London, New York and Seattle over the course of a few months, and has now helped uses claw back $16 million in disputed parking tickets. Using the DoNotPay app, a chat screen pops up and asks the user questions about the case, such as “Were you the one driving?” and “Was it hard to understand the parking signs?” It then gives users detailed instructions on how to fill out the application, which they then mail to the court.
Since then, DoNotPay has increased in complexity, is now available in all 50 US states, and can offer legal advice in a greater variety of issues, including unfair bank fees, volatile airline prices, and data breaches – all for free. Now, the DoNotPay app advertises that it can be used to sue anyone with the touch of a button. Again, the chatbot asks the user a series of questions about their case and who they would like to sue. It then draws up the necessary documents the user will need to send to the courthouse to become a plaintiff, and even generates a script to read from should the user need to attend in person.
(Video source: youtube.com)
Meanwhile, in Australia, an in-house developed chatbot named Parker has been created by law firm Norton Rose Fulbright. It uses artificial intelligence to converse with potential clients, providing them with basic answers to questions about changes to Australian law on data protection and privacy that came into force in February 2018.
Nick Abrahams, Global Head of Technology and Innovation at Norton Rose Fulbright, developed the chatbot. He said that it is aimed at businesses dealing with the new legislation, and is designed to provide an alternative to billing clients by the hour for human lawyers to answer simple questions, such as “How do I deal with a data breach?”. The chatbot fields questions from clients before directing them to three fixed price legal advice packages if they need more detailed information. During its first day on the job, Parker handled more than 1,000 conversations with potential clients, and was responsible for selling AUD 15,000 worth of different types of advice.
From document discovery to chatbot lawyers, artificial intelligence is already taking over many repetitive tasks traditionally performed by junior associates and paralegals, selling advice, and even handling straightforward cases such as parking ticket disputes.
Further penetration is of course expected, and law firms will have to change their business models to adapt to new changes, though it is perhaps too soon to start fearing a mass loss of jobs. As much as 80% of legal needs are currently unmet due to lack of resources. But, with an increase in capacity with the help of artificial intelligence in legal services, the technology is just as likely to expand work for lawyers – precisely because it makes them more productive – than it is to displace them. True, if a firm can utilize artificial intelligence to do its legal research, it will have a hard time justifying billing out juniors at hundreds of dollars per hour to do the same thing. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing, for it will free up those same associates to do more higher order tasks that require actual human judgement, such as brief writing and analysis.
Change is happening, but the bottom line is that firms should not be afraid to explore the possibilities of artificial intelligence, for it has the potential to enable them to offer superior service at a reasonable cost. As with other robot risings taking place across many industries today, those working in the legal profession perhaps shouldn’t fear being replaced by automation and artificial intelligence, but rather prepare to be working alongside it, excited in the knowledge that they will be doing a better job as a result.