Is artificial intelligence a friend or a foe to the legal profession?

October 8, 2018

Is artificial intelligence a friend or a foe to the legal profession?

Written by Thalis Vlachos, Employment Law Partner at gunnercooke.

Some argue artificial intelligence (AI) is a threat and claim that it will lead to widespread job losses. Others see it as an opportunity to improve legal services and change them for the better. In this blog, Thalis looks at how AI may shape the future of the legal profession.

Is AI set to disrupt the legal profession?

“It is clear that AI, and more specifically machine learning (ML), is set to disrupt the legal profession. Anyone who thinks the profession is immune is in denial,” said Baker McKenzie partner, Ben Allgrove in a recent article in AI Business.

I am in no doubt this is true. We live in a world awash with data and arming lawyers with the means to cope with it is essential.

Let’s start by saying what AI is in a legal context. In simple terms, AI carries out operations that typically require human intelligence. It does this by using algorithms to analyse data and learn patterns and insights from this data.

For example, magic circle firm Linklaters has developed its own software to help it sift through European regulatory registers to check client names for banks.

Banking partner Edward Chan said of its LinkRFI software: “Previously it would have taken a trained junior lawyer an average of 12 minutes to search a single customer name. AI is an indispensable tool for coping with the ever-growing amounts of data which lawyers have to handle in running complex matters.”

The use of AI is not restricted to magic circle firms by any means. Research by CBRE earlier this summer revealed that 48% of London firms are already using AI and a further 41% plan to start doing so soon.

Common uses of AI

The most common uses of AI include documentation generation and review, e-discovery, due diligence, research, compliance and administrative support. A survey called Artificial intelligence and the future of law produced by the Legal AI forum after interviewing more than 200 lawyers claims over a quarter of AI is applied it to contract review and a fifth to legal research.

On the face of it, it seems obvious to assume that the more legal work is carried out by machines, the less need there is for people to do the same work.

The impact of new technology and new working methods

Certainly, this is the conclusion reached by the Law Society’s Legal Services sector forecasts 2017-2025. In it, the Law Society says that as a result of “the increasing adoption of new technology and new working methods” it forecasts the total number of UK legal service jobs to decline by 20%. This equates to 60,000 to 70,000 full time jobs.

The expectation is that most of those losing their jobs will be junior and support staff. This view is supported by CBRE’s research, which shows that firms anticipate 45% of jobs to fall at these levels. But, firms only expect AI to lead to a 7% fall in senior positions. This reinforces Edward Chan’s thoughts when he says: “Our lawyers are not engineers or data scientists. Good solid legal skills remain what we look for in our lawyers.” Baker McKenzie’s Allgrove expresses a similar sentiment when he says: “More tech is not always going to be the answer.”

The Artificial intelligence and the future of law report has more good news for junior lawyers. It says that only 3% of those surveyed believed AI was “more accurate than junior lawyers”. Rather than applying AI to reduce staff costs, more than half of those surveyed said the object of investment in AI was to improve the productive capacity of the firm and meet client demands for greater efficiency.

AI and flexible working

Another, unexpected, benefit of AI is that it is thought it will lead to greater working flexibility or as CBRE calls it, “agile working”.  Frances Warner Lacey of CBRE says. “Compared with some other professional services businesses, such as consulting firms, the legal sector has been slow to adapt to agile working, but this is changing. Of the firms surveyed, 61% have now implemented agile working policies – a doubling since last year’s report.”

AI from a legal perspective

I do not profess to be an expert on AI but from a purely legal perspective I have always found it interesting and intriguing. I’m curious about the extent to which it can assist us in the more technical tasks such as research and disclosure of documents. It is already helping all lawyers with everyday administrative tasks and assisting non-contentious lawyers with due diligence and compliance issues.

However, what I find most intriguing is to what extent algorithms can be developed to pro-actively advise clients on the prospects of their cases, strategy and tactics? I wonder whether interpreting this data would make us more or less valuable to our clients, more skilled or deskilled?

Is there more to AI than just problem solving?

Even outside the context of the legal profession, I always thought AI was about problem solving, however, it is so much more than that. AI uses algorithms to analyse data and predict human behaviour. The starting point is that this must be used for the common good, but the more cynical of us must see how this intelligence can be abused, certainly to gain unfair and possibly unlawful advantages in sales and, dare I say it, politics.

There is no doubt AI is here to stay and will have a profound effect on how legal services are delivered in the years and decades ahead. It will also impact employment law, something I will write about in a future blog.


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