Lawyers should collaborate with ‘robots’, Law Society president says

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16 November 2015

Jonathan Smithers

Smithers: AI “dictating the way that we do the law”

Lawyers should use artificial intelligence (AI) to improve their work, drive efficiencies, increase accuracy and retain clients, the president of the Law Society has said.

Jonathan Smithers said that just as in the medical profession, where sophisticated software tools were being used by doctors for early diagnosis of cancer, collaboration between ‘robots’ and lawyers “seems to be the way forward”.

Speaking on the subject of whether lawyers would be replaced by robots at the Union Internationale des Avocats conference in Spain, Mr Smithers warned: “Artificial intelligence is dictating the way that we do the law. We, as a profession, seem to be playing catch-up.

“Corporate technology giants, programmers and software engineers have already imagined the future and are executing their vision.”

However, he went on: “Self-diagnosis, facilitated by artificial intelligence, is not and will never be a complete replacement for lawyers. We do so much more than dispensing black-letter law.

“An artificial intelligence system is designed to stimulate human thinking but not creative or independent thought. Both of these qualities are essential for the legal profession and the discharge of our professional legal obligations of upholding the rule of law and the proper administration of justice.

“Artificial intelligence is incapable of developing creative legal arguments that are needed in both contentious and non-contentious matters. Its ability of interpreting data is also extremely limited.

“Although ‘robots’ might come up with a shortlist of relevant precedents, statues and regulation, they lack the ability to make a persuasive argument that takes the context into account, the individual circumstances of a client and, most importantly, the human experience.”

Mr Smithers said no algorithm existed to replace lawyers “and the work that we do”, and that just because an algorithm performed efficiently did not mean that it would be correct or that people wanted to be judged by it.

The Law Society president said “empathy and building trust with a client” was an essential quality for lawyers which artificial intelligence systems lacked.

“We have moral and ethical responsibilities in the work that we do, whereas AI does not.”

Mr Smithers said sophisticated legal research tools, such as ROSS Intelligence, were “very useful and even have parameters to make decisions”, but did not make the decisions themselves.

“Expert legal intervention through lawyers is always needed,” he concluded. “Artificial intelligence systems are still unable to think of a vision of a better future, to plan and execute its delivery accordingly.”

Andrew Arruda, co-founder and chief executive of ROSS, is speaking by video link at the Legal Futures Annual Innovation Conference: From ABS to AI in London tomorrow. There are still a few tickets left.

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