Reality versus the robot lawyers

A blog on behalf of CILEx Regulation by Eve Dullabh, managing director of the Law Training Centre in Kent

Dullabh: No-one knows how deeply AI will cut into the legal labour market

Fear not the lurid tales of how artificial intelligence (AI) will de-skill lawyers. It will be extremely difficult for it to “de-aptitude” members of the legal profession. Our professional resilience lies in our truly human qualities, i.e. dealing with what’s real for people.

But, first of all, consider the sci-fi scenario for legal practice. (Or could it one day be fact rather than fiction?)

A client receives the following:

Dear client,

Android & McVities is pleased to inform you that the cyber-lawyer representing you is Agnes Blairsom Version 4.5. Agnes has an excellent track record as a litigator, was assembled in Shanghai and despatched by Amazon Prime to Cambridge where she graduated with a first in Medieval Literature.

Since, she has been retrofitted with thoughtful eyes, clothes by MaxMara and implanted with the Continuing Professional Development Chip X107G (Professional Empathy Module).

Should the other side play rough, she can be upgraded to Terminator Class.

Good luck!

That’s a very fanciful email from the future – or perhaps not so far-fetched. How far will AI remove the need for human lawyers?

To an extent, the future has arrived. The combination of speed, computational power and ability to predict has already transformed how software reviews the documents that comprise a huge amount of legal work.

Lawyers analyse contracts and amend them, spot risks, and point out issues. However, the latest legal AI systems can do all of the above at lightning speed, churning through and comparing papers – including those written in foreign languages across jurisdictions.

Once one type of document is marked as relevant, algorithms seek out similar examples. Machine-learning systems can interpret commercial loan agreements and do in seconds what took lawyers thousands of hours.

And AI already has the potential to sift through archives of trial data and, in some circumstances, do better than humans in terms of predicting the outcomes of a case.

However, the next phase of AI aims to be a game changer. Its goals are to match the full range of human brain activity, adapting, learning and responding to people’s emotional needs.

Some occupations are more obviously at threat from AI –those in transportation, for example. But, certainly, AI will penetrate middle-class, professional occupations in ways that people may not expect. Already, a considerable amount of basic financial journalism is reported by algorithms that analyse latest financial figures and compare them with previous reports.

But the truth is that no-one knows how deeply AI will cut into the legal labour market. However, claims of an ‘AI apocalypse’ are premature (and clickbait).

The qualities that will bolster the status of tomorrow’s human lawyers are those that even today propel certain practitioners up the career ladder. ‘Lawyers with soul’ versus ‘binary lawyers’, if you will. These are the competencies that make us truly human.

Genuine, human, emotional intelligence – a likeability and a joy in helping to achieve the right outcome for clients by engaging with them on a very human basis.

For example, a modern legal practice should ensure that its communication style is warm. Verbal and written interactions should be empathetic (Note to self: insert within correspondence to the client that you’ve remembered their birthday), a listening ear, a bit of heart and soul in the relationship

The giant leaps that will configure AI-driven legal support systems are unlikely to include an ability to have an appropriate sense of humour. Creativity, spontaneity and even playfulness when working with the client in lawyer-client teams… these aren’t on the drawing board to be easily automated.

We can say with certainty that AI technology will change the way that lawyers are needed in the future. The ability of humans to identify the unique emotional characteristics of their clients and respond accordingly is something that AI technology is incapable of doing – at least for now.

It is therefore inevitable that legal training will be required to adapt accordingly to provide the skills to the modern lawyer in order to remain indispensable in the era of AI technology.

Cyber-security training, management of risk training and coding will, inevitably, become part of every lawyer’s legal training and, already, some of the top firms in the country have recognised this and instructed that all their trainees undertake coding training.

The future is now and embracing the evolution of the new legal era will prepare us for the things to come.


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