As legal advice is increasingly driven by artificial intelligence (AI), a mechanism will have to be introduced to inform clients whether they are being advised by a machine or a human lawyer, a top judge has urged.
Sir Geoffrey Vos, the Chancellor of the High Court, also recommended that judges would have to use machine-produced background information to buttress their judgments if they were to maintain confidence in their decision-making ability.
Speaking last week, Sir Geoffrey said technology would “improve the quality and reduce the cost of legal advice”, that the younger generations would expect online delivery, and that lawyers would “have plenty to do” even after technology had taken over repetitive work.
The judge cautioned: “We will, as a necessary safeguard, need to introduce systems that allow the client to know when they are receiving advice generated by [AI] and when they are receiving advice that emanates from a human lawyer.”
While he embraced online dispute resolution and blockchain-backed automated transactions, he said possible downsides were that much legal advice would be delivered remotely, the profession might become “over-commercialised”, human judges and fairness could be made obsolete, AI might cut the profits of lawyers, cyber-crime would escalate, and big data lead to rule of law abuses.
However, he rejected each potential downside as a reason to shun technology. “I do not regard the tech revolution as a threat to either the core values of civil society or to the legal profession,” he said.
Technology could be harnessed, for example, so that advice “will be assisted by [AI], and the data processing that that entails, but explanations and evaluations will always be required by humans”.
He continued that client focus should improve: “Our highly trained lawyers, even our young lawyers, will be able to concentrate on productive client-facing legal work for the direct benefit of the growing number of clients in need of legal advice.”
Judges would need to use data to support their decisions, he added: “Individuals and businesses are unlikely to have confidence in decision-making that is made by machines alone, but they are equally unlikely to have confidence in decision-making that ignores the available data.
“It is, therefore, necessary to use machines to produce the background information for the judge or human decision-maker, whether judge or arbitrator, to base her decision.”
Separately, the government yesterday revealed what the lawtech panel announced by Lord Chancellor David Gauke in July  would be doing.
It is to conduct a review of the context in which lawtech companies do business and how they could best be supported.
The LawTech Delivery Panel, which is co-sponsored by the Ministry of Justice and the Law Society, has set up taskforces to examine regulation, ethics, commercial dispute resolution, education and training, investment and funding, and establishing the UK as jurisdiction of choice for lawtech.
Sir Geoffrey is on the panel along with Lord Keen of Elie QC – who speaks for the Ministry of Justice in the House of Lords – Law Society president Christina Blacklaws, Professor Richard Susskind and Rosemary Martin, general counsel of Vodaphone, among others.
Speaking at yesterday’s Legal Geek conference in London, Lord Keen said he was keen “to ensure the UK remains at the forefront of the global lawtech revolution”.
Ms Blacklaws said: “Working with the industry is a priority for the panel. We want to understand their goals and how government, industry and legal professionals can help them get there.
“Some of the challenges we face include tackling regulatory roadblocks, promoting investment, and considering the skills required by a future generation of professionals.”