Artificial intelligence has “huge potential” to make a positive impact in the legal services sector, the Lord Chancellor said today as he announced further financial backing for lawtech.
David Gauke announced that the Ministry of Justice would provide “just over £2m to support lawtech”.
He did not explain exactly how this would be spent, but Christina Blacklaws, the Law Society president and chair of the MoJ-sponsored lawtech delivery panel, said afterwards that the panel would work with the MoJ “in the strategic delivery of this investment”.
Speaking at the Artificial Intelligence in Legal Services Summit in London this morning, Mr Gauke also acknowledged the challenges that needed to be overcome, ensuring that new technologies are properly regulated are held to “appropriate ethical standards”.
“Human lawyers have emotional intelligence and are regulated, with bias that is accounted for,” he said. “AI, on the other hand, operates on facts and numbers alone, is currently unregulated and data is only as unbiased as the hands and heads of its creators.”
He continued: “We will need to ask some bigger questions about the real areas of contention and controversy – for example, the extent to which AI can, and should, be deployed in judicial decision-making and in the administration of justice.
“While we might be happy with simple tools to provide straightforward justice – such as dealing with parking fines – how comfortable would we be with AI determining someone’s liberty?”
Mr Gauke said the advent and advancement of AI and automation held “much promise” for improving productivity and the overall experience of those who access services, “but there is a perceived risk to people’s jobs and livelihoods”.
He said: “Whilst it’s only natural for there to be a certain amount of hesitancy about such fundamental change, it’s great to hear how the sector is engaging with and embracing the opportunities…
“So much of the potential of legal tech lies in its ability to automate the burdensome and time-consuming work that lawyers have traditionally had to undertake manually – especially in large-scale due diligence and disclosure exercises – and free lawyers up to focus on providing legal advice to clients and developing their expertise.
“AI, far from being a sinister threat, should be seen as a welcome saviour for a sector often deluged by documents and data – as a digital colleague.”
Mr Gauke said he was “encouraged by the progress made in the last year or so within the industry and by regulators to provide a positive environment for lawtech”, including by his panel, which last month issued a consultation  on the legal status of cryptoassets, distributed ledger technology and smart legal contracts.
In addition to the extra money for the panel, the justice secretary pointed to the £6.9m awarded to legal technology projects  by the government’s next generation services fund, and the £700,000 funding from the regulator pioneer fund for the Solicitors Regulation Authority’s data-driven innovation in legal services project, which formally launched last week .
“The increasing use of AI does bring up the question of what the legal profession will look like in the future,” Mr Gauke added.
“It’s important the sector considers the impact new technology will have on the structure of law firms, in particular, the impact on the numbers of and training for paralegals and associates doing traditional tasks like document review and drafting.
“As AI picks up more and more of the heavy lifting and more formulaic work, it also raises questions of education, training and collaboration between legal and other disciplines, such as tech and big data.
“Will it be more desirable to have lawyers with a bit of tech? Or technologists who know a little law?”
Meanwhile, at a later debate on the use of algorithms in the justice system, Professor Burkhard Schafer, professor of computational legal theory at the University of Edinburgh, highlighted the risk of AI decision-making leading to the law calcifying, as technology was “inherently conservative” and backwards-looking, and would not push the law forward in the way that unexpected court decisions do.
Sue Daley, associate director, technology and innovation at techUK, said technology would improve transparency to help the system work better.