Artificial intelligence (AI) will likely be better at predicting the outcome of cases than the most experienced QCs, the Lord Chief Justice has warned.
Speaking recently on the subject of the future of legal Wales, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd also envisaged established consumer programs, such as Skype or Apple’s FaceTime, would replace the existing video link technology used in the courts – which he disparaged as “antediluvian”.
He described the planned transformation of the courts and tribunals system as “the most radical reform for 150 years” and advised that “if people had not appreciated the magnitude of the change that will happen, they ought to.”
Although forthcoming developments in IT might at first appear different in each area, he said: “Our ambition however is to create one IT system… [and] unify the procedure of the different jurisdictions of civil, family and tribunals, because it is very difficult to understand why you now need to have different procedures and different attitudes in the different jurisdictions.”
He warned that anticipated changes in legal practice were happening at a faster pace than first thought and carried the “real risk that… [they] will leave Wales behind”.
He continued: “Lawyers have to confront the fact that legal services will be organised and delivered very differently.” For instance, “it is probably correct to say that as soon as we have better statistical information, artificial intelligence using that statistical information will be better at predicting the outcome of cases than the most learned Queen’s Counsel.”
He also flagged changes that would see unbundling, outsourcing, and lesser-qualified staff assisted by technology taking over some of the work now done by lawyers: “It may be the case that the procurement of legal services will no longer be through the traditional large firm model but by the decomposition of work and the re-sourcing of it.
“I think there is absolutely no doubt the progress we have seen in the medical profession, the use of a large number of well-qualified nurses and paramedics reinforced by technology and easy access, will be something that will happen to the legal profession.”
Lord Thomas observed that competition in the legal industry was intense and suggested the legal profession in Wales had to acknowledge this if it was to compete, preferably assisted by the deliberations of a “high-level body” that would rapidly analyse the “convergence and divergence against the reality of transnational litigation and transnational legal services” and make concrete recommendations within a year.
He concluded: “If the train leaves the station without the lawyers and the law firms of Wales, Wales will be the poorer. That must not, and will not, happen.”
He highlighted the fact that soon there would be no judge in either the High Court or the Court of Appeal who had lived and practised mainly in Wales. Because “the judiciary must be reflective of society” this was “an urgent area for action”, he said.
He thanked the Law Commission for saying the Westminster model of legislation was not necessarily right for Wales. He added: “Wales is unburdened with a long statute book; the Assembly at least acknowledges that you can use word processors in the chamber, something that Westminster finds very difficult to understand…
“It is obvious that we need to look at processes to simplify the law. We have the means of doing it relatively simply. The procedures of Parliament do not work in many respects. Wales has the opportunity to be different.”