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AI and the law

AI and the law

By Adam Wakeling


Robot lawyers are becoming reality with AI applications already making inroads in legal services. In February 2011, IBM Computer Watson defeated long-time champions Brad Rutter and Ken Jennings to win the quiz show Jeopardy! Watson’s triumph was probably the most public success of artificial intelligence (AI) since IBM computer Deep Blue’s 1996 and 1997 victory over world chess champion Gary Kasparov. But chess is a game of deciding between a finite (even if very large) number of possible moves. To win Jeopardy! where the questions are known for their wordplay and double-meanings, Watson needed to interpret natural language and find an answer that fit within often fuzzy parameters (even though the questions were given to him in writing rather than verbally). This technology obviously has applications in research and problem-solving fields including medicine and law. Ambitiously, IBM plans for Watson to sit the California Bar Exam later this year. The idea of a robot lawyer was once nothing more than science fiction. For example, in Isaac Asimov’s 1946 short story Evidence, the opponents of lawyer and political candidate Stephen Byerley sought to prove that he was ineligible to run for office on the basis that he was a humanoid robot rather than a person. But robot lawyers are becoming reality. There are already more than a dozen ‘robo-advisers’ providing financial advice based on algorithms. While they are currently limited compared to human advisers, they can provide simple advice much more cheaply. And they’re growing – American online automated adviser service Wealthfront already has more than US$1.7 billion in client funds under management. The law is following suit, with some existing applications for AI including: Research: Aside from Watson, IBM has also invented a custom robot legal researcher called Ross. In May 2016 Ross was hired by US Baker & Hostetler to work in its bankruptcy practice. Conveyancing: Electronic conveyancing management systems are becoming more common, and can significantly cut down both the time and the cost of property transactions. For example, Conveyancer LawLab uses the Rundl transaction management system. Dispute resolution: Dutch robot mediator program Rechtwijzer works on a similar principle to Ebay’s automated dispute resolution service. It has found a number of legal applications in the UK and Canada, for example, in tenancy disputes. It takes all factors into account and offers an assessment of the dispute. And unlike human mediators, it cannot be accused of partiality or bias. Contract due diligence: DLA Piper now uses the Kira system, which can read and analyse contracts, for due diligence in its M&A team. Making simple claims: DoNotPay, a “chatbot lawyer”, has appealed 250,000 London parking fines and won in 160,000 cases – a 64 per cent success rate. The program’s creator, 19-year-old coder Joshua Browder, intends for it to expand into other applications such as compensation claims and immigration law. The rise of AI in the law has implications for the profession. For example, research is a major part of clerkship programs and junior roles in law firms and in-house legal teams. AI programs could take over many of these roles, further exacerbating graduate oversupply. Ultimately, we may move to a system where knowledge of the law matters less for lawyers than more general commercial skills. On the other hand, the high cost of legal services poses a major access to justice issue. The ability of AI to provide cheap legal advice and dispute resolution may be a major boon for people shut out of the legal system due to lack of money. Either way, it is well and truly time to prepare for AI to play a growing role in the law. Adam Wakeling is a senior compliance adviser at State Trustees and is co-chair of the YL Editorial Committee.

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