Robots and the Law

In my previous posting, Automation in the Legal Market, I discussed the issue of automation vs. augmentation, where I touched upon the issue of the potential changes that might flow from the entry of IBM Watson into the legal sphere with the ROSS search engine. While the issue of automation is one that has been discussed from time to time over the last few years, there has been an explosion of articles in the last while that have addressed the automation and artificial intelligence (AI) robots, either directly or tangentially.

On LinkedIn, Patrick DiDomenico published a posting entitled What the Amazon Echo Taught Me About Knowledge Management (Hint: UX). He notes that, while Amazon’s product is designed for domestic use, there are implications from its adoption that knowledge management professionals can do to harness the benefits of a good user experience.

Ron Friedmann, in his posting on Designing the Law Firm of the Future also looked at the issue of proper design in addressing the client experience. More recently, Ron attended the IBM-hosted World of Watson, and generated two live blog posts entitled Cognitive Computing in Perspective, Transforming Industries, and IBM CEO Gini Rometty on IBM Watson.

In the second of his postings, Ron quotes the chairman of Wayblazer, who noted that “no one understood, early on, that the Internet would be a bank, travel agent, and love match-maker. The inventor of the cell phone could not anticipate the billions in use today. Lesson: you cannot know where tech will take us next.” As well, “disruption starts happening with small steps.”

The last posting is particularly interesting because of its insights as to what IBM is planning. Ron reports that Ms Rometty noted that we are at the intersection of business, tech, and society.

But that leads to the more concrete question as to how law firms are going to grapple with that fact. A very good overview of some of the recent writings is found in a posting at Virtual Intelligence is entitled Robotic intelligence entering the legal market. One the experts quoted there is Richard Susskind, from his article Wired for Success. In that article, Mr Susskind takes a long view on the issue of the applicability of AI. He predicts that AI, which was the subject of his 1986 doctoral thesis, “is unlikely to become widespread within the legal sector until the 2020s.”

Also from The Partner magazine, which published the interview with Richard Susskind, is an article entitled Intelligent Choice. This article highlights the efforts of Manchester-based DWF LLP, which, working in partnership with Watson’s labs in Dublin, “is developing an AI tool that automatically allocates new work sent in by its volume-based clients. To enable the tool to make its decisions, it draws on data contained in the firm’s case management files which, in turn, helps the tool predict a new matters likely legal complexity.”

The article notes that both Riverview Law and BLP Legal Risk Consultancy, an offshoot of UK law firm Berwin Leighton Paisner, are seeking to develop legal AI tool “to ensure that lawyers spend less time understanding what is, in effect, administrative work and more time using their legal skills to offer clients high-level analysis and advice.”

On the Bloomberg BNA Legal Communities site recently was an article entitled Will Powerful Technology Replace Lawyers? The article quotes a University of Vermont law prof who argues that “anything we write in a contract I think can be rewritten in a coded way.”

On Dewey B Strategic, Jean O’Grady asks, Dear Watson – I have a question for you! Watson & Legal Research: We know it can answer, but can Watson ASK questions? The answer to that question is: perhaps not now, but given the Moore’s Law if the experience with cell phones is any indication, the answer is, “Probably soon.”

But perhaps the best, and most in-depth, analysis of the issue of robots in the law is in a long study entitled Civilisation 2030: The Near Future for Law Firms, produced by London, England-based Jomati Consultants LLP. The 33-page report is not generally available but may be obtained upon request to their primary contact on this report, Tony Williams.

The reports starts with an analysis of world population growth generally, and specifically in the world’s largest cities. It discusses what the political and economic implications are from current trends, where developed countries will soon see their populations declining, and the world’s population will ultimately being to decline.

The report addresses the development of AI bots in industry and then looks at the effects in the legal market, including the impact on clients and on firms. Among its predictions are the following:

  • knowledge bots, which can operate 24/7 and learn, will start to replace assistants and junior associates
  • alternative business structures may facilitate adoption of intelligent bots, as many large-firm lawyers are resistant to change
  • those partners who have empathy, creativity, and imagination and who can really win a client’s loyalty will become immensely valuable

If you don’t have the time to obtain and read the full report, a very good summary can be found in an article on the Legal Futures site entitled Report: artificial intelligence will cause “structural collapse” of law firms by 2030.

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