When I was a law student in the late 1980s, legal technology was used only to conduct legal research via proprietary applications. The idea that computers could undertake other legal tasks seemed like science fiction. Of course, legal technology has come a long way since the 1980s, and, as noted in our white paper, ”Embracing Disruption”, there is a lot of work being done with the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in the legal field. Nevertheless, it took me by surprise when I learned the results of a recent survey, showing a dramatic increase in the percentage of lawyers that believe computers could one day replace human practitioners.
A lawyer’s shift in attitude concerning the prediction of future legal technology might have something to do with how rapidly technology has currently been evolving, and how much work that was previously handled by lawyers is now performed by legal technology. Take, for example, the following evolution:
- The first widely adopted use of legal technology to replace work by lawyers was e-Discovery. By using predictive analytics, e-Discovery solutions comb through documents at speeds that no lawyer could possibly match to retrieve documents that are potentially responsive to discovery requests.
- The next stage of legal technology evolution is likely to be in the generation of contracts. Solutions already exist which allow individuals to create and sign agreements via their smart phones. For commercial agreements, current solutions allow attorneys to choose from libraries of clauses used in similar agreements. Alternatively, attorneys can draft their own clauses and the solutions will perform an analysis of how the new clause differs from similar clauses used in comparable contracts. Next on the horizon are smart contracts with embedded terms that automatically execute upon the occurrence of an event detected by the agreement itself.
- Another current use of legal technology is the automation of dispute resolution. Online merchants have settled hundreds of thousands of disputes using rules configured by the merchants themselves. In addition, many local jurisdictions are using technology to manage disputes with residents. Further down the road, technology will conceivably evolve to analyze a body of law, apply that law to a set of facts, and determine the outcome of commercial disputes and other types of civil litigation.
- The day will likely also come when technology will not only analyze and apply law, but also generate natural language documents that are indistinguishable from documents written by trained lawyers. These capabilities are already being researched by Automated Insights, a sister company to Mitratech that uses algorithms to generate natural language documents based on data analysis performed by the technology. Automated Insights is currently researching ways to analyze applicable law, apply it to a set of facts, and generate legal briefs indistinguishable from briefs written by attorneys.
Given the speed of evolution in legal technology that attorneys have witnessed, it is not surprising that lawyers increasingly believe that computers can one day replace them. Do you agree with the idea that artificial intelligence will one day replace lawyers? And if so, do you think this will be a positive or negative development?