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The Legal A.I. Arrival

The Legal A.I. Arrival

24 October 2017

It's here.

Whether or not we're ready for it.  Whether or not we like it.    Legal A.I. has officially arrived.  And it's not going anywhere.

Many are afraid.  Understandably.  I’ve seen worried faces at conferences.  I've read tweets predicting doomsday for the legal industry.  Big change is scary.  Especially with a technology so unknown it almost feels "alien."

But, what if I said the arrival of Legal A.I. actually spelled more "boon" than "doom" for the legal profession?   That Legal A.I. may in fact turn out to be more friend than foe?

Legal A.I.  Friend or foe?

Legal A.I.  Friend or foe?

This post contains my general, optimistic perspective on Legal A.I. after spending several months "in the field" getting to know many LegalTech founders and companies in the space.  I hope you'll enjoy these thoughts on this highly disruptive, highly misunderstand new technology, especially if this topic has got you down.

Unanswered Questions

A lot is being said about Legal A.I. nowadays.  Some good.  Some bad.  Mostly, it’s a lot of unanswered questions.  Two big ones seem to dominate:

Is A.I ready to perform legal work?  

Is A.I. going to take my law job?

Lets start with the first. 

Yes.  A.I., fueled by powerful machine learning algorithms applied to legal data, now provides consumers with on demand access to an array of automated legal products.   Use cases have appeared across all major legal industry verticals, from research and contract management, to litigation support and access to justice.   This is only the beginning of a much larger revolution.

Meet CARA, for example, your new Legal A.I. research assistant. 

CARA uses A.I. combined with big data to search for cases relevant to your (or your opponents) legal brief.  Simply send CARA any document containing legal text.  CARA instantly analyzes it and generates a list of relevant caselaw.  

CasetextCARA 2.jpg

Take ROSS, the IBM powered all seeing courtroom watchdog.   ROSS checks every court jurisdiction in the world for updates relevant to your case.  24/7.  365.   That way, if a judge somewhere says something you need to know, ROSS tells you. Instantly. 

Then there's the amazing DILIGEN, a product of Toronto's growing LegalTech scene.  In mere seconds, DILIGEN completes extremely complex contractual work that typically requires teams of mid level associates working around the clock at large firms for billable hours:  M&A due diligence.  Just "drag and drop" your transaction contracts into DILIGEN's intuitive U.I. and let its A.I. do the rest.   

These are just some currently available Legal A.I. products.  In most cases, I've found A.I. work product to be nearly indistinguishable from that of a first year associate.  The only difference being Legal A.I. doesn’t need sleep, food or positive reinforcement.

So, as we approach 2018, it's clear:  Legal A.I. has arrived.  It has surpassed beta.  It's ready for action at reasonable costs.

Which brings us to the second, more important question.

Answering Questions With More Questions

Is A.I. going to take my law job?

I was asked this many times after speaking to a group of European attorneys at the Annual 2017 London Law Expo.  As we veered towards the subject of Legal A.I., the room became increasingly skeptical.   I thought to myself, Ian, you might as well be trying to ask a room full of London cabbies to get excited about self-driving cars.   

Not gunna happen, mate!

Hey London Lawyers, Legal A.I. rocks!

Hey London Lawyers, Legal A.I. rocks!

Nevertheless,  I did my best to defend my thesis (expressed in prior talks and posts) that while Legal A.I. is an unstoppable technological force, the impending "machine learning age" will actually be a “human learning age" in disguise, by returning precious time back to attorneys to focus on more meaningful and satisfying work.

The big upshot of Legal A.I.  for our profession will be the drastic reduction of human hours spent on information processing tasks.  I'm talking about glorified clerical tasks masking as "legal work."  Tasks that shock first year associates who encounter them after law school.  Mind numbing stuff like document review.  Contract management.  Due diligence.  Work you never even thought existed until you arrived at a law firm.  Things that don't really require any real creative or strategic thought and are in no way related to that expensive J.D. you invested so much into.

Take a quick moment to consider the state of lawyer "wellness" and if there might be some connection to a surplus of information processing work and lack of creative thinking, which studies have shown to be positively correlated to longer and happier lives.  Indeed, health experts examining modern lawyers have revealed a sick and sad group.  The American Journal of Addiction Medicine cited above analyzed over 12,000 attorneys, finding 1 in every 5 battled substance abuse in addition to “significant” rates of depression.

Then there are the tragic stories, like Peter, who lost his battle to depression after working more than 60 hours per week in the IP practice of a prominent Silicon Valley law firm.  As the New York Times reported,  lawyers have the “greatest rate of depression of any occupational group in the country.” 

In light of all this, perhaps a better way to answer the second question (is A.I. going to take my law job?), is to ask another...

From Soul Crushing to Soul Lifting Legal Work?

What if, in the case of Peter, there was access to a Legal A.I. product that enabled the outsourcing of "soul-crushing" non-creative tasks to machines, creating more space for (dare I say) "soul lifting" legal work?  

What if Legal A.I. gave lawyers time back to do the stuff we dreamed of when we chose the arduous path through law school.  Like, developing a cunning litigation strategy for a client we feel truly passionate about?  Or, crafting and debating regulatory solutions to any one of the many, vexing policy questions facing modern society, like privacy law, gun control, or environmental protection?  Things that Legal A.I. cannot, and likely will not, be able to do as well as ourselves. 

What if one day Legal A.I. also allowed us to spend more time on improving ourselves, including our personal health, families and friends? 

What if, in the end, the only actual thing Legal A.I. was going to "take" was your current, unfulfilling law job.  What if that job was replaced with a more creative, genuinely satisfying one? 

Lastly, what if instead of being on the verge of lawyer destruction, we stand on the verge of a golden age of happier, healthier, more productive lawyers? 

These are just some of the exciting new questions I'm asking after really getting to know Legal A.I.  Because, to wrap this up, we cannot and will not "stop" Legal A.I. at this present junction.  But, we still have time to adapt.  And by adapting in time, we may gain more of it to spend on being better lawyers who are also better human beings.

-Ian Connett, @QuantumJurist

London, England

Ian Connett