When you hear the phrase “robot lawyer,” what comes to mind?
My brain conjures up an image of C-3PO in a three-piece suit, shuffling around a courtroom, while throwing out cross-examination quips such as: “Don’t call me a mindless philosopher, you overweight glob of prosecuting witness grease!”
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But that’s not exactly the case (yet).
Artificial intelligence (AI) is, in fact, becoming a mainstay component of the legal profession. In some circumstances, this analytics-crunching technology is using algorithms and machine learning to do work that was previously done by entry-level lawyers. (What does that say about entry-level lawyers?)
Apparently, AI robot lawyers are here—and they’re not going away.
Still, Elon Musk has warned that AI is a bigger threat to humanity than nuclear weapons, but before we start worrying about how the robot lawyer uprising won’t be televised (it will happen slowly and quietly in the middle of night), we connected with Lane Lillquist, the co-founder and CTO of legal tech company InCloudCounsel, to give us his thoughts on what we need to fear and/or not fear when it comes to lawyer robots.
“AI’s application to the legal profession is very similar,” Lillquist explained. “It can make contract review more accurate, enable us to take a more data-driven approach to the practice of law and make the legal space overall more efficient.”
Lillquist sees robot lawyers, AKA artificial intelligence being used in the legal profession, akin to the simple tools that make everyday life easier and more productive, along the lines of spellcheck or autocorrect.
“AI’s present capability meets a sizable need in the legal space by automating a number of high-volume, recurring tasks that otherwise take lawyers’ focus away from more meaningful work,” Lillquist said. “Beyond this, the role of the lawyer is still vital to conducting quality legal work.”
Over the next five years, Lillquist predicts the role of AI in the legal space will continue to be accomplishing narrow and specific tasks, such as finding terms in a set of documents or filling out certain forms.
Take the company DoNotPay. The app trumpets that it’s “the world’s first robot lawyer.”
“Fight corporations, beat bureaucracy and sue anyone at the press of a button,” says DoNotPay’s website.
The company has built an AI chatbot that interviews users about their legal problems, then uses their answers to complete and submit paperwork on their behalf.
Some might think AI legal services, such as DoNotPay, will eventually replace humans.
But Lillquist doesn’t think so.
He sees the rise of legal artificial intelligence on par with the initial rise of ATMs; the number of bank tellers actually increased because it became easier to open smaller bank branches in more locations.
“AI is a tool. Having a better tool doesn’t mean we’re going to have less people doing an ever increasing amount of work,” said Lillquist. “Enabled by technology, lawyers are more productive, allowing more legal matters to be represented around the world.”
He sees AI continually changing the legal profession, requiring lawyers to possess an increasing number of skills to make use of such technology to remain competitive in the market. This wave of technology will also require the creation of more data analytics jobs that can tap into legal and business datasets and generate actionable insights to improve the practice of law.
“We’re already seeing a rise of legal technology companies providing alternative legal services backed by AI and machine learning that are enhancing how lawyers practice law,” said Lillquist. “Law firms will begin building their own engineering departments and product teams, too.”
“Deep legal expertise is required to create technology that successfully operates in the legal space, and that knowledge resides in humans,” he added.
In turn (or in theory), AI enabling legal tech solutions will allow human lawyers to complete more work at a higher degree of accuracy, freeing up bandwidth to focus on different and/or more complex types of work that can create substantial value for their companies and clients.
“AI will also be able to handle repetitive tasks of increasing complexity, especially in data extraction, which will require new systems to be built to extract value out of new kinds of data,” Lillquist explained.
Another factor to consider is that artificial intelligence will make legal assistance more affordable. Again, look what can be done with an app such as DoNotPay compared to what those types of services would cost by acquiring a human lawyer.
But the big pink elephant in the courtroom goes back to Musk’s apocalyptic warning about AI running amok. Shouldn’t the same cautionary tale be applied to the legal profession?
Lillquist doesn’t agree. Although he does believe that with great AI power comes great AI responsibility, a human hand still needs to be involved in the process. Case in point: AI isn’t going to give us the answer to questions requiring strong creative thinking or a value judgment.
“It’s true that AI is creating more and more powerful tools, and legal AI can be dangerous to people who use it that don’t fully understand the ins and outs of the practice of law,” Lillquist said. “They may use these tools blindly, exposing themselves to legal risk that they don’t understand.”
Still, AI can only do what it is narrowly trained to do; it’s not creatively thinking about all angles of a problem.
“This is a big reason why I think lawyers will always be involved in the practice of law for the foreseeable future,” he continued. “An AI-human paired team can accomplish more than either humans or machines are able to accomplish on their own.”
So what does the future hold for us in our nation’s dystopian courtrooms?
Lillquist foresees that AI should continue to improve and widen its currently “narrow” scope over the next couple of decades, impacting and expanding the practice of law in ways that we can’t fully comprehend with our 2019 brains. This could include the ability to generate agreements, to mark-up and negotiate a document and to automatically administer and make appropriate filings.
“Software will continue to ‘eat the world,’ and AI will help ensure the legal space achieves the same efficiencies that we have seen technology deliver to other industries,” Lillquist said. “I’m excited to see how technology will continue to transform the legal industry in the future. My eyes are wide open; I’m continually amazed at the power of technological innovation.”