Litigation and the rise of the machines

30 January, 2017

This is not a reference to The Terminator film franchise, but to the rise of Artificial Intelligence (AI). This is already being applied in process driven aspects of litigation such as disclosure.  Some lawyers might think that this is where it will rest, as just another technology tool.  However, AI brings with it, depending upon your point of view, significant new opportunities or significant new threats.

A simple example; a client wants advice on how a particular clause in a contract would be interpreted by a judge in light of a particular set of facts. Traditionally, the lawyer would review the contract and the context, research case law (how have the courts applied similar contractual clauses?) and then provide an advice. 

Much of this exercise can be converted into an algorithm that can be processed by a machine. Now everything is online a machine could review every text book ever written, ever relevant case ever reported and its own background knowledge (as it gradually learned) and produce a report with a percentage view on how the clause would be interpreted.

At this basic level the only human input required is feed the machine the facts and sense check the result. The owner of the machine is the real provider of the legal service.

Will this replace lawyers for this kind of work? Probably yes where the context is simple, the facts are clear and the value is relatively low.  Probably not where this does not apply or where a client wants an adviser, rather than just some advice.

So for the moment, until the machines gain both consciousness and the trust of humans (and for anybody who saw The Terminator at an impressionable age this might be a big leap), the role of some human lawyers is secure. Those who are advisers, providing bespoke solutions to bespoke problems, will always have a role.  Those whose role is more process driven or lacking perceived value by clients are undoubtedly at risk in the not too distant future.

A world with fewer lawyers. What’s not to like?