Posted 20 April 2017 12:27pm
A recent article by CNBC was entitled ‘Lawyers could be the next profession to be replaced by computers’. Although perhaps sensationalised, it echoes the calls of many who view the emergence of basic Artificial Intelligence programs as a very real threat to the legal industry. An arguably more appropriate view is that of Steve Lohr of the New York Times with his article ‘AI is doing Legal Work. But it won’t replace Lawyers, Yet.’ Although certainly still foreboding, Lohr points out that AI as it currently exists is confined to only a few techniques, such as ‘natural language processing’, which scans documents and predicts which will be helpful in a case. Any true revolution of the legal profession by AI is therefore still lightyears away, with functions requiring face to face contact or lateral thought (i.e. advocacy and negotiation) remaining a distant dream for programmers.
However, AI has been successfully implemented within the legal profession as a tool which streamlines processes by removing menial tasks. As the Financial Times reports, one such example is TermFrame, a program developed at Pinsent Masons which guides lawyers through the relevant stages of various processes, providing ‘templates, documents and precedents at the right moments’. At this stage, one of the most attractive attributes of AI is its ability to substantially reduce legal research needs, as programs can create lists of cases similar on facts or law from existing databases.
Although experts disagree on the future of AI as a replacement for human service in the legal profession, most agree that it will cut down the long hours of menial work that many associate with the law. However, while the higher functions of lawyers may still be required, the work of more junior lawyers and paralegals is certainly in peril in the near future, as large caseloads become substantially reduced.