Robots replacing lawyers a ‘near certainty’

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“The rapid rise of artificial intelligence (AI), which allows machines to learn and become an expert in any field, will pose a big challenge for the legal profession.”
 
This is the view of Benjamin Liu, commercial law lecturer from the University of Auckland, who told the NZ Herald it is a near certainty that AI will replace lawyers, at least in some areas.
 
Rapid advances in technology already mean that software can effectively do the job of in-house lawyers within certain organisations. For instance, IBM’s Watson is predicted to pass the bar exam this year.
 
The issue hasn’t escaped the attention of mainstream publications such as Fortune magazine which included lawyers amongst white-collar professions already being taken over by robots.
 
The Future [Inc] Report by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand predicts that a total of 885,000 (or 46% of) New Zealand jobs will be at risk of automation over the next 20 years.
 
While qualities such as the ability to understand the human condition or navigating the subtleties of legal argument may still remain within the realm of human lawyers, AI can step in and replace some of the more data-based responsibilities, Liu said.
 
“I have been practising for a number of years and I know you can’t say a lawyer has some magical power. Lawyers make mistakes and often make decisions based on a few simple steps. While machines also make mistakes, their accuracy levels are much higher.”
 
Since the emergence of AI is almost a certainty, the question shifts from whether AI will be utilised in the legal profession to what limits should be set for its use.
 
“In many fields, AI will certainly benefit humanity. Self-driving cars are much safer than cars driven by humans, and a robot surgeon can far outperform a human doctor,” Liu said.
 
He said there should be nothing wrong with letting machines give free legal advice to those who cannot afford a lawyer. It is a completely different story to let AI decide a case however.
 
“Arguably, it is a basic human right to for a person to have their fate decided by fellow human beings, not a machine. We do this already, for instance, with the current jury system, we don’t let the judge, a legal expert, make the decision over whether a person is guilty or not in a jury trial, we let common people do that.”
 
Other areas could be left to the robots however, Liu added. For instance, AI can conduct transactional work, due diligence in takeover deals, or the drafting of ‘vanilla documents’.
 
According to Fortune, new legal software is already undertaking such tasks, being used for both discovery work (searching through thousands of documents) and quantitative prediction (looking into legal arguments, precedents and even the idiosyncrasies of judges).
 
  • Marcus McCarthy on 22/02/2016 11:49:35 AM

    'AI' is actually a misnomer. It should be called Artificial Emulation of Intelligence (AEI), as there is absolutely no 'intelligence' to it at all, and probably never will be. It can only go to the extent that a logical mathematical process can take it. Until 'AI' is capable of independent thought and self awareness (i.e at some distant point in the sci-fi fantasy future..), it will never be able to do anything other that the most simplistic of legal (human) processes (i.e. what it does now, only slightly more polished). That can include great things like driving a car, but won't even be able to produce more than a basic template shareholders agreement, for example, because that involves human nuance based on real world experience. Technology is something the professions can leverage off and we can all benefit from this, particularly in servicing the low end of the market. But to say it will do complex transactional work in the near future is just band-wagoning. I believe we are at the beginning of another dot.com boom, fuelled by wishful thinking and big talk, that will not actually change that much in the way we do things - at the end of the day, people need people. Other professions are far more at risk from so called AI than lawyers. This academic, Susskind and Beaton are wrong...or at least overplaying the AI hand.

  • Albin on 22/02/2016 1:14:07 PM

    Of course there will be areas of the law where people and the things we bring to the table will be very difficult to replicate or replace. The point however is that the research and mundane things that lawyers do, which requires a good memory for precedents, and knowing where to look cannot only be done by AI, but will be done better and faster. lawyers already do it by doing context searches through documents, which previously they would have had to read in their entirety. That will encompass well more than half of the profession, and lets face it, we already have way too many lawyers, this will just speed the cull.

  • John on 24/02/2016 11:53:57 AM

    There is no reason we ultimately need lawyers at all. That I think, is 'the future'. Those for and against?

  • Anna on 24/02/2016 1:39:47 PM

    A binary black & white system cannot replace services which are often grey. There is an underlying assumption that a client will be able to articulate precisely what they need and want which is often not the case. Also, litigation is a whole other ballgame. Legal technology enthusiasts think that because the technology might be able to predict the outcome of something means that lawyers can be replaced - sometimes the outcome of an application is already anticipated but you engage in it for overarching strategic purposes. They also enthuse that they can predict how a judge will rule so "you can apply to have a different judge assigned". Perhaps they can explain how you can apply to change the make-up of the court of appeal - when you only find out a few days beforehand - on the basis of a computer program. Commercial drafting and some elements of discovery and research yes it could be helpful but these engineers simply don't understand litigation if they think computers can replace litigation lawyers.

  • SAM on 25/02/2016 11:03:12 AM

    I will believe when I see it. I think Liu is dreaming robots can not possible do what he is dreaming. If I am still around in 20 years time I would like to wake him up from his dream. Keep dreaming Liu whilst the rest of us humans live productive meaningful lives assisting our fellow humans confront their legal problems using our superior human intelligence that has the human touch.

  • Wayne on 22/02/2016 10:52:38 AM

    What Robots cannot do is be certified as a "fit and proper person of good repute." it is this requirement which currently protects us against criminals infiltrating the legal profession.

  • Karl Adra on 22/02/2016 10:58:47 AM

    From some of the information that I have read about "AI", the experts are concerned that eventually there will be no boundaries to limit AI. Machines with AI will build better machines with AI and so on. Stephen Hawkins was concerned enough to raise the issue. Solicitors, Doctors, accountants, teachers, engineers where will the list end. All of these professions and more will no longer be governed by humans rather than by machines. So ask yourself where will the humans of the future be working in?

  • H Glaister on 22/02/2016 11:03:35 AM

    I've had this discussion with many people, friends, family and clients alike all of whom come to the same conclusion. People don't feel confident in robots doing the same job as people particularly with the intricacies that legal work entails. To put it simply, planes are already programmed to the point where they can take off, fly and land all on their own. But would you get on one without a pilot?

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