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Artificial Intelligence And The Legal Profession

July 18, 2018


The Law Society has published a report on AI and the Legal Profession with input from SAMI Consulting.  The Law Society’s research team used the Horizon Scanning tool Futurescaper to store their scanning hits, and SAMI used its analytical capabilities to help structure the report.


After an introduction which reviewed the nature of AI systems generally and assessed their current state of development, the report covers areas of application in the legal profession identified by the horizon scanning. These included:

  • Document analysis: drawing key conclusions, especially for due diligence
  • Contract intelligence: using machine learning to scan documents and produce a risk visualisation
  • Document delivery: a chatbot that provides consumers with privacy law information and generates a compliance policy
  • Legal Adviser support: based on IBM Watson, a system reviews the relevant laws, draws inferences and provides candidate answers to various questions
  • Clinical negligence analysis: a decision support system that reviews similar previous cases and their outcomes
  • Case outcome prediction: predicted outcomes of European Court of Human Rights cases with 79% accuracy
  • Public legal education: helping the general public understand the law better, notably in divorce cases.

The report then addresses the potentially far-reaching implications of the application of AI in the area of law.

Firstly it looked at the impact on the number of legal jobs. In their book The Future of the Professions”, Susskind and Susskind predicted that a wide range of legal jobs could be replaced by AI systems. Not all commentators agree, but the suggestion that the impact on entry-level solicitors could be large is quite common. But if that is the case, where do the senior solicitors of the future come from?

This leads on to an impact on the types of legal jobs and the skills required. The need to relate to clients and assess the real nature of a problem becomes more important than knowledge of the law itself.  Also clients will increasingly use AI systems themselves to reduce complexity and ambiguity – two reasons for consulting lawyers in the first place.  Conversely, new roles will emerge in operating and understanding AI systems, and in addressing issues of liability their application might raise. Consequently the whole area of skills and legal education training will need substantial revision, as other drivers such as changing generational attitudes will impact as well.

There is then the impact on organisational structure and strategic planning. Recruitment and succession planning need to change, and a new role of Head of AI may be needed. Machine learning could also identify new opportunities and growth areas in the market itself.

But for many, the key impact is lower costs and changing fee structures. Entry-level solicitors could be replaced entirely, and more highly skilled solicitors can be freed from routine tasks to spend more time negotiating agreements. Lower costs in turn could open up the market to those who could not previously afford legal advice, increasing the value of the whole market.

The final section of the report looks at how AI systems could themselves raise legal concerns. Areas covered include:

  • Transparency: AI systems learn from data, so are self-organising and their conclusions not easily explained; yet transparency is a basic principle of justice.
  • Ethics: the Law Society addressed this area in a recent conference, which we reported on in two blogposts here and here.
  • Liability:as AI systems interact with many sources of data from the Internet of Things assigning liability becomes difficult.
  • Electronic personhood: the EU has already begun to consider whether sufficiently advanced systems should be given personhood, with rights and responsibilities analogous to corporate personhood.
  • Public acceptance: just like GM crops, vaccines, and nuclear power in previous generations, there could be increasing public disquiet about the application of AI to sensitive social situations.

The report concludes: “Over the next few years there can be little doubt that AI will begin to have a noticeable impact on the legal profession. Law firms and in-house legal departments have opportunities to explore and challenges to address, but it is clear there will be change”.

For those interested further, the report has a very extensive list of references, the output of the research team’s very thorough horizon scanning.

Written by Huw Williams, SAMI Prinicipal.

The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily of SAMI Consulting.

SAMI Consulting was founded in 1989 by Shell and St Andrews University. They have undertaken scenario planning projects for a wide range of UK and international organisations. Their core skill is providing the link between futures research and strategy.

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