The Inevitable Age of “Robot Lawyers” (and the Humans that will Run Them)

In the world of artificial intelligence and automation outsourcing, the concept and impact of the “Robot Lawyer” is picking up steam. Although we’re not there yet, if we’re taking cues from other industries, robots will inevitably disrupt the traditional lawyer and the entire legal industry.

Humans Still Needed

Regardless of the pace technological acceleration, AI hasn’t even come close to replacing the human element necessary in client-facing industries. The fact is we, as humans, will always want to engage and connect with other humans. Technology is simply there to reduce the friction of these transactions.

This does not mean law firms can stay idle while the fourth industrial revolution rages on. In fact, if established lawyers do not embrace technology now, they will be at a severe competitive disadvantage very quickly.

This does not mean investing millions into AI or retooling the entire firm. It’s as simple as creating a technology roadmap and starting with wise investments to generate short-term ROI while keeping an eye on the long-term opportunities.

Here are some ways robot and human lawyers can and are working together.

Document Management and Contract Automation

With the sheer amount of data, document management is becoming more sophisticated. Algorithms are being integrated with flexible user interfaces for lawyers and clients to quickly access documents. This increases customer service by organizing the data, getting it into the cloud and making everything secure.

This is expanding into contract automation. Today, short, simple and standard contracts can be generated in minutes compared to hours. And with machine learning, robots can access thousands of contracts in a fraction of a second to assist with the process.

Yet, when documents and contracts become more complex, and more human input is necessary, automation can backfire. The adage of “garbage in garbage out” is very much true. This is where a traditional approach like precedent docs and drafting notes is the way to go.

Algorithmic Bias and Ethical Compliance

Here is something about AI that many don’t consider. Regardless of how advanced AI gets, it is still humans that program them to begin with. This introduces a unique potential for bias in terms of the mathematical models that go into AI algorithms. There are several cases where algorithmic bias is being challenged and transparency is demanded (see Facebook and its latest congressional hearings).

Some experts predict that, for every person working on building AI robots, up to three other people will be needed to keep things ethical and compliant. I believe this represents a unique opportunity for the legal industry in providing services for this very purpose.

The Real Opportunities

The more lawyers understand how technology works, the better they are able to advise clients that are implementing their own technology plans. This goes for accountants as well.

Just look at the unregulated frenzy cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin have created from a legal assets and securities perspective. Going past tax laws however, virtual currency like Bitcoin is built on blockchain technology which is regulated by “smart contracts.” Blockchain has very deep ramifications when it comes to algorithmic bias and ethics compliance—especially in the realm of privacy law. The mere fact they use the term smart contract should be enough to signal the opportunity for legal firms.

So, yes, robot lawyers are inevitable. While at the same time, there will need to be technology savvy lawyers that will run them. Don’t miss the opportunity.

Shaun Rowsell