Ask someone to describe “artificial intelligence” and you are likely to get an array of answers. Some might reference Stanley Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey,” “The Jetsons” or the collaborative effort of Steven Spielberg and Stanley Kubrick in “AI: Artificial Intelligence.” I like to think that if Kubrick had lived to see the completion of that movie, it would have gone differently. Still others might reference Google, Siri or the Internet of Things.
What does artificial intelligence mean for the legal profession? Good question—and it also comes with its own host of thought-provoking answers. In the inaugural roundtable of a Law Technology Today series, we asked the LTRC Board, and other lawyers and legal professionals, five questions about AI and lawyers. Their answers range from skeptical to optimistic.
Sophia Lingos (SL), practicing attorney; Britt Lorish (BL) from Affinity Consulting Group; John Stewart (JS), practicing attorney and shareholder of Stewart, Evans, Stewart & Emmons PA.; and Dennis Kennedy (DK), an information technology lawyer and legal technology author.
What does artificial intelligence mean to you?
SL: Artificial intelligence is the technological process of automating systems to limit humans' direct ongoing involvement in certain steps of a matter. In other words, computers doing work we program it to do (and more).
BL: I suppose I think of this as computers/machines and software that are capable of learning. They get smarter with time and access to additional information, thus exhibiting behavior that often eerily replicates that of a human.
JS: To me, as a full-time practicing lawyer, artificial intelligence is sophisticated computer programming that allows your smart devices to provide more relevant responses to your inquiries. This could include narrowly tailored legal research results or more accurate search capabilities in document management programs. Artificial intelligence also means smart devices that learn more as you use them more.
DK: The Wikipedia entry for “artificial intelligence” will make you wish you had an AI tool to interpret the entry. I like to take a practical approach to AI—software that has some capacity to learn and evolve on its own and to enable new ways to help humans or to offload tasks and processes that humans don’t need to do. I prefer a “small” definition of AI, one where you see many examples rather than a definition that tries to encapsulate everything and finds useful examples as somehow incomplete or failed. Today’s braking and lane-changing tools in cars, at least to me, are great practical examples of AI, even if the self-driving car is not here yet.
What area of your practice, or of the law, has benefited the most (or could benefit) from artificial intelligence?
SL: Automated intake forms, identifying the need for legal services to a potential client, has benefited but could benefit more from AI. This process saves the time and money of both parties and expands practitioners’ ability to provide necessary and relevant legal services. Additionally, information can be extracted from the intakes and inserted into smart forms eliminating some needs for administrative word processing.
BL: I would suspect that AI use in data mining for e-discovery might be one of the most helpful advancements. This would include the ability to examine data for contextual relevance.
JS: In my experience, legal research has benefited the most from artificial intelligence and, in the near term, will continue to do so. The legal research experience for lawyers has changed and will continue to change dramatically as artificial intelligence is used to provide relevant research results for natural language inquiries. I also expect that these research capabilities will increase to allow functionality where your device will monitor and update your research by alerting you to possibly relevant changes in the law. I also see a future design whereby you can directly tailor your research to the judge who presides over your case.
DK: Although I’m not involved in e-discovery, that’s my favorite example. As predictive coding has evolved into “technology-assisted review,” machine learning and other AI tools have created some amazing results that offer ways to improve that whole area of practice, save costs and help clients and the court system. The application of AI principles and tools to large datasets is an exciting area and we might be much further along than many people think.
Where in your practice, or in the legal profession, is artificial intelligence being underutilized?
SL: Access to justice for the middle class. The initial investment in AI is expensive, and therefore the opportunity to pass along the long-term cost saving disincentivizes practitioners servicing this sector. However, the availability of AI could decrease the expenditure in time, therefore increasing availability and quality control.
BL: The concept of online dispute resolution (ODR) and eMediation is incredibly interesting, I think, as it could certainly revolutionize the amount of time and costs spent to resolve disputes. AI being used in conjunction with this to retrieve relevant court decisions I find pretty fascinating.
JS: Online dispute resolution, predictive outcomes, game theory—whatever terms of art you like to use, I believe that these areas will explode as artificial intelligence enjoys more common application by lawyers. I see tremendous value in the time-efficient, cost-effective synthesis of data and relevant law to assist lawyers and clients in risk evaluation and case-outcome analysis. I expect that programming applied in this format will be beneficial across all price structures and case values and will even address access to justice concerns.
DK: That’s an easy one. Lawyers do way too many routine and repetitive tasks that could easily be done by software tools. I like to ask lawyers to look at what they actually do on the average day and imagine how great it would be to have some of these things automated with tools that learn what you need.
What practical AI applications should lawyers be watching out for?
SL: There is interesting work being done in document review, e-discovery and evidence management that is worth watching. These tools will open opportunities for smaller firms to get involved with larger matters without having to expand staffing significantly. They also assist in trial organization.
BL: I think that anything that might assist lawyers in analyzing/studying evidence and/or speed legal research would be something that they would want to be watching for, particularly if it were affordable technology for them.
JS: In the litigation arena where I practice, aside from predictive outcomes and online dispute resolution, lawyers can expect to see programming that allows their smart devices to synthesize complaints or answers in a matter of minutes and provide them with an almost immediate analysis of relevant case or statutory law. This will be particularly useful as a first step in narrowing the lawyer’s time and focus spent preparing or responding to litigation filings.
DK: It’s actually more a case of recognizing where AI apps exist rather than watching out for applications that are labeled AI. On smartphones, you see evidence everywhere. Typing programs get better and better at predicting what word you want next. Siri and Google Now keep evolving and impressing. Small AI apps are so interesting. Waiting for the arrival of the full-blown AI of science fiction means that you aren’t taking advantage of what is already here.
Should lawyers be afraid of or encouraged by AI?
SL: Both. It is inevitable that AI will have a profound effect on the future of our profession. It is wise to embrace it now so that it can be a tool as opposed to an impediment. No one wants to be competing against Watson (IBM’s Jeopardy-winning computer system), but if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em!
BL: Probably a little of both. Some elements of it could certainly replace the work lawyers have traditionally done, and this may frighten lawyers into feeling they are being automated and replaced. This is particularly true when you hear about computational models of argumentation, decision making, legal reasoning, etc. But theoretically, it could be used to augment a lawyer’s abilities and knowledge, and provide better service in a more timely fashion.
JS: Whether lawyers are afraid of or encouraged by the use of artificial intelligence in legal applications, artificial intelligence is here to stay. I believe lawyers should embrace artificial intelligence and other technologies that make our practices more efficient. Lawyers are often slow to adapt to technology, but when we do adapt, we adapt quite well. I strongly believe that as lawyers embrace technologies they will find that the resulting practice efficiencies will free their time so that they can use their intellect, knowledge and skill to truly add value for their clients—something all lawyers desire. This is a real chance to re-elevate our prestigious profession.
DK: Totally encouraged! For many lawyers, the standard lawyer toolset (Office, document management, time and billing) has turned lawyers into data entry operators. Lawyers quite reasonably equate standard technology with routine and administrative tasks. AI offers the chance to move the routine to the machines, freeing up lawyer time for creative and high-value tasks. I’m excited by what’s already here, how it might evolve and what we will find that has arrived in the next three to five years. Consider the small example, especially in the smartphone world, and you will be encouraged too.
Gwynne Monahan is best known by her Twitter handle, @econwriter5, and follows the mantra Write Well. Edit Better. Generally speaking, she posts random, perhaps interesting, things.
For more articles and practical advice on using on using technology in your practice, visit Law Technology Today.