AI and the future of legal profession

A Brief & Tort-urous Journey

Are you familiar with the expression “Ignorance of the Law is no Excuse”? Well, you had better use it as much as you can before it becomes a meaningless vestige of days gone by. One day, soon, all will be known, or knowable.

Faced with the incredible scope of the law, from municipal, all the way up to international, it is impossible for any lawyer to know everything. The daily or weekly newsletters that keep them apprised of new laws, regulations, and case decisions that impact just their specific area of practice, can often be overwhelming. That means some crucial things go unread that might just be a fulcrum upon which to leverage a “win” if it had been known at the appropriate time.

Lawyers of the Old Guard are particularly resistant to Artificial Intelligence (AI) technology. They like their legal tomes in floor-to-ceiling libraries. Sure, some will use databases, or have legal assistants do so for them, but their books feel like their most important tool. To quote Tony Stark in the movie Ironman:

“That’s how Dad did it; that’s how America does it…and it has worked out pretty well so far”.

The Whooshing Sound

An author named Douglas Noel Adams once proclaimed that he loved editorial “deadlines” because of the exciting whooshing sound they made as they sped by. If a lawyer, refusing to embrace AI, hears a whooshing sound, it will be history leaving you behind.

Of course the younger you are, the more likely it is that you will dive into all the advantages conferred by AI. If decisions in dusty old leather-bound books aren’t in databases yet, they will be. We have technology to automatically read books, using Optical Character Recognition (OCR) and vacuum-powered page-turners. Since 2004 Google has been working on digitizing the ~130,000,000 unique printed books (as of August 2010) in the world, so that their contents will be available for electronic search.

Law on Demand

Once an AI has a chance to collate, correlate, and integrate all relevant information into a massive legal database (something that IBM’s Watson is being groomed to do), you will be able to make a plain English enquiry such as “How many references are there in Ohio law for grandfathering a fence that has remained in place for 13 years, and ceding property rights?” You can then narrow it down further until you have precisely what you need to establish and cite precedent and win a case. Law will become easy, and the aforesaid Old Guard is very unenthusiastic about that

There is no reason for every lawyer to maintain a personal AI. It would be expensive, maintenance heavy, and constantly need to be updated. Instead, that massive database mentioned earlier would almost certainly be offered as an AIaaS (Artificial Intelligence as a Service) akin to Office 360™ from Microsoft™.

Centrally managed and updated, it would always be up to date, and access would be billed depending on the service used. Everyone would have the same information available, but how you chose to phrase the questions would render each answer unique. Like any good lawyer, you have to know the right questions to ask to get the answers you need.

New Competition

As lawyers begin to use AIaaS, there will be less and less need for law clerks, paralegals, and legal aides. Those people won’t be unemployed for long, however.

Boutique Law Offices will start to spring up everywhere. Your people are already excellent researchers. Using the AIaaS would be child’s play for them. Granted, they would be hard-pressed to act as lawyers in a courtroom, without bona fides and court recognition, but these boutique law offices could advise the common citizenry for minor civil cases, personal suits, and even municipal litigation.

It’s worth considering diversifying and opening up such a boutique law office of your own to keep this basic bread & butter business coming in. Not only does it eliminate the necessity of letting long-time employees go, but it keeps your income stream going, and allows you to monitor and advise these people to make sure that they’re not going astray.

New mini-law businesses are going to pop up once AI becomes commonplace. With your good name attached to it, you can garner that additional business for yourself, while enhancing your reputation.

Lawyers in Court

Precedents are helpful, but once you are in the courtroom, analytical skill, empathy, charisma, and persuasiveness often rule the day—particularly when you’re in front of a jury. Clearly, this is something that an AI cannot manage yet. So, is the legal profession going away? Not likely. There are too many fine points of law and subtleties for any AI that currently exists (though they will get better in time).

And it’s going to be very hard for an AI of any sort to elicit empathy from Mean Old Juror #8 whom you couldn’t get excused, and who apparently hates the defendant. That’s why real lawyers will continue to be needed—to tug at the heartstrings and emotions—to persuade jurors and judges to be sympathetic, or help them relate to extenuating circumstances.

A Different Experience

New law students ought to consider how they’re going to make a living. There are fewer articling positions available now, and they will decrease further as AI takes hold in the industry.

Those that take additional courses, majors, or combined degrees as they learn law, adding computer science, and/or an MBA, will have additional tools that make them more versatile. They’ll be better equipped to work with the new AI technology. Law offices may not be hiring, so graduates will have to be agile, taking contract work, or creating their opportunities.

Who is to say that these new law offices won’t be a flat fee, value-oriented firm that collects customers by creating unique value? The future of law could be very entrepreneurial and independently driven because AI will provide options that have never existed before.

Future law work will be markedly different than what has sufficed for the last few generations of lawyers. They’ll need skills like ingenuity, predictive analysis, and leadership to manage on their own, without the benefit of working for a large firm to gain their experience. They’ll need the ability to counsel clients, offer insights, assess risk—and they’ll have to be able to do that right away.

New Teaching Methodologies

Many people don’t possess those skills innately, so educational institutions will have to evolve to equip graduates to be more prepared to start out on their own. They’ll have the advantage of AIaaS to support decisions, analyze circumstances or situations, and provide information quickly, instead of having to thumb through volumes of case law.

This supports the need to behave proactively instead of reactively. AIs can keep them up-to-date instead of the old methods of waiting until decisions were published (sometimes weeks later) before they can acquaint themselves with them. AI levels the playing field by giving neophyte lawyers access to a quarter century of case law, just like a 25-year-veteran lawyer.

The Takeaway

The new lawyers are going to work for individual companies (such as software developers for example), which embrace the idea of responsive AI. Older firms that dig in their heels saying “We’re not going to go down that road” will be far less attractive to them, and that means less “new business.”

As AI becomes more accepted, some law firms will eliminate paralegals and first-year associates. This only makes it that much more important for graduates to be independent right from the start.

In all likelihood, groups of young graduates will start to clump together, forming associations, and creating versatile, agile firms. They’ll be able to respond to needs much faster than anti-AI law firms

Older law firms may well keep their long-term clients through pure inertia. Younger, more modern partnerships will attract younger clients that aren’t staid and fossilized. So, if you’re a well-established law firm, no matter how intimidating the change might be, it is important to educate yourselves, adopt, and promote AI as a vital new tool if you want your business to keep growing.

Early adopters will benefit, but that doesn’t describe typical legal firms. Take a lesson from the Borg race from Star Trek: “Resistance is useless.” AI is not only coming; it is coming faster and faster and is truly inevitable. By being one of the first ones out of the gate, you’ll acquire experience and tactics for exploiting this new resource, and a great advantage of time, while the other slower companies are still trying to figure out how it all works.

This is an important evolution in the way we will conduct the business of law. If you want to learn more, we provide webinars to show you where the future is going and how you can get there. Don’t shortchange yourself. Join us today!