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AI in the legal sector: why it had it coming

When Caltech astronomer Mike Brown discovered Eris in 2005, the tenth planet in our solar system, it seemed he had stumbled on the discovery of a lifetime. New technology had granted Brown and his team the opportunity to see billions of miles beyond the orbit of Neptune, but the information provided put the astronomy community, and Pluto’s status as a planet, under immediate pressure.

Up to this point Pluto had been unique, small compared to the other planets, but significantly larger and different to anything else orbiting the sun. The discovery of Eris, initially believed to be bigger than Pluto, meant Pluto wasn’t special after all. In 2006, the International Astronomical Union formally redefined the term planet to exclude Dwarf Planets, and Mike Brown instead became known as the man who killed Pluto.

Lessons for law and the media

New technology will always pose problems as well as opportunities. The wealth of information provided by newer ideas can drastically improve outcomes, but it can also render old ideas obsolete. Pluto’s demise was probably inevitable, but other discoveries are likely to have a far greater impact on our daily lives.

This year will undoubtedly be remembered as the year artificial intelligence went mainstream. Spotify is currently ejecting tens of thousands of AI-made songs from its platform, Wikipedia is being “torn” apart by content generated from AI language tools, and tech-savvy kids are undoubtedly no longer having to do their homework.

It’s why Master of the Rolls, Sir Geoffrey Vos, hit the headlines recently warning there is a “real possibility that AI may become more intelligent and capable than humans,” opening up the possibility that machines could handle automated decision making and replace judges in the courts. The Wall Street Journal preferred a different tact, instead arguing it means the end of the billable hour.

In the media, the portrayal of AI often tends to focus on potential risks and concerns rather than its benefits, but while it’s important to note that the implementation of AI in the UK legal system is still in its early stages, various aspects are already being used, primarily to improve efficiency, accuracy and access to justice.

How is AI already being implemented?

Legal Research: AI-powered systems can analyse vast amounts of legal documents and precedents to assist lawyers in conducting legal research. Some of these tools can perform research that would usually take hours in a matter of seconds. They can quickly identify relevant cases or precedents, and provide updates on the latest regulations and statutes.

Contract & document management: AI algorithms can make light work of complicated contracts and case documents, flagging potential contract clauses, expiry dates or risks. This helps lawyers streamline the review process and identify key information more effectively.

To predict litigation outcomes: AI powered tools can analyse historical data and patterns to predict case outcomes, assess risks, and even provide insight into legal strategy. Although they may not be able to explain why, AI techniques can highlight certain strategies that have been successful, which way judges are more likely to rule, and provide an unbiased approach to likely case outcomes based on these trends.

Due Diligence: AI has been part of the due diligence process for a few years now, but the tasks still need human oversight because so much legal due diligence is stored in natural language (unlike financial due diligence which might be held in Excel for example). But its ability to automate repetitive tasks and present important information gives lawyers the chance to focus on higher value tasks earlier in the process.

Chatbot Lawyers: Chatbots are providing initial legal guidance to individuals seeking legal information or advice, answer common legal questions, explain legal procedures, and then direct users to appropriate resources.

Separating fact and science fiction

AI is indeed poised to bring significant changes to the legal sector, however it is important to approach the media coverage on the topic with a degree of critical analysis. It is common for emerging technologies like AI to be sensationalised or exaggerated in some cases.

Robots replacing judges is highly unlikely, especially in the foreseeable future and decisions to do so would require significant public trust. While it is possible that AI could influence the traditional billable hour system, it is unlikely to completely eliminate it in the near future. These are longstanding practices in the legal industry and deeply ingrained in the business models of many law firms. Changing established practices takes time and requires a significant shift in mindset and industry-wide adoption.

So, while reports may be greatly exaggerated by the media, the benefits of AI adoption are if anything, being underplayed. Those lawyers and law firms that embrace legal technology, can enhance and streamline various aspects of their work, leading to increased efficiency, improved accuracy and help predict outcomes in a hugely competitive field. There is an opportunity for businesses embracing this technology and those supporting its development to capitalise on this wave of media coverage in order to build trust and burnish their reputations.

However, if you are looking for negatives, well, look no further than Pluto.

*This article was written by a human.

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