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With minimal programming, AI algorithms allow a machine to learn from previous decisions, and get better with experience. Following initial input from humans, results are filtered and corrected over time, meaning that the computer becomes more efficient at recognising patterns in data.

Traditionally humans have to ask machines a question, often using Boolean techniques, which the computer processes without any inherent memory of historical searches. With the use of AI, each search becomes part of the computer’s memory, meaning it can learn from its own precedent.  

Another form of AI is natural language processing (NLP); the ability for computers to recognise language as we naturally speak, rather than just the ability to search words and phrases. This has already become a fully integrated technology in many people’s homes.

AI in the law

The legal sector is starting to integrate more AI technologies. According to a 2018 survey of over 100 law firms by CBRE, 89% are already using AI – or have imminent plans to do so.

At the end of 2018, the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) awarded £1.2 million to the Faculty of Law at the University of Oxford to explore the use of using artificial intelligence in the legal industry. ‘Unlocking the Potential of AI for English Law’ will look at the potential and limitations of AI. It is a great opportunity to improve legal provisions, with project leaders seeking to identify and understand the application of AI in dispute resolution, governance and strategy, and legal reasoning.

In addition, some of the funding will be used to research the training and educational needs of legal professionals’ engagement with technology, which will form the basis of future training programmes.

There is big possibility for AI to boost productivity and reduce cost, helping lawyers perform tasks faster and more efficiently. This allows them to focus on the tasks that add real value, like advising clients and strategising.

Legal research takes a lot of time, and money for clients, and is one area of the law that could benefit from machine learning. 

Other areas of practicing law that could benefit from AI are:

  • Contract and document review for due diligence and discovery

  • Identifying changes of tone in email communications (looking for words to disguise the true nature of the conversation)

  • Analysing large data sets

  • Monitoring for risk

  • Predicting legal outcomes

There have been some exciting developments in legal AI. In 2016, the DoNotPay app was created to provide legal advice for people in London and New York who cannot afford to hire a solicitor for small claims, such as parking fines. The chatbot asked users a series questions related to their claim and draws up the court documents you need – alongside a script to read in court.

Another development in the US that employs AI technology, ROSS, was set up by a team of engineers, lawyers and scientists. You can ask ROSS a question in common English and it will read over a million pages in a second to find what you need. It understands lawyers’ research questions and gets smarter each time it interacts with a lawyer.

The AI debate

Despite the scope for AI to benefit the legal profession, there is still some resistance and controversy of how accurate AI can be when used for legal matters.

Perhaps solicitors are reluctant to embrace AI as they are rooted in traditional values and codes of conduct. By nature, a lawyer needs to be cautious of risk, pay attention to precedent, and favour order. This could be why they are reluctant to place too much trust into artificial intelligence.

One concern that some lawyers have is that people outside of the legal profession could potentially access and use the technology, without having the thorough training and regulation required to become a qualified legal professional and practice law.

AI technology is not intended to create robot lawyers and diminish the need for solicitors, it should be used to free up their time to focus on more valuable tasks.

Junior and support staff numbers may be reduced across many firms, although it is still unclear what effect this will have. That’s why it is so important for trainee solicitors to stay ahead of the developments, embrace the use of AI, and work on the skills that computers cannot replicate. Law firms will expect any new talent to take a modern approach to providing legal advice.

If you are looking to recruit the best legal professionals for your organisation, or wanting to start a new challenge in your career, contact your nearest Reed office.