Artificial intelligence unlikely to replace lawyers anytime soon, report suggests

The rise of the robots is ‘overstated’ say US profs

A new academic study has suggested that the increase in artificial intelligence (AI) software within the legal sector is unlikely to leave lawyers out of a job.

The lengthy report, entitled ‘Can robots be lawyers? computers, lawyers, and the practice of law’, examined the billing habits of large law firms to get an overview of the type of work lawyers do in a typical day. This information was then compared against the perceived impact that AI and other forms of legal-tech is having on these roles.

Penned by US professors Dana Remus of the University of North Carolina Law School and Frank Levy of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the study suggests that AI is having a “moderate” effect on areas such as legal research, drafting and due diligence. The study states that these tasks account for around 40% of lawyers’ overall billing.

That said, the report found that the estimated impact of AI on areas such as fact-checking, advising clients, document management, legal writing and court appearances and preparation — which accounted for almost 55% of invoiced hours — was deemed “light”.

But AI has a greater role to play in other areas. According to the report, the estimated impact of AI on document review — which is basically checking large bundles of paperwork for relevance and disclosure during the litigation process — is “strong”. Fortunately for lawyers, who probably hate this part of the job anyway, the study goes on to say that this accounts for just 4% of invoiced hours.

So why the hype around AI? Appearing to take aim at the legal press, the professors suggest that “even where automation has made significant progress, its impact has been less than the headlines would have us believe.” Citing the “well-established reputation for slow technology adoption” by large law firms, the study estimates that the rise of robots is a long way away, with the “demand for lawyers’ hours” — of the human variety — decreasing by just 2.5% per year.

Despite the report’s scepticism, top City firms continue to embrace the weird and wonderful world of AI, at least on a superficial level. Just today, magic circle law firm Clifford Chance revealed a new online tool to help banks and accountancy firms navigate safely through the complex regulations brought about by the new Markets in Financial Instruments Directive (MiFID2).

But perhaps adding weight to the study’s findings, senior associate Charles Morris accepted that “the technology is still at a very nascent stage”. Speaking to Legal Futures, he continued:

Of course, one day it will change and the key is to make sure [we are] always trying to push the boundaries so that when it does become something that can be rolled out on a wider basis, we can be at the forefront of that and deliver it.

Despite reservations from academics, and the technology still being in its very early stages, the AI bandwagon continues to rumble on.

Clifford Chance, Freshfields and DLA Piper have adopted a programme called ‘Kira Systems’, which can quickly search and analyse agreements. Meanwhile, Slaughter and May — known for its traditional approach to law — raised eyebrows when it punted for a system called ‘Luminance’, which according to its creators will “transform the legal due diligence process.”

The first magic circle firm to adopt the futuristic tech was Linklaters, which opted for a system called RAVN. Created by an AI specialist based in London, the lawyer-like software can undertake a number of automated tasks.

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5 Comments

J.V. Jarndyce

I believe Susskind overstates his case, but the basic point is a good one. He’s certainly not a charlatan. The legal professions in the UK and across the world need to not only monitor developments in AI carefully, but take charge of the process by using these technologies to their fullest extent. With the advent of online courts per the Lord Chancellor’s bill published last week, we’re at the beginning of a process of excluding legal professionals from civil dispute resolution. No room for complacency in the 21st century, though bashing those who put their heads over the parapet probably makes for droll luncheon anecdotes.

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Anonymous

Yes he is a charlatan. Susskind is a complete and utter Charlatan.

Basically, his life story goes like this. Thinks he is being a bit edgy, a bit neat, and picks AI as his PhD topic years ago. Either that or he saw a handy PhD funding opportunity for a 3+ year jolly at Balliol and managed to convince everyone he was an AI enthusiast – either is possible.

He writes his PhD, then publishes the book. Looking back with hindsight, it was a believable thesis given the time it was written. Either that or, given the time frame, he’d just been to see Will Smith’s I, Robot at the cinema.

But then came the point at which Susskind jumped the shark. He realised he’d hit on a commercially profitable book, which gave him media coverage, with the potential for further books on the subject. He therefore continued his thesis and drove it to exhaustion.

If you were being charitable, his early work was genuine and credible, if a little zany and extreme. However his subsequent work is utter pulp, and what’s more he probably knows it.

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