Artificial intelligence unlikely to replace lawyers anytime soon, report suggests

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By Thomas Connelly on

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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