AI cannot replicate 'human' lawyers, yet
Technology has major role to play but will not radically alter what lawyers do, say experts
Technology will continue to transform the legal profession but artificial intelligence (AI) will not play a significant role, legal experts have debated.
In a lively discussion hosted by Thomson Reuters on whether AI will have a radical impact on the legal profession, panellists disagreed as to how close a design could come to replicating a lawyer.
Andrew Bodnar, a barrister at Matrix Chambers, said technology was 'undoubtedly' helping to commoditise law but questioned whether a computer could understand how the law works. He also disputed whether AI was capable of human interaction and probed whether it could contemplate ethical considerations and apply judgement in court.
Bodnar added: 'On the current trajectory, AI may well make lawyers much more efficient and make our services more accessible and predictable, and make us better lawyers, but will it radically alter what we do as lawyers? No, I don't think so. Fundamentally, we will be doing the same thing even if we are doing it differently.'
Mark Edwards, vice president of San Francisco-based Rocket Lawyer, a legal technology company, agreed.
'The legal industry does not need AI to be transformed. Machines are becoming increasingly intelligent but we will not have robot lawyers soon. We will just have smarter apps.'
Edwards affirmed that in the foreseeable future an AI legal adviser would be incapable of performing most of the cognitive functions of a human lawyer or having a deep understanding of global law to advise, negotiate, arbitrate, advocate, and judge.
'The legal industry will be transformed over the next ten years by technology but AI will not play a significant role in that,' he added.
Edward Chan, a partner at Linklaters, arguing in favour of AI's impact on the profession, acknowledged that AI could not perform the function of a human lawyer yet, but said the technology available to the profession did meet the threshold of AI.
'One of the changes that we are finding is that today's data rooms are virtual and have several thousand documents but you still need to manage the amount of data and AI is the only way to allow law firms to do this.'
Chan added that trainees and paralegals were at risk of being 'shaved off' the legal pyramid as AI becomes more prevalent in firms while uncertainties remained over how much to charge clients for the use of AI.
Arguing in favour of AI, Dr Peter Waggett, the emerging technology programme leader at IBM Watson, was optimistic about AI's role in the legal industry and said the use of AI was 'getting better every 18 months'.
Waggett added that AI would impact the ability of systems to reason at the top level, automate work flows, and create a new area, AI law, that would need lawyers to deal with the liabilities and responsibilities of AI.
To conclude the debate, audience members voted on whether they thought AI would radically impact the legal profession. A slim majority of 51 per cent said it would not while some 48 per cent thought it would. One per cent were undecided.