Artificial Intelligence and Law – It’s Complicated

February 27. 2017. 5 mins read

People always express a distaste for lawyers but nobody really elaborates as to why. The main reason is that lawyers know you have to use their services so they do stupid isht like charge ridiculous rates and bill you just to have a conversation with them.

When we think about lawyers, we often think about that dude in the bathroom at the nightclub who is trying to hand you paper towels after you wash your hands. He’s trying to interject himself into your life in hopes that you’ll tip him a dollar for handing you a paper towel and offering you some cologne. He’s nothing special because any other dude like him could offer the exact same service. He’s an opportunist who just happens to be there.

This sort of behavior is precisely why people refer to lawyers as ambulance chasers, though this article isn’t about lawyer bashing. This article is about how artificial intelligence stands to impact the legal industry, a question that seems to be quite popular:

It appears that people are really interested in knowing how artificial intelligence will impact “law”. Now before we start going down the “AI is going to replace lawyers” path, let’s first be clear about what areas of law we’re talking about here. In broad terms, you have criminal law and civil law. In more granular terms, there are more areas of law than you probably realize. Here are just some of the areas in law that you can specialize in:

With that many different areas of law, you can only imagine how big the entire legal industry is. How big? We came across the below infographic from the Legal Executive Institute that states the U.S. legal market alone is worth a staggering $437 billion.

The above graphic also discloses an additional piece of relevant information. The demand for legal work is increasing and many corporations are bringing this function in-house. Rather than pay big law firms exorbitant rates for their services, corporations can have a few attorneys sit in each region of the world and farm out the more mundane tasks to “John in Mumbai”. And we all know what’s happening to John in Mumbai’s recipe-driven job. It’s going to eventually be taken over by AI.

Before we go claiming that AI is a panacea for the antiquated legal industry, we need to realize that there are quite a few startups already looking to disrupt the way things have always been done. Just take a look at this market map produced by the bright minds at CB Insights that shows all the startups looking to apply technology to legal:

In the above market map, we see only two names under the “AI Legal Tech Software” section but there’s a lot more than that. Here are 10 examples of companies that are looking to integrate artificial intelligence and law:

  • ai.Law – A Chinese company is providing complimentary consultations with their first robotic divorce lawyer “Lily”. They aim to break down the traditional “pyramid” service model through innovation to cut costs on hiring a private lawyer.
  • Pinsent Masons – The UK-based leading commercial law firm uses an AI called TermFrame to assist lawyers in different types of work through connecting them to relevant templates, documents, and precedents at the right moments.
  • LinkLaters – The company’s AI program called Verifi can sift through 14 UK and European regulatory registers to check client names for banks and process thousands of names overnight while an average junior lawyer would have to take an average of 12 minutes to search each customer’s name.
  • ThoughtRiver – ThoughtRiver’s AI software scan and interpret information from all written contracts for commercial risk assessments and presents a central online dashboard that enables clients to assess risks more easily.
  • Riverview Law – The firm introduced a virtual assistant to aid legal teams making quicker and better decisions named Kim. It’s also capable of suggesting the best order of negotiation series for corporate contracts.
  • ROSS Intelligence – Dubbed as the world’s first artificially intelligent lawyer, ROSS builds artificially intelligent tools to enhance a lawyer’s abilities. The startup is on a mission to create the world’s smartest lawyer.
  • Everlaw – Everlaw is a cloud-based AI platform that can be used to store documents that can make them easily searchable and accessible. The AI also assists in the creation of narratives through its Story Builder feature, among many others such as visualization tools, activity tracking and messaging.
  • Beagle AI – Beagle uses AI in scanning, highlighting key information and providing immediate understanding of contracts that also offers tools enabling both internal and external stakeholders to negotiate in real time.
  • Luminance – Luminance utilizes AI to read and understand complex detailed documents to aid users in implementing due diligence more efficiently. It’s trained to think like a lawyer (good grief) and designed to understand how lawyers think to draw out key findings without having to be told what to look for.
  • Blue J Legal – BJL focuses more on helping tax professionals come up with judgments for clients in a faster and more accurate manner which is predictably the same as the decisions that the IRS and the courts would reach in the same situation.

Before you start rethinking your decision to study law, just realize that lawyers aren’t going anywhere. Probably the most compelling reason why lawyers aren’t going anywhere is because of AI itself. In today’s litigious society, it’s only a matter of time before people start accusing AI of discriminating against some wronged demographic in society and class action lawsuits crop up. We all know that AI is going to pick up on some associations that exist in our world that people are uncomfortable with so they’ll quickly move to do what every American does when they feel wronged – they’ll sue. We can also expect to see lawsuits with some real substance, like AI decision making that leads to death or injury. Think more complex than that though, like the famous “trolley problem“. These sorts of cases will be unprecedented, and therefore will need lots of lawyers to sort out.

Half the people searching Google for “artificial intelligence and law” were probably wondering how the legal system is going to address AI, not how AI is going to address the legal industry. Here you have a non-human entity exhibiting intelligence and reason like a human, yet you don’t actually know what thought patterns it used to commit certain behaviors. While extremely important to discuss, this is a topic better suited for an ethics forum.

In a future article, we’ll take a closer look at some of the startups that are attacking the massive legal market. With your average developed market paralegal bringing in a respectable $45,000 a year, it’s only going to be a matter of time before law firms choose an alternative that doesn’t make mistakes, doesn’t take long lunch breaks, and doesn’t crack lawyer jokes when you’re not around.

UPDATE 02/27/2017JPMorgan Software Does in Seconds What Took Lawyers 360,000 HoursThe program, called COIN, for Contract Intelligence, does the mind-numbing job of interpreting commercial-loan agreements that, until the project went online in June, consumed 360,000 hours of work each year by lawyers and loan officers. The software reviews documents in seconds, is less error-prone and never asks for vacation.


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