Google and artificial intelligence may not be the end of the legal profession, but, boy, can you see it from here.
I anticipate encountering what Joseph Schumpeter euphemistically called creative destruction. Innovation destructs archaic business models and creatively releases capital to be deployed elsewhere — a benign description of being out on the street with your law degree.
Perhaps it’s too hyperbolic, but, for example, Google has made a database of federal and state case law and legal journal articles available via its Google Scholar search. In their defence, lawyers can now purchase on Amazon the “Please Do Not Confuse Your Google Search With My Law Degree” coffee mug.
For a simpler DIY approach, YouTube displays more than 146 videos on family law. This also includes shuffle playlist for greater variety.
For comparison, AI factors into more than 38 per cent of regular enterprise planning for mainly customer interfaces. As for law firms, it’s likely not so much. Most of law firm and in-house planning centres on how to augment regular legal work with new AI tools to make this more effective and efficient.
JPMorgan Chase & Co., apparently, eliminated 360,000 hours of legal work creating legal security documents by the use of COIN, for Contract Intelligence, to review commercial loan agreements. The bank plans to use AI to analyze credit default swaps . . . since things worked out so well last time.
Other forms of AI can review entire contracts, interpret sections and even recommend sections that are not there. These recommendations can depend on which side of a particular transaction you happen to be. Similar to customizing streaming music systems, one can imagine the type of customization that can occur as you adjust the lever from buyer focused over to seller focused. We await the ultimate customization that includes sliding the scale either to the far left or far right into the “jerk” setting.
I tried a contract review application one time with a simple release. No comments came back. I imagine legal associates would be ecstatic to receive something back from a senior lawyer without any comments. I was hoping for at least one “atta boy” type of meme.
Instead of augmenting legal practice, another perspective suggests a client-based focus where the system asks questions and directs the client to certain resources. For example, The DoNotPay website helped users successfully appeal hundreds of thousands of parking tickets by having the client answer a number of questions. The system then interprets the situation and prints out a draft letter to send to the authorities.
I tested DoNotPay over the weekend and can confidently assert that the experience replicated that of retaining some legal firms. The site took in my request, said it was sorry to hear that and told me if I could email more information it would get back to me in 24 hours. Nice immediate reply, but a solution may come a bit later. Notwithstanding the delay, the value proposition — benefits divided by total costs — cannot be beat. The system is free.
So, where do the law societies stand among all of this creative destruction? Their mandate includes the protection of the public. However, the other two mandates generally include advancing the cause of justice and the rule of law, which requires the public disclosure of legal codes and processes. Societies also facilitate access to justice. This suggests making it as easy as possible for the general public unable to afford a lawyer access to some form of legal information.
This type of access does not mean providing paper or online brochures but a more customized response. In other businesses, chatbots can ask an advancing series of questions and provide a more “intelligent” and applicable answer. This forms the entire basis behind a customer-focused type of interface.
A new client-driven model suggests perhaps an Uber approach. Uber does not own cabs and tries not to employ drivers. The courts have imposed some obligations here. Generally, Uber is a simple platform that connects customers and drivers. A similar approach could connect a client and a lawyer providing the most cost-effective service. Cost is not everything, but as the law becomes more commoditized, then perhaps being “the better lawyer” may not carry the day if everyone uses the same type of AI platform to research and provide a result. And, yes, everyone shall likely have their respective settings maximized over to jerk, so there will still be plenty to argue about.
From a policy analysis perspective, one appreciates the different approaches each law society brings to the table and the complicated socio-economic analysis that would be required to balance justice access and public protection. The 2014 CBA Legal Futures Initiative outlined a number of areas that the legal profession could take to remain relevant. Implementation of the recommendations may be slow in coming.
The various law societies currently have authority over who can practise law. One can easily imagine a public lobbying effort to storm the ramparts to allow some form of AI system that can ask questions and guide the individual to a possible area where help could be found. There is nothing like a bit of urgency to assist in the legal change management process.
Canadian Lawyer November 6, 2017