Artificial Intelligence: Is this the 'uberisation' of the law profession?

By Nick Stone, (ARK Group Conference Producer) and Edward Bowes (ARK Group, Editorial Assistant)

Artificial intelligence (AI) is causing a stir in the legal field, but there is little light being shed on this emerging force. ARK Group’s evening event Artificial Intelligence and Cognitive Computing discussed AI’s potential, and strategies for harnessing this powerful newcomer. In short, AI is set to become an integral part of the ever evolving legal profession.

Legal Geek’s founder Jimmy Vestbirk introduced the evening and set the scene. Following on was Sarah Burnett, research vice president at the Everest Group, with today’s reality; AI is already here. A show of hands reinforced that reality; some in the audience were already using AI, while several more were considering it. Sarah explored the immediate practical benefits of AI, including the automation of outsourcing, discovery, and legal searches. 

A panel followed Sarah’s presentation. With a constant eye on the future, panel discussions focussed around four themes: ethical issues, the impact of younger talent, business processes, and the client-lawyer relationship.

Panel members included Joanna Goodman, author of Robots in Law: How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Legal Services; Chrissie Lightfoot, The Entrepreneur Lawyer; Paresh Kathrani, Westminster University; Richard Seabrook, Neota Logic Ltd; and Mike Potter, Addleshaw Goddard LLP.

Ethical issues and the complexity of human morality were explored. An AI that was pitted against judge decisions matched with humans on 79% of cases. But is the 21% in fact the humans, not the AI, being incorrect? Where does technology begin changing our notions of right and wrong?

Students and young lawyers are driving the change, and are more responsive to the ever changing technology market. But law schools need to keep up and diversify the skills that they teach – or risk their students no longer being relevant in the new market. 

But is AI being over sold? And where’s the management drive? Again, the panel discussed the practical solutions of automation. The panel speculated on the managerial leadership needed to push for change.

The panel remembered the key component; the client. For AI to deliver beneficial change, our view must be of a client centric rather than lawyer centric world. Utilising AI correctly can bridge the gap in access to legal services, an issue that traditional legal practice has yet to properly address.

AI is not just a tool for the establishment however, it’s for start-ups, too. When a small law firm is able to exploit AI, are we looking at the “uberisation of the legal profession” – a total levelling of the playing field?

Many thanks to Gowling WLG for hosting this event at their London offices. To explore these themes further, order your copy of Robots in Law: How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming Legal Services.