A future vision of law - Dare you look?

We have all read them. Reports of the death of the lawyer (particularly the junior lawyer) seem greatly exaggerated. Surely, maintaining and updating the artificially intelligent lawyers will require someone with legal qualifications. And don’t forget the inevitable time staffing the helpdesk to deal with customers’ technical difficulties, of which there are likely to be many.

Perhaps both the reports and the retorts are too extreme. It couldn’t be that simple. However, previous waves of technological advancement haven’t actually changed the way lawyers work – just increased the pace. Letter-writing, once the exclusive domain of post, advanced through telex, fax and onto email. Legal research, once the domain of physical books, loose-leafs and index guide cards, are now stored in searchable online databases. Dictating to an assistant and then recording on a Dictaphone are ancient history – replaced by an app on a phone.

Technology marches on

This time it’s different. The very way society (and lawyers) is changing. Many lawyers hide behind an assumption that law is too specialised to be impacted by technology. But consider the following:

  • Software-based technological advancements are progressing at an astounding rate. Fully autonomous self-driving cars, robo-financial advisers, artificially intelligent sales assistants and secretaries are already a reality – and many have been in production for a number of years already.
     
  • Significantly, each of these replace what have been, to date, highly reliant upon skilled human labour. While these advances primarily rely upon huge datasets as the basis for logic decisions, precedent in the common law – published and accumulated over hundreds of years – enables similar analysis to occur.
     
  • Mass digitisation processes have seen old law reports become machine-readable text, with, most notably: Harvard Law’s Caselaw Access Project which by the end of 2017 will make freely available online its entire library of 42,000 volumes of bound court decisions – a total of 40 million pages, including a decision dating back to 1268 (which concerned a dispute over 45 acres of land and whether one of the parties could be barred from making a claim that would be contradicted by something he said in an earlier case). Ravel Law, an advanced legal research and analytics platform (which shares a number of features common to Jade) is utilising this library to disrupt incumbent legal research providers LexisNexis, Westlaw and CCH.
  • Other companies in law are already going further. Software developed by the University College London correctly predicted the outcome of human rights cases heard by the European Court of Human Rights 79% of the time, having used as a database 584 cases relating to torture, degrading treatment, fair trails and privacy. Artificially intelligent legal research tools such as ROSS Intelligence are touting completion of legal research in a fraction of the time it takes a junior lawyer.

Against this background, it is no surprise a February 2016 report by Deloitte suggested there could be over 100,000 job losses in the UK alone due to automation and client demands, while Professor Richard Susskind has predicted “in 10 years’ time if you were to look at the top 20 legal providers by revenue, half will be non-lawyers”. 

Adaptive lawyers will thrive

Despite such a pessimistic view of the legal market ahead, the advances in AI and machine learning provide an enormous opportunity for those lawyers best able to abandon their legacy structures and adapt to the new legal paradigm.

All new software products have a simple unique selling proposition for lawyers: The time savings and increased efficiencies enables significant time-cost savings to be passed through to existing clients, while dramatically improving your competitive advantage over existing competitors.

While lawyers ultimately sell an undifferentiated product – which is why you always happen to end up competing on price – the current revolution provides scope for true differentiation amongst lawyers and firms. The ability to complete due diligence quicker or better assess the merits of a claim through software (as some UK-based firms are already doing) not only enables significant cost savings, but establishes your brand as a true market leader for that kind of work. It also enables lawyers to focus more on high value work, giving them greater job satisfaction.

Lawyers can no longer assume the latest technological advancements won’t affect them – wilful blindness about what is already occurring will only accelerate their demise. Fortunately, for the rest of us, there is much to look forward to.

Are emerging technologies changing the way you work yet?