Technology seems to be making its way into every facet of the business world, from accounting to payroll to lead management. Professionals assume the meat of their jobs could never be replaced by technology. A computer could never provide psychiatric counseling, it might seem, since the subtle nuances of human communication can’t be performed by a piece of electronics. Likewise, the intensive work legal professionals perform every day requires a legal mind of the human variety to research and try cases.
But artificial intelligence (AI) has made great strides in recent years. Experts have been working hard to perfect machine-learning capabilities to allow technology to more closely mimic the way humans think. Many of the shortcomings found in AI could eventually be overcome, thanks to the dedication of some of the best minds in science and technology, and legal practices could someday see AI moving into various areas of their firms—possibly even replacing some of the employees they have on payroll.
Perhaps one of the easiest areas for AI is research. Paralegals and junior attorneys spend hours sorting through previous court cases and legal resources to find the information they need to try their cases. If a precedent exists, legal teams must unearth it well before they go to court. They will take the information provided by clients and use it to gather relevant documentation, putting the information together to create a comprehensive case.
This is perhaps the closest AI to become a reality in law offices, with researchers at the University of Toronto having already created an AI lawyer named Ross. Ross can take any legal question posted by an attorney and sift through its database of legal documents, statutes, and cases to come up with the correct answer. The system grows more accurate over time, as it learns more about a firm’s specific areas of practice and preferences.
Research is only one part of a firm’s work on a case; each case is an individual project, with multiple tasks required on a daily basis, leading up to various milestones. Case management software is already available to help attorneys and paralegals manage tasks, track billable hours, and condense documents in one easy-to-find place.
However, humans are still required to input the information that powers these solutions. A true AI takeover would mean this information would be taken a step further, with systems having the ability to automatically retrieve and catalog necessary documents based on minimal information. Billing would be also automated, with mobile devices and PCs set to track activity without additional effort from the legal professional.
There have been predictions of a future in which cases are tried by robots. As they prepare to go to trial, experts believe, they’ll be given a choice of whether to have a human attorney or an automated one. By removing emotion from the courtroom, an AI-based attorney might be able to argue a case based solely on the facts.
One benefit to computer intelligence is that it would have the power to analyze a judge’s past rulings and shift its arguments accordingly. However, would a judge ever let AI-based legal professionals in the courtroom?
Although AI will definitely have a place in the future of every legal practice, there are some elements of the law that simply can’t be handled without a human behind them. To remain relevant, it’s important that attorneys of every experience level learn to work well with the tools they’re given and accept the fact that software may eventually replace paralegals and less-experienced attorneys.
One look at the client testimonials of a law firm like May Firm shows the element of legal work that would be among the toughest to replace. May Firm is a local personal injury law firm here in San Luis Obispo, California. I’ve worked with Robert May for several years, and have helped him grow his practice drastically over the years through outside the box marketing campaigns and carefully selected marketing approaches.
Attorneys and paralegals handle many different functions during the course of a day, but counseling and comforting clients can be among the most rewarding. At the end of a trial, often the clients remember the assistance the attorneys provided as much as they remember the outcome of the case itself.
As many other areas of casework are transferred to software solutions, the client-attorney relationship will likely be one area that will still need a human being. Clients may research information online or contact an attorney through a crowdsourcing service, but the counseling provided by an informed legal professional is something that can’t be replaced.