WILLIAM J. CONNELL, ESQ. M.ED. ATTORNEY AT LAW FORESTDALE
During a recent webinar sponsored by LexisNexis, entitled "Artificial Intelligence & the Legal Profession," Dennis Garcia, Assistant General Counsel for Microsoft Corporation, suggested that legal professionals should not fear artificial intelligence.1 According to Garcia, artificial intelligence is not a foe to attorneys, but a tool for all lawyers. He cites several sources to support his argument, including a recent New York Times article by Steve Lohr (somewhat cryptically) entitled "A.I. is Doing Legal Work. But it Won't Replace Lawyers, Yet."2 Garcia's assertions that artificial intelligence is an asset to lawyers and will not supplant or replace attorneys seems both convincing and sound - if you are legal counsel at Microsoft Corporation. But if you are not, then perhaps we as members of the legal profession need to really assess how this new technology will impact and change the practice of law, and what the role of the attorney will be. Artificial Intelligence, or "A.I." as it is often referred to, has been in the news as of late. Indeed, it is hard to avoid it. A search of the term using the Google search engine will produce an initial return of approximately 62,700,000 results (that's taking all of 0.76 seconds to respond - give or take a hundredth of a second). But what is it, and more importantly to the Bar Journal's readers, how is it going to impact the legal profession?
First, just what IS artificial intelligence? One can find multiple definitions. John McCarthy, often cited as the father of A.I. (or at least the person who first recognized it)3 wrote in a 2007 unpublished paper that artificial intelligence "is the science and engineering of making intelligent machines, especially intelligent computer programs. It is related to the similar task of using computers to understand human intelligence, but A.I. does not have to confine itself to methods that are biologically observable."4 More recently, one scholarly article written by several researchers wrote: AI is a sub-field of computer science. It can be broadly characterized as intelligence by machines and software. Intelligence refers to many types of abilities, yet is often constrained to the definition of human intelligence. It involves mechanisms, some that are fully discovered and understood by scientists and engineers, and some that are not (emphasis added).5
We can extrapolate an understanding of what artificial intelligence is from those quotes. In short, it is computers that think. Okay, maybe the computer is not "thinking" in the same vein as a living organism does, but the computer can sift through data and make computations on a much quicker basis than the human mind. It can produce results that mimic thinking. In other words, we can spend hours debating the philosophical issue of whether intelligence is something limited to living creatures, or something that can be embedded or produced in a man-made device. But regardless of how we come out on that discussion, here is the bottom line: artificial intelligence can do many of the tasks lawyers do, and in some cases, do them more quickly, more efficiently, and even - YIKES -more effectively.
So let's get to the issue of how A.I. is affecting the legal profession. First is the impact on document review. According to Lohr, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University Of North Carolina School Of Law estimated that at large law firms only four percent (4%) of the lawyers' time is used for document review. The rest is outsourced or done by artificial intelligence.6 Even smaller law firms and solo operations can use basic word searches, or so-called "search and find" type tasks, to review documents and find items that might have taken hours and days of research in the past. This can be applicable to electronic discovery and contract review, among other things. A.I. is also used to complete research and complete forms. This certainly frees up time of lawyers to do so-called "higher rung" functions. Yet how many attorneys today in mid-career or later got their start in the legal profession by doing many of the functions being replicated by A.I.? Much of the work performed by a new associate in many firms, large or small, was composed of these types of activity now being performed by artificial intelligence. Lohr also reported one study by the McKinsey Global Institute estimating that twenty-three percent (23%) of legal work currently being performed by lawyers can be automated with present technology or technology that is being developed.7
Are clients happy? What do you think? The costs of A.I. can be much cheaper than hiring and training an associate. Perhaps not in the initial investment, but over time. Computers do not seek higher wages, take paid time off, or require health insurance (though they do get viruses). At some point, A.I. will be able to perform services at a cheaper cost than associates. These cost savings can be passed on to clients. How many of you reading this article (thanks for doing so by the way) have been involved in or at least heard of a situation where a client complained about the number of hours an attorney spent on a billed for task, and argued that the item was not true LEGAL work? Or. that line for four hours of legal research shouldn't have taken more than one hour. The idea that clients, be they in the private or public sector, do not want to pay high rates for lawyers to perform "routine" legal work seems logical. But this begs the question, what exactly is a routine service? Search and find type tasks? That seems a reasonable interpretation with today's technology. But not brief writing, right? Hold on. Programs such as ROSS Intelligence tout the program's ability to search through many legal databases and come up with an answer to any legal question, or as their website says. "Supercharge lawyers with artificial intelligence."8 Can ROSS do a better job than a human attorney? That's clearly a subjective question. Yet one is reminded of HAL, the all-knowing computer from Stanley Kubrick's sci-fi classic 2001, A Space Odyssey.9 During...