Canada: Tech Central: Legal Technology, AI, And The Evolving Role Of The Lawyer

Technological advancements and AI, or artificial intelligence, are affecting the business and legal worlds in increasing ways, challenging the tasks historically ruled by humans. From gaming to complex legal analysis, AI is rapidly making inroads to our daily lives.

It was back in 1997 that IBM's supercomputer, Big Blue, first defeated Russian chess champion Garry Kasparov. More recently, Alphabet Inc. developed an AI software system that defeated a European champion at the game Go, a complex game with a nearly limitless number of possible moves that was thought to be one of the few areas that might be AI-proof. Computer-driven systems that had tried to tackle the game previously were simply overwhelmed by the vast options available, while the human mind seemed better suited to tackling and filtering those options. But not anymore.

In the October, 2015, issue of Lawyers Alert, this Tech Central column highlighted some early leaders in the trend of AI use in the legal world. Legalswipe is a free mobile app that provides instant legal guidance to users during encounters with police. The app seeks to inform users of their rights and help them understand the process during police questioning, detainment and arrest. Users tap and swipe their way through an intuitive interface to receive real-time guidance based on Canadian and U.S. legislation and lawyer-recommended answers. In this case, the technology helps fill the void of a legal need prior to actually retaining counsel, rather than replacing a task otherwise performed by a lawyer.

Another early leader in the field, Beagle, was a step closer to what we are seeing now. Beagle is an online software system that uses artificial intelligence to automatically review legal contracts and identify potentially important or problematic clauses. The company claims its software reduces a lawyer's time spent poring over pages of fine print, while simultaneously increasing accuracy.

But a new AI system is being heralded for going head-to-head against, and beating, several top lawyers for the first time in a study challenge designed to measure skill and speed in reading and interpreting contracts. The AI platform, developed by LawGeex in the United States, is a contract review automation solution designed to excel in "the review and approval of low-value, high-volume, day-to-day business contracts," according to the study's authors. (See the study here.)

In the recent test, LawGeex was pitted against twenty top U.S. corporate lawyers in a challenge to read and interpret several complex non-disclosure agreements. The AI completed the reviews in an average time of 26 seconds, while the lawyers averaged 92 minutes. But perhaps most surprisingly, the AI achieved an accuracy rate of 94 per cent based on the study's parameters. The lawyers, on the other hand, averaged about 85 per cent accuracy, with some performances as low as 67 per cent. And this all took place in a controlled test environment, very different from the typical hectic law office. Quite simply, the AI was able to perform this typical legal task better and quicker than even the best lawyers.

So what does this mean in the grand scheme of things for lawyers? Are we to just give up and allow AI to take over our jobs? Are lawyers next in the line of job types that will disappear to automation? Not at all. In fact, a common theme of our work in Lawyers Alert is to encourage lawyers to be proactive in adapting to and adopting new technologies to improve the services they provide. In that regard, this new AI development in contract interpretation can be seen as an opportunity rather than a competitor.

The real benefit of AI contract interpretation isn't that clients will someday bring their contracts to an ATM-like machine on the corner and have it spit out comprehensive legal advice in seconds. Rather, it is that the AI can be used to handle the more rote, time-consuming aspects of contract interpretation, identifying the key areas of concern or shortcoming so the lawyer can then provide the more contextual guidance, re-drafting and negotiating skills and services that are where the legal training and experience truly lie. The LawGeex study itself notes that only an estimated 22% of a lawyer's job and 35% of a paralegal's job can be automated. The remaining majority work requires the training, education and human instinct of the experienced lawyer.

The lawyer is freed from the burden of hours spent scanning through dozens or hundreds (or thousands!) of pages of dense legal writing, and can spend his or her valuable time providing services more tailored to the client. In turn, the client will be reassured that their money is not spent on tedious tasks at top billable rates, while receiving better overall service.

The real trick lies in acting decisively to incorporate new strategies into practice. Students and young lawyers in particular should ensure they are familiar with these new technologies, as they are the ones who are likely to be most affected in the coming years and decades.

The simple reality is that there is no stopping technological advancement. Lawyers have the choice: ignore it at their peril, or embrace it to get a leg up on competitors and improve the client service experience.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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