“The rapid rise of artificial intelligence (AI), which allows machines to learn and become an expert in any field, will pose a big challenge for the legal profession.”
This is the view of Benjamin Liu, commercial law lecturer from the University of Auckland
, who told the NZ Herald it is a near certainty that AI will replace lawyers, at least in some areas.
Rapid advances in technology already mean that software can effectively do the job of in-house lawyers within certain organisations. For instance, IBM’s Watson is predicted to pass the bar exam this year.
The issue hasn’t escaped the attention of mainstream publications such as Fortune magazine which included lawyers amongst white-collar professions already being taken over by robots.
The Future [Inc] Report by Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand predicts that a total of 885,000 (or 46% of) New Zealand jobs will be at risk of automation over the next 20 years.
While qualities such as the ability to understand the human condition or navigating the subtleties of legal argument may still remain within the realm of human lawyers, AI can step in and replace some of the more data-based responsibilities, Liu said.
“I have been practising for a number of years and I know you can’t say a lawyer has some magical power. Lawyers make mistakes and often make decisions based on a few simple steps. While machines also make mistakes, their accuracy levels are much higher.”
Since the emergence of AI is almost a certainty, the question shifts from whether AI will be utilised in the legal profession to what limits should be set for its use.
“In many fields, AI will certainly benefit humanity. Self-driving cars are much safer than cars driven by humans, and a robot surgeon can far outperform a human doctor,” Liu said.
He said there should be nothing wrong with letting machines give free legal advice to those who cannot afford a lawyer. It is a completely different story to let AI decide a case however.
“Arguably, it is a basic human right to for a person to have their fate decided by fellow human beings, not a machine. We do this already, for instance, with the current jury system, we don’t let the judge, a legal expert, make the decision over whether a person is guilty or not in a jury trial, we let common people do that.”
Other areas could be left to the robots however, Liu added. For instance, AI can conduct transactional work, due diligence in takeover deals, or the drafting of ‘vanilla documents’.
According to Fortune, new legal software is already undertaking such tasks, being used for both discovery work (searching through thousands of documents) and quantitative prediction (looking into legal arguments, precedents and even the idiosyncrasies of judges).