Robot lawyers ‘could boost demand for legal services’ | News
Fears – or hopes – that artificial intelligence computer programs will replace human lawyers may be too simplistic, according to one of the nation’s top specialist teams of legal researchers. A report from a government-sponsored research program predicts that AI will have a profound effect on the profession – but in ways that create new kinds of roles for human lawyers.
The AI-Assisted Lawtech Report: Its Impact on Law Firms*, by a group at the University of Oxford, also calls for government action to allow access to data for training machine learning systems.
The UK research and innovation-funded study aimed to identify how constraints on the use of AI in legal services can be safely relaxed to unlock its potential and further improve the functioning of the legal sector.
Currently, he points out, AI does not replace human lawyers: systems such as contract analysis software support tasks, not overall job responsibilities. This means that human lawyers have more capacity available for tasks that cannot yet be automated. “At the same time, human lawyers find themselves better able to focus their energies on tasks – such as custom work and client interaction – where they have a competitive advantage,” the report said. “This increase in their productivity may itself stimulate demand for legal services.”
The research also revealed that:
- Around 50% of lawyers surveyed said they already use AI;
- Lawyers work more efficiently, learn new skills and work with more diverse groups of people thanks to AI. However, “what technology doesn’t seem to be doing is bringing about a sea change in the governance regimes and business models of law firms.”
- There is a growing divide between lawyers who are involved in the development of lawtech – “lawyers as producers” – and those who use the technology. “We are starting to see a clear division of expertise between lawyers who are involved in the development of AI legal technology as producers, and those who primarily use the technology as consumers,” said the Professor Mari Sako, who co-directed the research. “As more and more lawyers develop their technology-related skills, it will be interesting to see what impact these changes will have on the wider legal profession.
“It is possible that in the future lawyers with these skills will stop thinking of themselves as traditional lawyers and instead see themselves as part of an emerging profession of legal technologists,” Sako said.
Despite the optimistic tone, the report identifies a major barrier to further application of the technology: the lack of access to data for training systems. “The lack of availability of structured data is a major barrier to AI deployments for law firms and other legal service providers,” he concludes. Much of the data crucial to the formation of legal technology systems belongs to clients. “Companies may find it useful to consider under what circumstances customer data can be used to train AI models,” the report suggests. It also asks the government to open access to official data to commercial companies.
John Armour, professor of law and finance and project leader, said: “What we are seeing is lawyers using technology to work more efficiently and more collaboratively with other specialists.” Perhaps the most significant uncertainty surrounding the development and use of AI-assisted legal technology is the question of when client data can and cannot be used to assist in the development of the solution. .
*Parnham R, Sako M and Armour, J (2021) AI-Assisted Lawtech: Its Impact on Law Firms. University of Oxford