From Books to Bots: How Artificial Intelligence is Shaping the Traditional Legal Framework

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This post was written by Associate Editor, Haley Pannell.  The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone.

As the world around us revolves and our culture is shaped by advances in technology, the legal field has been mostly hesitant and less willing to adopt new practices.[1] But in recent years, it has become evident that technological advances are continuously being introduced into the legal market and are substantially changing how lawyers work each day.[2] Due to the level of heightened efficiency and speed that new legal programs offer, lawyers feel an obligation to utilize advanced services in order to keep up.[3]

Artificial intelligence is a type of technology that provides website users, specifically seeking legal assistance, with an immediate interaction over the internet that is similar to engaging with a human being.[4] A user will pull up a webpage, then an automatic, interactive conversation tab will begin to help navigate the website, and the user will start to receive answers right away. It’s likely that many of us have had one of these interactions with a robot behind the screen. What makes this method so effective? Artificial intelligence robots have a handful of practical skills in their tool belt, such as: the ability to reason, to discover meaning, to generalize, and the ability to learn from past experience in order to grow stronger and more accurate to prepare for future interactions.[5]

Legal areas that are most likely to be affected by artificial intelligence are items that resemble a more “fill in the blank” process. Tasks such as scanning and predicting which documents will be relevant to a case or filling in contract terms are at the center of artificial intelligence’s takeover focus.[6] On the other hand, lawyers will still provide expertise in the areas of negotiating, providing legal analysis, and advising and advocating for clients.[7] Professionals within the technology sphere believe that these are tasks that are unique to a lawyer’s skill set and are beyond the reach of computerization for quite a while.[8]

Some may say that the presence of artificial intelligence serves as a threat to a lawyer’s job security, but the truth is that it is not taking away opportunities. Instead, technology advances, and specifically artificial intelligence, make a lawyer’s life easier.[9]  For example, there are numerous programs that are on the market today that law firms across the nation have willingly purchased to execute their daily workload with speed and increased accuracy.[10] Programs such as “Kira”, “ROSS”, “Rocket Lawyer”, and numerous other companies cater their services to appeal directly to lawyers.[11] These programs provide lawyers with a platform to keep up with a profession that continues to raise the bar due to advances in technology.[12]

There have been a number of ethical challenges that members within the legal community have raised regarding this topic.[13] The primary ethical issues address whether these practices go beyond the scope of licensed and authorized practices of law.[14] Specifically, in cases such as Janson v. LegalZoom.com, Inc. and Medlock v. LegalZoom.com, Inc., state supreme courts have held that companies promoting artificial intelligence are not engaged in unauthorized practice of law.[15] Although this type of “do it yourself” legal documentation has been given the green light, these courts have been hesitant to reward summary judgement in favor of the companies promoting this service.[16] Further, in these cases, companies such as LegalZoom ultimately have settled numerous suits brought against them for various undisclosed amounts.[17]

Technology being introduced into the traditional legal framework does not mean that a lawyer’s work is done. Rather, it means that legal functions may look different in the years to come. It is important for lawyers to be aware of the changes that artificial intelligence is introducing to societal members seeking legal assistance. Understanding the advances that linger in the future is the first step to assuring that you are a lawyer that is aware of change and equipped with the knowledge to stand on a level playing field as new innovations are introduced into the legal market in the years to come.

[1] Julie Sobowale, How Artificial Intelligence is Transforming the Legal Profession, ABA Journal (March 1, 2019), http://www.abajournal.com/magazine/article/how_artificial_intelligence_is_transforming_the_legal_profession.

[2] Id.

[3] Steve Lohr, A.I. Is Doing Legal Work. But It Won’t Replace Lawyers, Yet., The New York Times (March 1, 2019), https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/19/technology/lawyers-artificial-intelligence.html.

[4] Jesse Emspak, What is Artificial Intelligence?, Live Science (March 1, 2019), https://www.livescience.com/55089-artificial-intelligence.html.

[5] B.J. Copeland, Artificial Intelligence, Encylopedia Britannica (March 1, 2019), https://www.britannica.com/technology/artificial-intelligence.

[6] Lohr, supra note 3.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Jordan Bigda, The Legal Profession: From Humans to Robots, 18 J. High Tech. L. 396, *412 (2018).

[11] Id.

[12] Id.

[13] Id. at *404.

[14] Id.

[15] Janson v. LegalZoom.com, Inc., 802 F. Supp. 2d 1053 (2011); Medlock v. LegalZoom.com, Inc., 2013 S.C. LEXIS 362.

[16] Bigda, supra note 10 at *406-407.

[17] Id.

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