The Role of Artificial Intelligence in the Practice of Law

The Bencher—July/August 2016

By Kevin F. Brady, Esquire

How long will it be before your lawyer is replaced by an artificial intelligence (AI) life form like Ava from the movie Ex Machina, a computer, or even an app? Sound absurd? AI is already influencing many daily activities: We have driverless cars, virtual personal assistants (Apple’s Siri and Amazon Echo’s Alexa), fraud detection services, and smart homes devices, just to name a few. Despite the growing prevalence of AI in our lives, many argue that computers will not replace lawyers, because AI lacks creativity, empathy, judgment, intuition, and values. Lawyers provide advice, make decisions, and use their judgment based on past experiences (which machines can replicate) and intuition (which machines supposedly cannot replicate.)

Man v. Machine

The volume of digital information has increased ten-fold just in the past five years due to the network of physical objects embedded with technology that enables these objects to communicate with each other—the so called “Internet of Things.” Many of these devices like fitness monitors, GPS in cars, smartphones, and cloud computing storage devices, which are already emitting a staggering amount of data, will function at speeds that will outpace human intervention, thus requiring machines with AI to operate them.

In 1997, IBM’s supercomputer Deep Blue defeated world chess champion Garry Kasparov using its ability to calculate the outcomes of more moves than Kasparov could. Recently, Google DeepMind’s AlphaGo AI beat a professional player at a game of Go, a 2,500 year-old Chinese game of strategy where players take turns placing black or white stones on a 19X19 square board trying to capture the opponent’s stones or surround empty space to make points of territory. Google DeepMind’s researchers trained the system to play Go on its own and then matched their system against itself to enable it to increase its skill and ability. Notably, unlike chess, Go is played using intuition and feel and not simply brute force computing.

Unintended Consequences and AI

In the spring of 2015, Mattel launched “Hello Barbie,” a doll with speech recognition and “progressive learning features.” Hello Barbie asks questions to elicit information from children about their likes, interests, and family, and then learns from these conversations and improves its ability to engage in conversations, play games, and tell stories. Hello Barbie connects to the Internet and the dialog is stored in the cloud. Unsurprisingly, privacy advocates have raised concerns about children sharing their thoughts with a doll that are being recorded, analyzed, and stored.

In March, Microsoft launched a new AI “chatbot” named “Taylor”, which was designed to interact and learn from conversations with 18–24 year-olds on social media sites, allowing the bot to continuously improve its ability to engage in conversations. Unfortunately, the target audience started giving Taylor racist and sexist ideas, forcing Microsoft to pull the plug on the project after only a few days.

Is the AI Lawyer Far Off?

While no one is suggesting that machines will replace lawyers altogether, there are certain legal tasks that are being done by machines today, and more machine-learning tasks are coming. AI will permit faster and more effective analysis of large data sets, and draw connections in information at a rate that no human attorney could ever do.

Given the vast amount of preexisting legal work product that machines can analyze and learn from, it will not be long before AI devices replace many activities in which lawyers engage. While it may seem preposterous to suggest that there will come a time when a machine will be taking a contentious deposition, engaging in meet and confer with opposing counsel (or computer), or arguing before the Supreme Court of the United States, it is not far off that machine-learning will drive arguments and strategy based strictly on data analytics.

Will AI free lawyers to focus on their craft rather than the mundane tasks they are bogged down with on a daily basis? For example, can a computer research and draft a basic, acceptable brief that the lawyer can fine tune into a powerful, sophisticated piece of advocacy? Will AI take over mundane legal tasks, allowing lawyers to focus on relationships with their client and opposing counsel? Or, will it be like many innovations in technology that heralded great changes, but in fact made the practice of law more stressful and demanding?

Kevin F. Brady, Esquire is of counsel in the firm of Redgrave LLP in Washington, DC. He is the president of the Richard K. Herrmann Technology AIC in Wilmington, DE, and a former member of the American Inns of Court Board of Trustees.

© 2016 Kevin F. Brady, Esq. This article was originally published in the July/August 2016 issue of The Bencher, a bi-monthly publication of the American Inns of Court. This article, in full or in part, may not be copied, reprinted, distributed, or stored electronically in any form without the express written consent of the American Inns of Court.