Lawyers divided over artificial intelligence

Posted in Blog on 28 Jun 2018

The finale of HBO’s Westworld, a futuristic drama based on the uprising of sentient humanoid ‘hosts’ and the dawn of artificial consciousness, premiered this weekend. However, artificial intelligence no longer exists within the confinements of fiction: it is playing a larger part decade on decade, continuing to shape all aspects of the modern world.

The legal workplace is no exception.

Last year the Law Society, the Law Society stuck a finger in the air and had a look at how AI and automation could transform the sector. They forecast a 20% reduction in total employment but believed this could be offset by an increase in demand for legal services.

Forecast total employment in the UK legal services sector:

  • 318,000 in 2017 (289,000 full-time equivalent jobs)
  • 316,000 in 2018 (288,000 full-time equivalent jobs)
  • 315,000 in 2019 (287,000 full-time equivalent jobs)
  • 312,000 in 2025 (284,000 full-time equivalent jobs)

In an exciting age of technological development our societal obsession with artificial intelligence has never been as strong. With news that firms such as Freshfields and Weightmans are developing their AI initiatives both with the partnership of software company Kira Systems (providing technology with the capability to provide a faster and more accurate contract and document review process) should more law firms be adopting a “future proof” strategy regarding AI?

    One interminable question is whether AI poses a threat or creates opportunity in the workplace. As part of our 2018 Salary Survey Benefits Benchmarker we asked 3,000 legal professionals this very question resulting in some interesting observations. 

    Our findings highlighted that legal professionals are seemingly embracing AI and technological innovation within the legal sector with 32 per cent of respondents regarding AI as an opportunity in comparison to just 13 per cent of those who identify it as a threat. 

    Whilst 23 per cent of solicitors, lawyers and legal professionals view AI as both an opportunity and a threat, 32 per cent could hardly contain their indifference considering AI as neither a threat or an opportunity. A deeper dive revealed that there was very little difference in opinion across age ranges and PQE bands.

    The final piece of the jigsaw for the hosts in Westworld was emotion, love and hate, empathy and it is the same for the robots and software programmes that are being developed across the world. Logical decision making, if this then that has been conquered, like Westworld the next stage is emotion driven decision making; if this then, it should be that, but I am still going for this. Perhaps the segment of the legal profession who view AI as neither a threat or an opportunity are pinning their hopes on customers continuing to value the human touch above cost. Complacency, however, could prove fatal.

    Back in 2016 Deloitte estimated that 39% of legal roles will be automated and that firms will face a ‘tipping point’ regarding the generation of a new talent strategy. Given that many tasks undertaken by junior legal professionals generally overlap with those marked for automation, the approach surrounding the cultivation of the legal minds of tomorrow in terms of training and experience needs to be explored in depth alongside technological advancement.

    As part of last October’s CaseCrunch lawyer challenge it was reported that machine beat (hu)man with an accuracy of 86.6% to the lawyer’s 62.3%. In the challenge over 100 lawyers were pitted against Case Cruncher with both sides using the basic facts of hundreds of PPI mis-selling cases to predict the outcome of the claim, in total 755 predictions were made in the course of a week.

    The creators of CaseCrunch say that the AI helps:

    “improve litigation strategies based on data-driven analysis of the law and help litigation funders select meritorious claims from their applicant pool.
    [The system helps] reduce the amount of time and money spent on legal prediction tasks by multiple orders of magnitude, while matching or improving human performance”.

    This year a similar study was conducted in the U.S. testing the performance of U.S. trained lawyers from global firms and top companies against LawGeex’s Artificial Intelligence algorithm when undertaking the task of reviewing 5 non-disclosure agreements. AI achieved an accuracy rate of 94% compared to the lawyer’s 85% with the technology taking 26 seconds versus the human equivalent’s average of 92 minutes. LawGeex anticipates that through the automation of document review and approval of contracts their AI product can improve the efficiency of in-house legal departments and free legal counsel to concentrate on more strategic matters.

    If the Law Society’s forecast proves to be something more than just noise then it’s a possibility that the majority of the survivors will be the lawyers who viewed AI and automation as a threat, making business decisions that could mitigate the impact and even better went on to explore the opportunities AI can create. For now, it probably makes sense to at least wake up and smell the coffee.

    Douglas Scott are multi-award winning legal recruitment consultants in the habit of making things happen. Browse the latest national legal jobs or contact one of our organically intelligent recruitment consultants who will be more than happy to talk about your career and options going forward.

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