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How AI is Changing the Legal Service

In 2018, a US study pitted 20 experienced corporate lawyers against an Artificial Intelligence-powered algorithm (AI) in an error-spotting test across a suite of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs). The responses gathered were then assessed based on time taken and accuracy.

The lawyers achieved an average accuracy of 85%, taking 92 minutes on average. In comparison, the algorithm’s success rate was measured at 92%, with an average duration of just 26 seconds[1].

While it would be hasty to suggest that this study is indicative of the imminent demise of human lawyers, it raises several critical questions: Are lawyers ultimately replaceable? How will AI shape the future roles played by lawyers? And what implications will this technology have on the law itself?

Charting the evolution of law

In an industry as bound by tradition as the legal service, the profession’s immediate response was somewhat predictably to label AI as ‘dangerous’ and ‘suspicious’. However, this attitude may have been a manifestation of a fear of being replaced by lines of code.

Indeed, AI has been much discussed and hyped for its utility, especially as it has become smarter and more advanced. It is also increasingly set to transform multiple sectors across healthcare, finance, manufacturing and education as well as the legal sector.

In China for example, courts are already using AI to provide litigation guidance, litigation risk analysis and electronic case submission, among other pilot uses[2]. Singapore, too, has launched a $3.68 million scheme this year to help local law practices accelerate the adoption of technologies like AI[3].

However, being a lawyer requires much more than simply spotting errors or some of the other routine tasks that AI is currently equipped to manage. To this end, as the likelihood of an increasingly AI-powered future becomes more apparent, actions must be taken now to prepare all in the legal profession to future-proof themselves.

After all, how the law responds will inevitably shape technology and society. In light of this, here are three ways that the role of law and lawyers should evolve in the age of AI:

1. The law will apply to AI and new technologies

While the general lay perspective is that traditional law is so antiquated that it cannot possibly apply to the new medium of AI, such a reality could not be further from the truth. Instead of pondering how the law would be applicable to AI, consideration must be given to the question of how should or will the law be applied in cases involving AI technologies.

The area of autonomous and connected cars alone throws up many legal questions. In the case of an accident with a self-driving or connected vehicle, how should liability be apportioned among the car company, driver or even the AI system itself? Considering that autonomous vehicles collect data from users, how should the law regulate the sharing and monetisation of that data, and still protect the privacy of citizens[4]?

2. Changes to the law cannot precede technological evolution

The law must always follow technological change and in that order. Doing so allows for a more effective assessment on the implications of AI. This way, lawyers and policy makers can adopt and implement laws which will help society mitigate any impact AI will have on social interaction and any potential ethical quandaries which may arise as a result, all without stifling innovation.

3. AI will not replace lawyers

From the changes mentioned above, it can be observed that AI cannot and will not replace lawyers. That said, existing jobs which are centred on routine tasks, or legal work that require the analysis or management of vast amounts of data, remains at risk.

As the rising adoption of AI will continue to pose new, complex and life-changing questions, it is likely that more lawyers, not less, will be needed to help navigate these uncertainties. In fact, the work of lawyers will evolve to become more multi-disciplinary — requiring them to work with philosophers, ethicists and other professionals to ensure that AI is inclusive, moral and fair.

The law as a platform to regulate AI

As AI continues to become a powerful transformational force on a wider scale in non-legal related industries, the law will play an integral role in guiding our interactions with AI tools.

To this end, AI and machine learning can take on information-heavy and routine tasks, which will liberate lawyers to focus on more important, strategic work that requires human judgement and intervention.

The law will set the standard for what is considered fair, moral and ethical for the rest of society. It will also provide the platform to address and regulate the potentially dangerous impact that AI may have on society, should that need ever arise.

This article has been adapted from articles in Legal Scribes 2018 Volume 1: “Will Lawyers be made Redundant in the Age of Artificial Intelligence” and Legal Scribes 2019 Volume 2: “Thinking Intelligently about Artificial Intelligence”, by Professor Leslie Chew, Dean, School of Law, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS). Legal Scribes is SUSS’s definitive compendium of legal information resources. Read the other issues here.


[3] Singapore Business Review (May 2019): Singapore launches $3.68m scheme to boost legal tech

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