AI in law: The merits and the ethics
AI in law: The merits and the ethics

Life in the 21st century is being excessively driven by data. Over the years, there has been an increasing and extensive use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) to perform tasks which have always been performed by man. AI is being applied all around us. Be it the classical music composer Musenet (a deep neural network that can generate musical compositions with many instruments and in different styles), or in the field of astronomy in mind-boggling ways.

The integration of AI in law is rather recent. AI is providing a solution to mundane legal tasks that have always been manually, which can be performed by machines with remarkable speed. It can automate various processes in law, thus saving valuable time.

But along with the pros come the cons. No technology comes without its flaws. AI too has its ethical and privacy concerns. Unregulated use of AI can lead to serious consequences. Balanced use of technology leads to the best results. It is this balance that we aim to strike.

Before we delve deeper, let’s understand what exactly is AI and what its potentials are.

 What is AI

AI is the ability of a computer to simulate certain cognitive processes of the human mind and complete basic human tasks. When applied to algorithms, AI allows computers to recognise new patterns from raw data, form conclusions and turn it into previously unknown insights.

Moreover, AI is equipped with self-correcting techniques. This means that it has the ability to train itself, and get better with time.

Today, new sets of tasks are being slowly taken over by machines with the help of AI. Interestingly, data is the fuel for these machines. These machines are gradually making many human tasks redundant. Machines are showcasing the potential to perform functions with absolute precision and efficiency.

Will machines in the future be able to think for themselves without any human intervention? Ultimately, will machines replace humans? These questions raise serious apprehensions in our minds and leave a lot for us to think about. AI is bringing about a revolution but at what cost? Are there any privacy or ethical concerns? We need to carefully weigh the pros and cons before coming to a concrete conclusion.

“AI is bringing about a revolution but at what cost? Are there any privacy or ethical concerns? We need to carefully weigh the pros and cons before coming to a concrete conclusion.”

AI’s significance in Law

The law is the backbone of every transaction in the business world. All the tasks, transactions and functions of a company (sales, purchases, partnerships, mergers, reorganizations) are done via legally enforceable contracts. Intellectual Property Law is the protector of the world’s novel inventions. In the end, whenever a dispute arises in any industry, it is the law that we turn to.

The legal services market is one of the largest in the world but at the same time, it remains profoundly under-digitized. The field of law has been slow in embracing new technologies in spite of the fast-paced globalisation and industrialisation in the recent years.

Meanwhile, Artificial intelligence (AI) companies are working towards developing technology that will manage strenuous tasks in different industries for better speed and accuracy. Artificial intelligence (AI) has come to market and is impacting industries across the spectrum. In the legal profession, AI has gradually found its way into supporting lawyers and clients alike. Law firms that have adopted this powerful technology are witnessing an increase in their productivity and efficiency.

How AI is being integrated into law

AI and law have certain similarities in their principles. They both analyse historical examples in order to derive conclusions to be applied to new situations. Law is increasingly becoming a promising field for the application of AI. Actually, a lot of progress has already been made in some areas of law.

“In the legal profession, AI has gradually found its way into supporting lawyers and clients alike. Law firms that have adopted this powerful technology are witnessing an increase in their productivity and efficiency.”

Here are a few of the applications in law being fueled by AI’s integration:

Contract Review

Contracts are the backbone of any economic transaction and it is simply impossible to carry out business without them. Drafting and negotiation of contracts can often be an arduous task that requires a great deal of human attention. It requires hours of manual review and exchange of documents which can be time consuming and a stressful task when there are deadlines to meet. Moreover, this manual process is prone to human errors.

This is one area where there lies an opportunity to automate some aspects of this process. AI “can review documents and flag them as particular to a case. Once a certain type of document is denoted as relevant, machine learning algorithms can get to work to find other documents that are similarly relevant.”  AI can also identify risks in contract clauses, something which otherwise requires human inputs. This helps take the burden off lawyers.

Moreover, contract revision has become much easier as AI now helps identify standard clauses for different applications.

Start-ups including LawgeexKlarityClearlaw and LexCheck are currently working towards this revolution in the field of law. They are developing systems that can thoroughly analyse contracts as well as highlight problematic portions within them.

Interestingly, at least for the near future, these systems will be dependent on humans to review the analysis put forth by the machine i.e. the final green flag would be given by a human. But it is highly likely, as technologies advance, that this entire process could be carried out by machines, minimizing human involvement.

The role of AI in contract review is to basically reduce the burden on humans in performing mentally taxing tasks so that they can focus on other aspects of law.

Predicting Legal Outcomes

A striking development in the field of AI is its potential to predict the outcomes of pending cases, with the help of inputs from relevant precedents and other patterns of facts and circumstances in similar cases where a decree has already been passed. With these predictions, there is plenty of scope for law firms to proactively devise strategies in order to minimize the number of cases that actually need to go to trial.

“There are start-ups which are using AI to predict a lawyer’s success rate on the basis of various factors such as win rate, case duration and type, and his/her pairing with a judge. Similarly, this algorithm can be used to analyse the opposing counsel’s background to deduce his probability of winning the suit.”

In fact, Toronto-based Blue J Legal is one start-up which has made some developments in this domain claiming an accuracy of 90% in predicting outcomes in the area of tax law.

One area where this could make a breakthrough is in litigation finance, a practice in which a third-party funds a plaintiff’s litigation costs in return for a share, if the plaintiff’s case is successful. This use of AI could help investors in taking calculated risks in order to decide which cases would be worth backing.

Moreover, AI is being used to aid lawyers in understanding how a judge is likely to rule on a case by screening his/her past decisions and analysing the thought processes behind them. There are start-ups which are using AI to predict a lawyer’s success rate on the basis of various factors such as win rate, case duration and type, and his/her pairing with a judge. Similarly, this algorithm can be used to analyse the opposing counsel’s background to deduce his probability of winning the suit.

Legal Research and Due Diligence

Legal research has always been a daunting manual task generally performed by law interns and junior associates who go through volumes of case laws to find a relevant precedent. With the advent of AI, this process has gone digital. Computer programs like LexisNexis and Westlaw have existed for a while and are popular among lawyers around the world. Companies like Casetext and ROSS Intelligence are building research platforms that go beyond mechanical key-word matching to surface truly relevant existing law.

In law offices around the world, due diligence is one major aspect of any corporate transaction performed tirelessly by lawyers. This work includes confirming facts and figures, analysing risks and accordingly providing legal advice to clients. AI tools can help these professionals to conduct their due diligence more efficiently and with more accuracy since this work is often tedious for humans.

ROSS, the “AI Lawyer” can read over a million pages of law in a second, finding the appropriate lines and paragraphs. With a machine performing legal research and identifying key clauses so fast and so efficiently, the lawyer’s billable hours are bound to reduce greatly, which in turn can save clients’ large amounts of money. AI also has the ability to rapidly verify facts of a case thus accelerating arbitration and litigation proceedings.

In addition to the previously mentioned areas which are being automated, AI has also shown great potential in electronic billing, in the Intellectual Property Application Process, in automating divorce settlement proceedings and thus reducing overall costs to a great extent.

Ethical Concerns

In spite of all the positives and benefits that AI is bestowing upon mankind, it is important to bear in mind the consequences that this technology brings along. No doubt, AI is revolutionizing our lives, but at the same time, we need to pay heed to its ethical concerns. An amalgamation of law and ethics is what leads to justice in the true sense. The ethics of decision-making is an important subject in a democracy like ours. Does integrating AI in Law make us compromise on ethics?

There are apprehensions that the increasing use of AI in performing functions of lawyers may not be free from bias. An AI algorithm learns from the data it is fed. This data is supplied by humans writing these algorithms. Humans are prone to showing some element of bias and if such data is fed into these machines, their skewed results could be detrimental to justice.

AI is also being used to assist judges in determining the sentence to be given to criminals. The machine takes into consideration various “variables”, “features”, or “factors” of hundreds of defendants in the past such as the type of crime the defendant committed, his/her educational level, address, employment history, credit score, criminal history, family circumstances, demographic information, along with information about whether that defendant ended up re-offending once he/she was released in order to determine a sentence term. The AI algorithm deciding these sentences could be flawed. Every case has its own peculiarities and even a slight bias by an algorithm could lead to blasphemous results. In fact, the Correctional Offender Management Profiling for Alternative Sanctions (COMPAS) software used by some courts to predict the probability of recidivism in criminals has been known to show a bias against African-Americans. Another study conducted by Human Rights Data researchers found that PredPol, an algorithm designed to predict likelihood of crime taking place in the US, unfairly targeted black and Hispanic neighbourhoods.

“An AI algorithm learns from the data it is fed. This data is supplied by humans writing these algorithms. Humans are prone to showing some element of bias and if such data is fed into these machines, their skewed results could be detrimental to justice.”

Moreover, lawyers today make numerous types of predictions during the course of work, such as predicting the outcome of legal issues, or predicting the relevance of documents to litigation or business matters using a combination of legal analysis, judgment, experience, and other professional analytical skills. In the recent years, AI is being used to carry out these tasks traditionally performed by law professionals. If at all a scenario arises in the future where these machines are able to outperform lawyers in making predictions, serious issues could arise. The first being, an over dependence on AI to perform these tasks due to a shift in standards, thus creating an obligation on lawyers to refrain from making unassisted decisions. Man will find it difficult to function without these AI tools which could seriously hamper the cognitive processes of the human mind in the long run. Secondly, the firms that have the financial strength and resources to adopt this new technology would benefit more than the cash stripped traditional firms. This would lead to wealth inequality. Perhaps an instance where “the rich” — those individuals and companies who have the means to pay for AIs — getting richer.

Another primary concern of integrating AI into Law is the future loss of jobs. It can be well assumed that even if AI isn’t completely able to replace humans, it will lead to a major loss of jobs. According to the new McKinsey Global Institute report, by the year 2030, about 800 million people will lose their jobs to AI-driven robots in various fields. This might open an avenue for people to be tasked with developing these AI robots but it’s too early to determine if that would completely compensate for all the job losses.

Lastly, AI is what is known as a black box technology, i.e. it does not provide reasons for a particular outcome. Just as a lawyer’s arguments are backed by legal reasoning, a judge’s decree too has some legal basis. But the fact that decisions and tasks performed by AI are not backed by reasons is quite concerning. It could lead to a phenomenon of extreme injustice if relies on machine-made decisions which are erroneous and there would be absolutely no way to verify them.

Conclusion

In conclusion, integrating AI into Law is revolutionizing the way the legal industry functions. AI has been proven to surpass the accuracy level of humans. It has also been proved to be an effective cost-cutting tool in the long run. But at the same time, there are a lot of ethical concerns that need to be addressed immediately.

There needs to be a stable regulatory framework to keep a check on the use of AI. Contours have to be set if we want to get the most out of Artificial Intelligence. Unrestricted use of any technology can lead to a catastrophe. Once we’ve cleared these ethical and moral hurdles, AI solutions for law will deliver invaluable legal breakthroughs. But ultimately it won’t be possible to completely wipe out human presence from the legal industry. AI will greatly reduce the burden on lawyers by assisting them in menial tasks, but it won’t be able to replace them completely, at least in the years to come. In fact, that was never the purpose of AI. In the end, we can’t forget those humans whose data these AI algorithms constantly learn from.


  • Shamim Olia
    March 23, 2020 at 5:38 pm

    I have read your article with great interest. Very well written. With the AI technology catching up, I’ve got many queries in mind. Keep it up Zeb, wishing you all the success in your new future.

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