Move over pink brains, the new legal smarts are contained within circuit boards and transistors, not flesh -- or so techno-futurists claim. Those same voices are now loudly predicting the integration of artificial intelligence into legal practice. Of course, machine intelligence is nothing new. Commentators have long said technology will replace lawyers and lawyers have long laughed at some claims -- and billed for the time spent laughing.
Yet, with AI advancements such as IBM's Watson, more companies are expected to bring AI into their daily practice, and those companies will pressure their law firms to do the same, according to Legaltech News. Proponents are already claiming that at least some BigLaw firms will have invested in "Big AI" within a year.
Elementary, My Dear Robot Overlord
IBM's Watson is "cognitive computing" system. Watson seeks to recreate human learning. observing, evaluating, and deciding on an iterative basis, allowing it to understand unstructured data like tweets, news papers, and even blogs.
When it comes to legal applications, Watson seeks to recreate the problem-solving process attorneys go through. It reviews case law, codes, and interpretative guidance just as an attorney would, but it comes up with an answer in seconds, rather than hours or days. One start-up, ROSS Intelligence, is already using Watson to answer legal questions such as "can an automatic stay be lifted if a plaintiff in another case requests it," according to Techcrunch.
Expect the Demand to Come From Clients
If you're skeptical, you're not alone. First, Watson will have none of the charisma, experience, or negotiating skill of a lawyer. Secondly, iterative processes like those used by Watson can exaggerate some features at the expense of others. Finally, artificial intelligence that promises to reduce the billable hour to the billable millisecond would require a complete reworking of legal practice were it implemented.
That's why you won't see many law firms leading the switch to AI lawyers. But you will likely see their clients urging them to do so, in some form. Large banks and financial institutions are expected to be early AI adopters. Even retail chains could integrate AI. CVS announced just today that it would begin using Watson to help predict chronic disease in customers who use its nurses and pharmacies.
If large corporate clients are satisfied with their Watson experiences, they will soon demand that their lawyers start bringing AI intelligence into their practice. It could be just a matter of time before you're working alongside, or under, a Watson, Esq. machine.