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Will AI Become the Next Spellcheck?

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By Casey C. Sullivan, Esq. on September 01, 2016 12:05 PM

There has been lots of talk about artificial intelligence in the legal sphere lately, much of it centered around the idea of robot lawyers and the end of attorneys as we know them. All this, despite the fact that we're still a ways away from deploying AI legal tech in any large-scale, meaningful way.

But at ILTACON, the annual gathering of the International Legal Technology Association, some technology leaders proposed a slightly different vision of the legal tech future. AI isn't going to unleash an era of robot attorneys, at least not anytime soon. But it could quickly become the next spellcheck -- technology you could live without, but probably shouldn't.

Wait, Isn't Spellcheck the Next Spellcheck?

No, AI probably won't be put to use making sure you spell "adjudicate" correctly, or don't confuse they're and there. But it could turn into the sort of highly-integrated, barely-noticed, and pretty-much-essential technology that spellcheck has become.

As legal tech enthusiasts gathered in "Washington, D.C.-adjacent" National Harbor Maryland this week, Microsystems CEO Stacy Kacek acknowledged that AI's uses in "real-world applications" are "still pretty limited," Legaltech News' Ian Lopez reports. But the technology could find itself highly integrated into your practice sooner or later, in subtle ways -- soon becoming as ubiquitous as spellcheck has become.

David Cook, Microsystems' VP of product development, asked attorneys to imagine what would happen if they got rid of spellcheck throughout their practice. "It's probably not a legal issue, a judge would probably overlook it, so what's the big deal?" he asked, according to Lopez. "The problem is it's embarrassing, it goes straight to your firm's reputation. It's a criteria for your clients to judge you. Clients don't know the law, but they know how to spell."

But What Will AI Actually Do?

Using AI, Kacek said, is all about "the simplification of the experience." That means things like improved document review, easier and quicker legal research, and even better proofreading -- proofreading that does a lot more than your usual grammar and spell checks. As the technology develops, those AI applications will become more and more essential, until not using them becomes simply embarrassing.

Of course, Kacek and Cook aren't just AI evangelists. They're running a business, and they've got a product to sell. And no, it's not spellcheck. As Lopez notes, Microsystems has developed "artificial document intelligence" software, Contract Companion, that can scan documents for personally identifiable information, ease internal cross-referencing in documents, and automate contract formation processes. The tech will be tested out by law students at Drexel University School of Law this fall, in a course on contract drafting.

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