“Hire a Robot. Get Sh*t Done “, and “My Other Lawyer is a Robot ” are the rallying sales calls by LawGeex, a High Tech firm sweeping up big name clients left right and centre in the USA with their revolutionary online automated contract review service.
Legal service industry experts/futurist’s predict widespread automation of legal services. So will all of this lead to lawyer-less law firms? Or could human lawyers be reduced to reading computed output from our legal machines?
When we consider the future of legal services, AI and ‘bots have a monopoly on our thinking. But are we are overlooking the need to constantly review the efficiency of our human workforce and the non-technological processes they need to be more productive, such as effective team work and time management?
I have some bad news for purveyors of autolaw and robo-lawyering. There isn’t going to be a robo-litigator or a full service automated High Street law firm any time soon. Even though we may have hired a whizzy computer with a cute name, our clients still want to have a cup of tea with a human and discuss their problem or plans, and pay for it.
Inputting problems into a machine just doesn’t work like an automated checkout at a supermarket. And as we know, choosing an automated till takes longer, requires human oversight and is more frustrating.
Robo-law enthusiasts are great at heralding the rise of technology and impress us with names of technological processes we don’t understand, but I haven’t yet seen an analysis of how these products can be used for legal services which are not based on alterations to template documents.
Clients come to lawyers because they need a help with a major issue with their business or personal circumstances. And a robotic process does not handle the human need of personal reassurance and engagement with concerns.
Family law, conveyancing, probate, litigation, immigration, (and many more) all involve communication and responses that cannot be met through automation. Lawyers do not compute an answer; they counsel, reassure, empathise, suggest, guide, and sometimes even apply the law.
Could an automated process hold telephone calls and meetings? Or write a pacifying letter and engage in mediation? Or account for constant changes in instructions from a client, then apply them?
Many lawyers rarely do the same thing twice – constant changes in factual circumstances, clients instructions, processes and law plus large amounts of verbal and non-verbal communication add up to a hefty mix of variables which technology cannot compute using a bar code.
Could we still have our rug pulled from under us by technology that outperforms our human intellect? Leaders and developers of AI for legal services recognise that technology is mainly used to assist lawyers, not to replace them – by taking the pain out of the more laborious aspects of their work.
However the frightening potential truth I’m avoiding is: If legal service providers like LawGeex can develop and use technology which will process specific client information and produce a fit for purpose product all by itself, lawyers who work a lot with template documents may wonder how many clients could be served by this technology, and what’s left for them to do?
In 2050, we will still have communication as our last bastion and strength. Surely a robot can’t hold a conversation with clients and provide them with the specific information they request?
Introducing Erica, a twenty-three year old fully autonomous and beautifully well spoken real Robot who, just like R2-D2 and C-3PO, can communicate responsively with humans and even crack a joke or two, though she laughs a little awkwardly. Her developers are keen to emphasise her human-like qualities, so her coming into existence is described as being only a “little different” from a human birth and they debate whether she may have a soul.
Maybe we can be made redundant by a robot after all?