Forget ‘Tesco’ law and legal aid cuts – the real threat to the status quo for lawyers might be more futuristic.
Bill Mordan, senior vice-president and general counsel at FTSE 100 company RB (Reckitt Benckiser), sums up the legal profession’s relationship with technology perfectly.
‘[Lawyers] have always been behind the curve,’ he told the 2014 Yerra Solutions Annual Conference last week. ‘Technology solutions can make our lives a lot easier. But we’re in a profession that’s backward-looking.’
Nevertheless, he insisted, the profession ‘has the flexibility to adapt’.
Lawyers are going to have to adapt pretty quickly, if NuCerity International GC and corporate secretary David Bain’s predictions on the potential future of technology - and its impact on the law - become reality.
Bain was speaking about some of the technologies in development set to make their way into the legal profession ‘in the very near future’, as well as trends (such as IBM’s ‘Watson’ or IPsoft’s ‘Amelia’) driving the growth in robotics and artificial intelligence.
Can you imagine, for instance, a ‘virtual second chair’ - a computer system that sits alongside the lawyer in court, participating, monitoring and giving the lawyer real-time feedback and guidance?
Or technology - with the computational power of the human brain - researching a policy question and returning with its own arguments for and against that policy position? Or perhaps it could draft a basic brief for you?
Bain believes that technological capability is close. But that’s not all, for there are other new technology resources on the horizon, he says.
Technology with the emotional intelligence, for instance, to understand our body language – handy for deposition analysis, in the jury room or in ‘virtual’ mediation.
Or surveillance technology that could be applied to time-keeping – keeping track of what lawyers are doing or reporting back to clients.
Then there are trends in robotics to consider.
Nanobots, for instance – imperceptible, pervasive and self-organising devices. Bain can see them making an impact on how we think about damages. ‘If a person has the ability to be injured, but repaired and healed very quickly to a potentially better state than before, what does that mean for how we think about damages and what an injury is really worth?’
‘These may seem like far-fetched questions,’ Bain says, ‘but they really aren’t.’
He cites the macaque who took a ‘selfie’ and subsequently sparked a row (which went all the way to court) over who owns the copyright of the photo. ‘If we can debate this today,’ Bain says, ‘it is conceivable we have the same debate about IP that’s developed through artificial intelligence in the very near future.’
Lawyers need to be part of that debate. If they’re not, the alternative could be a world in which AI robots are delivering legal services.
Not convinced? But then, did you ever imagine the cloud would be more than just a visible mass of condensed watery vapour floating above ground, or that non-lawyers would be able to own and invest in law firms?
Monidipa Fouzder is a Gazette writer and sub-editor