Artificial intelligence (AI) is developing to the point where it could be considered negligent not to use it to automate legal processes, the premier international conference on the topic heard yesterday.  A pre-conference workshop on AI and legal practice heard that technologies are already being deployed. 'AI is hot! Despite the hype, there is real substance here,' Dan Rubins, co-founder of Silicon Valley-based Legal Robot said. 

The workshop was opened by David Halliwell, director of knowledge and innovation at interrnational firm Pinsent Masons, whose innovation team includes data scientists, knowledge and process engineers and machine learning experts.

'Lawyers have expectations that AI is magic fairy dust you can sprinkle onto work. It isn’t,' Halliwell cautioned. He said Pinsent Masons is bringing together contract and document automation into a '3-D map' which outlines how processes fit together, with tools and technologies deployed where they are needed. 'The technology doesn’t work without people applying their knowledge to it,' he said, highlighting the importance of knowledge engineering to the firm’s core operations.

Uses for AI in law include process automation, document review – reviewing large volumes of similar documents to identify where a change in the law applies - as well as financial analytics and predicting litigation outcomes.

However there are also challenges, Halliwell said. These include liability – whose fault is it if the technology gets it wrong - and accuracy. AI technology is more accurate than humans, so when is it negligent not to use it? Other issues involve systems integration, data and compliance, and training – if technology does the work that is currently used to train junior lawyers, it will also disrupt legal education and training.

In contrast to Pinsent Masons’ home-grown solutions, magic circle firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer’s is taking a 'holistic, commercial approach combining multiple commercial AI products, the firm's innovation architect Milos Kresojevic said. Its portfolio includes Kira Systems’ contract analysis, Neota Logic’s expert systems for smart (client facing) apps, blockchain and smart contracts, technology assisted review, and semantic web technologies. Like Halliwell, Kresojevic focused on addressing new challenges: how will AI implementation affect law firm governance models? Who owns the intellectual property created when law firms train AI software to interrogate their own and their clients’ data? Where will responsibilities for the outcomes lie?

Alan Larkin, owner/director of Family Law Partners commented that while the concept of legal services as a product may be unattractive to some lawyers, the Solicitors Regulation Authority already views the legal market in terms of consumers and pricing models. 'It’s not such a big leap to think of what we sell as "product" if the means of delivering it are increasingly design-led, automated, and achieve consistency on price and perceived value.' 

On the question what new skills should lawyers develop to survive in an AI-powered world, Kresojevic quoted Warren Buffet who recruits people with multiple interests because they develop different mental models. 'The skillsets will change, so we are looking for multidisciplinary, polymath lawyers,' he said.