Young people want legal advice quickly via their mobile phones and will shun lawyers who fail to provide it. So warned the chancellor of the High Court, at a session on the tech revolution in law co-moderated by Law Society president Christina Blacklaws.
‘If we work with the technology revolution rather than against it, we can improve the quality of service and reduce the costs of legal advice,’ said Sir Geoffrey Vos. ‘There are risks, but we can minimise their adverse effects. Young people will no longer accept that legal advice is one of the only things they cannot obtain instantly or the next day with a few taps on their smartphone.’
Vos listed potential downsides of legal technology and artificial intelligence, but proceeded to debunk each of them in turn. ‘Much if not most’ legal advice will come to be delivered online, he said, in areas including property, divorce and straightforward commercial deals. But there will still be a place for face-to-face interaction with the client, in areas such as custody of children, complex business transactions and the defence of serious criminal charges.
‘We can use technology to cut out manual processes without reducing the quality of advice. But clients will need mechanisms that show if the advice has come from a human lawyer or is machine-assisted,’ he said.
Vos dismissed fears that technology will ‘overcommercialise’ the profession by making lawyers inadequately client-centred. Rather, technology will cut hours worked by human lawyers but that will enable them able to focus on higher-value work.
Suggestions that machines could render judges redundant were also wide of the mark, he added. ‘Online courts are essential if we are to deliver justice. The delays and expense of existing systems are inexcusable while online solutions are achievable.’
The judicial process will increasingly be informed by machine data, but individuals and businesses will not be confident about decisions made by machines alone, Vos stressed. ‘We must use machines to produce background information for the judge or decision-maker, which should lead to more not less justice.’
He concluded: ‘The legal profession, the justice system and software experts need to work together to cater for a modern generation with a new technological capability. Bluntly, I don’t regard the tech revolution as a threat either to the core values of civil society, or to our legal professions.
’New generations in society will rightly criticise us if we fail to make good use of the advances in AI to improve their lives. Legal advice will not look the same in 20 years, but citizens and businesses will still be in need of assistance and it is your duty to give it to them.
‘Finally, let’s make sure we train our lawyers appropriately for the digital age. Educational structures and courses designed for the 19th and 20th centuries will not enable our lawyers and judges of the future to capitalise on the benefits of technology for clients and consumers.’