The debate about the replacement of lawyers by machines is already a cliché cropping up at most industry conferences and seminars, as many lawyers see themselves as threatened by this possibility considering the extraordinary capacities the technology is acquiring.
If we focus on the advanced artificial intelligence and document automation tools currently being used in the industry we can say, without fear of contradiction, that jobs at law firms really are going to be destroyed. This phenomenon will even redefine the structure of the biggest firms, the early adopters of these technologies, for which these tools are already almost essential elements for providing service to clients, for example when dealing with due diligence for merger or acquisition processes. These firms will require fewer lawyers to do those jobs.
The judicial function.
But jobs related to document analysis are not the only ones that will be transformed by the new technology. We often think that the judicial function, including judges, defense lawyers and prosecutors, could never be replaced by machines because of the intellectual reasoning it involves. However, this is not the case, and we have plenty of evidence that not only is it going to be possible, but that it will happen sooner than we think.
For example, there is already technology that can identify whether a person is telling the truth depending on the tone of voice they use and the micro-movements of their face. Dare, as the system is known, has been trained with videos of people testifying in court.
Perhaps we will need a lawyer questioning defendants or witnesses, but will we need a judge or jury to make a decision about the validity of a witness or the innocence of the accused?
Legal Big Brother.
The impact of new technologies is going to be much greater than we can imagine, making some of the most interesting science fiction film pale by comparison.
At Cambridge University, various algorithms have been developed capable of identifying “blackspots” in public contracting systems based on accessible public data. The system is based on European public contracting data from 2008 and 2009. Using this, it has been able to identify situations where corrupt action by public servants might be suspected. This would be, for example, when a contract is awarded in an abnormally short period of time, or when the specifications are unusually complex, or when a tender process in a normally highly competitive sector attracts very few bidders. A system that is permanently monitoring this type of practice does not need any other organization to report possible fraud or corruption because it is permanently on the alert, identifying potentially corrupt practices in real time.
The coming of machines to indicate when we are breaking the law or replace the judicial function to make automated decisions on the guilt or innocence of a subject might appear to be interesting from the point of view of ensuring the necessary impartiality of justice. Machines seem immune to human bias and to our capacity to take into account factors that have nothing to do with a specific case but might affect the making of a particular decision.
But nothing could be further from the truth.
It has been shown, for example, that the COMPAS system used by judges in Florida to discover a person’s level of criminal risk or the probability that someone will return to committing crime generates bias associated with the person’s race. Similar algorithm systems are now used for activities like granting credit or assessing teachers, to mention just a few examples.
The extraordinary speed with which these technologies are being introduced also generates many questions based on their regulation and proper use, and conflicts will also arise. In many cases these are related to the programming of the algorithm itself, protected by intellectual property law. Must these laws be changed to adapt to a new, exponentially changing environment?
The destruction of jobs related to the judicial environment mentioned at the beginning of this article will be at least partly compensated by the need for judicial professionals who understand the operation of these technologies, help create the rules to regulate their operation, assist with the reform of the current rules to adapt them to the new environment and defend them before the courts, and help programmers and manufacturing companies avoid bias in their learning systems.
Lawyers must change their way of working to adopt new technologies. When they do that, they will be preparing to help society in its interaction with machines.
More from Eva, check out our upcoming eMagazine (#4) and read her article: Digital Transformation of Law Firms
About the Author
Eva has a Degree in Law, a PhD in Communication from the UAB (Autonomous University of Barcelona) and an MBA from EADA Business School. As a lawyer, she worked with Morison ACPM and Bufete Pi Costa. She also worked as a lawyer with a technology based Legal Process Outsourcing firm, going on to take on its business development department. Founder of AlterWork, a legal management consulting company with a focus on technology and innovation.
She is a teacher at the UPF (Pompeu Fabra University-Barcelona) and ESIC Business School. Professor of Marketing for the Master for Access to the Legal Profession at the Central University of Barcelona.
Eva is the author of: “Tendencias, Marketing e Innovación en el sector jurídico” (Ed. La Ley) and coauthor of “Reflexiones sobre la importancia de la gestión en los despachos de abogados” (Ed. Thomson Reuters) and New Law New Rules: a conversation about the future of the legal industry (Beaton Capital).
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