For some of us, artificial intelligence (AI) raises our curiosity; for others, a tinge of fear; and for still others, the sense of excitement and freedom offered by the promise of innovation. However, for many of us, our mind still travels back to 2001 and a Hollywood movie in which a highly advanced robotic boy longs to become “real.” Sixteen years later, AI in the workplace has become a very real adjustment that deserves some very real consideration and conversation.

Getting down to business with AI means answering some basic questions and offering some suggestions about the pros and cons of incorporating AI into our businesses, and the impact it will have on our work lives and the future of our legal professions.

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Effect on Legal Work

AI platforms are dramatically affecting how legal work is accomplished, by: 1) mining documents for evidence that is useful in litigation; 2) reviewing and creating contracts; 3) raising red flags within companies by identify potential fraud and in exposing other misconduct; 4) doing legal research and performing due diligence before corporate acquisitions. More advantages to using AI over “law-programmed humans” are coming in the very near future.

Pros and Cons

Following are some pros and cons for using AI in the legal profession. It is important to keep in mind that no matter how long you wait to incorporate AI into your daily systems, the movement is already in process. Some analysts state that the legal profession is 10 years behind other businesses, while others feel that total acceptance and incorporation of AI by the legal profession will not be seen for another 10 years. Either way you can be sure that your competition is moving forward and the sooner you catch on, the less time you will spend catching up.

Machines (AI) are better at doing mechanical work than humans. This is something that probably every human on earth can agree with. As much as the human mind may find comfort in repetition, it is as certain that most of us despise boredom. We look for patterns because we hate surprises and because we love being in control. Once we gain control over a situation, we are ready to move forward to discover and conquer the next surprise. With too much repetition, the human mind stops thinking, gets bored, and starts to overlook important points, whereas machines get better at finding information the more they do a repetitive task. In other words, machines thrive on boredom.

PRO: Greater control and less loss.

CON:
Less hands-on training/work for law students, paralegals and less experienced lawyers.

Machines (AI) are better at finding a needle in a haystack. It is false thinking that the more information we have access to, the more we know. Having the right information pulled away from all the wrong information is what makes us better at doing anything. Unless you are a savant, the average human being will not outperform a machine in connection with searching and making matches among huge collections of information. In other words, machines are better at finding relevant material in an ocean of irrelevant material.

PRO: Accuracy.

CON: Machines must still be programmed as compared with lawyers that know what they are doing.

Machines (AI) do not have biological demands. Machines can work without stopping. They do not get tired, hungry or have to go to the bathroom. Machines can work endlessly until the work is done.

PRO: Efficiency.

CON: Ironically, machines, like humans, do get sick and catch viruses. The efficiency of a machine is only as good as the human(s) making sure that it stays healthy.

Machines (AI) make humans more profitable than other humans do. At the end of the day, the more efficiently and accurately a job is done, the more work a business can accommodate and the more profit a business can make. For a law firm or lawyer, 70% of the cost of discovery is human cost. AI reduces that cost from 70% to 2%. Machines offer a dramatic cost savings.

PRO: More work may be generated in less time, making it possible for more clients to be served; creating an increase in productivity and output; and a need for more staff. In the future (which is happening now), legal services that are becoming more affordable to more people will create a greater profit to those law firms that are using them.

CON: A 2013 Oxford University paper titled “The Future of Employment: How Susceptible Are Jobs to Computerization?” suggests that law firm hourly staff are more likely to feel the effects of downsizing because of AI technology. Soon thereafter, AI will make it possible for one lawyer to do the same amount of work that required 10 lawyers before AI technology was incorporated into a law firm.

Machines (AI) are cold. In a more recent Hollywood movie, Passengers (2016), Chris Pratt’s character awakens 90 years too early from a mechanically induced coma to find that he is the only “alive” human passenger among hundreds of computer-comatose cohorts. His only companion is an android (AI) bartender. The lack of real human interaction leads Chris Pratt’s character to lose touch with reality and contemplate suicide. Regardless of how beneficial AI can be to the legal world, humans will ultimately always desire human interaction over interacting with a machine. Legal tasks such as advising and consulting with clients; negotiating and appearing in court; and other human-generated interactions, will always require the human touch.

PRO/CON: Humans will always have a need for human interaction to keep it “real.”

Conclusion

It is most likely that customers, rather than legal professionals, will determine how quickly law firms adopt AI platforms. Even lawyers are addicted to their smart devices, proving that an ultimate evolution incorporating AI into the legal profession is inevitable.

Among the legal tech crowd, there is a “romantic notion” that AI will replace all lawyers, but as the author Elbert Hubbard wrote following the Industrial Revolution: “One machine can do the work of 50 ordinary men, [but] no machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.”

Change is good, but thank goodness, some things will never change.

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Karen (Kat) Ellis is the owner of SocialSweetSpot — digital strategizing, content writing and IoT business. Reach her @SocialSweetSpot, @AmazTechnoChick, and @SDBiotechBeach on Twitter; and SocialSweetSpot on LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, Periscope and more.

The views expressed in the article are those of the authors and not necessarily the views of their clients or other attorneys in their firm.