How Artificial Intelligence Poses A Threat To Lawyers

by : Poppy Bilderbeck on :
How Artificial Intelligence Poses A Threat To LawyersPA/USA Network

Artificial Intelligence (AI) could pose a threat to lawyers as startups look towards automating various types of legal work.

Once thought to be safe from the advancements of modern technology, lawyers’ jobs are now at risk, according to a new research collaboration.


The collaboration was used to analyse legal briefs using a branch of AI known as ‘machine learning’.


Tasks such as researching cases, drafting briefs and advising clients were once considered as not being at risk of falling victim to advancements in robotics and AI.

However, the recent research collaboration analysis shows you don’t need to completely automate a job, but only partially automate it, in order to ‘fundamentally change it’.


The prospect, while not very positive for lawyers, could however be beneficial for their future clients, due to making legal assistance more financially affordable.

The research project was initially not meant to be about automation. The project was a collaboration between law professors, Elizabeth C. Tippett and Charlotte S. Alexander and computer scientists and linguists at a federally funded nonprofit organisation devoted to research and development, called MITRE.

As law professors, Tippett and Alexander were trying to ‘identify the text features of successful versus unsuccessful legal briefs’.


They said of the project: ‘We gathered a small cache of legal briefs and judges’ opinions and processed the text for analysis.’

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As a result of the project, the professors learnt ‘it can be hard to predict which tasks are easily automated’. For example, it’s easier for a human compared to a machine learning software to separate citations from the rest of the text, as the machine was confused by the punctuation inside and outside of the citation.

Once the professors figured out how to identify the citations, they go on to say how they ‘inadvertently stumbled on a methodology to automate one of the most challenging and time-consuming aspects of legal practice: legal research.’

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‘Graph analysis’ was then used by the scientists to ‘create visual networks of legal citations’. The graphs allowed the scientists to predict whether a brief would ‘win’ based on ‘how well other briefs performed when they included a particular citation’.

The research team soon noticed the process could also be reversed.


The law professors said: 


If you were a lawyer responding to the other side’s brief, normally you would have to search laboriously for the right cases to cite using an expensive database.

But our research suggested that we could build a database with software that would just tell lawyers the best cases to cite. All you would need to is feed the other side’s brief into the machine.

Tippett and Alexander go on to say they didn’t actually construct their research-shortcut machine. They would have needed many lawyers’ briefs and judicial opinions to make something of use, which would have been costly.

They concluded, however, that the research project showed any task that is ‘extremely time-consuming for humans’ can be turned into one where the ‘heavy-lifting can be done at the click of a button’.

While lawyers may subsequently be ‘expected to do more work in the time they have’ as a result of the new technology, the professors say it should be ‘less of a grind’. In turn, this could aid those performing the jobs, but also benefit the consumers seeking legal aid.

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Topics: Science, Artificial Intelligence


Market Watch
  1. Market Watch

    Opinion: Lawyers and their jobs are no longer safe from AI and automation