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AI cannot yet replicate human lawyers

9th Jul 2016

Technology will transform the legal profession,but artificial intelligence (AI) will not play a significant role, legal experts have argued.

In a discussion hosted by Thomson Reuters on whether AI will have a radical impact on the legal profession, panellists disagreed as to how close a design could come to replicating a lawyer.

Andrew Bodnar, a barrister at Matrix Chambers, said technology was ‘undoubtedly’ helping to commoditise law but questioned whether a computer could understand how the law works. He also disputed whether artificial intelligence was capable of human interaction and whether it could contemplate ethical considerations and apply judgement in court.

Mark Edwards, vice president of San Francisco-based Rocket Lawyer, a legal technology company, agreed, stating that “The legal industry does not need AI to be transformed. Machines are becoming increasingly intelligent but we will not have robot lawyers soon. We will just have smarter apps.”

Edwards affirmed that in the foreseeable future an AI legal adviser would be incapable of performing most of the cognitive functions of a human lawyer or having a deep understanding of global law to advise, negotiate, arbitrate, advocate, and judge.

Edward Chan, a partner at Linklaters, argued in favour of AI’s impact on the profession. Chan acknowledged that although it could not perform the function of a human lawyer yet, the technology available to the profession did meet the threshold of AI.

Dr Peter Waggett, the emerging technology programme leader at IBM Watson, was optimistic about AI’s role in the legal industry, saying that it was “getting better every 18 months”. Waggett added that AI would impact the ability of systems to reason at the top level, automate work flows, and create a new area, AI law, that would need lawyers to deal with the liabilities and responsibilities of artificial intelligence.

To conclude the debate, audience members voted on whether they thought  artificial intelligence would radically impact the legal profession. 51% said it would not, while 48% thought it would. 1% were undecided.