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January 16, 2018updated 11 Aug 2021 10:42am

Humans can win the race against robot lawyers

By Spear's

The future of lawyers may lie in the (mechanical) hands of technology, but the crux of the legal expertise required to advise complex scenarios still needs a human touch, writes Jennifer Emms

The legal world is often seen as an old-fashioned one of dusty books, wigs and quills, but 2018 will see lawyers taking a turn for the better. It is high time the age-old industry embraces the rapidly emerging world of technology, as the next generation of legal minds  are eager to contemplate a future with robot lawyers.

As part of our recruitment process we recently asked graduates to present to us on the challenges facing the legal profession and almost all of them identified the potential impact of technology as a key issue. Discussions ranged from whether and how law firms should use social media to raise their profiles to whether lawyers of the future should receive specific training in programming and artificial intelligence at law school. Senior lawyers will already have felt the effects of technological changes during their careers. Some will no doubt remember letters being replaced with emails which significantly sped up the time frames for giving advice and the advent of the internet, which has widened the accessibility of the law with the ability to search for statutes, cases and articles. The question is: what next? What does the future look like?

A number of larger law firms have already started using technology to carry out the more mundane, repetitive and bulk tasks. For instance, in the corporate world, as part of the due diligence process for a merger or acquisition of a company, the review of documents can now largely be automated rather than conducted by paralegals and junior lawyers. This can improve accuracy, uniformity (both of the review and the end product) and decrease costs. Likewise, programs are being developed that can review statistics and predict the outcome of litigation more accurately than humans.

It is interesting to consider what the impact would be on the private client legal sphere in particular. Will HNWs be seeking tax advice or a will from robots in a few years’ time? Where an individual’s affairs are relatively simple, it is easier to imagine how a will, for instance, can be generated by a computer program based on answers to specific questions.

However, our clients often have highly complex affairs, with business interests, investments and other assets in different jurisdictions. This can often require us to analyse the UK and foreign tax and other legal considerations (such as reporting and trust law), to ascertain the position as a matter of local law in other relevant places, and to ensure that we fully appreciate the more personal drivers, such as the client’s background, family dynamics and wishes.

At the moment, artificial intelligence (by which I mean the use of computers to carry out tasks that would normally require the human ability to reason, learn and communicate) is not yet developed enough. Most current AI is described as ‘narrow’, which means that specific algorithms are designed to enable particular (but limited) tasks to be carried out. In my view, it is highly likely that individual aspects of our work, such as research, will become increasingly automated. For now, at least, the crux of our work (thankfully) still requires a human touch.

Jennifer Emms is a senior associate at boutique private wealth law firm Maurice Turnor Gardner LLP

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