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Awaiting the Alpha Attorney

Lawyers serve a purpose – they provide solutions to legal problems. Will that always be the case? Realistically, probably not. While lawyers will always exist in some capacity, as we witness the digitization of law it is fair to predict their role will change.

Richard Susskind, Author and President of theSociety for Computers and Law, believes that when we ponder the future of law, we should focus on legal issues and outcomes. He implores us to consider the developments in the medical field when considering developments in the law and asks, “Do sick patients want neurosurgeons, or do they want better health?”

The answer is obviously the latter. Neurosurgeons, although invaluable given the work they do, will hopefully become obsolete as more preventative forms of medicine are developed. No one wants to undergo open brain surgery; it is often a last resort to a huge problem. People want intelligent healthcare systems that can detect and prevent issues from escalating into a major health scare. The same goes for the law.

As preventive medicine and non-invasive surgery are the future answers to many health issues, innovative legal services will most likely have a lot less to do with lawyers and more to do with machine learning that can predict and prevent issues from arising in the first place.

In a Thomson Reuters article addressing the nexus of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and law, author Sterling Miller notes "much like how email changed the way we do business every day, AI will become ubiquitous – an indispensable assistant to practically every lawyer".

The reality is AI can and will continue to outperform humans in many tasks, particularly work that requires the compilation and analysis of data to predict and argue future decisions. "The brute force of machine learning will exceed the bounds of what we can predict," is how Susskind puts it.

For readers dubious of the inevitable relationship between law and AI, Susskind refers to the game of Go to illustrate just how capable it is. Go is an extraordinarily difficult and complex game invented in China over 2500 years ago, which it is thought to be harder than chess as it relies on intuition and abstract thinking. In 2016, AlphaGo, a program invented by Google, shook both tech and Go communities by defeating Lee Sedol, one of the world’s best Go players, with an unknown move.

Susskind says that if a human made the move AlphaGo did "we would have called it creative, imaginative, perhaps even genius". However, he elaborates that the move was none of these things. "It simply was brute force computing, the use of lots of data and clever algorithms."

Susskind believes the success of AlphaGo demonstrates that we are entering an era of increasingly capable non-thinking machines. Which isn't necessarily bad. Humans invented AI to serve our societies, and lawyers will play a pivotal role in creating legal technology that better serves their clients.

The burgeoning justice-tech sector is a prime example of how AI and law can work together to create more equitable outcomes. Thomson Reuters describe justice-tech as technology-enabled innovation that creates legal solutions to support self-represented parties in the US criminal and civil justice system.

Legal technology will continue to encourage the disaggregation of traditional labor models in the law. As AI and robotic process automation are both more efficient and accurate at handling routine legal grunt work, lawyers will find themselves with more time on their hands. This will allow lawyers to be more creative, epitomizing the role of trusted advisor and extending the typical legal remit.

Rather than being bogged down in discovery and contract review, lawyers can adopt a more client-centric role, providing a tailored service to nip legal issues in the bud before they have a chance to blossom. Perhaps rather than idolizing litigation lawyers, we will place more value upon the intricate art of mediation.

Is it feasible to consider an Alpha Attorney? Realistically, yes. If machine learning can create better legal outcomes than humans, we'd be remiss not to prepare for a digitized legal machine. In truth, no one can predict what the future of law will look like, but we do know it will be tech-centric and will change clients' expectations of lawyers.

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