The Future of AI in the Law

A new report from Oxford University seeks to look into the future at what impact artificial intelligence may have on the law.


Photo by Hitesh Choudhary on Unsplash
Photo by Hitesh Choudhary on Unsplash

LONDON (Within The Law)- Artificial intelligence can augment human lawyers, according to a new study from Oxford University. However, the problem is not finance, but much more human. A lack of human capital rather than money is, they said, the biggest barrier to adoption. 

Artificial intelligence is making waves across many professions, including the law. Statista projects revenues from AI will grow from $1.62bn in 2019 to over $31bn by 2025. The legal profession offers some of the most exciting opportunities with machine learning and AI set for increased adoption. 

However, according to research from the law society, the take-up of many forms of lawtech was “modest”, especially for AI, despite the hype around it.

According to Oxford’s study, AI can ‘augment the capabilities of human lawyers’ and generate’ new roles for legal experts’ in producing AI services.

However, researchers sad that what’s holding firms back is not a lack of finance to invest but the difficulty is making strategic decisions, recruitment and motivation. Technology, they say, is “adjusting professional boundaries of the legal profession”.

One of the big benefits of AI, according to the paper, is the ability to automate tedious and repetitive tasks and improve the quality of work. Technology is also being made to be readily accessible by lawyers, regardless of their technical knowledge. As such, the development of skills needed was likely to be modest.  

Changing the role

However, technology also creates uncertainty. The profession will change and many people fear lawyers may find themselves being replaced. Oxford’s researchers agree this may happen in some cases. 

“While demand will continue for traditional lawyers, career opportunities are likely to be less certain,” said the report. “A reduction in overall numbers of roles, coupled with increasing rewards for those remaining, suggests an ever-more-competitive tournament for those pursuing traditional partnership opportunities.”

However, the technology, said the report, would improve the productivity of those who remained and could create new roles. The rise of ‘legal engineers’ and ‘legal product experts’ would say the report, lead to “a multiplicity of career paths”, within the sector

Into the future 

Even so, these are still early days. Although the potential is great, the technology is still evolving. There is no guarantee where it will go next. 

The researchers suggest three possible scenarios for the future. 

  1. The status quo: The sector remains defined by human lawyers who are primarily legal experts. This would require only modest changes with lawyers mostly interacting with AI as consumers. 
  2. Lawyers become consumers and producers of AI: “The legal profession,” said the report, “may endorse the producer expertise within its occupational boundary because it contributes to the effectiveness of their consumer role.” The report raised the possibility of ‘lawyer coders’ and that lawyers should become familiar with how to use AI models. 
  3. A splintering of professionals: Lawyers could move beyond the traditional legal profession into a multitude of new professions. New roles could be created which focus on the way technology is operated in the law.  

The legal profession, says the report, faces a ‘choice between two paths. On the one hand, it can ‘exclude more and more professionals with some legal expertise’ while on the other they can recognise within the profession ‘some heterogeneity in specialisation’, such as in technology.

The one certainty is that AI is here to stay and it’s becoming more sophisticated all the time. One way or another it will have a profound impact on the profession.

(Written by Tom Cropper, Edited by Klaudia Fior)

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