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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Is the Legal Profession Still in Denial about Artificial Intelligence?

I recently attended the Westminster Legal Policy Forum, at which a question was asked form the floor about the prospect of artificial intelligence (AI) becoming prevalent in the delivery of legal services.  The Panel’s response was somewhat hedged, suggesting that AI may play a part in the delivery of legal services, but by way of supplementing the skills of a lawyer.

I believe that the converse will be true and that AI will provide solutions in the majority of cases, leaving human interaction to occur only when required or desired by the client.  This is already happening, for example with www.roadtrafficrepresentation.com, where tailored legal advice is given and Counsel briefed automatically, without any human intervention.

Unless the exponential rate of advance of computing power[1] comes to an unexpected halt, the prevalence of AI will happen quite rapidly.

If anyone is in any doubt about the ability of algorithms to analyse free text and predict outcomes, I would recommend reading several papers published by Daniel Katz[2], Associate Professor of Law at Michigan State University, where he teaches computational law[3].

Our own teaching institutions might take a leaf out of Michigan’s e-book and look seriously at preparing the lawyers of tomorrow for the technological demands that their clients will impose.  Black letter law mixed with management training and soft skills are not enough.  Some law schools[4] have taken steps to embrace this, but they are in the minority.

If unfamiliar with the works of our own Professor Richard Susskind, then his book ‘End of Lawyers?’ is probably the most instructive on the subject.  The legal profession should brace itself for seismic change and failure to grasp this will remove the question mark from the title of Susskind’s book.

A degree of comfort was hinted at by one of the speakers at the Forum, who suggested that the younger generation, or ‘Generation Y’, entering law firms will bring the delivery of legal services into line with the rest of the modern world that we know domestically.

If, however, these bright young things reach positions of influence only after many years of service and incremental promotions, then their ideas will seem as antiquated to the generation that follows them as ours do to today’s newbies.
Firms should be drafting their youngest bright prospects into decision making rooms now and be prepared to be educated for the good of their survival.

[1] See Ray Kurzwell, The Law of Accelerating Returns, 7 March 2001 - http://www.kurzweilai.net/the-law-of-accelerating-returns
[4] For example, University of Westminster and UCL.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Legal Aid

Road Traffic Representation was honoured as a finalist at the Legal Aid Lawyer of the Year Awards in London on 1 July.  I listened to heart-warming stories about the great work that dedicated legal aid professionals do, mostly for very little tangible reward and often having to fight the state and its manifestations every inch of the way, just to be able to help their clients.

I confess to feeling something of a fraud to find RTR nominated for an award, given that legal aid is rarely available for motoring offences, so how could it even be considered for such an honour?  The easy answer is that the category was ‘Access to Justice through IT’ and marks the gap that IT can fill where the state fails to make provision by way of public funding.

This set me thinking more about the term ‘legal aid’.  These words have been enshrined in legislation for decades and have long become a term of art referring to public funding of legal services.  Sadly, successive governments have cut and cut and hoped that the lawyers would go away so that public funding would wither and die.  The brave lawyers I heard speak in London this week are never going to let that happen without fighting all the way.

Motoring offences have long been denied public funding, so RTR is designed to help more people obtain legal advice and representation, by automating the analysis of a case and providing free legal advice on penalties and potential defences, and using technology to automate the brief to Counsel so as to minimise the cost of quality advice and representation.

These online services will be extended to many other legal needs, including family, employment and welfare.  Taking all this into account, I don’t feel such a fraud after all.  The state has shamefully lost the right to claim ‘legal aid’ to itself and we, the lawyers who give our all, whether by traditional means or technology, are truly entitled to claim that we provide legal aid, as our elected representatives do not.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Access to Justice and Innovation

I was privileged to be asked back to UCL Faculty of Law again this year to address LLM students and, via streaming, the excellent Law Without Walls initiative around the world.  On this occasion, the subject under discussion was 'Access to Justice and Innovation'.

The idea was to explore whether innovative technology could alleviate hardships caused by eroding access to justice primarily caused by withdrawal of public funding, but also by the high cost barriers to privately paying clients.  Preparation for the evening brought it home to me just how far our proud accessibility to justice, dating back to the introduction of legal advice and assistance in 1949, has fallen.

In those early years, around 80% of the public were eligible for legal aid, falling to 40% by 1973 and plummeting to 28% in 2008.  Whilst I could point to government initiatives on mainland Europe, such as the Dutch Rechtwijzer online portal to help divorcing and separating people, I could not do the same for the UK.

There was also a lack of privately created online solutions to demonstrate, so I used my own RTR service to explain the benefits of automated expert systems and the true AI solutions that they can breed. I have no doubt that these systems will be prevalent in the global legal market within a few years.

I received some great questions from the floor and from as far afield as the USA and China, with a ready recognition of the benefits and challenges that the technology brings.  So too, a realisation that the careers that these young people will follow in the law may not be in traditional roles, but could well be as the legal engineers envisaged by Professor Richard Susskind.

In addition to engaging in social questions about the perversity of diminishing access to justice in a civilised society and the imperative to ensure that those without easy access to technology for economic, social or educational reasons, I faced searching questions about commerciality, white labelling, direct access to the Bar and the importance of design.

I must thank Professor Richard Moorhead at UCL for his kind invitation to speak at UCL and I hope that those in attendance physically and virtually felt in some small way as enthused as I was by their presence.  The event and question and answer session can be viewed here and here.