WHY THIS MATTERS IN BRIEF
- Most lawyers and legal professionals agree that their profession hasn’t changed much in hundreds of years, but now artificial intelligence, and the rise of “robo-lawyers” is beginning to change all that
To many people, lawyers, like doctors, optimise the pinnacle of what it means to be a “knowledge worker,” highly trained, highly skilled professionals that have had to work long, hard, thankless hours in order to get the degrees and qualifications they need in order to ply their trade. As a result it’s hard for many people to imagine that this “thinking persons” profession could be so susceptible to automation, but now a new breed of so called artificial intelligence (AI) robo-lawyers are increasingly making themselves cosy in law firms around the world, and they’re starting to push para legals, and attorneys especially, out the door.
At some time during your life it’s inevitable that you’ll need to lean on the services of a lawyer, whether it’s because you’re disputing a parking ticket, renting, buying a house, making a will, starting a company, building partnerships, buying companies or simply selling software. And a myriad of reasons in between. But everyone knows the difficulty of working through contracts – and their dreaded small print. Once simple mistake, or omission, and your world can quite literally fall apart around you.
Having worked with plenty of lawyers throughout my life I know all too well that not only are contracts burdensome on the individuals who rely on them, but they’re also burdensome to the lawyers who have to review them. And in many cases, and through no fault of their own, legal teams often become the bottleneck, and the “fly in the ointment,” that stands between you and whatever it is that you’re looking to conclude.
This is the same feeling that was shared by Noori Bechor, but unlike you or I he’s not a consumer, he’s a lawyer, and fed up of spending eighty percent of his valuable time reviewing the contracts in front of him he decided to do something about it and started LawGeex, an Israeli based automated contract review platform.
Once on the LawGeex platform users upload the contracts they want reviewed and just an hour later they get a tailored report that details the clauses that aren’t up to legal, common snuff, details of clauses that it thinks are missing, or should be added, and recommendations about which clauses should be amended, and how. The secret sauce? Algorithms of course – the increasingly disruptive scourge of many an industry. Damn them!
Today, as you might expect most of LawGeex’s clients are corporate legal departments who are trying to free up their staff’s time so they can focus on more valuable activities. And so far the results are positive. Impressive after all is such a marketing word. Most of LawGeex’s clients report that they’ve reduced the amount of time they spend reviewing contracts by eighty percent, costs by ninety percent and that they’re closing deals three times faster. In any other language that’s a slam dunk, and I already hear people cheering in the aisles.
“Our goal for the next couple of years is to automate the entire legal world,” says Shmuli Goldberg, LawGeex’s VP of Marketing.
Lofty goals in deed but this isn’t the first time that the “democratisation” of the legal profession has been aired. In the UK bots have already helped consumers overturn hundreds of thousands of parking tickets and even the world’s largest law firm, Denton’s who have over 17,000 lawyers have been busy dipping their toes into automation using the IBM Watson powered ROSS Intelligence platform. And if you think automation has simply got lawyers in its sights then you’d be wrong, in time it’s going to be gunning for the judges too – last year we saw, for the first time, an AI accurately predict the outcome of 79 percent of the cases going through the European Court of Human Rights.
The LawGeek platform is nascent and it’s still learning its trade, using a mixture of crowdsourced data, deep learning, machine learning and natural language processing to analyse the constructs and meanings of the contracts it sees. At the moment, for example, it needs to see around a hundred similar contracts before the team can deliver a functional service, and it can currently review twenty different contract types accurately, such as purchase orders and software licenses. Over time, of course, that will only increase as the “brain” inside the platform gets better.
“It is very different to how a lawyer would work,” says Goldberg, “a lawyer would read through word by word from beginning to end and then reclaim paragraphs, with AI it is easier to find missing items, plus it’s easier to check if everything you want is in the contract. A robot lawyer works more accurately.”
But are robot lawyers a threat to lawyers? The short answer, despite entrepreneurs careful and diplomatic posturing to the contrary, is yes. But for now at least we’ll see the evolution of a hybrid model where AI’s help lawyers automate their lower value, laborious work so they can get on with higher value activities.
However, as self-learning, self-evolving AI’s that never sleep, and that operate at near the speed of light, continue to learn and scale inevitably there will be a tipping point when AI lawyers are the majority and human lawyers are the diminishing minority. And that tipping point will appear sooner than you think.
Welcome to the future, a future full of robo-lawyers. Argh!