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The role of AI in the legal profession

Must ReadThe role of AI in the legal profession

Before we seek legal advice from an AI-fuelled robot lawyer, we need to ensure there are moral, ethical and bias guidelines in place, says Plextek’s Head of Business Development, Biomedical Engineering Laurence Weir

Law is a highly intricate and complex area that requires detailed training and expertise to navigate. Lawyers spend years learning how to interpret and analyse legal documents, contracts, and precedents from past cases. They need to be highly trained, because specific subtle wordings can alter the course of a case, and cause a wide range of issues.

However, with the advent of artificial intelligence (AI), there is now an opportunity to leverage data and technology to help laypeople understand and analyse legal documents for themselves.

Of course, the legal profession has generated terabytes of data, and that data can now be analysed, allowing lay people to use interpretive AI to scan legal documents in the blink of an eye and alert users to any issues which might need addressing.

AI offers the potential to revolutionise the legal industry, making it more accessible and efficient for individuals who may not otherwise have access to legal counsel. This technology can be especially useful for small business owners and individuals who cannot afford to hire a lawyer – but still need a degree of basic legal assistance.

One of the greatest advantages of AI in the legal industry lies in its ability to quickly and accurately analyse vast amounts of data. In the past, lawyers would manually sift through reams of legal documents and precedents to find relevant information. Now, with the help of AI, this can be completed in seconds. This not only saves time, but also helps busy lawyers to focus on more high-level tasks, such as strategy and analysis. Simply put, lawyers and their clients can use AI to make faster, more informed decisions.

Recently, a study found that ChatGPT, the AI language model developed by OpenAI, can outperform most law school graduates on the bar exam, a gruelling two-day test that measures an individual’s ability to practice law. This achievement certainly suggests AI has potential to play a more significant role in the legal industry in future.

AI-powered systems can already identify specific language in a contract or NDA that may be problematic, such as unfair or overly restrictive clauses. This information can then be used to renegotiate the agreement or might encourage someone to seek legal advice, where they may not previously have felt the need to do so without the help of AI.

While AI holds great potential to be a game-changer in the legal industry, we are a long way from seeing AI replace human lawyers. We know AI can help lawyers analyse data faster and even more accurately. It can help identify issues that may have been overlooked and provide valuable insights into legal documents.

It’s useful in analysing reams of (boring) data, looking for a specific clause, or a situation already covered in precedent, but it cannot truly replace the expertise and experience of a human lawyer – yet.

There’s also the moral and ethical aspects of law and concerns that AI could (accidentally) be used to perpetuate existing biases and discrimination in the legal system.

The complexity and dynamism of many legal cases simply need the ‘wetware’ of a human lawyer to be involved.

Does AI mean the legal profession is on the brink of a transformation? Maybe not yet, but things are changing, and changing fast. For example, if you ask a specific, clear legal question of any AI chatbot, chances are that it will be able to consult the existing laws, regulation and precedents in the relevant jurisdiction and offer up fact-based answers.

But would you trust legal advice from an AI platform?

AI can be used to provide legal advice and guidance to individuals and businesses, which is certainly useful for those individuals and SMES who might not have the resources to hire a full-time lawyer, but I think most of us would still appreciate a degree of human lawyer involvement before rushing off to file a court case.

Another potential application of AI in the legal field is in smart contracts. These self-executing contracts include terms of the agreement written into code. By utilising blockchain technology, smart contracts can be programmed to automatically execute when certain conditions are met, reducing the need for intermediaries such as lawyers and notaries.

Like many business sectors, it falls on the legal profession to embrace the use of AI in a responsible and ethical manner. AI certainly has the potential to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the legal system, but we must ensure that AI is trained on unbiased data and that its decision-making processes are transparent and understandable. It also means we need to recognise that AI is not a replacement for human lawyers, but rather a tool to aid and enhance their work.

Laurence Weir, Plextek, Head of Business Development, Biomedical Engineering

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