Artificial intelligence and its use in law

08 Jan 2018

Guest Author: Todd Hutchison, Councillor (Chair) of International Institute of Legal Project Management (

One of the more interesting evolutions in legal practice is the increasing application of 'artificial intelligence' (AI). Understanding what it is, how it is being used and the difference between what is reality, media hype, science fiction, and futurists' just speculating, is getting more difficult to ascertain.

Artificial intelligence as a discipline is not new. It was coined back in 1956, and its first law application was in the 1960s where Queen's Law Professor, Hugh Lawford, initiated the first computerised case law retrieval system database called QUIC/LAW.

University libraries of the past were full of law students with hardcopy books, yet today they are surprisingly ghostly, replaced by the desktop online case database, and operated by a more technical savvy student. Senior lawyers in their forties were brought up with computer training at school and now are supporting technology adoption as they get into the partner ranks, and the new generation of lawyers are highly computer literate and expect it. Clients are also more commercially savvy, have more access to information online, and their demands for legal services are changing. This is seeing a greater pressure on law firms to embrace technology and change the way they are doing things.

Just as online databases transformed the ways to study law, future interactive gamification-based learning platforms will provide more life-like scenario-based experiences that will build the skills of tomorrow's lawyers online to make them more work ready. The future mock moot court session will be students debating against AI robots designed for that purpose, and equipped with legal knowledge. Hanson Robotics have already created human look-alike robots who are able to chitchat with banter, learning from each interaction. This is the future of artificial intelligence that starts in the law school.

AI has become a broad term for any form of computing system that can mimic a cognitive function of the natural intelligence of human beings. This may include computerised information analysis and decision making, meaning that a simple function of computer selection could still be deemed AI, such as an ability to search, compare and prioritise legal cases. It can also encompass natural cognitive behaviours, such as self-learning, reasoning, decision making and problem solving.

Instead of trying to replace the lawyer, AI promises to support those working in the law, as well as provide avenues for the layperson needing instant legal guidance. This said, many para-legal professional roles have been replaced with computerised search routines, and legal roles will change, and the law professional will adapt. 

AI has already been helping lawyers work more effectively, such as providing legal research through automated searches of case law and statutes, other discoverable information, proofreading, error correction, finding missing information, document formatting and correcting inconsistent language use.

Data mining, pattern recognition and matching can be used for many applications, including digital forensics, fraud and insider trading investigations. This does not replace a lawyer's previous job, rather it augments their ability to process information, that at a manual level would be impractical. With DNA matching, historic cold case crimes can be solved, not to mention the impact of present day techniques of validating evidence.

To understand some of the more advanced applications of AI present today in law firms, consider these examples:

1. The legal memo services that researches the applicable law on a specified situation and drafts legal guidance, such as the system developed by Ross Intelligence, providing for the robotic attorney powered in part by the IBM's Watson;

2. The Artificially Intelligent Legal Information Resource Assistant (Ailira) that provides consumer legal advice on diverse legal matters from wills, to business structuring and asset protection, and even generating fully certified wills;

3. The Ross virtual lawyer helping with legal advice, research and workflow efficiencies. It can even be asked questions directly in natural language;

4. The legal advice applications systems like Joshua Browder's consumer DoNotPay that offers a free parking ticket fighting system that asks questions and generates a letter to repute the fine; and

5. The data algorithms that can even predict court outcomes, with the Lex Machina company suggesting, 'the software can determine which judges tend to favour plaintiffs, summarise the legal strategies of opposing lawyers based on their case histories, and determine the arguments most likely to convince specific judges'.

Such technologies allow for lawyer to work across borders, translate law between languages and have the confidence that their work has not missed vital information.

AI effectively is providing the lawyer a virtual assistant, researcher, translator, educator, a colleague preparing advice, an editor and publisher all rolled into one. It can even include the option of a robot to debate with if that is desired, and through to making coffee with no complaints.

Many legal, political and ethical issues surround the use of AI. This includes the issue of liability, such as the case for Google's driverless cars, and privacy with the multitasking capabilities that can merge interviewing a potential job candidate while at the same time measure their blood pressure.

As Ron Friedman points out, 'AI and innovation take up a lot of mindshare… firms can do more and better knowledge management, legal project management, practice technologies, and process improvement'. This reminds law firms there is a lot to do about improvement in-house anyway, and allow the refinement of AI until products serves the areas of practice the firm is involved.

As AI is a reality in the legal workplace, the real issue will likely be determining which functions to allocate to computers.

Source: with thanks to our guest author, Todd Hutchison, Councillor (Chair) of International Institute of Legal Project Management (