The world we live in has undergone several industrial revolutions. The First Industrial Revolution used water and steam power to mechanize production. The Second used electric power to create mass production. The third used electronics and information technology to automate production and now we are witnessing the Fourth industrial revolution-a buildup or an extension of the Third Industrial Revolution. This is characterized by a fusion of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres. Artificial intelligence is one of the children of the fourth industrial revolution and many are concerned that it will take over their jobs and professions. The legal profession – which is the focus in this article – is no exception.
In the words of Srcutton LJ in the case of IRC v. Maxse, a profession involves the idea of an occupation requiring pure intellectual skill. The word profession used to be confined to the three learned professions – church, medicine and law- of all these professions, the law is arguably the most regulated and protected profession. Its practitioners enjoy substantial immunity from outsiders compared to other professions. This protectionist immunity is safeguarded by the enactment of protectionist professional rules and guidelines which govern civility and ethics.However, the birth of Artificial Intelligence in the fourth industrial revolution seems to pose significant threats to the legal profession.
I am sure you will be wondering by now what Artificial Intelligence (AI) is? Is it an animal or an angel sent from heaven to help the legal profession or a demon sent from hell to destroy one of the most protected and regulated industries in the world?
The term Artificial Intelligence (AI) was first coined by John McCarthy. He defined it as a science and engineering of making intelligent machines. It is the ability of a digital computer or computer-controlled robot to perform tasks commonly associated with intelligent beings. The term is frequently applied to the project of developing systems endowed with the intellectual characteristics of humans, such as the ability to reason, discover meaning, generalize, or learn from the past experience.
ROSS is the world’s first artificial intelligence attorney created by IBM technology in 2016. And according to the Co-Creator of ROSS, Jimoh Ovbiagele, work that can take over 10 hours for an average attorney takes ROSS a little over four seconds to get it done. One can type a legal question to ROSS and within a day, ROSS will reply in few paragraphs summarizing the answer and a two-page explanatory memo. Other software like Ravel law and Premonition AI can predict the attitude of a judge and even the workings and moves of opposing counsel and even possible outcomes of cases by using large volumes of litigation information, courts decisions among others. Software like Kira Systems can analyze documents in split seconds and some other software even go to the extent of scanning and predicting what document will be useful to a case. Chief Executive of Kira Noah Waisberg, says a lawyer’s time required for contract review has reduced from 60% to 20%.
In 2016, U.S consultancy group McKinsey estimated that about 22% of what a lawyer does can be automated and 35% of a paralegal’s job can be automated. This could lead to many lawyers losing their jobs because firms can employ AI technology to do jobs that human lawyers can do and even do it better with little or no errors. Clients can even access legal services online without necessarily consulting a brick and mortar legal firm and might even reduce client’s legal fees because such fees might become cheaper.
One may be tempted to think that AI is far-fetched in Africa but it is interesting to know that some African firms like Bowmans, Webber Wentzel and KTA Advocates have adopted AI technologies in their service delivery. Bowmans, for example, was one of the first firms to have adopted and rolled out an AI product across six offices and four jurisdictions namely, Kenya, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda and one of the benefits the firm attests to is that it is able to free up their lawyer’s time to focus on high-level task.
This might seem like a threat if not a threat already to the legal profession. However, a careful look reveals that AI technology is more suited for the research side of legal work. Other areas include the conduct of predictive analysis, e-discovery document review, and self-help among others. The lawyer’s job does not revolve around just research. It is more than that. It also includes skills like strategy, creativity, judgment and empathy which cannot be done by AI technology; at least for now.
James Yoon (a lawyer in Palo Alto, California), in an interview with the New York Times, argued that clients pay for his legal experience and not routine work. This means that the 21stcentury lawyer must be like the antelope that wakes up knowing it must outrun the fastest lion in order to survive. The 21st-century human lawyer must learn his craft better and master it so well that he will be better, or steps ahead of the AI. This is possible because research shows that the human brain consists of quarks and electrons arranged to act as a powerful computer and that there is no law of physics preventing us from building even more intelligent quark blobs. The human brain, if judiciously applied, can work better than AI or do things that AI cannot ordinarily do, after all, it is we humans who use our wisdom to create these things to work.
Lawyers in the 21stcentury should also acquire skills, knowledge and attributes that will propel them to become better than their new rival, AI. This also requires that upcoming lawyers are trained differently, with the integration of technology related courses in their programmes. Law firms in Ghana should also find ways to integrate such new technologies in their firms to enhance productivity.
Artificial intelligence should not be seen as a demon meant to take peoples’ jobs away especially that of lawyers. It should rather be seen as an angel, like Archangel Gabriel, to deliver to us a message that AI is here as an enabler, augmenter or supplementary to the legal profession. It is there to save legal practitioners from mundane and routine work and enable them to focus on other tasks that come with being a lawyer. It is there to bring value to the lawyer’s work and not take it away from them. The future on how AI will develop is uncertain. But legal practitioners in this 21st century must learn to be like an antelope, that is always learning how to run faster so that it will not be eaten by the fastest lion.
IRC v. Maxse  1 K.B. 647
Micheal Simon,Alvin F. Lindsey, Loly Sosa& Paige Compranto, Lola v. Skadden and the automation of the Legal Profession, The Yale Journal of Law & Technology, Vol20
Ademola Adeyoju- Artificial Intelligence and Future of Law In Africa(2018)
Siddharth Peter de Souza- Transforming the legal profession: the impact and challenges of artificial intelligence.(2017)