Artificial intelligence will always need human help

17th October 2017

Machines eradicated the need for switchboard operators and will do the same with some legal profession functions. But lawyers should welcome the evolution, says David Levenson

The Brief team

Oct 17, 2017


Lord Clement-Jones, chairman of the House of Lords committee on artificial intelligence and a partner at DLA Piper, recently wrote in the Brief Premium that while global law firms are adopting artificial intelligence, they are uncertain about its future applications. AI has a long way to go before it is “truly intelligent”, he wrote.

The legal profession is at the cutting edge of the AI revolution, but is the debate — which is now focussed on whether there will be jobs for paralegals, associates and even partners in law firms when the robots come to town — being viewed through the correct lens?

Suppose you are a commercial real estate lawyer whose client owns thousands of leasehold interests worldwide and has a deadline to be compliant with the new financial reporting requirements under internationally agreed accounting standards that come into force in 2019.

You know there are proprietary solutions available for warehousing and managing large quantities of non-standard data, but once assembled they will still require you to read through the leases in whatever form they are presented and then extract, analyse and report on them to your client’s chief financial officer and auditors.

Now suppose that you have a machine-learning application available that can do the same job in less than 15 per cent of the time.

That is not a scenario pulled from thin air. A leading City of London law firm has road-tested such an application and concluded that a task that might take an experienced lawyer three to five hours can be completed through AI in less than 45 minutes.

What happens when machines take over our jobs? In 1960s America, telecoms companies employed about a million switchboard operators. Today, there are fewer than 5,000. Over 50 years the patterns of employment have changed, and the next 50 years will be no different. Workers will be doing fewer tasks but creating more value.

A machine-learning application that eats commercial leases for breakfast can support due diligence processes for your client’s next big transaction. Up against a completion deadline that allows you just enough time to review a 10 per cent sample of the leases in a portfolio, the application can take care of all of them in the same time.

Applying the same principles, the application can digest mortgage documents, loan applications, title deeds, legal charges and planning conditions. At each stage you would be creating value for your client by solving real-world problems.

Even truly intelligent machines rely on humans to tell them what they need from them. AI technology can learn how to replicate and extend tasks many times faster than we can. What robots cannot do is identify the problems that need to be solved, and in future this is how lawyers will increasingly create value for their clients.

David Levenson is the founder and managing director of Coaching Futures, a business for career transition training

This article originally appeared in The Brief Premium on October 17th 2017

© David Levenson 2017