Saturday, February 25, 2017

Robot Lawyers

Summer Glau as "Cameron"
When I was recently writing a brief on a complex and nuanced constitutional issue, I couldn’t help but think how much faster and better “Cameron” could have done the job.  Cameron is the (for now) fictional A.I. from the outstanding but short-lived Sarah Connor Chronicles.  Within mere seconds she could have read and understood every statute, court opinion, and law review article ever written on the issue.  And in just a few minutes more she could have assimilated the relevant sources into a persuasive legal brief that would have put even my best writing to shame.  For now, Cameron is fictional.  But two other robots named ROSS and RAVIN are real.  And here’s a newsflash: ROSS and RAVIN are not coming for lawyer jobs; rather, they’ve already taken them.  

ROSS, “the world’s first artificially intelligent attorney,” is an A.I. that’s already doing advanced corporate bankruptcy work at the law firm BakerHostetler.  RAVIN is currently “employed” at the international law firm Reed Smith.  And these robots are doing more than just searching for case law or reviewing documents.  They’re “thinking,” formulating arguments, interacting with human lawyers, and even teaching themselves to be better “lawyers” as they learn and grow.    

Some studies estimate that 40 percent of legal jobs could be taken by the robots within a decade.  (This would obviously exacerbate the already significant unemployment problem facing new law grads.)  Predictably, many of those involved in developing and improving the robot lawyers attempt to quell fears by disputing this.  But they don’t give any reasons for their reassuring predictions that A.I. will not displace any more lawyer jobs than it already has. 

For example, according to one A.I. developer: “At present . . . the majority of individuals who need a lawyer cannot afford one. Yet on the other hand, [many] law graduates are saddled in debt and cannot find work.”  But what does that even mean?  And what is its relevance to the question of how many more jobs A.I. will take from human lawyers? 

More honestly, according to another A.I. developer, there is a “notion of AI being able to replace all lawyers.”  And this is a notion with which he agreed, so it’s really a question of when, not if, it will happen.  And to this question he replied, “I don't see that as something that will happen in the next couple of years.”

For more on the impact of technology on the labor market see my previous post Robots Rising.  And for what life could be like after most of our jobs have been taken by the machines, listen to Planet Money’s outstanding episode The Last Job.  Its point: even after humans invented the mousetrap, cats still needed to hunt mice.  And even after A.I. takes over the legal profession, human lawyers will still need to read, write, and argue.  But the problem might be that no one will want to hire them.

No comments:

Post a Comment