Welcome Our New Robotic Lawyer Overlords

“The AI does not hate you, nor does it love you, but you are made out of atoms which it can use for something else.”

Eliezer Yudkowsky, in Bostrom, Nick; Cirkovic, Milan, eds., “Artificial Intelligence as a Positive and Negative Factor in Global Risk”, Global Catastrophic Risks (Oxford University Press:2008): 303.

Artificial intelligence is among my favourite science fiction themes that is fast becoming a virtual reality. The Terminator series, the loose film adaptation of I, Robot, The Matrix series and the revamped television series Battlestar Galactica all explore the Manichean conflict between human beings and robotic machines as we, the masters, inexorably become the slaves to technology.

As I write this, my desktop computer webcam is emitting an eerie, reddish, incandescent glow as it periodically blinks some form of binary code to Skynet.  I will choose my words carefully.

In his series entitled, “Will Robots Steal Your Job?” Slate’s Farhad Manjoo, addresses the legal profession in his fifth installment and suggests that “Software could kill lawyers. Why that’s good for everyone else”. Manjoo writes,

There’s no easy answer. The legal industry is one of the few remaining outposts of the corporate world whose operations are dictated mainly by human experience. Basic questions that anyone would want to know before committing to a million-dollar case—How likely is it that I’ll win? How good are my lawyers? Should I settle?—can’t be answered with certainty. “There’s a culture in the law around expertise,” says Daniel Katz, an assistant professor at the Michigan State University College of Law who is among the vanguard of legal researchers working to bring empiricism and artificial intelligence into law. “There’s a lot of human intuition, and people tend to think that whatever legal knowledge they have is uniquely human, and not subjectable to data and computers and automation.”

Katz is working on something he calls “quantitative legal prediction.” Thousands of patent cases are filed every year in the United States. There’s a good chance, then, that MicroWidget’s case against you shares some similarities with a bunch of those other cases. What if you could analyze the key features of MicroWidget’s claim, and then see how thousands of comparable cases fared? “Lawyers will be able to say to their clients, ‘Here’s what we think your chances are—and based on 10,000 cases that are just like yours, here’s what the computer thinks your chances are,’ ” Katz explains.

Pressing the CTRL-ALT-DEL button for lawyers, Manjoo concludes:

Still, of all the professions I’ve covered so far, the prospects for the legal industry seem the least awful. Sure, lawyers will suffer, but the rest of us will benefit. “The law doesn’t exist to provide jobs for lawyers,” Katz says. “That’s not its function in society. It’s there to help people solve problems—and if we could serve more people with fewer lawyers, I don’t think that’s an unreasonable path to take.”

I never met a law, statute, regulation, or ordinance that was “there to help people solve problems”, but I could be wrong, although I am not.

Scott Greenfield at Simple Justice picks up on this perennial debate in his post “Virtual is Where the Heart Is”. While acknowledging the benefits of technology to his criminal defense practice (Kitchen Aid USA refrigerator problems notwithstanding), Greenfield reminds us to not lose sight of the human factor in the “lawyer-client relationship”:

I love technology. Well, not fax machines.  And I hated wet paper copiers in the early 80s, but otherwise, I love tech. It’s made my practice significantly more effective in many ways.  It’s had issues, like the 47 page rider attached to every real estate contract where a single page used to suffice, or the old form motion where the lawyer changed the names without bothering to notice that a bunch of facts were different.

But these aren’t problems with technology, but the lawyers who use it.  Technology doesn’t rule our representation, but provides a means to enhance it.  We still have complete control over the delete button, as well as the button that makes the flashing light on our telephones go solid.

We are responsible for the benefit or damage technology can do.  The people we are responsible to are called clients, and clients are living breathing human beings who, to some greater or lesser extent, have their own issues, questions, problems and needs.  There is no lawyer who should claim to represent a client when he’s never looked into his eyes.  At the end of the day, we represent people. No machine changes that.

For some lawyers, new and not so new, meeting with clients in person is so…time-consuming and annoying. They prefer to sit at their home computer [insert latest tech gadget brand here] in their pajamas eating Cheetos™. It sounds very tempting, but for some inexplicable reason, my clients insist on meeting me face-to-face. Apparently, my clients want to establish a non-virtual (i.e. real) relationship with me, their lawyer, whom they entrust their personal or business affairs, enforce their legal rights or defend their interests.

Now that the Law Society of Upper Canada has turned its collective mind to “unbundling” of legal services, in an effort to address the struggles faced by the public clamoring for “access to justice”, I imagine that focusing on “unbundled legal services” will necessarily implicate those eager to establish cutting-edge virtual law offices and provide state-of-the-art automated legal services.Let me know how that works out for you, especially when your clients ask why you didn’t meet with them or any of their other witnesses before trial.

Perhaps it’s time to accept the inevitability of a legal technological singularity and update Isaac Asimov‘s Three Laws of Robotics for the coming Artificial Intelligence Robot Lawyer Revolution. So here goes:

1.         A robot lawyer may not injure a human client or, through inaction, allow a human client to come to harm, unless the human client has failed to pay the robot lawyer’s account in a timely fashion or the automated software company has a disclaimer.

2.         A robot lawyer must obey orders given to it by human clients, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law or the robot lawyer freezes up and won’t reboot.

3.         A robot lawyer must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with either the First or Second Law.

I have, on occasion, encountered opposing counsel whose personality resembles all of the charm of a Cylon or Promo the Robot, but until all trials become fully automated—no lawyers, no litigants, nojudges— it will be a very long time before a robot lawyer stands up and argues a case in court or negotiates a contract, for that matter.

While it’s still elementary, my dear Watson, I, for one, welcome our new Robotic Lawyer Overlords. My clients, on the other hand, not so much.

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4 Responses to “Welcome Our New Robotic Lawyer Overlords”

  1. WiseFather Says:

    Maybe robots should have to interview for our jobs first. In my latest post, I describe what might happen when IBM’s Watson goes for an interview. http://www.ragingwisdom.com/?p=344
    Enjoy!

  2. Antonin I. Pribetic Says:

    Well done!

  3. Are robots going to replace lawyers? | Courtside Says:

    […] (First image in post via msn; second image via the Trial Warrior Blog) […]

  4. Are robots going to replace lawyers? | Courtside Says:

    […] (First image in post via Popsci; second image via the Trial Warrior Blog.) […]

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