The over and underestimation of AI and law

Ava Chisling
January 3, 2018

In the introduction to a recent report by Bird & Bird and LWI titled AI and the new wave of legal services, the author states what ROSS Intelligence and others have known for a long time:

“In the provision of legal services, arguably the most significant emerging technology is artificial intelligence (AI), not least because of the benefits that it promises to deliver in cost and efficiency for law firms, alternative service providers and their clients.”

For this report, 15 general counsels (GCs) were interviewed about their current and potential use of technology, what they think of AI, the opportunities and challenges it presents, and how AI “may ultimately shape their expectations of the law firms they instruct.” With insight from GCs at KPMG, WeWork, PwC, MasterCard and MetLife, among others, here’s a look at what they said.

There are three main points that are unsurprising. One is that the majority — if not all — the GCs believe there is an AI revolution underway; two, GCs are more likely to embrace technology if they are pretty darn certain it will make their lives easier and more efficient; and three, the adoption of technology in general is inconsistent not only across countries, but across organizations, as well.

In the US, for example, three GCs interviewed were the most upbeat about AI’s potential and its importance, according to the report’s author. Ricardo Anzaldua, Special Counsel to the CEO at MetLife, says: “It’s very, very exciting. To think that the repetitive activity, the activity that really amounts to looking things up and incorporating them into a contract or a brief, all of the things that are really not creative human thinking will be done by machines, is a very exciting prospect.”

Martin Felli, Chief Legal Officer/Chief Compliance Officer, at JDA Software, believes that “We’re still a long way from AI truly taking over the substantive elements of what the legal team does. But we believe that AI will complement, and will be extremely important in helping us maintain lower cost of the legal service, while providing higher value service to the customer by taking commoditised work off the table… We think it has a place, and will have a longlasting and ever-increasing place, in legal departments.”

And yet, at the same time, there is Wai Zee, General Counsel of WeWork Asia who says they see a lot of vendors, but so far, the results have been less than stellar. And the GC of Royal Mail just doesn’t see AI “taking away whole swathes of lawyers. It will be very interesting; I wish I had that crystal ball.” Inconsistent indeed!

So if most GCs see the potential of AI and some are adopting AI (albeit some faster than others), just what does the future hold for AI and general counsel? The opinion is divided. Says Metlife’s Anzaldua: “AI will supplant a lot of what we hire law firms to do. In many cases, when we hire an outside law firm, we do so because we don’t have the internal resources to manage the matter. The evolution of AI to enable many repetitive tasks to get completed will really supplant a lot of the second-level activity that we outsource to outside law firms that we’ll be able to do internally.”

And then there is the opposing view. Some, like KPMG’s Jeremy Barton, believe AI will bring law firms and in-house counsel closer together, not farther apart. “I have a vision for some form of collaboration between in-house functions across industries to contribute and build knowledge. What’s going to change is the nature of collaboration with law firms. You could easily envisage getting to a stage where the only law firms you really want to deal with, as in-house counsel or general counsel, are those who share a platform with you, or are prepared to use your platform so that your collaboration is supported by technology that is common between you and the law firm.”

The author concludes the report with this… “those at the heart of developing new legal technology should arguably stop overestimating where AI is today, [while] the lawyers and general counsel most affected by it should also stop underestimating where it will be tomorrow.” Although we would argue only some need to stop overestimating the effects of AI today, we think perhaps the underestimation of AI and law tomorrow is, well, underestimated!

You will find the full report here.

Ava Chisling

Ava is an award-winning lawyer and editor who counsels creative types, writes about pop culture/tech+law and sometimes creates ad campaigns. She is Quebec counsel for Momentum Law.