The rise of artificial intelligence technologies has reimagined the delivery of legal services. Milad Shojaei evaluates how AI challenges current business models, where we encounter resistance and if new systems can effectively replace lawyers.


Artificial Intelligence (AI) has gained substantial traction in the legal sector, and many legal professionals share concerns on the impact it can have. AI has the potential to recognise errors, review contracts and locate and process relevant data faster than humans. To put it simply, it offers us the opportunity to exceed our own capabilities, with the ability to draw conclusions and decisions based on processed information and previous experience.

AI is already being utilised by law firms to conduct research and as a means of performing more efficiently and diligently. In 2018, a study by CBRE revealed that nearly half of London law firms are currently using AI, and 41% have plans to do so. AI offers lawyers tremendous opportunities in automating complex and heavy labour processes, alongside saving costs and valuable time. It is also suggested as a viable solution to the alarming backlogged court system.

Although most AI-driven systems are in the early stages of development, it is clear that AI has already made its mark in the legal sector. With this said, why are legal professionals hesitant to embrace AI, and is the concern justified?


Is the legal sector ready for AI?

Legal consumers have always been reluctant to adopt new technologies, and AI is a relatively new development in legal innovation. It is complex and can be particularly challenging to comprehend and apply. Legal professionals are not trained in computing, but still have a duty of competence to their clients through the SRA and BSB codes of conduct. How does this duty apply to the use and understanding of AI technology in the legal sector? If legal professionals are to use AI, they must first understand it. This includes the ability to identify specific algorithms, configurations and data sets, all of which relate to specialist knowledge that most typical law firms lack. The wider application of AI in the legal sector therefore raises ethical apprehensions concerning competence, diligence and oversight.

Although the case for AI is substantial, the legal sector’s resistance to it is also telling. Law firms are reluctant to engage with AI-based technologies as it necessitates a complete transformation of established practices. Although the core purpose of Legal innovation is to transform the landscape, AI advances a drastic overhaul that should be considered more carefully. The legal sector currently lacks the infrastructure and culture to accommodate AI. This is compounded by an alarming skills gap and concerns with data security. Although larger firms have shown an aptitude for embracing new complex technologies, smaller firms that lack the resources to fund the acquisition and effective use of AI will struggle to keep pace with the process.

Applying AI-based tools in the legal sector accompanies significant risks if it is not done correctly. Law firms run this risk when focusing on the benefits of an innovative tool, without understanding the impact on operations, or how to best leverage the advantages associated with it. As it stands, most law firms lack the personnel that have practical AI experience for wider-spread adoption. Moreover, If AI-driven solutions are to be utilised widely, regulators within the sector will also require more specialism in the field.


Are lawyers right to be reserved about AI?

Despite the sophisticated nature of AI, it still depends on human input and data. AI technologies ultimately learn to make decisions based on training data, which is prone to include biased human choices or other sensitive variables. The potential for biases is undeniable as AI technologies that are managed by humans will naturally be subject to some impartiality. This has been reinforced by studies of AI-driven systems where inherent biases were unwittingly demonstrated by human creators. Further extensive research has also suggested that AI models can implant human and societal biases and expand them at scale.

A study by the New York University’s AI Now Institute demonstrated that AI systems were principally designed by affluent white males. This presents a considerable concern as biased data will inevitably lead to biased AI. Further, AI-driven machines can potentially isolate statistical correlations that are unlawful while reinforcing the stereotypes that can be found with humans creators. Together, this illustrates the potential issues that biased AI can have for equality in the legal sector. Although AI offers lawyers a step forward with innovation and improved efficiency, we must first ensure that there is greater investment in bias research, with a multidisciplinary approach to addressing the problem.


“The fact that we have backlogs resulting in a failure to give people the individualized attention they deserve tells us there’s something fundamentally wrong with our justice system. Expediting the mass processing of people using AI isn’t the answer. It’s the opposite of justice.”

Song Richardson, Dean of the University of California-Irvine School of Law


Artificial Intelligence vs Human Intelligence

AI can assist lawyers in investigating and analysing, but it lacks the necessary empathy, creativity and augmentative reasoning that is required to carry out legal work competently. Despite AI systems offering specialism in processing data, it is still incapable of applying common sense or thinking abstractly as humans do.

AI cannot function optimally without relying on innately human attributes like human intuition. Real lawyers can learn from experience, comprehend complex concepts, apply logical reasoning, recognise patterns and weigh up competing interests before making balanced decisions. What distinguishes human intelligence from artificial intelligence is our unique ability to work with passion, motivation and self-awareness, as opposed to mimicking these actions through processed data and specific instructions fed into a digital system. Although AI-powered systems can perform mundane and repetitive tasks efficiently, they cannot replace the most complex thing in the universe, the human brain. AI falls outside the remit of Intelligent thought and behaviour; it cannot think and as such, falls short of human capabilities. Supplementary tools like Casedo enhance our existing capabilities, whereas AI aims to reduce the input of human reasoning.

With this said, the legal sector should aim to utilise AI to enhance the work of legal professionals, instead of replacing them. This would allow lawyers to perform tasks more efficiently while freeing up time to undertake more rewarding work.


Final Thoughts

AI-powered technology offers the legal sector an invaluable tool, and it is best utilised in automating and simplifying repetitive research-based tasks. Despite its tremendous potential, it still accompanies justifiable apprehensions and requires the application of human intelligence. The future of AI will likely continue to be governed by human abilities, and it is imperative that the sector prioritises legal innovation that supplements lawyers, not those that aim to replace them. The latter will only curtail the recognition of technology as a viable solution to existing problems and stunt growth as we advance.


While you’re here, why not read our article “Legal Tech on the rise: is the United Kingdom falling behind”?