Why AI will eat the law

The future face of the legal industry, where a law firm could have thousands of clients and no lawyers, was on show this morning at artificial intelligence conference CogX.

At a panel discussion featuring Mishcon de Reya’s chief strategy officer Nick West and Luminance CEO Emily Foges, the potential future shape of a legal market powered by AI was outlined.

The panel discussed issues ranging from whether AI will eventually cause radical change in the legal market and, if so, over what time frame; whether new automated entrants will take away profitable work from more traditional law firms, destabilising their economics; and whether the use of AI in legal practice raises ethical issues.

The panel, which was moderated by Richard Tromans of Tromans Consulting, also included Meng Weng Wong, the keynote speaker for the session and the co-founder of opensource technology company Legalese.com, and Gary Gallen, formerly a partner at legacy Russell Jones & Walker (now Slater & Gordon) and CEO and founder of law firm radar.

Wong claimed that there was “a growing division” between the legal profession and the legal industry. The new face of the latter, he added, was one of businesses that get paid for using AI to provide legal services without humans, or as he put it, “a law firm with 160,000 clients and zero lawyers”.

Wong added that in general, the world’s major firms were well behind the curve in terms of adopting and using new technology and in particular, AI.

“In most law firms the most advanced technology they have is track changes,” said Wong.

Borrowing a phrase from the renowned Silicon Valley entrepreneur Marc Andreessen, Wong added, “software is eating law”.

Addressing the issue of whether lawyers were too traditional to adapt to the rapid changes brought about by technology, West argued that the major firms needed to exert their influence over law schools to change the curriculum so that students learned the skills required in an AI-powered world.

“Students are still primarily taught pure law, the schools don’t teach that disclosure and contract drafting these days is done through a tool,” said West. “It’s still being taught as a human-led, manual process. They don’t teach much about automation.”

CogX London 2017 is a two-day conference designed to explore the impact of AI on society organised by CognitionX, a market intelligence platform for AI founded by entrepreneurs Charlie Muirhead and Tabitha Goldstaub.

Other speakers included MC Srivas, chief data architect at Uber, Lord Young, former secretary of state for employment, and Michael Harte, chief innovation officer at Barclays.

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