By Christina Blomkvist, founder of GreenCounsel
Over the course of just a few years, the interest in artificial intelligence has increased considerably. We are only at the beginning of a development where AI makes its way to more qualified tasks.
Often, AI is pictured as a threat. People are afraid to lose their jobs and income while some wonder what happens if the human’s sense of universal values and “common sense” is replaced by a computer that could be compared to a psychopath with – at best – learned empathy. Ethical questions, about how the algorithms are built to control an AI application, surface with experiments that, for example, showed how a chat bot on Twitter could become a racist provocator over time and another robot that ran crazy and started communicating with other robots with a new language on Facebook.
Ultimately, an AI application is not better than the information entered and how the application has been trained to handle it. Just as there is no universal right or wrong in the real world, we cannot blindly trust the answers that an AI application gives us about legal issues. Humanity’s rescue has often been that there are leaders with the ability to feel compassion, conscience, moral and values and that those persons have stood up to maintain the foundations of society. In the aftermath of World War II, many realized that it had been possible to write and enforce laws that were aimed to create disaster for a large number of humans. Human rights were introduced as an absolute requirement in countries’ constitutions and lawyers were trained to interpret and understand the law from a perspective that the state was not allowed to harm its citizens. Democracy was renewed and the right for parliament to enact whatever legislation it wanted, ceased. These are lessons that are impossible to codify in a sustainable way into an AI application where defense mechanisms need to be linked to what essentially characterizes a human.
Today, startups are often advised to integrate future plans for various AI applications in their pitches for investors to maximize their opportunities to get investors interested. AI is indeed today’s hype. In medical technology, AI makes it possible to diagnose diseases with image analysis. In the past year, AI in legal services has made its presence known. Some time ago, ROSS Intelligence presented a brief analyser, EVA, which controls referrals to case law. During the past year, many Swedish law firms have also shown an interest in AI in the form of various digital tools to review and structure large amounts of information in compliance investigations and M&A due diligence matters. The tools can structure the information in tables and generate good-looking charts with what appear to be exact numbers and comprehensive statistics about the content of the documentation. The risk is, however, that the underlying computer analysis has misinterpreted provisions and, for example, identified an assignment clause as a change of control clause so lawyers often have to review the compilations to ensure that the program has indeed analysed correctly (if it is important that everything is correct).
There is no doubt that AI will have a big impact on how work will be carried out in the future, even within the world of legal services. However, I often tend to draw a parallel to the early applications of speech-to-text, where you had to spend a lot of time training the applications, but after much training they still could interpret “Linköping” as “Gothenburg”. Over the years, however, text-to-speech has developed tremendously and today there is high likelihood that it will indeed write what you say. The technology is great and I have great respect for the algorithms that allow a computer to interpret sound waves into comprehensible text in different languages while I note that many still do not use text-to-speech because it is often easier and faster to type yourself.
I have been and remain an advocate for the use of technology within legal services, but I have also come to the conclusion that it is not the most impressive technology in the form of advanced AI applications that will revolutionize lawyers’ everyday life. Nor do I believe that law firms will be replaced by an all-know super robot that, with the support of AI, gives us all the answers we want. However, both at law firms and within corporate legal departments, the use of even basic digital tools is very limited today. The lawyers usually have access to e-mail, some legal databases and a library of hard-coded templates. Some may have taken a step forward and have put up a sharepoint page where the organization can find information and maybe even generate documents based on some predefined document templates. Perhaps they also have a dedicated document repository, e-billing and e-signing solutions. A lot of (expensive!) time is used for co-ordination within the team and with customers, administration, management of different people’s preferences of how documentation should look (I’m just saying: formatting, version handling, use of language etc), communication and meetings as well as drafting what is often mainly standard documentation. This means that there is great potential for streamlining the workflow and rethink how legal services are provided with the help of digital tools.
Law firms and investors in legal services should think about whether it is indeed the most advanced AI that will dramatically reduce the time spent (while maintaining a high quality) on qualified matters or whether it is enhanced workflows and methods for providing legal advice and interacting with customers which will accomplish this. Customers will ultimately show the way. We should, however, always bear in mind that AI could never, nor should it, replace a human when it comes to the interpretation of law but that lawyers naturally should use all tools available to help them do a more efficient and high-quality work.
Christina Blomkvist is a business lawyer with a background as attorney-at-law at major business law firms in Sweden and as senior inhouse legal counsel and Head of M&A at one of Sweden’s largest insurance companies. She is the founder of GreenCounsel which has developed an online platform for the provision of legal services where customers can interact efficiently with their legal consultants in streamlined workflows with the help of digital tools. She is also a self-taught programmer since almost 30 years.