President’s Message

How Artificial Intelligence Is Changing Our Legal Landscape

Sabrina L. Thomas President, Sacramento County Bar Association

 by Sabrina L. Thomas

Artificial intelligence is changing the way lawyers think, the way they do business, and the way they interact with clients. Will there come a time when we will rely more on a robot for legal advice than a lawyer? According to several experts, robots will not replace lawyers but will work with them similarly to how physicians now utilize technology to deliver healthcare with the use of artificial intelligence (AI). AI is the theory and development of computer systems that perform tasks that normally require human intelligence, such as visual perception, speech recognition, decision-making, and translation between languages. We are accustomed to using AI in our everyday lives through the use of computers, health care, cellular phones, security devices, smart televisions, etc.

Now AI is increasingly becoming a staple in the delivery of legal services. Yet, the legal profession has been remarkably slow to adopt information technology outside of online databases such LexisNexis and e-discovery software. The traditional law firm model that focuses on developing individual skills and knowledge, and the lack of incentive for efficiency built into the hourly billing model have contributed to that resistance. Over the last few years, however, numerous AI solutions have been developed for legal use, and the profession is beginning to see the advantages of AI.

One of the most significant benefits of AI is its impact on access to justice. The majority of people who need a lawyer cannot afford one. AI provides many consumers and small businesses with an alternative to the traditional legal delivery model. Take LegalZoom, which helps individuals and small businesses with documents they need to produce for a fraction of what a lawyer would charge. Also, consider DoNotPay, created by an 18 year old in 2016 to challenge incorrectly issued parking citations. The online robot has successfully challenged 160,000 parking tickets in New York City and London with a 64 percent success rate. The way it works is users visit the company website and instant message with an automated service (bot) that asks them a series of questions. Upon completion of the exchange, the bot takes the user information and creates a document that can be used to challenge the tickets. It is a great example of technology being deployed to further the public interest and to address the access to justice crisis.

This does not mean that lawyers will be replaced by technology. But AI supported enterprises like LegalZoom and DoNotPay will enable those who cannot afford lawyers with access to “legal” assistance. Still, lawyer tasks, like advising clients, writing legal briefs, negotiating and appearing in court, will remain beyond the reach of computerization.

So while AI will not replace lawyers, it will continue to profoundly alter the way legal services are delivered, enabling tens of millions of individuals and small businesses to obtain representation by significantly reducing legal costs and providing a wider array of accessible service options.

Carpe diem!

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