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From AlphaGo to AlphaLaw?

Legal futurist Chrissie Lightfoot considers how developments in AI are changing the nature of the legal industry and the role of lawyers.


Last week, we witnessed DeepMind AlphaGo’s stunning victories over Go legend and world champion Lee Se-dol.  This landmark event has stoked excitement over AI’s potential in every aspect of life more than any other in recent memory. Why?

DeepMind (an AI system of neural networks) was acquired by Google in 2014 and uses games as a testing ground for AI algorithms that could have real-world applications. In the words of AlphaGo’s founder, Demis Hassabis:

‘I think what we’ve done with AlphaGo is to introduce with the neural networks this aspect of intuition, if you want to call it that, and that’s really the thing that separates out top Go players: their intuition.’

The same could be said about top lawyers, lawyering and legal service provision.

‘While computer programs routinely beat the world’s leading human players of games such as chess and draughts, the high level of intuition and evaluation required by Go has made it tough for even the most powerful computers to crack.’  

So it seems that we have reached a point where an intelligent machine has proven its superiority over a world class human being’s creativity and intuitive insights, which marks a significant step forward. For example, DeepBlue (DeepMind’s IBM predecessor) was a hand-crafted program in which the programmers distilled the information from chess grandmasters into specific rules and heuristics. But AlphaGo was imbued with the ability to learn through practice and study, which is much more human-like.

Not unlike the process of becoming a human lawyer.

So it seems there is a possibility, in theory at least, that AlphaGo could become ‘AlphaLaw’ – a machine that could learn through practice and study to become a world champion lawyer. And this is deeply significant.

But until such time as ‘AlphaLaw’ exists (which may be sooner than we all anticipate), let’s deal with reality in a world where:

·       Smart cognitive computing, AI and robot technologies relating to all four key elements of legal service provision – commoditisation, research, reasoning and judgment – exist and can support or replace many aspects of a lawyer’s job;

·       Both fee-earning processes and business processes can be supported and/or replaced by expert systems, cognitive computing, robotic automated systems, AI and machine learning;

·       Use of AI will be mainstream in the legal profession by 2020, according to Riverview Law CEO Karl Chapman. Personally I believe that developments in AI means this could occur by 2018 (even Mr Hassabis was surprised at the rate of progress he and his team achieved in such a short timeframe);

·       Clients demand and expect more speedy, accurate, expert, creative, intuitive and accessible legal advice;

·       Pressure is growing both from within law firms (or in-house teams) and from clients to respond to the demand for customer-designed services;

·       Technology related projects that are both user- and client-centric need to be implemented successfully;

·       In the long term, everyone will be using these kinds of technologies.

What must we lawyers do in order to future-proof our careers and businesses?

1)Become speedy algorithmic angels 

The time has come where the legal eco-system requires algorithmic angels. It needs lawyers who can interpret that the AI is right about the law (be an algorithmic advisor) and also who are willing to productise their legal expertise. That is, lawyers who are willing to place their high-end intellectual capital into algorithmic software to enable the end-user/client to help themselves with their legal conundrums.

Richard Seabrook, Managing Director Europe of Neota Logic, explains:

‘The kind of AI technology we have created here at Neota enables the lawyer or GC to model their reasoning (rules) and judgement into software. Basically, you are brain dumping your knowledge and experience into software and creating algorithms in order to respond to the client without actually needing to be available in person, if you choose to.’

For example, this AI could be deployed for complex document assembly, real-time compliance checks or online legal assessment and advice solutions. Mr Seabrook continues:

‘The power of technologies such as Neota are a) the speed of development - AI based apps can be built in rapid response to new regulation, for example and b) it positively changes the experience the client (customer or GC) has with the law firm and c) the ability to model the best legal expert on their best day operating without limitation. Software shows no bias and never forgets a case so you are never compromising on quality or accuracy, which in the right scenarios has got to be a great thing for the customer.’

2)Help clients to help themselves more

At the British Legal Technology Forum last week, Karl Chapman stated: ‘I don’t care what law firms think. Now when it comes to customers, that’s a different story.’ In my view, this comment reveals the core focus and raison d’etre of KIM, Riverview Law’s virtual assistant and AI platform. It’s all about helping clients to help themselves. And monetising it effectively. Profitably.

Inevitably, AI is going to transform the client experience. Ground-breaking technologies such as KIM and Neota are available round the clock, provide ease of access and a seamless user interface. They give instant answers at the clients’ fingertips, enabling ‘self-help’. Some of the intelligent legal work that currently performed by lawyers and outsourced legal work that GCs traditionally look to law firms to provide can now be done by a client (and monetised effectively by a law firm or in-house using AI systems).  Mr Seabrook comments:

‘Outside counsel tend to be reactive to GC needs, and the GC usually pays a premium for the brand of the outside counsel law firm. Until recently there was little or no choice for the GC but to stick with the current set-up. The alternative now is for GCs to use cost-effective AI systems, either deploying it themselves or demanding its use by their outside counsel.’

If machines are beginning to do the intelligent work traditionally performed by lawyers (only quicker and more accurately), what are the qualities clients and GCs should look for in lawyers and outside counsel going forward?

Although AI is now highly intuitive and humanlike in many ways, its lack of emotion is where it becomes inferior. For the time being, at least, a lawyer’s superior emotional intelligence will give them the edge. Clients should look for lawyers with a high degree of emotional intelligence, highly developed interpersonal skills and business acumen.

3)Focus on relationship intelligence

Clearly, we humans are not in the business of law anymore. The AI machine is taking care of that at every level of intellectual capital service provision. We’re in the business of technology, where the primary role of the lawyer going forward will be to provide an emotionally intelligent, supportive relationship to clients and GCs.

Relationship intelligence (RI) and client-centric focus is what sets us human lawyers apart from the ‘AI lawyer’ currently and in the near future. With ‘AlphaLaw’ no doubt lurking around the corner, we lawyers need to remember that the focus of our role is changing. And if common wisdom dictates that in-house counsel should always 'look for the yes', surely it’s time for GCs, lawyers and law firms to say yes to AI systems and relationship intelligence?

Chrissie Lightfoot is a qualified solicitor and author of The Naked Lawyer.

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22 March 2016

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