It may be time to start rewriting lawyer jokes. Smart, time-saving computers are quickly elevating the profession.
Instead of hiring expensive assistants to pore over cases and sort through tickets, law firms are increasingly turning toward artificially-intelligent machines to do the expensive menial jobs instead.
They are creating a future in which a costly and inefficient legal system actually becomes an attractive way for the average citizen to protect his or her civil liberties.
The first AI lawyer gets hired
Andrew Arruda, the CEO and co-founder of ROSS Intelligence, tells Tech Insider that “AI-enabled software is going to become very much the status quo and very normal” in the coming decade.
Arruda’s company recently deployed the ROSS software at a handful of law firms throughout the US.
ROSS uses the supercomputing power of IBM Watson to comb through huge batches of data and, over time, learn how to best serve its users. The software can sort through something in a matter of seconds that would normally takes a human hours upon hours to review.
One of the first places to use ROSS was the law firm BakerHostetler, where the software handles bankruptcy cases. Employees enter commands into the software in everyday language, like when they need to find examples of precedence for specific cases. ROSS then searches through its legal database to produce the relevant information.
In the event a new court decision emerges in the dead of night, ROSS can even send alerts in real-time.
Though some employees will no doubt lose their jobs (as tends to happen when AI enters the scene), the benefits of AI quickly trickle down for both a firm and its clients.
Currently, 80% of Americans who need a lawyer can’t afford one. By using AI lawyers like ROSS, law firms can charge lower fees since they won’t be paying humans (who generally prefer to get paid for their work) to handle clients’ cases. In addition, out-of-work lawyers can use AI services like ROSS, which offer a lower barrier of entry into the market, to create more affordable options for clients.
Not all legal issues are big bankruptcy cases, though. For most people, the closest they’ll ever come to a courtroom is getting a parking ticket. Here too AI is disrupting the way people interact with the legal system.
Save your money, use a chatbot instead
In the fall of 2015, 19-year-old Stanford undergrad Joshua Browder released a chatbot called DoNotPay. (Browder, it turns out, is good friends with Arruda. Silicon Valley is a small world, and legal AI is even smaller.)
Browder’s app enables people to appeal unfair parking tickets without forking over hundreds of dollars in legal fees, which, in many cases, can be more expensive than just paying the ticket.
Like ROSS, DoNotPay relies on an algorithm that tries to decipher everyday language. Even in beta, it seems to be doing its job. In April, Browder released data showing DoNotPay had helped people overturn 160,000 of 250,000 parking tickets since launch — a success rate of 64%.
The beauty of machine learning, Arruda points out, is that programs like ROSS and DoNotPay only get more sophisticated with time. The more words the software sees, the better it can correct past mistakes, ultimately becoming a more helpful service.
The AI lawyer is the way of the future
That also means AI will get more sophisticated in the kinds of work it does. Arruda expects AI to start drafting its own documents, building arguments, and comparing and contrasting past cases with the one at hand.
“Law touches everything,” Arruda says, likening the practice to “the operating system of society” in that it governs how people get married, get divorced, file patents, and build businesses. Artificial intelligence could, in theory, seep into all of these areas.
But there are limits. Neither Arruda nor Browder believe society will see artificially-intelligent lawyers arguing cases in the courtroom. (Legally speaking, only humans can do that anyway.) A more likely scenario is that AI will serve humans in the way many advanced chess players have started using AI to help them play better matches — a form of play known as “centaur chess.”
“At the center of AI systems are human who interact together,” Arruda says. ”I think what we’re going to move toward are ‘centaur lawyers,’ if you will, where they both work together, and because of that union they’re able to do so much more.”