Craig Paterson, Executive Education Advisor, The Data Lab, looks at the impact of AI and data in the legal sector

Other than Brexit, the news appears to be full of stories about artificial intelligence (AI) and how it will affect our lives.

Mostly they are headline grabbing stories to make you worry and they are usually based upon people’s general misuse of data, conscious or otherwise. So, should the legal sector be worried? And are the robots coming for you?

And when the robots come, will they be your friends or your competition? Will they assist you by automating repetitive tasks that free you up to do more interesting work? Will they complement your skills by augmenting and enhancing decision making. Or will they become autonomous and remove you from the process all together?

Should the legal sector be worried?

I’d say you shouldn’t be worried, but neither should you be complacent, because AI will dramatically and rapidly change your world.  

There are certain things that machines are just better at, especially routine and repetitive tasks, and the legal sector has a number of tasks like that. One example is wading through mountains of paperwork on prior cases to predict outcomes and the likelihood of success of cases?

Is it bad that an algorithm can get information processed and into the hands of a lawyer faster than a person? Does your client not benefit from this? Or does it just mean fewer chargeable hours?

I know it's poor form to answer a question with another question, but as is so often the case when discussing AI, we dig deeper and deeper until we uncover the real questions to answer.

Are the robots coming for you?

Yes, but it’s not personal. This is not about fighting the flow of progress, this is about looking for the ethical opportunities to improve everyone’s experiences. It is also about playing to strengths, let’s get the machines doing what they are good at and people doing what we are good at.

The organisations that I have seen succeed most with AI are those that recognise that it is not about replacing people, but about complementing them. Success is when we can do our jobs more efficiently and with greater confidence. Surely that’s a shared goal we can all rally around?

I also expect that the number of AI legal cases will increase, especially when it comes to the ethical use of data. We have the beginnings of rules in place, for example GDPR, but the creation of new AI capabilities far outpaces the creation of the laws guiding them. I see activity in this space growing, so why not get the robots to help us?

There is also the opportunity for you to upskill in digital law-making. And at this early stage of AI what are the opportunities to bring fresh innovation into the services you offer?

Considering the complexities and opportunities of AI, I pose a final question.

What value can AI bring to your job, your organisation, your clients and your industry?

At the Driving value for data and AI course on 18 June in Edinburgh, run in partnership between The Data Lab and the Law Society, we will look at how legal professionals can take advantage of data and AI without spending too much money. Hope you can join us.