• October 18, 2016

RoboLawyer: AI in the Legal System

Could a chatbot be your next attorney?

A woman about to be released from a U.K. hospital was afraid to leave the facility because she had been evicted from her home prior to hospitalization and had nowhere to go. Although government housing was available, applying for it is a complex process, and this seemed overwhelming for her. She sent a letter to a Stanford University student Joshua Browder, the creator of a chatbot that helps people challenge parking tickets, pleading for help.

Browder was thus inspired to build on his digital law service platform to help people wade through the red tape encircling public housing. This is a recent example of how AI is encroaching on lawyers’ jobs. Although the people who need this service generally can’t afford attorneys, the technology can be used to provide other legal services.

Browder’s free AI chatbot lawyer, DoNotPay, for example, has helped people successfully overturn 160,000 parking tickets in London and New York, resulting in the savings of $4 million in parking fines in 21 months. The program asks a series of questions, (for instance: Were there clearly visible signs?) and then shepherds users through the appeals process.

What Can AI Attorneys Do?

In the Netherlands, the government’s Legal Aid Board provides a platform called Rechtwijzer for couples who are separating or divorcing. Some 700 divorces are resolved annually through this feature, and it will expand to cover landlord-tenant and employment disputes. Meanwhile, British Columbia is setting up an online Civil Resolution Tribunal for condominium disputes. The provincial government expects to eventually handle most small-claims cases with this system.

The Dutch and Canadian tools emulate eBay’s dispute resolution system. This system provides an algorithm-based guide for users to reach settlements without outside intervention. An arbitrator can be called in for cases where two parties are unable to arrive at a resolution.

Some legal industry observers believe similar AI tools will one day take over many legal services. “For lawyers who make their bread and butter on ‘mill’ types of business (think demand letters) this is very bad news, particularly if word of this technology reaches a critical mass,” writes Jonathan R. Tung at Findlaw.com. “DoNotPay’s [technology] and other programs that are sure to follow have the ability to spit out a letter (albeit perhaps an inelegant one) in a matter of minutes—maybe even seconds.”

What Can’t They Do?

To confront the challenge of the chatbots, experts advise lawyers to focus on going beyond writing briefs and conducting legal research—services that can be taken over by AI and analytics. “There’s something that robots can’t yet do because they’re designed specifically not to do it: find risks and problems where none exist,” Tung points out. “As a legal consultant, you will be invaluable to your human client for creating scenarios in which a client has not taken the proper legal steps to safeguard his or her position.”

Professional services are an economic sector once thought to be immune to the threat of automation. No more. The lesson for enterprises whose services could be encroached upon by AI and Big Data: Focus on benefits that only people and human ingenuity can provide.

Like this story? Read more about artificial intelligence and professional services.