AI: the end of human solicitors? – “Computer says No!”

Posted on: February 20th, 2018

The media loves a good attention-grabbing headline – but how much can you rely on them? One such example was Rory Cellan-Jones’ BBC article of 1st November 2017 “Robot lawyers are here – and they’re winning”.

Rory attended a contest between Case Cruncher’s AI (a small start up company) and commercial solicitors. The subject matter: PPI (payment protection insurance) mis-selling cases. The test: predict whether the Financial Ombudsman would allow a claim. Out of 775 predictions, the AI won 86.6% compared to the solicitors 66.3%.

On the face of it, the future looks gloomy for solicitors. But I would ask you to look deeper. The test subject was interesting and well chosen by Case Cruncher. The legal issue is fact based and has defined parameters. The only possible results are acceptance or rejection.

Much of law and legal advice requires soft skills, interpretation and negotiation, not to mention wisdom. English law is based on statutes and regulations and can be vague. The logic and intention of the legislator needs to be considered using inductive and deductive methods in order to apply the law to the legal issue to hand. A ‘lawbot’ or legal AI might be able to draw together wording in order to make a will, making use of knowledge that all solicitors are expected to have, but can it explain the personal and practical consequences for you, your estate and your beneficiaries beyond the legal definition?

If you are an attorney acting under a power of attorney, can a computer system alone work out the most suitable way of handling the donor’s affairs? Can it discuss with you the ‘best interests’ principle and how best to apply it? At present there is no way to program a computer to identify who ‘them’ are in a paragraph which refers to more than one person. The word ‘it’ can be even more problematic.

The law is not systematic for the most part and any AI can only be as good as the technology of the day. It can also not predict what a judge might see as fair and reasonable when giving judgment which can overlay any legal matter going to Court.

Now, don’t reject AI, instead see it as a useful tool. Search engines use AI and this enables them to find the answer to your question much faster. If you have a legal question, it will assist you in finding the means to obtaining your result via a solicitor. You might have used it when coming across this article on twitter or Coffin Mew’s website. So don’t boot up your computer, but speak to us for the best legal advice.

Lindsay Taylor is a Solicitor in the Wills, Trusts and Probate team in the Southampton office.