Artificial Intelligence, Legal Research, and the Human Spark
Artificial Intelligence, Legal Research, and the Human Spark

Artificial Intelligence, Legal Research, and the Human Spark

Michael Semer |

There’s been a certain amount of reflexive dread in the legal industry about the impact of artificial intelligence as a component in the onset of legal technology. Some of it might be warranted, if an observer only focused on the low-level tasks and interactions that A.I. might take over from human beings.

But there’s just as much reason to embrace A.I. and machine learning as potential saviors in an era when legal challenges keep mounting in scope and complexity.

Above The Law does a great job of drilling down into that in a recent article on how artificial intelligence is already disrupting how legal research is done. In quoting Don MacLeod, Manager of Knowledge Management at Debevoise & Plimpton, they set forth the key argument in favor of embracing A.I. as a tool:

As lawyers, you need to be on top of the current legal landscape. Legal research will allow you to advise your client on the standards of the law at this moment, whether they come from case law, statutes, or regulations.”

Seen from one angle, it boils down to ethical responsibility to the client: Delivering the best possible counsel and representation requires doing the best possible job of legal research, and legal technology figures in that. The volume of written codes, case law, treatises, opinions, et al is enormous, which is why lawyers have turned to online research as the most feasible way of accessing it. Being able to search through these enormous shoals of legal data, however, requires a more sophisticated tool.

As David Lat points out in his article,

Think of legal research like a jigsaw puzzle, but with some added complications. You don’t know the picture the completed puzzle is supposed to form, you don’t know how many pieces the puzzle has, and you have to assemble the puzzle under extreme time pressure. This analogy captures the two great challenges faced by lawyers performing legal research today: they don’t have enough time for the task, and they lack confidence in their results.”

A.I.: Legal technology as the ultimate legal assistant

The pressures facing modern legal teams, and the constraints in time and budgets they’re under, mean legal technology solutions like A.I. can’t deliver mere search, but should be capable of distinguishing between different types of queries, and helping researchers formulate the proper question in the first place so lawyers can locate the decision, issue or precedent they need to assemble their argument.

Human-driven decisions make the law a living, breathing, adaptable entity.”

But as the article notes, A.I. isn’t capable of making the fine distinctions, imaginative connections, and other human-driven decisions that make the law a living, breathing, adaptable entity. Those are going to stay the province of human beings for a long time yet to come; A.I. and other technologies may accelerate and augment our own ability, and that’s a highly desirable outcome, but no legal technology will ever replace the spark that truly motivates insight.

Since the law is a practice that deals with human beings, not machines, it’s human to its core…and will likely stay that way.

Other resources you might find of interest?