Would you let a robot lawyer defend you?

28th August, 2021.      //   General Interest  // 

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Could your next lawyer be a robot? It sounds far fetched, but computing (AI) software systems – computer programs that may update and “think” by themselves – are increasingly getting used by the legal profession.

Joshua Browder describes his app DoNotPay as “the world’s first robot lawyer”.

It helps users draft legal letters. You tell its chatbot what your problem is, like appealing against a parking fine, and it’ll suggest what it thinks is that the best legal language to use.

“People can type in their side of an argument using their own words, and software with a machine learning model matches that with a legally correct way of claiming it,” he says.

The 24-year-old and his company are based in Silicon Valley in California, but the firm’s origins return to London in 2015, when Mr Browder was 18.

“As a late teenager in Hendon, north London, i used to be a horrible driver,” he says. “I got plenty of pricey parking tickets – which, since i used to be still in lyceum, i could not afford.”

Through many research and freedom of knowledge requests Mr Browder says he found the most effective ways to contest the tickets. “If you recognize the correct things to mention, you’ll be able to save plenty of your time and money.”

Rather than copy and paste the identical document on every occasion, he says it seemed “the perfect job for software”. So he created the primary version of DoNotPay during a few weeks in 2015, “really just to impress my family”.

Since then the app has spread across the united kingdom and US, and it can now help the user write letters handling a variety of issues; insurance claims, applying for tourist visas, complaint letters to a business or government agency, getting your a reimbursement for a vacation you’ll be able to now not persist or cancelling gym membership. Mr Browder says the last two uses soared during the pandemic.

DoNotPay now claims to own 150,000 paying subscribers. And while it’s its critics, with some saying its legal advice isn’t accurate enough, last year it won a reward from the American Bar Association for increasing legal access.

Mr Browder claims an 80% overall success rate, all the way down to 65% for parking tickets, because “‘some people are guilty”.

You might think human lawyers would fear AI encroaching on their turf. But some are pleased, because the software is wont to quickly trawl through and type vast quantities of case documents.

One such lawyer is Sally Hobson, a barrister at London-based house The 36 Group, who works on criminal cases. She recently used AI in a very complex murder trial. The case involved eager to quickly analyse quite 10,000 documents.

The software did the task four weeks faster than it’d have taken humans, saving £50,000 within the process.

Lawyers using AI for assistance is “becoming the norm and now not a thing that’s nice to have”, says Eleanor Weaver, chief executive of Luminance, which makes the software Ms Hobson uses.

More than 300 other law firms in 55 countries also use it, working in 80 languages.

“Historically you had plenty of [document checking] technologies that were no better than keyword searches, like hitting Control-F on your laptop,” says Ms Weaver. in contrast, she says that today’s sophisticated software can connect associated words and phrases.

AI is, however, not just helping lawyers sort through documentary evidence. It may now help them prepare and structure their case, and seek for any relevant legal precedents.

Laurence Lieberman, who heads London business firm Taylor Wessing’s digitising disputes programme, uses such software, which has been developed by an Israeli firm called Litigate.

“You upload your case summary and your pleadings, and it’ll go into and see who the key players are,” he says. “And then the AI will link them together, and gather a chronology of the key events and explanation of what happens on what dates.”

Meanwhile, Bruce Braude, chief technology officer of Deloitte Legal, the legal arm of accountancy giant Deloitte, says that its TAX-I software package can analyse historical court data for similar tax appeal cases.

The firm claims it can correctly predict how appeals are determined 70% of the time. “It provides a more quantifiable way of what’s your likelihood of success, which you’ll be able to use to see if you must proceed,” adds Mr Braude.

Yet while AI can help write legal letters, or assist human lawyers, will we ever see a time of robot solicitors and barristers, or maybe robot judges?

“I think, really really, we’re nowhere near that,” says Ms Weaver.

But others, like Prof Richard Susskind, who chairs the Lord judge of England’s advisory group on AI, aren’t so sure.

Prof Susskind says within the 1980s he was genuinely horrified by the concept of a computer judge, but that he isn’t now.

He points out that even before coronavirus, “Brazil had a court backlog of quite 100 million lawsuits, which there’s no chance of human judges and lawyers casting off a caseload of that size”.

So if an AI system can very accurately (say with 95% probability) predict the end result of court decisions, he says that perhaps we’d start considering treating these predictions as binding determinations, especially in countries that have impossibly large backlogs.