About the Debate

Andrew Bodnar_A_BW_IndMem Mark Edwards peter waggett Edward Chan

Arguing FOR the motion:

Andrew Bodnar, Barrister, Matrix Chambers

Mark Edwards, Vice President, Rocket Lawyer

Arguing AGAINST the motion:

Dr Peter Waggett, Emerging Technology Programme Leader, IBM Watson

Edward Chan, Partner, Linklaters

Chaired by:

Axel Threlfall, Editor at Large, Reuters


Artificial Intelligence (AI) will fail to have a radical impact on the legal profession

IBM’s Watson computer is already being used in professions outside of legal, including medical. This year, commentators have predicted it could pass a multi-state Bar exam. It’s known that Artificial Intelligence (AI) is less prone to errors, it doesn’t forget and it can quickly pull trends from vast quantities of data, but is the hype surrounding its potential impact on the legal profession justified? Could Watson, Siri or another AI technology ever judge a court case? Could it deliver legal advice directly to a client? And if it can, should it?

Some commentators suggest AI will bring radical improvements to the speed, quality and cost of legal service, both in boardroom and in the courtroom: ultimately leading to fewer billable hours and fewer miscarriages of justice. For solicitors and their clients, it might mean more accurate, less costly legal advice. In the justice system, it could mean faster, more accurate decision-making and improved access to justice.

AI proponents say that AI can already do much more than people think. They also point out that the way in which an AI learns, is not unlike the way in which solicitors, judges and barristers learn. Indeed many AI-based systems such as natural language processing and technology-assisted review are already used in the profession today. Still, AI technology has yet to make fundamental impact.

Jomati Consultants predict that by 2030, artificial intelligence will have taken over predictable and routine tasks often delegated to paralegals; so should the lawyers of tomorrow be apprehensive or are our concerns misdirected? As one IBM Senior Industry Consultant suggested: “Robots aren’t going to take your jobs, but the people who learn to work with the robots are.”

Those who take a cautious approach to AI, suggest it will act as a helpful assistant but will never be able to unpick a complicated legal issue and in the way a solicitor can.  In the courtroom, they point out that AI will never possess the emotional intelligence to coach a defendant through a case or to judge intent.

Is an AI revolution inevitable in the legal industry and should we consider how as lawyers to remain relevant, or should we remain cautious about the impact?