The idea of a robot lawyer may sound like science fiction, but if predictions are to be believed, robotic lawyers may become a reality sooner than we might think.
Technology is moving at a rapid pace, and many believe that various low level and even higher-level professional jobs will become obsolete in the future, to be performed by robots and machines.
Although some jobs seem to be obviously suited to being performed by machines, others seem less likely, especially those like law, which involves high-level complex thinking and often emotionally charged situations.
But as unlikely as it may seem, reports have raised the possibility that in the not too distant future, lawyers may be replaced by robots, and not just when it comes to document mining and other mundane tasks.
Speculation has led to suggestions that artificial intelligence is developing to the point where robots will be able to undertake much of the legal thinking and reasoning.
The technology already exists
In Germany, an artificial intelligence platform is being developed which will have the capacity to make decisions about child benefit claims using complex algorithms and a point scoring system.
In Helsinki, another tool is being created to compare trademark applications using algorithms to discover how similar they are to existing trademarks and thereby make a decision as to whether or not they can be approved.
Although this technology is yet to be implemented, it looks likely that at some stage in the future it may become mainstream and become a useful tool for companies and law firms around the world.
Could robots realistically take on the role of a lawyer?
The idea that lawyers could be supplanted by robots in the near future may sound farfetched.
But as these developments in artificial intelligence appear to suggest, the technology has reached the point where it is possible for machines to make decisions about legal matters based on algorithms.
It has been suggested that this technology could develop further over the next decade or so and eventually reach the point where robots could use their powers of reasoning to take a statement made by a person and determine whether or not it is supported by the law.
Unlike human judges, a robot’s lack of bias and impartiality could mean that decisions are able to be made with a high level of accuracy and much more quickly.
Robots would have access to a huge range of legal information, that it would take a human days of research to find, and could make decisions within a second or two – unlike a human’s careful thought process.
Currently, artificial intelligence capabilities are not yet at the stage where it is possible for a machine to be able to fully interpret the nuances of human speech, or deal with the often contradictory and obscure terminology that is present in most of our legislation.
It has been speculated that by 2030 this could be possible and robots could potentially take on some of the lower level legal work that is currently done by associates.
Although they may be fast and legally accurate, it is doubtful whether a robot would be able to undertake the human element of working in the legal profession.
Would people really feel comfortable talking to a machine about their often very personal and emotionally distressing circumstances?
What implications could the use of robots have for the legal profession?
One of the most appealing aspects of using robots for the public and for corporations would be the cost versus a human lawyer.
As robots don’t require a wage, can work all hours and don’t get tired, they are likely to be a much cheaper solution than hiring a human lawyer, especially for businesses and corporations.
Businesses that are looking to cut costs would find the idea of a robot lawyer very attractive, particularly for routine and administrative matters.
Unfortunately, if robots do much of the lower level legal work in the future, this could lead to an even greater shortage of jobs for associate lawyers and graduates.
It has been suggested that this could potentially lead to the structural collapse of law firms, as we know them.
The human touch unlikely to become obsolete
If the legal decision-making was to be placed largely in the hands of robots, it could mean a higher value would be placed on the human side.
Empathy and insight into a client’s problems or circumstances would become the main selling point of human lawyers, not just their legal expertise.
According to New Scientist, if robots become an integral feature of the legal profession it could potentially lead to new legislation being implemented in a machine readable format, coded and divided into sections with information about how each section interrelated.
This could potentially transform the entire legal system and the way that legislation is created and recorded.
Whatever happens in the future, artificial intelligence and robots are not yet at the stage where they are going to be able to be used to make complex legal decisions or understand dense legal terminology.
Even if they do become mainstream, the human touch will always be valued and important, especially in criminal law and family law where clients can be facing distressing or upsetting circumstances.