Throughout the last semester and a half of law school, my understanding of the significance and reality of artificial intelligence (AI) in the practice of law has grown. From ignorance to acceptance, I would consider this my modified version of the cliché, “five stages of grievance.”
Pre-Stage – Ignorance is Bliss
During my undergraduate degree, I had the inspiration to attend law school, become a lawyer, and enjoy a job with strong stability. My idea of technology and AI was limited to simple computer programing, like Word and Excel, or things I had seen in movies based in a far distant future. It had never dawned on me, not even for a second, that the tasks and jobs of lawyers could ever be replaced, especially not by some computer program.
Stage 1 – Denial
Near the end of my first semester at law school, upon talking with a few of my friends who were pursuing computer science and engineering degrees, they mentioned that law was a place that was ripe for AI. Like many lawyers and law students, I simply scoffed at this and simply found it too hard to believe that some computer program would ever be able to replace all but the simplest jobs that my future career was going to hold. I thought, innovations and technology will disrupt factory workers and low-level jobs but it will never affect a profession as complex as law. How ignorant I was.
Stage 2 – Anger
It is hard to say that I was really “angry” at people saying that AI would start replacing the jobs of lawyers. I would simply believe that those who thought this were simply being optimistic, thinking of ideas of how they could better their careers in computer science and engineering. These fools, I thought, they don’t know how complex the profession of law is. It’s difficult to see the other side when you have narcissistic blinders on.
Stage 3 – Bargaining
However, the more I thought about the idea, the more curious I became. Throughout my 1L summer, I began doing some personal research on AI and law. The articles I read seemed to range from very optimistic to those who figured that we should just pack our bags and let technology take us over. Although many of these articles made me uncomfortable, I thought to myself, if AI is coming, I had better make the best of it. I had better ensure that I am ready. As such, I decided to enroll myself into the course, “Lawyering into the 21st Century.” Am I ever glad I did.
Step 4 – Depression (not really)
Although the original fourth stage is typically labelled “depression,” I would consider it to be, for myself at least, the stage of uneasy uncertainty. One of the first tasks Professor Katie Sykes had us do in Lawyering in the 21st was to read Richard Susskind’s book, “The Future of the Professions.” This is where reality started to sink in. The more I read, the more I felt that there were many areas of our profession that could use improvement. As access to justice was becoming more and more of an issue, other resources were going to be needed to combat this problem. If lawyers weren’t going to provide the solution, someone else was.
Step 5 – Acceptance
Fortunately, for us in Lawyering in the 21st Century, Professor Sykes brought in a number of meaningful guest speakers who were already working as lawyers in the field of AI. Many of these speakers had no doubts that AI was coming and that AI had already been introduced to the profession of law. However, they seemed optimistic. Many of them believed that AI wasn’t going to replace lawyers as an end all, be all. At least, not for a long time. However, they did suggest that there were many parts of a lawyer’s job that could be improved by AI. Many of these jobs included the mundane tasks that lawyers dread doing. By having technology that will assist lawyers in improving the services they deliver, and as a result, having them provide cheaper legal services, this benefits both the lawyers and the general public. This is why I decided to take a second legal tech course with Professor Sykes, “Designing Expert Legal Systems.” After working through this course and with the technology, like Neota Logic, I feel more optimistic about the blending of AI and law. For now, at least, I can sleep better at night.