AI Goes to Court: A Conversation With Lex Machina and Dorsey & Whitney

Two months ago, I participated in a fascinating panel at Dorsey’s 30th Annual Corporate Counsel Symposium in Minneapolis, entitled “The Times, They Are A-Changin’: AI Goes to Court.” We examined how artificial intelligence (“AI”) has the potential to rapidly change civil litigation and help clients achieve better results when facing risks in the court system. Here is a two-part interview I did with two of my co-panelists on some of the key issues we explored:

Q: One of the first things we talked about is that AI is really a misnomer when it comes to talking about the legal field because we are not there yet. But yet you see it talked about everywhere. So when we see the industry and the press talk about AI, we are not talking about AI being used by law firms and law departments, right?

Owen Byrd (Chief Evangelist and General Counsel, Lex Machina): Right. AI involves software performing intelligent tasks that mimic or replace human activity. We are still a long way from truly functional AI for tasks that are currently performed by attorneys and others in the legal ecosystem. But machine learning and natural language processing, two building blocks of AI, are now in widespread use. At Lex Machina, we use these technologies to provide data-driven insights into the behavior of judges, parties, and attorneys, which lawyers use to inform litigation strategy and tactics.

Caroline Sweeney (Director of Knowledge Management, Dorsey): AI is making in-roads in the legal field, but I would not say it is fully embraced by the industry, at this point. And, while we hear a lot about AI, we really see more process automation and analytic tools gaining in adoption. At the same time, predictive coding is a kind of AI, as is automatic clause extraction with contract/due diligence documents.. In addition,, some of the legal research tools are integrating natural language search capabilities to help you find relevant law.  I also know of one platform that allows you to upload a Complaint or Discovery Requests and it will provide the draft Answer or Discovery Responses. A couple of years ago, at ILTA, I believe, I saw a demo where “Watson” was presented a legal scenario and within minutes returned the pros and cons of various arguments to support or deny the claim. These are not yet widely adopted tools, and many are still in development. So, I would say, AI is here and will continue to grow in adoption as the tools get better and cost pressures encourage adoption.

Q: Most lawyers I talk to typically discuss “robots” taking over the legal field with gallows-type humor, as they fear that at least junior-level attorney jobs will disappear. What do you think of that attitude?

Owen Byrd: Robots will not replace lawyers. The practice of law requires the exercise of judgement and wisdom in ways that robots will not be able to mimic (at least for the foreseeable future). Intelligent technologies will, however, liberate lawyers from repetitive or brute-force activities. E-discovery, online legal research, and legal analytics are all examples of these technologies. Lawyers should welcome the use of these technologies, which liberate lawyers to spend their time providing true counsel to their clients.

Caroline Sweeney: I don’t think lawyer jobs will go away, but the jobs will change. Lawyers will need to know how to leverage these technology tools to perform their jobs…just like they needed to learn how to use Westlaw and Lexis when those on-line tools replaced book research. Similarly, predictive coding has not eliminated the attorney role in document review, but it has changed it.  Attorneys are still needed to train the predictive coding algorithms and perform quality control. AI is not yet at the point where it will replace the lawyer’s substantive expertise; it is not sophisticated enough to fulfill a lawyer’s role in managing a client relationship, interpreting nuanced facts in a case, and presenting to a judge or jury. 

(Coming next, Part 2). 

Jeremy T. Elman

Jeremy T. Elman

Jeremy is a trial lawyer who focuses on high-stakes patent litigation in courts across the country, as well as trademark, copyright and trade secret cases.

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