Artificial Intelligence and the Practice of Law

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By: Christine Bilbrey

“Artificial intelligence (AI) is a computer that learns to perform intelligent tasks we usually think only humans can do” (ROSS Whitepaper – Artificial Intelligence Systems and the Law).

We have all heard the term “artificial intelligence,” but some of us might not be sure what makes one product or system artificially intelligent versus one that is just a traditional computer program. Standard computer programs are basically taught to implement a series of rules and are then provided with data.  A true A.I. program gets smarter as it goes along gathering more data, making connections, and finding patterns within the data and images it receives. The focus of a recent article in The New York Times Magazine, “The Great A.I. Awakening,” is the giant leap of improvement that has been made to Google Translate. The article points out that early A.I. “only really works in domains where rules and definitions are very clear: in mathematics, for example, or chess.” When a computer tries to translate a sentence from one language to another “this approach fails horribly, because words cannot be reduced to their dictionary definitions…More often than not, a system like this is liable to translate ‘minister of agriculture’ as ‘priest of farming'” (nytimes.com).

Ideas that were once thought of as science fiction or the basis for the 1985 John Hughes’ movie, Weird Science, are edging closer to reality. Computers now have “eyes” and can scan images of, for example, cats rather than simply being programmed with a list of rules that determine if an object is a cat. Previously, a computer programmer would have to “stay up for days preloading the machine with an exhaustive, explicit definition of ‘cat.’ You tell it that a cat has four legs and pointy ears and whiskers and a tail, and so on. All this information is stored in a special place in memory called Cat.” The Google Brain developers found a way to create a neural network for the computer that allowed it to:

“…observe raw, unlabeled data and pick out for itself a high-order human concept. The Brain researchers had shown the network millions of still frames from YouTube videos, and out of the welter of the pure sensorium the network had isolated a stable pattern any toddler or chipmunk would recognize without a moment’s hesitation as the face of a cat. The machine had not been programmed with the foreknowledge of a cat; it reached directly into the world and seized the idea for itself” (nytimes.com).

During a recent interview for The Florida Bar Podcast, we spoke with the CEO and co-founder of LawGeex, Noory Bechor, who cited the famous cat paper from Google Brain to explain A.I. to our listeners. LawGeex is one of the more well-known legal software products designed to assist lawyers with contract review using A.I. Their website states, “Our Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) technology reads, reviews and understands your contracts. We recognize if any clauses are rare, missing, or potentially problematic, and provide a plain English report that lets you know exactly what you’re signing.” He told us that a large percentage of his company’s customers are in-house counsel who are required to review hundreds of contracts each year, but unlike big law firms these attorneys do not have a contingent of associates to assist them. LawGeex also offers templates and standard contracts and will analyze changes made to your contracts by other parties. As more people upload their employment contracts, business deals, and purchase agreements LawGeex will get smarter and faster.

The most famous example of artificial intelligence that is currently being utilized in the practice of law is ROSS, the first A.I. virtual attorney from IBM, the creator of Watson. Watson was designed to answer questions on the quiz show Jeopardy! Watson came in first place on the show in 2011 and won a million dollars. To create ROSS, IBM sent Watson to virtual law school.  “Ask direct questions and ROSS will use A.I. to find you answers from the law in seconds – no more fumbling with boolean queries and thousands of keyword based results” (rossintelligence.com). ROSS is currently saving attorneys many hours of time they would have spent on legal research.

As more firms sign up as users of A.I. technology software, the programs will become more affordable for all attorneys. Going forward, artificial intelligence could reduce the cost of hiring an attorney and increase access to justice for people who had previously felt that legal representation was cost prohibitive. For those who fear that technology will replace them, utilizing A.I. programs may allow attorneys to take on a greater number of matters while focusing more attention on their clients.