Is the Dawn of the Robot Lawyer upon us? The Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Future of Lawyers

Keywords: Artificial Intelligence, machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, legal practice, diruption, fourth industrial revolution

Abstract

The practice of law has been largely shielded from technological developments in the course of the past 50 years. While the ways in which legal professionals process and share information have evolved with new technologies — primarily with the emergence of personal computers, email and the internet — these technologies have not fundamentally transformed it. However, if media reports are to be believed, advances in technology in general — and the field known as "Artificial Intelligence" (AI) in particular — are on lawyers' doorsteps, and the legal industry is on the cusp of radical change. Fuelled by big data, increased computing power and more effective algorithms, AI has the potential to fundamentally transform the way in which legal work is done, the way in which law firms conduct business, and the way in which lawyers deal with clients. A number of technologies that fall under the AI umbrella, such as machine learning, natural language processing, deep learning and others, have already brought about the automation of many tasks that were, until recently, performed exclusively by humans because they required human intelligence. AI systems can also be used to perform many tasks that lawyers routinely perform, such as contract analysis, case prediction and e-discovery. And, according to proponents, these emerging technologies can do it cheaper, faster and more efficiently. This contribution examines the notion that recent advances in technology will "disrupt" the legal profession. It first describes the astonishing advances in technological progress, especially the recent rise of AI. It then considers the technologies and areas of legal practice most susceptible to this disruption. It concludes by envisaging what AI might mean for the legal profession, and how current technological trends might, in a relatively short period of time, transform the way in which legal services are delivered.

Author Biography

Willem Hendrik Gravett, University of Pretoria Faculty of Law

Senior Lecturer, Department of Procedural Law

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Published
2020-06-15
Section
Articles