Artificial Intelligence (AI) refers to the simulation of human intelligence in machines that are programmed to think and learn like humans. AI systems can be trained to perform tasks such as recognizing speech, understanding natural language, and making decisions.
Legal research is a primary target for an AI intervention, as current legal research tools are fragmented and require advanced knowledge by the human user to identify relevant authority. These tools can also be time consuming, as the human user often still must sift through search results to evaluate if the case, statute, or other authority is most relevant to the assigned research task.
Google had made some strides in this area of research when it published Google Scholar. This research tool incorporated publicly available cases across all US jurisdictions and indexed them. This research tool could be more effective in taking natural language search phrases and finding relevant results, though it lacks other research tools to validate that cases or statutes remain in force.
Another key issue is that different research databases may return different results, and therefore a careful researcher may have to consult multiple databases, including official paper-based reporters, to get a complete picture on the applicable legal authority.
AI has been used in the practice of law in several ways, including:
- Legal research: AI-powered legal research tools can analyze large amounts of legal text and help lawyers quickly find relevant case law and statutes. For example, LexisNexis has a “brief analysis” product within Lexis+ that utilizes AI to quickly summarize cases for legal researchers. Brief Analysis in Lexis+
- Contract review: AI-powered contract review tools can assist lawyers in analyzing and summarizing the key terms and provisions of contracts. A variety of vendors offer solutions in this area, such as Foley & Lardner LLP, LinkSquares, and Klarity.
- Litigation Support & eDiscovery: AI-powered predictive coding tools can help lawyers identify relevant documents in large sets of data, such as during discovery in litigation, though debate continues as to whether AI lives up to the marketing hype surrounding litigation support. Law.Com (2022)
- Chatbots: AI-powered chatbots can assist lawyers in answering frequently asked legal questions and guiding clients through legal procedures.
In the court system, AI has been used for tasks such as:
- Sentence classification: AI-powered tools can assist judges in determining appropriate sentences for defendants based on factors such as criminal history and the nature of the crime, though such use is not without concerns about bias and due process. Hillman, Noel (2019)
- Predictive policing: AI-powered predictive policing tools can assist law enforcement in identifying areas where crimes are more likely to occur and allocating resources accordingly, though such tools may also lead to claims of racial and ethnic bias. Verma, Pranshu (2022) Washington Post
Overall, AI is being used increasingly in the legal system to analyze data and make predictions, but it is important to note that the implementation and use of AI in the legal system is still in its infancy, and there are concerns regarding bias and accountability. AI holds the promise of improving knowledge worker productivity, for example, to aid a human knowledge worker in more quickly identifying relevant authority and summarizing it for the human knowledge worker. Important limitations on AI remain, however. For example:
- Complex legal reasoning: The legal system is complex and requires a deep understanding of the law and its application. AI systems may struggle to fully grasp the nuances of legal reasoning, making human lawyers more effective in this area.
- Communication and negotiation: The legal system requires human interaction and communication, as well as the ability to negotiate and come to agreements. AI systems may not be able to fully replicate the emotional intelligence and interpersonal skills of human lawyers.
- Ethical considerations: The legal system involves many ethical considerations, such as the protection of individual rights, which may be difficult for AI systems to fully comprehend. More generally, concerns exist about the ethical use and implementation of AI (Garibay, Ozlem, et al. (2023))
- Creativity: There are cases where creative thinking is required to find solutions, AI systems may not have the ability to think creatively.
- Understanding of social, cultural and economic context: In the legal industry, understanding the broader context of laws, regulations, societies and cultures is important in order to make informed decisions.
However, with the rise of ChatGPT and the substantial reported investment in this platform by companies like Microsoft (Browne, Ryan (2023) CNBC) suggests that 2023 will likely be a year to watch for AI in a job near you!