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Legal experts weigh in on the impact of AI

Legal News Reporter

Published: May 24, 2017

Once just a farfetched concept found in science fiction novels and movies, today artificial intelligence (AI) is not only a reality, it’s impacting the workplace. From changing the way businesses search for employees to allowing workers to speed up certain aspects of their jobs, the use of AI-infused software and platforms is on the rise.

Sarah Moore, a partner at the management-side labor and employment law firm Fisher Phillips, said just as industrial automation displaced portions of the blue-collar employee sector, AI will similarly replace and transform the white collar world in an unprecedented way.

“The revolution we saw with machines in blue-collar industries focused on the way in which items are moved from point A to B or combined to create a product,” said Moore, who works out of the firm’s Cleveland office. “Robotics assisted in the process and humans supported the mechanical systems.

“With AI the computer is performing human thinking tasks and that will dynamically change the workforce, displacing a different group of employees,” she said. “In the financial sector AI is used in different software platforms to perform the financial analysis that people would perform so decisions can be made faster.

“AI is also tied into many human resources functions, with programs that do the initial sorting and analysis of candidates, narrowing down the number of resumes that managers have to sift through.”

The legal profession is also among those being transformed as startups offer new AI-infused software and platforms for document automation, e-discovery and even compliance.

“AI compliance software asks a few basic questions, does a legal analysis and generates recommendations that take into account relevant statutes and laws,” said Moore. “Basically the lawyers inform the software to perform quick analysis using logic formulas and the software becomes the new legal service platform delivering services at less expense to clients.”

Emily Janoski-Haehlen, an associate professor at The University of Akron School of Law, said artificial intelligence has now become an integral part of her Technology in Law class.

“Some people suggest that AI will spell disaster for the legal profession,” said Janoski-Haehlen. “I take the approach that when used properly AI can help lawyers to be more productive by automating routine tasks so they can focus on more complex matters.”

Janoski-Haehlen, the director of the school’s law library, said AI-infused software programs can be especially useful when doing legal research and e-discovery.

“In my class I teach all my students how to create templates for contracts and how to do contract review using document automation software,” she said. “The students are both fascinated and a little scared.”

Janoski-Haehlen said right now there is a big debate over whether law schools should adopt ROSS Intelligence, an artificially intelligent system powered by IBM’s Watson cognitive computing platform, to teach students how to use it for legal research and workflow management.

“Traditionally a lot of these jobs are done by new attorneys,” said Janoski-Haehlen. “The ROSS motto is that it will supercharge the lawyer by making you better and smarter.”

ROSS is already in use at some law firms and a few law schools.

While she does not believe machine learning platforms like ROSS will ever replace lawyers altogether, Janoski-Haehlen said the use of technology is changing the look of a traditional law office.

“Some firms no longer have a legal secretary because many of the tasks they once did have been replaced by technology,” she said.

“There’s now a company called Ruby receptionists, which offers live virtual receptionists. They have Spanish speaking receptionists, live-answering services and the client can have the calls forwarded to their cell phone or office phone or they can retrieve messages from the Ruby mobile app.”

The field of court reporting could also be impacted, Janoski-Haehlen said.

“Courts can install digital recording systems that could replace the traditional court reporter,” said Janoski-Haehlen. “There is debate about whether or not this is a good idea, however, because it is currently easy for a judge to ask a court reporter to repeat the last thing a witness or attorney said. But asking a digital reporter to perform this same function might be tricky.”

Moore said businesses, including law firms that take advantage of the new technology must be prepared to mitigate the potential legal fallout.

“Employers need to examine the operational implications as well as the fact that a large percent of the workforce could be displaced,” said Moore. “Businesses should analyze their decisions and develop a strategic plan, bringing in IT and the legal side to ensure they don’t run afoul of union regulations or the required WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) Act notifications that employers covered by the law must adhere to when large numbers of workers are laid off.”

There’s also the question of who or what would be held accountable for any poor decisions made by AI. For example, if AI is used to recommend a financial portfolio and the investor loses larges sums of money, who would be sued?

“The reality is that there are no laws on the books that squarely address these questions in an AI setting,” said Moore. “Most likely such suits would be decided based on current negligence law.

“Given how quickly this new technology is upon us, it may take time for necessary legal regulation to catch up to AI. Until then, it’s likely that proving harm from these systems may be more costly than traditional suits under present law.

“In the area of human resources, one question that will likely arise is how does the use of AI in sorting through candidates match up with federal and state anti-discrimination laws? That issue will undoubtedly be decided through future legal challenges,” Moore said.

In the meantime, Janoski-Haehlen is advising her students to proceed with caution when embracing the new technology.

“Ultimately I believe lawyers will be held accountable for any mistakes that occur,” she said. “Lawyers need to review the results that the new technology produces to ensure they are accurate.

“I also tell my students who are interested in setting up virtual law practices to be careful of what they are putting out for the public’s consumption,” said Janoski-Haehlen.

“Vendors like LegalZoom have clear disclaimers that they are not providing legal advice. I tell my students if they go down that road, they must protect themselves since they won’t be able to blame machines for their mistakes.”