In 1980 the British new wave band ‘The Buggles’ released their first album ‘The Age of Plastic’. The group wrote and sang about the mixed feelings associated with the rapid change in technologies as they entered the 80’s. Their chart smashing hit, ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’, was about the nostalgia of the forgotten radio star following the rise of MTV video. In today’s world of techy buzz words, video could be called a ‘disruptive technology’ of that time.
Disruptive innovation is a business term referring to an innovation that creates a new market and value network while disrupting existing ones. Digital disruption is a type disruptive innovation. If the Buggles make a comeback they’ll have plenty to sing about in the digital age.
Since video killed the radio star, digital has decimated everything from the VCR to the print newspapers. Of all the digital disrupters, artificial intelligence (AI) is the one that will have the biggest disruptive impact on the legal profession.
I graduated from law school in 1995. New wave music had been replaced by grunge and most students and practitioners were using a combination of online tools and books for legal research. As digital search methods improved we used online legal research services more and more. Research that would take a lawyer five-hours to accomplish using books could now be done in an hour electronically. Digital legal research was a forceful disruptive technology that, to be honest, greatly reduced the need for lawyers.
The companies producing AI are saying these technologies will not take work away from lawyers but will instead allow lawyers to do more. That sounds like what the pioneers of digital research said in the 90’s. The fact is that electronic research disrupted the legal industry and AI will have a far greater impact.
AI has made substantial progress in various industries. Law happens to be one of the most visible, according to inventor Neil Sahota of IBM Watson group as quoted in CIO Magazine www.cio.com/article/3254744/emerging-technology/technologies-that-will-disrupt-business.html
To understand what AI will do for lawyers and their clients, consider the way we still do legal research using terms and connectors and other Boolean methods. While this search method may be faster than poring through books with a key number, AI will also recognize more than the words and phrases currently used. AI will search unorganized data for concepts, meanings, and patterns. This technology will summarize conversations, frequency of communications, patterns, moods of communicators, and provide analysis not only in the terms of legal concepts, but human behaviour.
Imagine using this kind of technology in a complex fraud case. The AI program uses an analytic search engine overlaying communications and other data to identify, organize, and summarize facts supporting each element of a cause of action. Legal authority is matched to the facts and a motion for summary judgment is written, mostly by AI. A law firm equipped with this technology can do in a day what previously took associates weeks to accomplish.
Will digital disruption kill the legal profession? Probably not, after all, there are human elements of being a lawyer that cannot be replaced by AI. The client may never feel entirely comfortable relying on a robot as legal counsel. But the anticipated impact of disruptive technologies like AI on the legal profession should be considered when charting a career path in the law. On the flip side, there are numerous other ways that digital disruption is creating new opportunities for attorneys outside traditional law firms and I look forward to writing about ‘digital transformation.’ Video may have killed the radio star, but now we listen to digital radio.
Lead Attorney & Owner