Artificial intelligence will reshape the business model: Vikram Shroff

It's the era of man versus machine. And, we lawyers are equally at risk. Technology was always disruptive - however, the pace at which artificial intelligence (AI) is developing has caught most unaware. To illustrate:

IBM's ROSS, which gets smarter with time as it "learns" from user history, can research 200 million pages of simple text in a second. Symantec's Clearwell system can scan and summarise 500,000 documents in two days. LegalZoom and RocketLawyer allow people to create wills, incorporate businesses and register intellectual property rights.

Over the last decade, automation has driven considerable change in the legal sector. Leading law firms and legal outsourcers are already using or testing AI for contract creation and management, discovery, knowledge management and compliance functions.

AI will reshape the underlying business model of our profession. Several law firms have formed joint ventures or bought firms to use their technology. AI will eventually help create virtual law practice that combines the strength of humans and machines - in fact, the "law firm" Robot, Robot & Hwang's senior partners are two super-computers, each with their own areas of specialisation!

Given that our documents, legal research and diligence will be done better by intelligent machines, lawyers will need to develop skills and migrate to areas where they enjoy comparative advantage - negotiation, business development, client handling and intuitive analysis.

Richard Susskind, in "The End of Lawyers?" claims that the jobs of many traditional lawyers will be eliminated by smart systems and processes. But will clients accept legal advice from robots? Will IBM's Watson be able to replace the judgement of a senior partner? Will we need to draw professional distinction between AI-generated documents and actual advice? Will legal regulators allow AI to practice law? And, will technology be a disruptor or a facilitator for our profession?

Technology should be treated not as a replacement for lawyers but a component of legal work. It will take away from us repetitive and less meaningful work. It's no longer a question of "if" but "when". If progress in AI continues unabated, AI systems may exceed human in general reasoning ability.
The writer is the head of HR Law at Nishith Desai Associates

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