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Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Big data and AI in the law

Today’s talk was part of the Information Innovation @ UTS seminar series, organised by the University of Technology, Sydney. One speaker was Carolyn Austin, a lawyer with law firm K&L Gates. Austin has worked in knowledge management for 25 years, and her talk was titled ‘Managing legal knowledge in the age of AI’. Also speaking was James Jarvis from Thomson Reuters and his talk was titled ‘From knowledge oriented projects to automated decision systems’.

Today we see the convergence of AI, big data, process design, and knowledge work, said Austin. There have been dire predictions of job-eating robots, and in the legal profession there are also pressures on the market from increased competition, and from new people entering the market. Austin said that it is up to law firms to be in the vanguard of new technology, because they are well placed to rise to meet opportunities. She also added that there is also an ethical imperative that should be driving law firms to embrace new technologies.

She mentioned Michael Olsson at UTS, who teaches in the field. In law, Austin said, knowledge management means leveraging collective expertise to better serve clients. Big data is about the four-‘v’s: volume, velocity, variety and veracity. It is also important to use data analytical tools, which are descriptive, diagnostic, predictive, and prescriptive (telling us what should we do). AI or cognitive technologies are used more and more frequently for tasks that normally require human intelligence. There is also now a lot of natural language processing in the legal profession. Expert systems can be applied to very complex knowledge domains. Austin also noted that legal knowledge work is rapidly and permanently changing.

James Jarvis in his talk pointed to the fact that the size of the digital universe today is 16 zettabytes (1 trillion gigabytes) which will increase to 163 zettabytes by 2025. There are more and more opportunities for lawyers than ever before, he said. Only 0.5 percent of data is currently analysed and this will increase to 1.4 percent by 2025. The amount of digital information available for analysis is equivalent to 40 trillion DVDs, or 26 zettabytes. He said that Walmart is currently processing 2.5 petabytes an hour for its store operations. At the present time, 30 percent of data is created by businesses, and by 2025 this will increase to 60 percent.

To illustrate how radically the world has changed, in 1986, Jarvis went on, most data was analogue, but now it is mostly digital. There are now over 6 million apps in the iPhone Appstore. But in 2017, 87 percent of law firms said that they are not using AI, although companies that use big data are making decisions 5 times faster than their competitors. There will be an impact on billable hours, floor space and organisational structure due to adoption of technology. Knowledge managers are design thinking strategists in the legal profession. There was $5 billion of investment in AI for law in 2016, and the trend over time is up.

Jarvis put up a slide on the screen at the front of the room that said that knowledge work automation would equate to $6.7 trillion in economic impact by 2025. That would equal the productivity of 140 million equivalent full-time workers.

During the question period, one participant said that some problems are too complex for automation. Jarvis said in response that you have to turn that into a business proposition. Carolyn added that you can’t oversimplify complex legal matters but that there are examples where lawyers have conversely said that the law needs to be simplified. Another participant asked what are the limitations of AI and big data. Is it a risk that lawyers will just use the routine route to finding a solution, and not be creative, if AI is adopted more in law? Iteration is important, said Jarvis. He also said that the aggregation of meaningful interactions with data teaches algorithms to do their work.

Another participant asked why lawyers are so slow in looking at AI. She was answered by another person in the room who said that lawyers are confronted by it. Jarvis said that a critical element in design thinking is to tell the right story for the audience, and that people have to be brought along on the journey. Another participant said that lawyers have no interest in automating their work because it’s competition for them. Jarvis said that you have to keep doing it by watching how people work. Austin added that lawyers are risk averse, too.


Above: James Jarvis with a slide showing software applications for the legal profession. Not all will survive.

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