I am calling for an official moratorium on the term Artificial Intelligence in relation to the law!  Everyone please just stop using it. It’s a needlessly charged word that only confuses and clouds the underlying issues whenever it comes up.

From now on any time you feel the need to use the term Artificial Intelligence, replace it with Automation.  No seriously, they’re exactly the same thing, at least as far as the current legal market is concerned. Whereas, AI carries connotations of ‘robot lawyers’ replacing people, Automation seems friendly, simple, even mundane.  That’s good.  Automation is the future of legal practice.

My friend Ron Friedmann posted a Twitter poll last week that got my hackles up.

Come on people!  Really?  Collaboration software!?  Biggest impact on legal market in next 3 years? Do people even read the question before they start ticking boxes?

Don’t get me wrong, I am a huge fan of collaboration software.  I firmly believe that modern collaboration tools are a fundamental requirement for any modern law firm, akin to a document management system, a productivity suite, and maybe a handful of lawyers.  But the ‘most impact on legal market’?  Tech that has been widely available for 10 years, that everyone is already using, even if IT or firm management frowns on it.  I don’t think so.

The correct answer, and the one that was chosen by a majority of respondents, is Automation.  I know, Automation wasn’t officially a choice, but look at the options again.  AI/Machine Learning and Contract Analytics collectively received 58% of the votes. Contract Analytics is a form of AI/Machine Learning and they should have both been listed as Automation tools.

Woo hoo!  Ron’s readers aren’t dumb, they just got a little confused by the options. Easy to do, when the confounding term AI rears it’s ugly head.

This was all bouncing around in my head yesterday when I saw the following article on Bloomberg BNA.

Another Law Firm Adopts Automation Technology

In the latest sign that more and more legal services are being automated, Akerman has announced it will operate a data center that allows corporate clients to quickly look up data privacy and security regulations without having to consult a human lawyer.

Look at that. The beauty of it. The simplicity. The near total lack of hysteria about robots stealing jobs. And guess what words don’t even appear in the article:  Artificial and Intelligence.

But you know what that article is about?  The biggest impact on the legal market in the next 3 years.

Automation.  Or as I like to call it, the creation of Legal Engines, by Legal Engineers, to automate the practice of law one task at a time.

If only someone had foreseen that such a thing might happen.

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Photo of Ryan McClead Ryan McClead

Ryan is Principal at Sente Advisors, a legal technology consultancy specializing in cross-platform solutions and support.  He has been an evangelist, advocate, consultant, and creative thinker in Legal Technology for more than 15 years. In 2015, he was named a FastCase 50 recipient, and in 2018, he was elected a Fellow in the College of Law Practice Management. In past lives, he was an Innovation Architect, Knowledge Manager, a Systems Analyst, a Fashion Merchandiser, and Theater Composer, among other things.

  • Agreed – AI, like KM, Y2K and a host of other phrases and acronymns, heck even "safe place", has been perverted away from any semblence of true meaning to strained interpretation fraught with perceived danger. Of course that "danger" is really the threat to the status quo — in this case, the cloistered protectors of LawLand — an evil parallel universe seeking to forestal business oriented reform common, no required, in ohter forms of economic activity. So well done for banning the concept and coming up with a useful, intuitive term for what is desperately needed in LawLand.

    But I do take issue with one aspect of the post. While I like the concept of Legal Engines, beware the creation of Legal Engineers. Engineers, like lawyers, love to make things unnecessarily complicated, counterintuitive, and hidden behind acronymns and mystical language known only to the cognoscienti. Instead of further complexification in law, we need de-complexification. We need de-complexifiers. We really need elegant solutions with easy to use, common-folk accessible design. Oh yeah, that would Simplification deisgned by Simplifiers.

  • Anonymous

    I would liken Ackerman's system to what the credit card companies did a decade-plus ago. If you call the phone number on the back of a sea green card, you get an automated system that reads off your account balance in a monotone voice. If you call the phone number on the back of a Gold card, you get a friendly Concierge who will read off your account balance in a personable, more intimate way. Sure, you'll have to pay a few hundred dollars every year to get that Concierge, but if you can afford it, you might consider splurging on it. Both cards have their target customer base, and both are highly profitable for the issuer. But, I wouldn't bet on the extinction of the Gold card anytime soon, as I wouldn't bet on automated systems completely eliminating the scenario in which a client prefers to pick up the phone and speak to the partner.

  • Anonymous

    I see the point you are making, but there's a wide gulf between automation and AI. While people routinely misuse the two words, it's a different approach from a technical perspective. Automation takes a known process and removes (or minimizes) many of the manual steps associated with completing the task. Contract automation, for example, lets a user build a contract from pre-existing information (names, dates, clauses, etc.) – pretty standard stuff and technically straightforward. And there is plenty of work in legal that can be automated.

    AI is designed to complete tasks without a predefined process in place: it tries to understand the problem and craft (or suggest) a solution. It's a much harder undertaking than automation, and much further away in terms of usability for lawyers.

  • Anonymous

    Automation is so last year.

    I'm into machine learning.

    No wait, I'm into predictive coding.

    Nope I'm SOO into blockchain right now.

  • Anonymous

    I love what you did here: "confuses and CLOUDS". good stuff.