Abhijeet Agarwal and Namrata Saraogi,
Amity Law School, Amity University Kolkata.
“People talk about this being an uncertain time. You know, all time is uncertain. I mean, it was uncertain back in 2007, we just didn’t know it was uncertain. It was uncertain on September 10th, 2001. You just didn’t know it.”- Warren Buffett
Owing to the gravity of present times, it is only fair to say that COVID-19 needs no introduction with respect to both its origin or the kind of impact it has cast upon the world. It has rendered us defenceless even in our safe havens. While the end of this battle against SARS-CoV-2 seems to be a distant idea, it is a vital need of the hour for us to keep probing into the potential ideas that could allow us to solve the disputes that have been awaiting resolution since a long time now. In this article, I would review the possibilities in the field of Artificial Intelligence (hereinafter referred to as “AI”) in the post-COVID-19 era. It is also a known fact by now that AI is meant to depict machine intelligence to mimic human intelligence in carrying out certain tasks such as problem-solving and learning either as a replica or slightly better than that.
The competition between human productivity options and machine productivity advantages has been limited in the legal arena. The last two decades have witnessed organisations aiming to make humans highly productive while promoting business competitiveness. Several ideas namely, telecommuting, remote work, and co-working spaces that had once been thought of as impracticable have started manifesting in the lives of people especially now more than ever. The nature of the COVID-19 virus has imposed precautionary measures in the form of ‘physical distancing’ and has made remote work our last resort to keep advancing in our lives.
The world is currently making use of umpteenth forms of AI to fight the fatal virus on the medical front primarily. It is vital to weigh the scope of AI in the legal field as the world seems to rush into an economic recession. To put it clearly, what we may be looking at are times of replacement of humans as factors of production to an extent, by utilizing the AI-based tools to perform mundane tasks, freeing up humans to focus on more significant work. Sooner or later what we may be heading towards are times of innovation in all fields. What we’re looking forward to is maybe as unprecedented as the times we are living in.
Despite socio-economic and existential concerns about automation, the premise triggering an automated world seems agreeable and, in many ways, unavoidable because machines do not get sick and, thus, will not stop production. While one can term AI as a device that widens the gap between the rich and poor, thus pushing us further away from the idea of an egalitarian society, another can look at it as a tool to alleviate human suffering by solving legal issues that have been lying in courts from a time when we moved around unaware of a virus such as Covid-19. Therefore, rather than looking at AI as a threat, it is important that we embrace the benefits we can reap out of it and become friends with this unique manmade intelligence.
AI is not exceptionally new in the legal sector as law firms have already turned to make use of high-tech AI software such as ‘Ravn Ace’ (that converts unstructured data to structured data while extracting automated data), ‘Kira’ (that highlights and extracts relevant paragraphs from documents), ‘Premonition’ (that analyses the time a lawyer would devote to an actual case and predicts his/her success rates by weighing all possible outcomes) etc. In fact, in June 2016, J.P Morgan Chase & Co. implemented a program called COIN which is short for ‘Contract Intelligence’ and is used as a tool that has the relevance of 360,000 hours of work in terms of human capacity which can be done in a matter of seconds. It runs on a machine learning system powered by a private cloud network that banks use.
One may also look into the early initiative taken by one of the tier one law firms of our country namely Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas for initiating a program called “PRARAMBH: LEGAL TECH INCUBATOR” which is one its kind program and ‘aims to augment the spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation, identify domestic talent and support upcoming technologies in the business and practice of law’, thus providing a platform for such AI and technological development.
Another very interesting initiative taken by the Supreme Court of India is the development of ‘Supreme Court Vidhik Anuvaad Software’ commonly known as 'SUVAS' which is a tool specially designed to be operated in the judicial domain. At present, it has the capacity and capability of translating English judicial pronouncements, Orders or Judgments into nine vernacular languages scripts and vice versa and is considered to be one of its programs to mark the presence of AI in the field of judiciary.
Now, what this points towards is an age where institutions will essentially prefer machines to humans when it comes to works like reviewing and drafting a document that has been looked at as jobs requiring skill. The fact that top-tier firms have the capability to invest in such technologies also suggest that most law firms will be willing to be equipped with having man-power that could cater to deadlines as swiftly as possible owing to their inability to invest in such a technology. Additionally, what this also points at is the fact that the world sees a potential to move towards AI that could have the potential to reduce the burden on courts as well. While it may still be too soon to suggest the formation of online courts for petty causes, which has in all means been suggested in the past by eminent authors and experts, it cannot be forgotten that the current crisis might have triggered this possibility to occur in a nearer future.
One of the most pertinent questions that arise from here is that, are these platforms fully developed and equipped to take up the challenges that we are facing in the current times? The answer to that may be no at present, but the fact that there is a lot more that can be achieved through the application of AI, cannot be overlooked. The authors in no way mean to harm the plight of any profession but merely hope to be of value to create a platform that can be of aid to the legal fraternity as a whole.
Another area where modifications may be welcomed is the introduction of AI in the education system for the law students. For a better understanding of the subject and to slowly accommodate everyone, the example of Institute of Chartered Accountants of India may be cited, wherein students are exposed to both theoretical as well as the software application of Information and Technology during their course. Similarly, the Bar Council of India can take steps towards the introduction of necessary subjects and practical exposure for students across the country so that they become equally equipped with the technology along with the subjects of law. Moreover, it would not be wrong to say that we are moving towards a world where the majority of the things involve AI and this would, in turn, open avenues for further development in the field of AI.
Lastly, it is still too early for authoritative pronouncements about the precise outcomes of AI but the future of legal service is neither Grisham nor Rumpole, nor is it wigs, wood-panelled courtrooms, leather-bound tomes, or arcane legal jargon.
Hugh Son. JPMorgan Software Does in Seconds What Took Lawyers 360,000 Hours [online]. California: February 28, 2017 [viewed date: 13 May 13 2020]. Available from: <https://www.bloomberg.com/future-of-work>
Cyril Amarchand Mangaldas Advocates and Solicitors. The CAM Innovation Lab [online]. India, 2017 [viewed date: 13 May 2020]. Available from: <https://www.cyrilshroff.com/innovation-lab/#>
Susskind, Richard.; Tomorrow’s Lawyers- An introduction to your future, 2nd Ed, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press, 2017, ISBN 978-0-19-879663-3.