Forget robot lawyers – AI is your R2D2

Adrian Cartland wants us to stop talking about robot lawyers. As principal lawyer of Cartland Law and creator of Ailira and Law Firm Without Lawyers, it’s a surprising sentiment. Ailira, which stands for Artificially Intelligent Legal Information Research Assistant, famously helped Adrian’s speech pathologist girlfriend score 73% in the Adelaide University tax law exam – with better grades than Adrian. His work combines the best of AI and legal practice.

“I’m now running both a law firm and a tech company,” said Adrian. “About three years ago, I came to the realisation that digital disruption was going to happen to the legal industry. Things can and would be automated. The inhibitor of this was the knowledge of the end user. I realised that if you can empower the end user with knowledge, you can give them the ability to meet their legal needs at scale. This led me to AI.

“Lawyers care primarily for one thing: to not be negligent. One single mistake can ruin a forty-year career. This is the key difference between lawyers and consumers – lawyers worry about long tail risks (so called “Black Swan” events that are rare, difficult to predict and highly impactful).

“For a consumer, a legal matter is just one of a number of risks, which might include getting enough cashflow from sales, paying their employees and dealing with regulation. If you said to a consumer, I could reduce your chance of success in this case from 100% to 95% for half the price – most consumers would take it.

“As a lawyer, there is no chance you would take that risk. You would do the best you could do – or nothing. The only way to reconcile the two motivations is to let the consumer draw their own legal documents.”

Adrian is adamant that technology will augment legal practice rather than render lawyers  irrelevant. Indeed, it’s been borne out by his experience with Ailira.

“We had client come to get a Will through Ailira. She wanted her son as executor, so she asked Ailira, does the executor need to be a lawyer? What information is needed for a Will? In so doing, she received relevant legal information to enable her decision-making. At this point, she turned to a paralegal in our Law Firm Without Lawyers and asked, ‘Do you think I should appoint my son as executor?’ The paralegal asked, ‘Do you trust your son?’”

It’s an example which clearly illustrates the difference between a legal problem and a human problem, and the ongoing role of human lawyers.

“I’ve opened the world’s first law firm without lawyers. It looks like a traditional law firm, but behind the desk where a lawyer would be, there is a computer screen where you can chat to Ailira. We have a paralegal who can guide people through the process. We aim to automate the easiest 80% of legal work – and we refer all complex matters to human lawyers.”

Ailira’s consumer version can provide legal assistance at approximately 25% of the cost of traditional legal services.

“When you have a decrease in price you have an increase in supply. This is truly disruptive innovation. It is a totally new business model. We have people coming in for assistance who previously couldn’t afford legal services. “

Adrian is quick to emphasise why robots won’t replace human lawyers.

“Many tasks robots are good at have been given to humans. Doing discovery in a dungeon is not a human task. It’s not what we’re built for! What humans are good at is creativity, contextual reasoning, morality, empathy, judgement – and these things are all very difficult for a robot.

“Our end goal, as I see it, is to create R2D2. He can calculate hyperspace jumps, help the X-Wing fly, but ultimately he is always second to Luke Skywalker, the hero. AI is R2D2.”

As for the opportunities – and risks – arising for legal innovation, Adrian has good, bad, and ugly news for lawyers.

“The good news: we will be able to reduce the price of legal services, meaning we massively increase the amount of law that is demanded. We will hugely increase the pie and increase access to justice.”

This all comes down to usability. Currently, a Will kit might be too confusing, while a Wills and Estates lawyer might charge $1,100 to draw up a Will. Ailira can guide clients through a simple step-by-step, question-driven process for $150.

“The bad news: a lot of work will be taken away from lawyers. We like to think that our own work is unique and special, and that everyone else’s work can be automated. Technological progress, however, is not defined by the limits of one person’s imagination. The more logical a process is, the more it can be done by robots.

“The ugly news: my girlfriend, a speech pathologist, used Ailira to score 73% in the Adelaide University tax law exam – higher than my marks at the time. There is no reason why the present providers of legal services need to be the same providers into the future. Are the lawyers of the future social workers, accountants, public servants? Legal services won’t always need to come from lawyers. There is no special skillset that makes lawyers immune to technological change.”

To better prepare the profession, Adrian encourages deregulation.

“I’m an admitted legal practitioner, but I have no knowledge of industrial relations law. If someone who has worked in a union for thirty years sets up a consultancy, they can’t provide advice in industrial relations law – yet I can. Why? You should break down the barriers as to who can provide legal advice. It will happen regardless. You can either have lawyers ease into the new reality or face the same problem that taxi drivers did with Uber.”

With this in mind, Adrian urges lawyers to focus on their core strengths as lawyers.

“Lawyers should concentrate on what can be learned from a classical practice of law. That is our enduring skill, even if law changes. Even if, for some reason, there is a robot doing everything in a law firm – the ability to think critically and deeply is essential.”

He’s seen this play out with Ailira.

“A client once called me and said, Adrian, Ailira is wrong. I’ve asked her a tax question, and she’s given two conflicting rulings. In fact, Ailira wasn’t wrong; Ailira can’t tell you which ruling is better. Your job as a lawyer is to think critically and make an assessment as to which ruling is correct.

“Much as I’m a futurist, the classical study of law is fantastic. Last year it was reported that former High Court Justice Dyson Heydon was criticised because he didn’t use email; he would only read emails once printed for him. I would trade my computer and email for Dyson Heydon’s depth of knowledge and ability to think concisely. No matter what technology we have, our way of thinking is useful. It will make us masters of the technology and not slaves to it.”

For young lawyers, he feels the future is bright.

“Younger people are more native to technology, so there is a huge opportunity for young graduates to go out and create innovation – provided they have an understanding of the law. There would be a fantastic pairing between older practitioners who have a knowledge of the law and young lawyers who have a technological bent. If you don’t understand the law, you can’t see the need to create new technology.”

He also urges the profession to rethink the Priestley Eleven – the eleven subjects that are required teaching at law schools for students who wish to practice as a lawyer.

“I would suggest massively narrowing down what we do and going into it in great depth. When I studied Equity, we ticked the box of every major equity case – and we might go through ten or twenty cases in a lecture. In practice, I’ve had the opportunity to consider some of these cases deeply, which improved my understanding hundreds of times over. If my entire law degree had consisted only of fifty cases which were examined in great depth, I would have trained my brain to think and consider very complex issues, which would have been the highest possible skill to learn – even if I never used those cases again.”

Amidst this disruption, Adrian regards the Centre for Legal Innovation (CLI) as playing a central role in providing positive discussion and change.

“It’s very important because we like to make assumptions about technology that are not necessarily true. When we think of computers, we think of robot lawyers – we anthropomorphise it. We’re never going to have Skynet. We need to dispel the hype around AI. We need to dispel the fear around AI. We can then take what’s left and build something that’s really good.”