In today’s very active world of legal technology, the term AI is almost always used as an acronym for artificial intelligence but, in many respects, it would be a more appropriate acronym for the related discipline of augmented intelligence. What we are seeing today is not so much the rise of artificial lawyers as the rise of augmented lawyers.
Simply put, augmented intelligence is concerned with how machines can be used to augment, or amplify, human skill sets, not replace them. The great Douglas Engelbart coined the term “bootstrapping” for a very potent form of augmented intelligence in which the tools used to augment the skill set of a knowledge worker evolve at digital speeds through a process of continuous learning and adaption.
The history of machines in the world of law fits Douglas Engelbart’s views like a glove. There is a “tool system” that all lawyers use today. For some, it might be just a cell phone and a notepad, for others, it might be state-of-the art contract analytics and a case law analyzer. Regardless of where on this spectrum of capabilities the tool system sits, the goal is always the same. Namely, assisting the lawyer to make better decisions or make them more efficiently, not replacing the lawyer.
Medicine makes a good analogy for this. As medicine has become more advanced over the last few decades, doctors have found themselves using more and more powerful Engelbart tool systems. But this development has not eradicated the need for doctors. Why? Because there is so much more to being a doctor than just the ability to sift through vast amounts of data and identify potential next actions for any particular case. These are capabilities machines have in abundance and they can be leveraged by doctors.
Doctors do not feel threatened by the ability of machines to look directly at a patient’s bone structure or flag a potential illness from a blood test. On the contrary, doctors embrace today’s digital tool system because they know it makes them better doctors. Now, the same is happening with lawyers. The digital tool system used by lawyers has been somewhat stuck for the last two decades in the areas of document management and search and retrieval. Now, we are seeing rapid advances in the tool system with natural language interfaces, legal reasoning tools, predictive analytics, and so forth.
Lawyers will adopt these more advanced tools, just as doctors did. The only lawyers who are threatened by these new tools will be the ones who do not keep pace with, and embrace, the advanced digital tool systems used by their peers. For this reason, it is crucial that lawyers don’t delay getting up to speed with the new tool systems that are currently emerging. The reason being, we are seeing a period of very rapid “bootstrapping” in which the tools are becoming orders of magnitude better than their immediate predecessors. Lawyers who are not up to speed with this newly emerging tool system will find themselves at a distinct disadvantage very quickly.