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Gamechanger or Threat?

While the legal profession can benefit from AI and convert it into a perk, especially for research-based activities, it will also eliminate some jobs just as the personal computer and internet did.

With technology advancing by leaps and bounds, it is not unthinkable that artificial intelligence (AI) will one day replace lawyers. The recent excitement around ChatGPT and related AI-based software has heightened concerns about machines doing the work that was earlier only done by humans. The tech sector is already experiencing major layoffs, which may be an indication of things to come.

India is steadily growing to be a global leader in industry and technological development. The 21st century has seen an increase in the number of technological company incubators that aim to nurture new ideas, thus connecting ideation to commercialisation. In terms of AI, India has made strides with the establishment of the National Artificial Intelligence Strategy (NITI Aayog), clearing the door for further possibilities in AI.

India presently ranks third among the most attractive investment destinations for technology transactions internationally, implying that scientific areas here have advanced significantly.

AI is an area of computer science that focuses on developing and managing technology that can learn to make decisions and carry out actions independently on behalf of humans. We’ve all utilised AI at some point, whether it was Siri, Facebook or Alexa. The advent of Covid in 2020 altered the dynamics of technology and law; AI has advanced to the point where it can create art, literature and many other things on its own.

AI has touched practically every area of life. The primary concept underlying this language is a machine that can think and behave like humans, making and practically implementing its own decisions by appropriately developing and employing a conventional thought process. While the legal profession was not among the first to adopt AI, it has a lot of potential to benefit from it and convert it into a perk. A major use of AI can be seen in legal domains such as “e-discovery”, “legal research”, “compliance”, “contract analysis”, “documents”, “due diligence”, etc.

The Supreme Court is not far behind in utilising AI for the benefit of litigants and advocates. The Court created SUVAS (Supreme Court Vidhik Anuvaad Software), a dedicated open-source judicial domain language translation tool, to translate judicial documents from English to nine vernacular languages such as Marathi, Hindi, Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Malayalam, and Bengali, and vice versa. Further, a software called SCI-Interact was launched to make all benches paperless. The software comprises of scanned copies of pending cases, e-filing of fresh cases, IT hardware, MPLS network with dual redundancy and security audit.

Chief Justice of India Dr DY Chandrachud, who is chairman of the apex court’s e-committee, reportedly said: “With the help of this software, judges will be able to access files, annexures to petitions and make soft notes on computers itself, without it being accessible to others. Say, six months later, I will be able to retrieve my notes on the file.”

In 2021, the Supreme Court launched its first artificial intelligence portal, called SUPACE (Supreme Court Portal for Assistance in Court Efficiency). The objective was to use machine learning to deal with massive amounts of case data. During the launch, then chief justice, SA Bobde, stated that the Supreme Court was incorporating artificial intelligence into its normal work. SUPACE, he claimed, would be a hybrid of human and artificial intellect.

As lawyers are essentially word traders, they are considered the profession most at risk from recent developments in AI. The new technology can recognise, analyse and synthesise text in real-time. It appears to be prepared and capable of doing tasks that lawyers rely on.

The disruption created by Covid-19 resulted in long-term structural changes in the advancement and progression of companies of all types. In the sphere of law, there was a surge in the adoption of AI as it ensured better client service and boosted productivity at a time when most law firms and courts of law opted to work from home.

Several Indian startups such as Case Mine, Manupatra, and SCC Online are aiming to make lawyers’ jobs easier by providing a smooth online platform built on AI technology that allows them to perform research for their cases. These frequently go beyond simple keyword searches and make the study process more logical. It has become vital for Indian law firms to achieve a competitive advantage by first understanding the client’s needs and then utilising technology for legal research and other operations.

However, AI should not be viewed as a threat, but as an opportunity to enhance the quality of legal practice. Keeping in view the pandemic times where technology played a significant role in keeping the wheels of justice turning, Justice Hima Kohli of the Supreme Court referred to AI as a “game changer” for the legal fraternity. She was speaking at an event organised by ICICI Bank.

She said: “As we embrace technology, it is imperative that we are aware of the ethical concerns that come with the use of artificial intelligence in courts. The use of AI raises concerns about accountability, transparency, and protection of rights of parties. It will be critical to establish clear guidelines and protocols to ensure that justice is dispensed equitably to all parties…. Lawyers may fear that their expertise and skills will be made redundant by technology. However, to my mind, AI should not be viewed as a threat, but as an opportunity to enhance the quality of legal practice.

“The bottom line is that AI can never replace human values that are deeply in­grained in the constitutions of countries, in institutions of excellence in the academia and governments, and the civil society. So, let us embrace technology and AI, but with wisdom, and a steadfast commitment to the rule of law,” she said.

Internationally, AI has been used in the legal system. A business from the US recently produced the world’s first AI legal system called “ROSS Intelligence” which has been widely adopted by legal re­searchers. The company has attempted to make legal research chores more efficient and enjoyable with ROSS.

In addition, the world’s first robot lawyer defended an alleged traffic rule violator in the US using “DoNotPlay”, a downloadable application that uses AI to provide legal services for $36 per month. It listened to court arguments in real-time and advised the defendant on how to respond via an earbud if enabled by the DoNotPay application. DoNotPay also covers the traffic ticket fines if the defendant loses the case. “We’re trying to limit our legal liability,” DoNotPay founder and CEO Joshua Browder told New Scientist. “And it’s not good if it actually twists facts and is too manipulative.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP recently unveiled a chatbox service for its lawyers, joining the ranks of professional services organisations that embrace artificial intelligence to increase productivity through a 12-month partnership with AI startup Harvey.

There are concerns that the ChatGPT-style software, with its human-like linguistic fluency, could replace a significant portion of legal work. The new AI has problems, most notably its inclination to invent things, in­cluding bogus legal citations.

However, supporters argue that these are minor flaws in a new technology that can be fixed. But we cannot deny the fact that new AI technology will transform the practice of law, and some jobs will be eliminated, but it also promises to increase the productivity of lawyers and paralegals and create new professions. That is what happened after the arrival of other work-altering technologies such as the personal computer and internet.

According to a new study by experts at Princeton University, the University of Pennsylvania and New York University, the industry most exposed to the new Al was “legal services”. Another study conducted by Goldman Sachs economists predicted that 44% of legal work might be automated. Only office and administrative support work (46%) was higher.

Lawyers are merely one occupation on the path to Al advancement. According to a study conducted by researchers at OpenAl, the creator of ChatGPT, and the University of Pennsylvania, the latest Al software will influence at least 10% of American workers. In the past, the legal profession was considered as a prime candidate for Al automation. In 2011, one piece in a lengthier series on Al’s advancement (titled “Smarter Than You Think”) in The New York Times focused on the anticipated influence on legal work. Its headline reads, “Armies of Expensive Lawyers Are Being Replaced by Cheaper Software”.

Although AI may not be capable of doing all of the activities of lawyers, it has the potential to automate some of them. Legal research is one area where this is currently happening because technology can find information faster than people, leaving lawyers to focus on more complex jobs. An increasing market for legal research services is also aiding in the development of legal research. Automated legal research services can deliver better-structured findings, which may improve user experience. Furthermore, AI can broaden the field of legal research.

Lawyers are seen as one of the highly skilled professionals who should only be hired when there is a specific need. However, as machine learning progresses, AI will be able to create customised solutions and may someday replace lawyers in certain cases.

—By Ritika Gaur and India Legal Bureau

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