Why not completely replace lawyers with robots

Why not completely replace lawyers with robots

Professor Michael Livermore’s work on computational legal scholarship may seem murky to some, but legal practitioners should note: Work like his will determine the extent to which robots can replace lawyers.

Fortunately for those in the legal field, the University of Virginia Law School researcher doesn’t see much opportunity for robots to take over the courtroom anytime soon, and his upcoming keynote address Thursday in Abu Dhabi — for natural language processing experts who work with legal texts — will explain why. .

“The law-making process is a human process,” Livermore said in an interview before the conference. “It is possible that a computer will be able to write something like a legal opinion — perhaps in 10 years. That opinion may be able to determine whether a state’s abortion ban is legal under current doctrine, but it cannot engage in political discourse about whether There should have been a constitutionally protected right to reproductive choice.”

Livermore’s keynote address will be part of a legal language specialist workshop at the 2022 Conference on Empirical Methods in Natural Language Processing, a gathering of experts in the field. If you’ve ever interacted with a customer service chatbot, your life has been affected by that action.

Over the past 40 years, advances in natural language processing have made the lives of lawyers everywhere a whole lot easier, as the search for relevant legal precedent has evolved from searching through dusty books and supplements to stringing together complex logical connectors to simply writing a query in plain English. (“Plain English” by barrister standards, anyway.)

The next step may be to teach AI models how to navigate and apply various sources of law, from the constitution all the way to local ordinances.

“It’s all about moving from a system where you need specialized expertise to navigate the legal system to a system where the average person using natural language can make inquiries and get responses back,” said Livermore.

Livermore and other computational experts are now seeking to apply their empirical analysis of legal texts for other purposes, such as being able to predict case outcomes or understanding how language in the courts has evolved over time. Livermore sees this group as part of a broader movement of legal scholars interested in understanding law empirically. (In November, the law school and its Center for Experimental Studies in Law hosted a conference of more than 200 experimental legal scholars from around the world.)

Livermore acknowledged that his audience in Abu Dhabi would likely not include many legal practitioners. Instead, his primary message to computational experts working in the legal field is to pay special attention to the algorithms and models they build.

Empirical models are only as good as the quality of the data points they contain. In a field as complex and dynamic as law, Livermore said, it’s hard to find enough cases to build accurate models, especially given the prevalence of unpublished opinions that may or may not have prior value. In addition, the reasoning presented in the judge’s opinion may not accurately reflect the judge’s underlying rationale, he said.

And while it might be useful to offer companies an algorithm to predict the outcome of a Supreme Court case, Livermore sees all kinds of warning flags.

“It’s hard to predict Supreme Court decisions because the court takes on tough cases, where the law is not clear or there might be a division in the circuit,” Livermore said. “More importantly, AI models rely on large data sets to build accurate predictions, and there aren’t many Supreme Court cases.”

For young lawyers watching the industry evolve toward AI, Livermore offers this advice: “If you’re the type of practitioner whose value-add is doing simple searches in legal databases, changes aren’t good for you. But if your value-add is Creativity, framing arguments and understanding business contexts—the higher-level tasks—that’s great for you because you can spend your time further up the value chain.”

“I think it just depends on what kind of lawyer you are, but I think for UVA alumni this will generally be good news,” Livermore said.

Livermore is the director of the Law, Communities, and Environment Program at UVA Law, and is affiliated with several other centers, including the Center for LawTech, the Center for Public Law and Political Economy, and the Center for Experimental Studies in Law. He is the host of the “Free Range with Mike Livermore” podcast.


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