What are the outer limits to digitization and automation in the practice of law?
This week I participated in a small writing workshop at Georgetown Law. A junior colleague presented a fascinating work-in-progress about robots (a/k/a “bots”) doing legal work. The writer enlightened us to two of the products and services, one called “Do Not Pay” and one called “ROSS.”
Do Not Pay calls itself “The World’s First Robot Lawyer” on its website. Over at ROSS, they invite us to: “Do more than humanly possible: Supercharge lawyers with artificial intelligence.” My reaction was a mix of astonishment at the idea of non-human entities practicing law, and keen curiosity to learn more. After all, I just this week green-lighted the use of a free online product called Divorce Tracker suggested by my students. One of them discovered it at his summer job last year with a Pennsylvania legal services office. The students will be utilizing it during an upcoming divorce workshop they are offering for low-income clients.
Increasing access to justice for disadvantaged parties with technology is not news, and it’s not troubling. I don’t pretend to be positioned to critically analyze a company like Do Not Pay by comparison, either. It’s apples to oranges, I think. Do Not Pay, as far as I can tell, doesn’t seem to operate in the access to justice arena anyway. Their product seems to be about helping users avoid paying parking tickets by walking them through a series of legal and logistical options. The fact that it was developed by a young Canadian college student without a law license at first gave me pause, but the more I ponder it the less it concerns me. The “World’s First Robot Lawyer” language on their website strikes me as hyperbolic and therefore marginal in its potential to mislead. Also, these are parking ticket matters, not ones affecting, say, parental rights. Family law matters like that are increasingly being addressed in online and digitized products and services being developed for state legal services providers, courts, and similar organizations. The access to justice space is ripe for innovation, and in some instances law schools are partnering with businesses to develop and spread the technology to actually help those in need. A2J Author, for example, was developed in partnership with Chicago-Kent College of Law.
And services like ROSS? I don’t know. I’m glad my colleague is researching it. They’re openly selling a product to lawyers to increase efficiency, and reduce costs.The testimonials on their website from lawyer-users bear this out. At the same time, ROSS says its services are for free to “major law schools, bar associations, and non-profits” and touts the company’s “commitment to democratizing access to justice for all”. What does that look like? I don’t know that either. But I’m intrigued. As my colleague pointed out at the workshop, ROSS seems unique in its capability to market digitized legal analysis, not just legal procedure. It uses Artificial Intelligence–what, I think, the Do Not Pay website also uses but calls a Robot and what sometimes appears as “Bot” in our staggeringly fluid modern vernacular. What are Bots missing, though? At the workshop this week, we shared concerns about the empathy and critical analysis that human lawyers perform for clients. That’s what I mean by my law student being smarter than a Bot. I incorporate lessons on compassion fatigue and secondary trauma in all my law school courses. If I were teaching Bots, I could probably skip those lessons. But empathy is an integral part of the practice of law. Artificial Intelligence I’m good with. Artificial Empathy? No, thank you.