Can a computer replace your attorney?

Robot lawyer?

Photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0

by John Groseclose

Robots and artificially intelligent computers have been replacing industrial  jobs for a decade or more. Five years ago many of us saw IBM’s Watson beat two champions on Jeopardy.

Now Watson has given birth to ROSS, billed as an artificially intelligent lawyer. Several law firms have already hired ROSS.

Key components of lawyering cannot be replaced

But can ROSS actually replace the family attorney? I think the answer is a qualified no.

ROSS may be able to speed up legal research and stay on top of new case law better than attorneys, particularly in obscure areas of the law. ROSS cannot, however, provide the support you may need when disaster strikes and you are overwhelmed by all the unfamiliar tasks and decisions. ROSS can’t empathize either.

Insurance companies are already using artificial intelligence in making decisions, when you file a claim. Some colleagues are even speculating that in the not too distant future, insurance companies may use artificial intelligent devices. What if they sent a camera with artificial intelligence to pretrial depositions, instead of a lawyer, that could pose questions and film the proceeding. I wonder, though, how good the machine would be with determining which answers are truthful. During the deposition, the machine would be able to change the questions depending on answers. But what about being able assess when more probing is needed based in human interactions, such as inflection and expressions?

Attorneys must make decisions throughout a case based on her knowledge of  typical juries and long experience with the temperament of the judge in the case. Most importantly, how will a computer judge how well you and witnesses will perform on the witness stand. ROSS cannot replace an experienced attorney’s judgment. American law is a very human activity.

Photo credit: CC BY-SA 3.0,