What Has AI Ever Done For Us?

At the moment, legal AI is at the "frothy" part of the hype cycle. It's a bit like the scene What did the Romans ever do for us? in the film the Life of Brian, but in reverse. The scene's premise is that the Romans did little, but of course they did a lot. Legal AI promises a lot but at the moment has delivered little. This isn't surprising as we're just at the start of the machine learning era. Somewhat frustratingly, while a decade from now it will be obvious in hindsight that the world beater was going to be "X", right now we don't know what that "X" will be.

Frothy AI today calls to mind the dot.com bubble. At the height of the bubble, when share prices peaked in March 2000, only 5% of the world's population was connected to the internet. It wasn't until five or ten years later that the combination of Mobile + Social + Cloud + Data emerged as the world beater (the dot.com "X"), and it's only this year that more than half of the world's population now have an internet connection. Looking back at the dot.com bubble in this way shows two things: first, it's only change at huge scale that really moves the dial, and second, it's difficult to see what that change will be at the height of a bubble.

Client requirements are driving change in the provision of legal services

In the legal services world, client requirements for greater efficiency, higher productivity and lower cost are driving change at greater scale than ever before, both in-house and in law firms. Underpinning this is the "Rule of 3": the constant that legal resourcing externally costs 3 (1 for salaries, 1 for indirect costs and 1 for profit) but internally costs 1 (or 1 plus: salaries and lower indirect costs). The combination of client requirements and the Rule of 3 have driven a big increase in the ratio of in-house to private practice solicitors (from 1:12 in 2000 to 1:5 in 2017) and this trend doesn't look like running out of steam any time soon.

We are now beginning to see a lot of AI-driven change that, although not directly related to legal services, will have an increasing impact on our working lives. AI is routinely being baked into software functionality of all types, and we'll soon start experiencing change at this mass market level in areas such as:

Voice recognition and natural language interface (speaking into our devices instead of typing). Digital personal assistants (organising our day). Augmented reality (learning and training). Instantaneous translation (Bing...

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