May 11, 2018

On May 8, 2018, Google introduced its “Duplex” AI system which impressively called a restaurant and salon to set up appointments, and took steps to pretend to be human by inserting “umms” and “ahs” into the conversation, while the person on the other end appeared to be unaware that they were talking to a program.

The system not only dealt with a difficult individual on the other side, but, it also took steps to determine the restaurant’s wait times for the time that Google’s Assistant’s master (which is what I have my iPhone, call me) wanted to get there with his four friends. The legal system, unsurprisingly, has largely been resistant to technological advancement – I commented on this back when I felt the need to serve a defendant via Instagram. The question for most has always been, why? Frankly, it is because the legal industry’s main pillars are built on three fundamental truths about the profession, which hold true until today – A lawyer is defined by its knowledge, access to justice, and power. If a lawyer can hold all of these three things without the help of a robot, and keep billing its clients, why on earth would it want an AI system to take away some of its hard-earned money?

The introduction of Google’s AI system begs numerous questions related to the legal realm, and the future. Despite being able to address them all now and here (and which I will try to do as Google continues to unveil some of its unbelievably impressive technology!) some of the important questions to consider in light of Google’s introduction of ‘Duplex’ – are the following:

First, how will AI impact the business-side of the things?

Here’s a truth. Each morning, when I wake up, my Google Home Mini tells me the “latest news”. I’ve programmed which news stations I’d like it to summarize, and it quickly runs through each of the podcasts for CBC, BBC, HashtagTrending, etc. One of my biggest worries on transitioning from student to lawyer was that I would no longer have the time to sift through the news as I used to do, while sitting in my law school classes (I still managed to get good grades!). Fast-forward one year: my Google Home Mini manages to keep me up to date on all of the things I find relevant every single morning, while I eat my breakfast – and I know about Google’s Duplex before even walking out the door.

On the legal side, therefore, what could an AI system like Google’s Duplex accomplish? For one: what lawyers often forget is that an AI system doesn’t have to be a “glass-empty” kind of perspective – it can be half-full. Implementing a system such as Duplex, like my news updates, would allow us to resolve cases more efficiently (more news, less time); deal with matters and counsel communication more quickly (schedule calls, boom boom boom); and sift through file documents more readily.

One. Moving all documents into an electronic-based system. While it seems impossible in the employment law world where paper is the crux of an employee or employer’s liability, electronic file-management systems have huge potential for lawyers in an email-plagued world to deal with their clients’ concerns and requests for status updates more quickly. Where your legal assistant today needs to take every document or email and insert it into a scanner, PDF it, move it to a specific folder on the drive, and frankly, often a different folder than another assistant – causing headaches when two lawyers begin to work on a file together – an AI system could readily recognize the incoming document, immediately place it into the correct folder, and file, and within minutes when your client calls without scheduling an appointment with you, as they so often do – the document or email is at your fingertips.

What does this mean for client service and delivery? Well, first, client questions, which are often (forgive me) irrelevant or cause unnecessary delay, can be dealt with immediately – and what’s more– could potentially be dealt with By Your Assistant!

Scenario one. A client calls in: “my Statement of Claim was issued, how long until they have to file a Defence?” Of course, the lawyer knows the date is 20 or 30 days provided a Notice of Intent to Defend has been filed – but what about where an indulgence has been provided? Easy: your assistant goes into the file, clicks on the email documents, Google’s AI has already labelled the email chain where you provided the indulgence, and lets the client know. Not only does the client save money on the $350.00 phone call it might have just made to you – but, you can focus on your other files! Who wouldn’t want more free time to actually deal with fires that need to be actively put out?

Two. Counsel Communication. Long gone are the days of trying to get lawyers on the phone – let Google’s Duplex communicate with opposing counsel’s Duplex, and digest your schedule immediately from Microsoft Outlook – before you know it, you’ve got a call set up and your real, human assistant (we will come up with a better way to put that) is drafting the Affidavit of Documents for your client. Instead of focusing on the elimination of assistant responsibilities – let us focus on the increased workload each office can handle, super high efficiency, and frankly – moving files along a lot quicker than they move currently.

Three. Need I say it? LEGAL RESEARCH! While law students and juniors are wonderful for their knowledge of legislative developments and current case law – think of what an AI system could do. Searching not only the most recent case law, but the Hansard, legislative updates, News Articles! Lawyers will always be distinct for their wonderful skills in the art of persuasion – but, what causes them to get those “aha!” moments, is usually what they read the night before. For example, right now, for me – it is the the novel I’ve been reading on how cyborgs will eventually take over the world. Sound childish? Well, it’s approximately 450 pages and well-researched by a PhD with over 500 references.

If AI can provide us with all of the current law – in one space – juniors and articling students could focus more on what matters: gaining skills early on in client development, the art of argument, persuasion, and drafting actual pleadings and motion materials.

Finally, back when I felt the need to serve by Instagram, I found a huge lacuna in the legal system. I commented on the fact that pleadings were now being filed online – and I truly believe (and hope, and pray) that soon, motion materials will be done the same way. If AI can conquer this task: lawyers can focus more on, again, moving files along more quickly. If I could count right now how many times, in my less than one year of practice, I spent an entire day trying to get motion materials out the door, because of lawyer-staff-process server miscommunication…

All in all, my conclusion is this: just like Instagram, the future is now. It is here. Google’s Duplex has made some fascinating leaps in the communication world – and it’s time to embrace it in the legal world, before Duplex calls up Madam Justice Blank, and tells her that you haven’t done all of your legal-research homework.