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AI Businesses The Almighty Buck

Artificial Intelligence Closes In On the Work of Junior Lawyers (ft.com) 103

An anonymous reader shares a Financial Times article: After more than five years at a leading City law firm, Daniel van Binsbergen quit his job as a solicitor to found Lexoo, a digital start-up for legal services in the fledgling "lawtech" sector. Mr Van Binsbergen says he is one of many. "The number of lawyers who have been leaving to go to start-ups has skyrocketed compared to 15 years ago," he estimates. Many are abandoning traditional firms to pursue entrepreneurial opportunities or join in-house teams, as the once-unthinkable idea of routine corporate legal work as an automated task becomes reality (Editor's note: the link could be paywalled; alternative source). Law firms, which tend to be owned by partners, have been slow to adopt technology. Their traditional and profitable model involves many low-paid legal staff doing most of the routine work, while a handful of equity partners earn about 1m pound ($1.30m) a year. But since the 2008 financial crisis, their business model has come under pressure as companies cut spending on legal services, and technology replicated the repetitive tasks that lower-level lawyers at the start of their careers had worked on in the past. [...] "We get AI to do a bunch of things cheaply, efficiently and accurately -- which is most important," says Wendy Miller, partner and co-head of real estate disputes at BLP. "It leaves lawyers to do the interesting stuff."
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Artificial Intelligence Closes In On the Work of Junior Lawyers

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  • if the sharks are starting to circle
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 08, 2017 @10:45AM (#54376419)

    It's frustrating to see any use of computers being called AI.

    It's not intelligence to follow a decision tree. It's intelligence to come up with the decision tree.

    • It's frustrating to see any use of computers being called AI.

      It's not intelligence to follow a decision tree. It's intelligence to come up with the decision tree.

      What does it really matter when the impact and outcome is the same? Low-paid legal staff used to have a viable job. Soon, they will be no longer necessary.

      Do autonomous vehicles have to be AI-perfect in order to disrupt and displace human drivers? Hell no. The solution merely has to kill less humans than human drivers do. Shouldn't be too hard a task to do, since we meatsacks suck at driving, and kill hundreds every day.

      It's long been argued that we humans only use a mere fraction of our brains capaci

      • [nitpick]AI cars have to kill *far* less than human drivers to be viewed as "safe"[/nitpick]
        I think that we will see a rapid evolution from decision tree to true AI for legal stuff.
        As long as I know the decision tree your program uses I can game around it. If it decides that if (infringement-lawsuit) < N is not worth suing over then I just make sure the lawsuit portion evaluates to a big enough number that the algo ignores me. I'm sure there will be a way to game the heuristics (much like the psychedel

    • Exactly. We used to just call them "computer programs".
    • They are selecting for people just like the current batch of office worker's/middle management's children. Taking care of their own. Subconscious for most but you can bet their is some overt tit for tat.

      People that had 4 years to waste getting useless college degrees on a party oriented campus, now living in the basement (and preventing the 'rents from getting their freak on, 'Acid House' style.)

      File clerks still exist? Sort of, someone has to unjam the scanner.

      • by creimer ( 824291 )

        Sort of, someone has to unjam the scanner.

        Have you ever tried to unjam a high-end multifunction printer? At one job I was at, the print tech was home sick. It took four techs to figure out how to unjam a printer, as the user manual was missing from the back of the printer and the diagrams on the inside panels made no sense whatsoever. It would have been easier to take the entire machine apart and put it back together.

        • Yes, college job. Freshman engineering student. I was the only non-management employee authorized to unjam the big old Xerox's paper path. Even there, not without being walked through it, then checked for competence. Letting people figure that kind of thing out, gets you visits from the 'scratch faery'.

          But they were all allowed to unjam the document feeder.

  • by Notabadguy ( 961343 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @10:48AM (#54376455)

    Lawyers are the most overstaffed profession in existence - more lawyers go to do non-lawyer things than not after passing their Bar because there is such an over-saturation of lawyers.

    This isn't unique in that respect, and this sort of thing has been going at least since Legal Zoom started in 2001.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Q: Why does New Jersey have all the toxic waste dumps and California have all the lawyers?

      A: Because New Jersey had first pick.

    • An idle smart lawyer is kind of a dangerous thing. He can put three more to work, with one bright idea.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I can guarantee that LegalZoom has not cost any lawyer in America a single job. If anything the disasters their forms lead to when filed by incompetent lay people have probably created several billion dollars of actual work for lawyers.

    • Can confirm. Law is a place for people who got useless degrees to pretend to learn something. If you go to one of the top ten schools, though, you can get into Big Law and make a fortune... and have no life. I've heard this from my lawyerly relative, and judging from his multiple SCOTUS trips he knows what he's doing.
      • by tlhIngan ( 30335 )

        Actually, if it's oversaturated, the price of lawyering should go down. Instead of paying $200+/hr for a lawyer, we should be able to get our cases through court for $19.95 all inclusive.

        Unless lawyering is somehow immune from supply and demand.

        Or lawyers are smart enough to realize there are too many of them and somehow manage to cull the herd (by denying juniors the chance to apprentice, forcing new graduates to do lesser jobs).

        • Lawyering is cover for influence peddling. You just need a law degree to participate.

          See also the new prevalence of 'lawyer/aids' in politics. Being subpoena proof has value.

          • Lawyering is cover for influence peddling.

            I'll be sure to pass that little info nugget along to all the battered wives and blue collar workers fucked over by their employers we've represented over the decades. Should be good for a laugh or two.
            • You're one of those oversaturated shysters whose market value is actually going down.

              The ones that make $400/hour + are just selling influence and legally secret criminal advice (being 'criminal attorneys').

              • You're one of those oversaturated shysters whose market value is actually going down.

                Sorry to burst your bubble, but we've been at nice, steady growth for 12 years now. It's other lawyers shutting up shop, not us. Then again, we didn't get into the biz for money...

                But you go ahead and stick to your generalizations, they obviously keep you warm at night.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      My father once told about his now dead business associate who visited in the US in some legal matter. He was working with a US law firm in some international issue ( I assume). The Finnish firm sent him alone to cover all bases, while the US firm sent literally a dozen people. The lone lawyer in the wild got puzzled looks from his US colleagues. I have to assume they were all specialized and trained in different fields of law, like medical doctors. What else could explain the difference?

      • by hoggoth ( 414195 )

        > I have to assume they were all specialized and trained in different fields of law, like medical doctors. What else could explain the difference

        The U.S. law firm assessed how deep their client's pockets were and assign the right number of lawyers to extract the maximum amount of money without getting fired or sued themselves.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 08, 2017 @10:49AM (#54376463)

    This has been happening in engineering for some time now and combined with outsourcing the result is that companies are becoming increasingly top-heavy with lots of senior engineers while we hire less and less new graduates as the work that they used to cut their teeth on just isn't there anymore. It always gets billed as "freeing us up to do more interesting stuff" but the truth is that it ends up decreasing how many engineers a firm really needs while creating a barrier to entry for newer engineers as the bottom rungs of the ladder keep getting sawn off.

    • This has been happening in engineering for some time now

      Accountants too. It's been happening with many white collar jobs.

    • by MobyDisk ( 75490 )

      What kind of engineer are you talking about?

      You story flies in the face of what I've seen, and what continuously gets posted here on Slashdot. I keep hearing that senior engineers are considered worthless and they are constantly fired for cheaper junior engineers or outsourced work. The technology makes it easier for a junior engineer to get started in the field and produce quality results, and the H1B race-to-the-bottom makes it hard for senior engineers to get decent pay.

  • by rsilvergun ( 571051 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @10:49AM (#54376467)
    Lawyers are cheap to train but the degrees are expensive. That's made them highly desirable for schools. My Kid's in Nursing and the average GPA of a kid admitted into the undergrad program (e.g. third year classes) is 3.9. If she wanted to get into Law School it'd be much easier.

    So we've got schools turning out lawyers left and right and making a surplus. Meanwhile we're putting them out of work. And just 'cause it's cheap doesn't mean the kids get a discount, so they're in debt up to their ears. That's a recipe for a lot of desperate sue happy lawyers who won't care much if they get disbarred since the degree's worthless anyway.

    This folks is why socialists don't want to abandon people. When you do that they turn desperate and there's all sorts of nasty consequences. I guess we can use oppression to take 'em down a notch, but thing is unless you're part of the ruling class you're gonna get caught in the crossfire...
    • Law professors get pretty big salaries, and the program needs to fund entirely from tuition.

      I doubt they're the cheapest to teach by a long shot.

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward

      Law is a bifurcated profession. Only the graduated from the so called T14 schools have any real hope of a real legal career today. Them and the top 5% out of the other schools more or less. Graduates from all the other schools are basically getting paralegal certificates. The majority of them will never really practice law and will be happy with administrative jobs in local government of JD optional type "compliance" jobs in healthcare or finance. But this has been the case since the 1920's really. We've al

    • "This folks is why socialists don't want to abandon people. When you do that they turn desperate and there's all sorts of nasty consequences"

      This accounts for the overflowing supermarket shelves in Venezuela. Otherwise, people would be rioting in the streets.

  • by UberVegeta ( 3450067 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @10:59AM (#54376579)

    If two firms both use computer power to do all of the meaningful work (especially finding prior art and swarm-learning reasonable rates for royalty/licensing), could we see a future where cases such as Apple vs. Samsung are decided in minutes not years?

    Human communication is slow. Writing and reading letters is slow. Computers communicate faster than we do. Computers could argue with each other, an automated judge could decide the result, *and* the n-th level appeals could be adjudicated all within a few hundred milliseconds - leaving "mom and pop" corporate lawyers out of business.

    I am now struggling to decide whether this would be a brilliant advance or a tragic loss for humanity. Better make this somebody's PhD project.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Having the computers duke it out quickly would make sense, but the Law profession has a lot of disincentives against going down that path. They charge by billable hours. Therefore the longer they draw out, and the more lawyers they have working on a case the more money they make.

      They charge for paper copies of things, so they print out PDFs, make copies, send the paper to other law firms that scan them and make PDFs and repeat. The law firms charge per page for the copies and the scanning. It would be more

      • If my AI is competing against a human using billable hours, and can do things in minutes vs weeks/years, then the AI will win, as I will be able to send my AI against more humans than a slow human could. This means, efficiencies are brought into the market and the results are eventually the humans won't be able to compete.

        If one AI can replace a million human lawyers/clerks/interns/paralegals, it should.

  • No specifics (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    I'm really tired of articles that are basically just ads for the guy in the article. What exactly are they automating? So far the only aspect of legal work that has been automated over the past 15 years is electronic discovery and guess what the only reason we've seen any automation here is because the sheer number of electronic records now being stored makes it physically impossible for human beings to conduct a manual review of everything. You would have to employ the entire country to do nothing but revi

    • There have been some pretty good advances in natural language processing beyond keyword matching, and computers can be used to assist a lot of work. A big bank just devloped a system that could review certain types of contracts; the technology of parsing text for meaning is slowly inching towards useability. In the examples you raised, the time you need to spend and certain forms expertise required can be reduced so there will be less work. There still need to be human lawyers, but in the future the number

    • by ghoul ( 157158 )

      With the eventual automation of all jobs what will be left for humans to do is fight over who owns the fruits of the labor that the automation is producing. So ultimately we may be left with lawyers and AI maintenance techs as the only human jobs. With automated judging systems , govt will be irrelevant but presenting arguments will still be a human job because it comes down to motivation - AIs have no motivation to do anything.

  • With this ad [youtube.com]. Cruz even nailed the look: it's the professional industries where the suits run everything. Very effective rhetoric.

    Consistently, the people I have seen who are the biggest backers of any public policy or tech trend that reduces the need for people in the workplace are either:

    1. The rich.
    2. People in industries that seem to be semi-immune.

    We might now get some real traction on a democratic debate over efficiency vs human cost because at some point, optimizing for efficiency leads to dystopian

  • by WDot ( 1286728 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @11:05AM (#54376661)
    Okay, we can all see how this discussion is going to go. "That isn't real AI, because it doesn't perfectly recreate a human mind!" "AI is just a computer program! Why call it AI?" "So called AI research works exactly the same as rudimentary models made in the 1980s and have made zero progress since then!"

    What I don't get is why there's this hate-on for AI on Slashdot. Supposedly this is a community of free (as in speech) software geeks. AI is as free as in speech as you can GET!
    • All of the popular deep learning toolkits are open-source (Caffe, Tensorflow, Torch, etc).
    • Almost all of the research is published to ArXiV, a free, open-access website, before being published in a for-pay journal.
    • Popular models are ported to different toolkits, pretrained, and made available for anyone to use however they want
    • Most research papers have their code uploaded to Github so that you can pull and reproduce. No reproducibility crisis in AI!
    • These pretrained, open models can be finetuned to whatever new application you want. You can change as much or as little as you want! Perfect for tinkering and hacking!
    • Most of the datasets used to train the popular models are free and open (Imagenet, MS-COCO, PASCAL VOC, etc).
    • Almost all of the software is built for Linux first. Torch doesn't even have a Windows port! It only works on Mac and Linux!
    • There is plenty of free online education (using MOOCS, Youtube, online tutorials, blogs, etc). You don't need to get an expensive degree to start playing with it!

    AI SHOULD be Slashdot's favorite thing ever! This is the new generation of the free software movement!

  • Seems like most of the artifacts generated by lawyers are basic forms, with fields containing the specifics (beneficiaries, addresses, etc). Stuff like that is easy to implement as a web page, as is done by sites like LegalZoom, and at a fraction of the cost of using a meatbag lawyer.
    • by DarkOx ( 621550 )

      Well that is true, and its a problem. Jr. lawyers get to be senior lawyers not just as a function of aging but by helping partners etc at a firm. Even though its not an apprenticeship it is, in many respects. Yes you can go practice law having earned your JD and passed the bar, but you really are no good to anyone or no better than a computer expert system like LegalZoom anyway. I have lots of layers in the family so I have heard the stories.

      In the past a JL would spend 80% of their time doing grunt wor

  • by Altus ( 1034 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @11:14AM (#54376737) Homepage

    As coal miners.

  • Founding a startup is way more constructive for society than being a lawyer in my opinion. So good one!
  • by ErichTheRed ( 39327 ) on Monday May 08, 2017 @11:40AM (#54377017)

    The parallels to IT and software development are striking and should be noted by everyone in our career field. Automation, offshoring and outsourcing of routine legal tasks has meant hugely depressed salaries and new lawyers not being able to find any entry-level work. This sounds exactly like what's happening in IT -- offshored help desk and outsourced data center positions leading to low wages or no jobs for people starting out.

    This is interesting to me, because I live near New York City where most of the "BigLaw" firms have huge offices. It's been known for about 10 years (but ignored by many) that law school is now a waste of money if you are not in the top of your class in one of the top 14 law schools (according to US News and World Report) in the country (#1, 2 and 3 are Harvard, Yale and Stanford.) If you manage to make this cut, life is just fine for you. Big firms hire out of this pool and industry standard starting salary is $180K. If you last as a junior member of the firm, you're officially done worrying about life when you make partner. The only thing you will ever stress over again is whether to take the Bentley or the Rolls to the club this weekend, or what color the draperies in your Hamptons summer home should be. If you don't fall into that crowd, you might as well take the money you would spend on law school and light it on fire to achieve the same results.

    The thing that's interesting is that the American Bar Association could have used their immense clout to save the pipeline of newbies. They chose to accredit tons of new law schools and encourage class size to increase even though the trend was for fewer lawyers on the horizon. This is how the American Medical Association keeps physicians' salaries high. They know that the only way to do this is to keep supply limited, so medical school slots are very tightly controlled. You need near-perfect grades, a photographic memory and the ability to ace the MCAT to even be considered. Then, you get 3 years of academic hazing where you're force-fed information, and years of low-salary, high stress internship/residency. If you can get through that, then you're a doctor and you're in the same Easy Street club as the BigLaw partners. It's just interesting to see how a professional organization can help like the AMA does or destroy the profession like the ABA is doing.

    • "It's just interesting to see how a professional organization can help like the AMA does or destroy the profession like the ABA is doing."

      Yes, the AMA will do anything to ward off the threat of affordability in medicine.

  • Not really automation but in 1970s I remember a news story of a paralegal got into trouble for practicing law without the degree and passing the Bar. She started a small business that does mundane legal services, very basic stuff (things like name changes, basic agreed divorce settlements) that is simply filling in forms and submitting to courts. She claimed these tasks where just one party is filing something or both parties agree to really minor stuff, she did a lot of tasks like this at a lawyer's office

  • This is funny and ironic and totally missing the point. We already have way more lawyers than we need. The problem is that lawyers designed our legal system to maximize the need for lawyers. That's why all contracts are written to be unintelligible to anyone who isn't a lawyer: instant guaranteed employment for countless lawyers to write contracts and review contracts and argue about the tiny details of contracts. You know that by law, anyone who isn't a patent lawyer is considered incompetent to judge

  • Lawyers To Be Replaced With Perl Scripts
    http://humorix.org/10523 [humorix.org]

    This script, originally created as a way to generate mundane legal documents, achieved sentience last week and easily passed the Turing Test.
  • until the laws are authoritatively and rigorously expressed in a more precise language than English.

    Google's working on something like it, but the whole field is still in its infancy.

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