Posted by: Ray Brescia | March 20, 2017

Robot Lawyers, the Access to Justice Crisis, and the Trump Budget

Today’s New York Times features a story on the future of the legal profession in the age of artificial intelligence and machine learning.  The piece takes the position that, while some functions of the practice of law–particularly those that are routinized–may prove susceptible to automation, much of what lawyers do is still beyond the reach of available technology:

[R]ecent research and even the people working on the software meant to automate legal work say the adoption of A.I. in law firms will be a slow, task-by-task process. In other words, like it or not, a robot is not about to replace your lawyer. At least, not anytime soon.

But what almost all lawyers presently do is use technology to complement the things for which legal judgment and expertise is needed, making their jobs easier and making their work flow much faster, which, in a world where lawyers charge by the hour, should mean lawyers are more affordable.  In this way, technology thus holds out the promise of helping to close the justice gap: the fact that roughly eighty percent of low-income Americans and fifty percent of middle-income Americans face their legal problems without a lawyer.

The imperative to use technology to help close the justice gap, which I explore in greater depth here, is become all the more critical as the largest funding source for free legal aid in the country, the U.S. Legal Service Corporation, is presently left out of the Trump Administration’s recent budget proposal.  This cruel act, should it come to fruition in the final budget, means millions of Americans could go without free legal assistance.   If that should happen, the long-time dream of those who want to take advantage of the poor–i.e., that they can act without the threat of being sued or can proceed in court with an opponent who is not represented by a lawyer–will become a reality.

While robots will not replace lawyers any time soon, the legal profession will need to get creative, mostly through the use of technology, in finding ways to make legal services more affordable, stretching the profession’s capacity to serve those presently facing their legal problems without a lawyer and the even larger percentage of Americans who may need to do so in the future.

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