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In part one of our series (see link below), we introduced the concept of “artificial intelligence” – or AI – which can produce computer-generated text and code on command.
As a result, the media is full of fun little illustrations of his skills: from helping write questions to ask during an interview with Elon Musk to composing instructions in Bible verses on how to remove peanut butter from a VCR.
But there was also a bit of scaremongering. ChatGPT has sparked many real-world conversations about how AI systems could transform commerce and the business world as we see it.
Can AI replace family lawyers?
One such discussion explores whether AI is sophisticated and accurate enough to take on the role of family advocates in Canada and elsewhere.
We don’t think.
This is mainly because legal thinking is based on logic, judgment and critical thinking. In contrast, AI reasoning is based on statistics and probabilities. Also, attorneys in any area of law have certain esoteric duties and responsibilities to their own clients and to the public. These include overriding ethical, fiduciary and professional obligations to customers and the public. These can never be replaced by AI-powered initiatives.
But more importantly, no matter how advanced and sophisticated AI and other technologies become, they can never come anywhere close to the proverbial “personal touch.” For clients, family law processes are emotionally stressful and confusing. There are many steps and aspects that require a real person to stand on the other end – namely, an experienced family law attorney who can understand and interact with clients as only a fellow human being can.
Completely replacing a lawyer with a robotic AI simulation only risks further demeaning and depersonalizing the legal process.
But what can AI contribute?
To be fair, that doesn’t mean AI can do it never Be part of the family law system. In fact, it represents a great opportunity to improve legal services as AI can be used (among other things) to:
- Take on a gatekeeping role by adopting an intuitive question-and-answer format that directs users to tailored — but still rudimentary — legal advice or resources.
- Do some of the more mundane “grunt work” tasks (like routinely filling out litigation forms) currently performed by junior attorneys, paralegals, or students.
- Speed up some aspects of legal research, contract review, court documents, e-discovery and document assembly.
- Assistance with specific steps that may lead to a dispute resolution.
On a day-to-day basis, AI can also assist lawyers in drafting simple legal documents, analyzing financial statements, and performing case management tasks.
It’s safe to say that for now, AI lends itself well to a hybrid model, where lawyers can leverage its benefits to reduce costs and increase efficiencies, while still providing bespoke, fine-tuned legal advice tailored to each individual’s needs clients.
Improving access to justice
The good news is that when AI takes over some of the grunt functions previously handled by family lawyers and clerks, the entire justice system will actually become more efficient and less expensive. Lawyers can focus on higher level assignments that really benefit from their expertise, experience and skills. This includes tailor-made advice for clients, negotiating domestic contracts, resolving family law disputes and, if necessary, going to court.
This shift in the distribution of labor can only improve efficiency and access to justice.
What’s in store for the future?
Improvements in AI and other computing technologies are revolutionizing many areas of business and society, including the family law system. All lawyers should be ready to adopt and use these new tools to complement existing methods.
Finally, not long ago, Ontario’s family law system was entirely paper-based, with virtually all proceedings requiring paper court records. Now lawyers have warmly welcomed the benefits of using digital materials and remote hearings. So it’s not a big leap to make AI the next unknown frontier to explore.
This is part two of a three part series. In the last episode, we examine whether AI-based systems could replace judges and other legal decision-makers. Part One: Will Artificial Intelligence (AI) Replace Family Lawyers?
Russell Alexander is the founder of Russell Alexander Collaborative Family Lawyers, which focuses exclusively on family law, providing pre-separation legal advice and assisting clients with family-related issues including: custody and contact, separation arrangements, child and spousal support, division of family property , paternity disputes and enforcement of court orders. For more information visit www.RussellAlexander.com.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the views of the author’s company, its customers, The Lawyer’s Journal, LexisNexis Canada or any of their respective affiliates. This article is for general informational purposes and should not be construed as legal advice.
Photo credit / PhonlamaiPhoto ISTOCKPHOTO.COM
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