View from Canada: Artificial Intelligence Will Change Legal, Just Not How You Think

Topics: Artificial Intelligence, Canada, Law Firms, Legal Innovation, Midsize Law Firms Blog Posts, Thomson Reuters

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Fernando Garcia, the general counsel of Nissan Canada, is looking forward to the day when he can get his hands on Beagle, an automated contract analysis system powered by artificial intelligence that reads contracts in seconds, highlights key information visually with easy-to-read graphs and charts and gets “smarter” with each reviewed contract, according to the latest issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine. Also on Garcia’s bucket list is an offering by yet another Canadian legal tech startup, Blue J Legal, that also uses AI to scan legal documents, case files and decisions to predict how courts will rule in tax decisions.

In a cover story written by Luis Millan, Canadian Lawyer describes the current legal environment in Canada as a time when the majority of in-house counsel are under intense pressure to shave costs and run a lean team, such powerful tools are a godsend. “There’s always that pressure to do more with less, so when a tool comes along that can provide more efficiency, more risk mitigation and can let you do your job better and focus on providing value added, it is a strategic advantage,” notes Garcia, in the article. “It’s going to fundamentally change our job.”

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This fundamental change has been a long time coming. Nearly two decades ago, the former justice of the High Court of Australia, Michael Kirby, remarked with uncanny prescience that “it would be a bold observer” who would deny the possibility of artificial intelligence to “enhance” lawyering and judicial-making. But even he could not foresee how artificial intelligence is now in many ways already everywhere, developing at a dizzying pace and immersing itself into business and in the daily lives of people around the world. “It’s moving so quickly, it’s even a little mind-boggling for us,” remarks Aaron Courville, an AI researcher at the Montreal Institute for Learning Algorithms.

The practice of law, however, has been largely shielded by technological developments over the past 50 years, suffering little more than glancing blows. While the way that legal professionals process and share information has evolved with new technologies — primarily with the emergence of personal computers, email and the Internet — it did not fundamentally transform it.

That may be on the cusp of changing. Fueled by Big Data, increased computing power and more effective algorithms (a routine process for solving a program or performing a task), AI has the potential to change the way that legal work is done, the way that law firms conduct business and the way that lawyers deal with clients. A number of technologies under the umbrella of artificial intelligence, such as machine learning, natural language processing, experts systems (the ability to emulate decision-making of a human expert) and others, allow computers to perform things that normally require human intelligence.

Artificial intelligence systems, also known as augmented intelligence or cognitive computing, can be used to do many of the tasks lawyers routinely perform in areas such as compliance, contract analysis, case prediction, document automation and e-discovery. According to proponents, the emerging technologies will do it cheaper, faster and more efficiently, a development some law practitioners find disconcerting.


For the full article written by Luis Millan, see this month’s issue of Canadian Lawyer magazine.