Chris Maulkin is a Solicitor at Family Law Partners

Say Artificial Intelligence (AI) and it often brings up memories of science fiction films such as Terminator, The Matrix and Blade Runner to name a few. Often these films conjure up a terrifying alternate reality where mankind has been enslaved by the machines it has created.

What people don’t often think of is their washing machine or dishwasher, many of which use AI to determine how much water they need to use.  Perhaps this is because the influence of films and other media has meant that we have a very different concept of what AI is in reality.

Whilst washing machines and dishwashers do use AI it is specifically configured to carry out a single task rather than being able to do anything and everything.  A washing machine using AI is only a washing machine –  it just carries out its task more efficiently than a standard washing machine.  Not even the most advanced washing machine in the world is capable of launching an attack against mankind (unless you count shrinking your clothes).

If we think of AI in those more limited confines then perhaps it becomes a little less frightening and a little more exciting.

“Elementary, my dear Watson”

The use of AI is expanding into other areas all the time and law is no exception.  You may have heard of ROSS, an AI system developed in America and designed to help with legal research.  Ross was built on IBM’s AI platform called Watson.

As I understand it, the way that ROSS is designed to be used is that you ask it a question (in the same way you would ask a colleague, what is called ‘natural language’ processing) and it provides you with a series of  answers ranked in level of confidence  together with the original sources of the information used to provide those answers.  It is possible to then refine the parameters used by Ross to provide the optimal answer to increase the confidence level assigned to that answer. Ross will ‘remember’ this feedback and learn from it for future use.  There are limitations. I do not believe that you can ask it to tell you the likely outcome of a particular case.  However, if it works, and it appears to, it represents a big step forward.

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Using AI in Law

At the moment, researching a particular area of law can be time consuming, especially if it is a bit unusual. It can involve having to read through a number of different cases, articles and other resources. Whilst this can be very interesting for the lawyer, it can quickly become expensive for the client.

The idea of a tool that allows this time to be minimised whilst still getting the right information would allow lawyers to focus their time in a much more effective way.

At Family Law Partners we are passionate in our belief that technology should be used wherever possible to allow the lawyers to focus on the issues and better serve our clients.  As a result my colleague, Alan Larkin, developed an online questionnaire, launched in July 2014, that we send to clients before we first meet them.  The questions it asks depends upon the answers that the client provides (using conditional logic to navigate across 1,000 potential questions) but, crucially, it means that we have a background understanding of the issues before we meet the client.  This results in time and cost savings for our clients as normally the first hour, at least, of any initial meeting would be spent taking details such as dates of births, addresses and schools before you get anywhere close to providing advice.  As far as we aware, we are the only legal firm in the UK, perhaps globally, to have set up and run a legal triage system of this complexity.

We don’t intend to rest on our laurels and we have already begun to focus on another problematic area of family law that requires technology, innovation and, of course, a sprinkling of AI to produce a better solution for our clients than the one on offer now.  As they say ‘Watch this space’.

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