Don’t Forget, Expert Humans Train AI

30 October 2019

Contracts are the glue of our societal fabric. They define the boundaries of our daily interactions and give a human being’s word credence. They are so ubiquitous, however, that each contract cannot be a novel series of words which form an agreement. There must be some underlying basic formation of an agreement which can be learned and repeated; or better yet, machine learned and repeated. This week, Ken Adams delivered a great reminder to Above the Law of the work done, and the work yet to be done, in the space of AI in the legal profession.

For 20 years, Adams has devoted his time to closely analysing contract language; how It works, and how it doesn’t. Performing a role somewhere between lawyer, linguist and data scientist, Adams spends his time relentlessly breaking down issues of how to say something as clearly and concisely as possible. Adams likens the art of producing reliable contract language to producing computer code, both being limited and stylized.

During his career, Adams has remained incredulous at just how dysfunctional traditional contract drafting is. According to Adams, the exercise is but a systematic, endless recycling of profoundly defective prose; universally present, regardless of the size or prestige of the firm producing the contract. To Adams, this is an issue of copy and pasting from past contracts of questionable quality and relevance. This, repeated through multiple generations, creates a disconnect between what is in the contract and what people think is in the contract.

Additionally, Adams takes issue with the ‘legalistic mindset’. This, he argues, causes Lawyers to erroneously believe that their best work is the work that displays the intricacy of their legal knowledge most. The result of this is language which obstructs a clear expression of the deal (his words, not ours!).

What is incredible is that despite the ever-present pressure for firms to increase efficiency and reduce costs, Adams has had the field of contract automation through AI largely to himself for 20 years. Perhaps this is unsurprising when you consider that expert AI needs to be trained by expert lawyers, who might consider their time better spent billing hours rather than training AI to replace them.

This is a trend that we discussed before and have seen fairly generally across the legal profession. Technology, and in particular AI, has developed seemingly in tandem with commerce, but entirely separate from private practice. Whilst we have seen recent developments in technology, such as Kira Systems, which can extract vital information from documents with 20 – 90% more accuracy and efficiency than humans, this type of tech is certainly the exception, not the rule. Additionally, much of the technology available today has been developed to replace or assist support roles and is largely incapable of encroaching on the tasks of the lawyer themselves.

As automation and AI continues to be a part of almost every aspect of our lives, the legal profession has a finite period of resistance which will be tolerated by clients. As a consumer, we expect businesses to reduce unnecessary costs through time-saving technology and bring us the best product for the best price. The same expectation looms for law firms, and it looks like the first lawyer task wholly performed by AI may be contract drafting.

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