An illustration of lawyer bots and the scales of justice

Can Lawyer Bots Take Over the Job of an Attorney?

October 6, 2022 | Purdue Global Law School

Artificial intelligence bots and robotic process automation (RPA) tools are automating many jobs, including legal work. A number of firms are using lawyer bots to perform tasks such as analyzing contracts, combing through data, and conducting legal research. Some legal chatbots even interact with clients who want to dispute traffic tickets, prepare simple documents, or file basic claims.

As AI and machine learning technologies advance, some companies are experimenting with more sophisticated applications. Bots trained with enormous data sets can draft contracts and other legal documents, though the results are far from perfect. In addition, analytics tools are being used to predict legal outcomes by drawing insight into the behaviors of judges, opposing counsel, and other parties.

The American Bar Association (ABA) has stated that firms can use AI-driven software to streamline some work. However, given the outcome of recent court decisions, lawyers must consider whether using AI in law runs afoul of ethical rules or constitutes the unauthorized practice of law.

What Is a Lawyer Bot?

The term “bot” refers to any autonomous program that’s designed to interact with humans or computer systems. It’s often used to designate chatbots but is more broadly applied to any AI-driven software that automates processes typically performed by people. Bots reduce reliance on error-prone manual processes and free up humans to focus on more complex tasks.

AI and RPA are already transforming several industries, particularly automotive, finance, and telecommunications. While McKinsey Global Institute predicts that only 5% of jobs could be fully automated, many others will involve humans working alongside machines. The research firm estimates that 30% of tasks performed by 60% of workers could be automated in the near future.

The legal field is not insulated from this trend. A 2016 report by McKinsey estimated that 23% of an attorney’s job and 69% of a paralegal’s job could be automated. Those numbers are likely higher today given recent developments in AI technology.

Benefits and Challenges

More powerful computer processors and vast amounts of data storage are rapidly advancing machine learning capabilities. Traditional machine learning algorithms are trained by humans to learn the differences between various inputs and, over time, draw conclusions about new sets of inputs without being programmed to do so. The larger the dataset used for training, the more accurate the results.

Machine learning tools used for legal document evaluation are trained using millions of cases, briefs and other materials—far more than any attorney encounters in law school and in day-to-day practice. This enables AI software to uncover insights that humans might miss. What’s more, the AI software is incredibly fast. Contract analysis applications can complete tasks in seconds that would require humans thousands of hours.

The potential for machine learning bias cannot be ignored, however. Because machine learning algorithms are designed and trained by humans, inherent biases are often programmed into the application. The datasets used for training may also be affected by biased human processes. For example, the AI-based software that some courts use to advise judges on bail and sentencing has been found to make biased assessments of the risk posed by defendants.

Applying Ethical Rules

Lawyers who decide to use bots and RPA in their practices must ensure that they’re meeting their ethical commitments to clients. ABA Model Rule 1.1 requires that a lawyer provide “competent” representation, and Rule 2.1 states that the lawyer “shall exercise independent professional judgment and render candid advice.” Clients would not expect software to offer advice, interpretations, or recommendations, so lawyers should make it clear that they use AI tools to support information analysis and management.

Rule 8.4 prohibits lawyers from engaging in “conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit, or misrepresentation.” With this in mind, attorneys should disclose their use of bots and RPA to their clients. In California, there is a state law requiring such disclosure.

Attorneys should also ensure that AI software will maintain the confidentiality of information related to a client’s representation, as required by Rule 1.6.

Unauthorized Practice of Law

The unauthorized practice of law is a serious consideration when using AI-based legal software. The definition of the authorized practice of law is set by statute and varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. However, it can generally be summed up as any service that requires a lawyer to use professional judgment to apply the law to a specific set of facts. Although case law is limited, some courts have found that software can engage in the unauthorized practice of law.

In Janson v., the court held that LegalZoom’s internet portal violated Missouri’s unauthorized practice of law statute because it charged a fee for preparing legal documents based upon the customer’s answers to a series of questions. The software performed the same function as a lawyer and LegalZoom’s nonlawyer employees reviewed the resulting documents. Although customers did not believe they were getting legal advice, they did rely on LegalZoom’s software to provide accurate and defensible documents.

Upsolve, which provides software that helps customers file bankruptcy, does not charge for its services. Nevertheless, Judge Stephen St. John of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Maryland found that the software engaged in the unauthorized practice of law because it made decisions on behalf of the customer.

Despite these potential pitfalls, bots and RPA tools have a role to play in the legal profession. As long as they are used ethically and within statutory requirements for legal practice, using AI in law can help practitioners reduce costs, streamline processes, and increase accuracy.

Learn More About How Technology Affects the Legal Industry

There is a growing need for professionals who understand the ethical and legal implications of emerging technology. Purdue Global Law School’s online Juris Doctor program prepares you to become an attorney in California, while our online Executive Juris Doctor program helps professionals who do not intend to practice law build their legal expertise. This program includes a law and technology track that provides advanced legal training on cybersecurity issues.

We also offer single courses in technology and law. These courses cover topics such as:

  • ADR and technology

  • Cyber law

  • Cybersecurity law

  • Intellectual property

Reach out today for more information.

About The Author

Purdue Global Law School

Established in 1998, Purdue Global Law School (formerly Concord Law School) is Purdue University's fully online law school for working adults.