The potential of chatbots and their role in customer service, in particular, has received a lot of attention in the press. Now, it seems that lawyers, too, could ultimately be replaced. But could robots really take the place of family lawyers?
It was a competition between lawyers and a program called CaseCruncher, which hit the headlines late last year.
Designed by four Cambridge University students, CaseCruncher originally started out as a legal chatbot, before being turned into a system that “makes legal decision predictions”, or in other words, predicts the outcomes of cases.
More than 100 commercial lawyers signed up for the competition against CaseCruncher, which involved making hundreds of predictions regarding the outcomes of real complaints about PPI mis-selling.
In the end, CaseCruncher won, with an accuracy rate of 86.6%, compared to the lawyer’s 62.3% accuracy rate.
While these results may at first glance seem like a clear indication that robots may indeed be the future lawyers, even the founders of CaseCruncher seem cautious, saying that evaluating the results is “tricky”. On their website, they point out that the results do not mean that machines are generally better at predicting case outcomes than lawyers, but rather that if the question is precisely defined (they use the example of “was this complaint about PPI mis-selling upheld or rejected by the FOS?”), machines are able to “compete with and sometimes outperform human lawyers”.
So could the same system be used with such apparent success in the field of family law?
Family law, especially laws relating to divorce and financial settlements, is notoriously complicated and difficult to predict, in part due to the level of discretion a judge has when making decisions about cases.
For example, if asked to decide a financial settlement, a judge can take lots of different factors into account, including the financial needs of each party and their current living standards. How much weight a judge gives to each of these elements of a case is up to them. It is difficult to see how a computer program could be built to replicate this.
When it comes to divorce and family law, each couple’s circumstances are very different. Would the computer program being fed the facts and a description of their legal circumstances be enough to predict an outcome? It seems unlikely.
However, it’s important not to dismiss the role of artificial intelligence in the law. CaseCruncher showed that at least in some legal settings, a program that predicts the outcomes of cases could potentially be useful in the future. But for family law, at least, it seems that an equivalent may be some way off, if indeed it ever arrives.
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