Are Siri and Alexa friends?

Counsel's Corner

Dennis C. Garcia

Dennis C. Garcia is an assistant general counsel for Microsoft based in Chicago. He leads the legal support function to Microsoft's U.S. Central Region Enterprise & Partner Group team that is based in an 18-state region and across six Microsoft districts. Garcia received his B.A. in political science from Binghamton University in New York state and his J.D. from Columbia Law School. He is admitted to practice in New York, Connecticut and Illinois (house counsel). He serves on the board of directors of Illinois Legal Aid Online and the Association of Corporate Counsel - Chicago chapter.

January 2017

As we begin a new era of unprecedented technology advancement that Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, calls the Fourth Industrial Revolution, a growing phenomenon known as artificial intelligence, or AI, will transform all industries — including the legal profession.

A personal example of the increasing presence of AI in our lives occurred when I recently overheard my 5-year-old son picking up my wife’s iPhone and asking Siri (the name of the iPhone’s digital assistant powered by AI) if Siri is friends with Alexa (the name of the Amazon Echo’s digital assistant powered by AI).

Siri responded “I am not sure I understand.”

While there is no singular definition for AI, a report from last October issued by the White House called “Preparing for the Future of Artificial Intelligence” states the following: “Some define AI loosely as a computerized system that exhibits behavior that is commonly thought of as requiring intelligence. Others define AI as a system capable of rationally solving complex problems or taking appropriate actions to achieve its goals in whatever real world circumstances it encounters.”

In addition, the concept of Machine Learning is an application of AI based on the premise that systems can learn by having access to data.

As technology firms like my company continue to make major investments in AI, a lot has been written about how robots (along with tools called bots, chatbots and digital assistants) built on AI will impact our workforce (including lawyers, paralegals and other legal professionals). AI has the potential to disrupt the legal profession — especially in connection with routine and repetitive legal tasks that can be automated. Here are some examples:

Administrative Legal Support

AI systems will be able to perform responsibilities that have been traditionally performed by legal secretaries and administrative assistants. Do you need to book travel, set up a meeting, manage expenses, follow up with others? All of that and more can be handled by AI-powered digital assistants.

Performing Legal Research

As many lawyers can attest, conducting legal research can be a tedious and boring — yet important — exercise. An AI system may be able to conduct research on relevant case law and applicable statutes in a more comprehensive and faster way than you could do on your own — as well as scientifically predicting the potential outcome for litigation based on data.

Legal Document Preparation and Review

An AI system can serve as a legal “concierge” for client data intake and the generation, preparation and review of applicable legal forms and documents on behalf of your client. For example, many in-house lawyers like myself would welcome an AI system that could provide a quick and detailed “gap analysis” of contracts — such as an informative comparison between a vendor’s standard services contract terms and a buyer’s standard services contract terms.

Conducting Due Diligence

Performing deep and meaningful due diligence on an extensive amount of information is absolutely necessary for corporate transactions like mergers and acquisitions where time is of the essence and billions of dollars may be at stake. AI systems may be able to do a better and faster job in conducting such a due diligence review instead of a team of overworked and wearied junior lawyers.

Enhanced Cybersecurity and Compliance

The data analytics associated with AI systems provides law firms and companies with interesting opportunities to become more cybersecure and compliant. AI systems may be used by organizations to actively monitor the data associated with attempts to penetrate their information technology infrastructure so they can spot patterns and quickly plug security holes to build more robust cybersecurity.

Perhaps a sophisticated AI system that proactively identifies data trends on internal company matters and employee activities could have been used to avoid some of the high-profile compliance situations that we have read about over the past few years.

Although some believe that AI may serve to replace lawyers and other legal professionals, I believe Al will result in a redeployment of legal resources and allow lawyers to practice law at a “higher” value-added level.

However, while AI may offer lawyers state-of-the-art technology tools to provide more impactful legal counsel to clients, AI is not a substitute for a lawyer’s own empathy, judgment, creative thinking and personal connection with clients.